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Socialogy: Interview with Deb Lavoy

Tympathy: Getting Into a Shared Tempo At Work

Had a fascinating talk yesterday with Deb Louison Lavoy as a part of my work on a new book, The Business Of Social Business (I hope to be done in June).  Deb mentioned a term that she’d read in a David Brooks column, of all places. He reels off a bunch of terms that he thinks are critical skills for the new world we are entering (I leave the others for other posts, perhaps). One was not like the others, in that he attempts to repurpose a term that is in common everyday use, but cast into a new meaning: sympathy.

The New Humanism - David Brooks via NYTimes.com

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

First, I think that we do need a term to represent the ability to share a tempo with others. I think it *is* a key skill, or trait.

However, I don’t think it is easy to extend the meaning of existing and commonly used terms, and to basically shoulder aside their established meanings.

So I am proposing tympathy for this purpose (‘tym’ for time (sort of), and ‘pathy’ for sensing). (Note that I considered and rejected ‘tempothy’.)

Tympathetic people can naturally get into a groove with an established group, they find the natural rhythms of cooperation, and seem to sense the right time to ask a question, offer some insight, or shift course. And when this scales up to those connected in some shared activity, coordination feels frictionless, and collaboration seems less strained.

Effective groups will move toward a shared pace, either organically, or by following the tempo of a leader, or because of the explicit actions of some sort of metronome. They are also attuned to the tempo of the larger work context in which their work is embedded.

Work media tools — like Yammer, Chatter, IBM Connections, Podio, and Jive — are being rapidly adopted in the work context for a wide variety of reasons, but one major benefit is that they lay down a beat for people to build their work tempo around: they engender tympathy, which we all want.

My sense is that the very best work media solutions will support a polyrhythmic work environment. They will work at different tempos for different layers of work, ranging from the fast twitch pace of posting updates on today’s to do list, to the slower, deeper cycles in the business, like long-range strategic planning.

I also believe that organizations that are moving toward greater autonomy and distributed leadership will put a high premium on tympathy as an personal attribute. My bet is that tympathy has been important forever, but we just didn’t have a name for it and it has gone unexamined in the workplace.

Deb Lavoy On A New Age Of Enlightenment

Deb Lavoy shows that she is a humanist, and her fascination with what she’s calling Enlightenment 2.0. I agree with everything except the 2.0 meme. Just replace ‘Enterprise 2.0’ with ‘social revolution’, and ‘Enlightenment 2.0’ with ‘the Liquid Economy’. She’s not talking about spiritual enlightment, but the outgrowth of the Renaissance in Europe.

Deb Lavoy,  Could E2.0 really mean Enlightenment 2.0?

The enlightenment was characterized by an intellectual elite that saw the opportunity for a better world. It gave us the tools to re-explore the world from a rational, reductionist perspective using scientific principles – predictable consequences of any action – to transform everything from navigation to technology and society itself. It was hastened on its way by the invention of the printing press, Newtonian math and science, Liberalism, and the work of philosopher scientists who were frequently excommunicated.

Rationalism lead to a massive diffusion and expansion of scientific knowledge, math and technology. in this mindset, the perfect system, the perfect business structure, was one where every variable was known, every detail calculated. Whether consciously or un, we tried to model our organizations after these ideals. When every variable was known, we would have complete control. Henry Ford capitalized (so to speak) on this principle with his famous assembly lines. Things became fast and consistent – a fundamental enabler of the industrial revolution and mass production which allowed for the creation of an educated middle class. [This TED talk which looks at how the invention of the washing machine lead to the modern concept of parenting, seems at first blush silly and then absolutely profound. Imagine if women in developing countries didn’t have to carry water - but I digress (and you should too - the TED talk and water stats are worth seeing).]

Enlightenment 2.0, which we could argue is what’s happening now, has been catalyzed by quantum mechanics (you really can’t know it all, sister), complexity theory, and social media technologies, is leading us from the age of reason to the age of – emergence (?!?) – where we will start to understand that while we cannot predict or control what will happen, we can surf it. It is enriched by humanist thinking and a general increase in the global standard of living that allows people to care about determining their lives, rather than simply surviving. We are again seeing the rise of the polyglot – the person who knows some science, some philosophy, some business, some politics and is taking control of producing their ideas. (Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are as well known for their contributions to science and technology as to politics). This is a time when we are again inventing, acting, doing as well as learning. This will change the way we think and act as dramatically as the first Age of Enlightenment, though it may take as long to unfold. It takes a while to re-wire the human psyche.

Human behavior is one of the most non-deterministic, irreducible forces we deal with in day to day life. The Enlightenment respected that, at the same time as it created the paradoxes of command and control and mechanistic views of the world. We’re now able to come back and reevaluate the role of human complexity in society. Enlightenment 2.0 is causing Enterprise 2.0 to embrace complexity and human behavior.

A Social Business is a business that respects and profits from the complexity and unlimited potential of people.

The best is yet to come.

Amen, sister, amen.

We are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift from a mechanistic ideal of organizations to a humanistic one.

From the traditional notion of the ideal company as a well-oiled machine, controlled by a CEO, to one where the ideal company is a synthesis of minds that is constantly and continually learning, improving and producing.

We’re not all at the same point along the path of this transition – and even within organizations, some people are further along than others. You guys here are in the lead, of course.

And, in the midst of this new-found humanism it is tempting to embrace the “its our people” mantra ever more tightly.

That’s because we’ve discovered that we have vast untapped human potential hiding within our organizations, and the pressure to figure out how to engage it is skyrocketing. You’ll hear a lot about how to engage people here this week, and with good reason.

But we’ve been out there for a couple of years or so building and selling an enterprise social app that supports team collaboration, and our research and, even more, our customers and also many of you, have taught us a lot. We’ve learned that we can predict with close to 100% accuracy which of our clients will fail and which will succeed.

There is a single criterion that we can use to predict this and it is a sense of purpose. Without a strong sense of purpose, even the most talented collection of people will founder.

With a sense of purpose you will get the best work out of whatever crew you have assembled. With purpose, people strive.

Without purpose, personal interests, infighting, and worse, apathy, takes the place of vision, and becomes the dominant force in decision-making. With Purpose, people strive.

Their iron cores align to a common magnetic north. This alignment unlocks their collaborative, collective potential.

Personal politics – though still there – takes a back seat.

- Deb Lavoy, my E2Conf Keynote

Deb Lavoy was one of the best things about the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference.

I might quibble a bit with terminology, because I find that what is really needed for groups to succeed is meaning: the significance of an activity, and its import for others. Purpose emphasizes the end of some activity, which is fine as far as it goes. Meaning carries the additional nuance of shared understanding, which is primary for me.

I am looking forward to the Purpose Driven speaker series that Deb is running for Open Text, starting with Simon Sinek in NYC, July 12.

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