Deb Lavoy is a good friend, and one of the deepest thinking — and feeling — practitioners in the social movement. She writes frequently at CMS Wire, and I read her articles with great avidity. I was very eager to include her in this series, and we connected recently for that purpose. I confess, I slipped off the rails a bit, and this reads more like a conversation than an interview. Deb has that effect on me.
About Deb Lavoy
Deb Lavoy has been studying the dynamics, culture and technology of collaborative teams and knowledge transfer for 12 years, while working in product marketing and strategy for companies as diverse as AOL and Adobe. She is currently Director of Product Marketing for Social Media at OpenText.
Stowe Boyd: It’s great to talk to you again. I really wanted to to chat to you about a few ideas we have both been writing about recently. You wrote something recently called The Choices We Haven’t Made Yet, and you touched on a couple of points that I would want to pursue, like David Armano’s thinking about hive minds and so on. What I’m really interested in is the shape of organizations, and the metaphors we might use to describe how organizations are changing, or the form they are likely to fall into in the reconfiguration of the organization of the future, given the premise we are going to continue on with social business practices and technology.'So, you have a network: what are you going to do with it? Well, it's it going to be your eyes and ears on the ground.'
Deb Lavoy: Social communication tools have enabled us to decentralize communications and to in some ways democratize forms of expressions. I don’t think as businesses we are particularly adept at understanding these networks, and there are many different dimensions to this problem. One is understanding the purpose of the business in the first place. One of the organizations that comes to mind in this sense is the US Department of Defense. It comes to mind partly because my husband works there, and partly because there are no shareholders and it’s not clouded by shareholder issues. if organizations are going to be networked on one end we have what you call a cooperative: that’s the Valve model or the Shaker style. We all come in and get inspired and then do what we are inspired to do.
SB: In a very loose organization people may have many more connections with people but they are very loose. This are not like the connections that you have in conventional businesses with the employee-manager or even employee-employee relationships.
DL: One of the hardest things to understand is leadership. How do we lead? How can we be effective leaders? Then we have to consider what is the role of leadership. We create command and control hierarchies for a number of reasons: they amplify human capabilities without depending on things like consensus and alignment of will.
SB: It’s a control structure, one that came to flourish in industrialism and as the economist Ronald Coase asked, why do businesses exist? His answer was so they can scale up become more efficient, increase margins, and become large enough to weather fluctuation in the market. And those structures grew up along with the notion of hierarchical control and command structures.
DL: It’s about sublimation of free will. It sounds very malevolent, but they are malevolent. They use control because they don’t know how to use people and they use control because of the poverty of their communications ability. And those two things went hand in hand. Now communication abilities have increased, we have greater capability, and a decentralized ability to communicate.
SB: It’s not just decentralized. Now, with social technologies we can now switch from push to pull.'We have to consider what is the role of leadership. We create command and control hierarchies for a number of reasons: they amplify human capabilities without depending on things like consensus and alignment of will.'
DL: From push to pull, from centralized to decentralized: they are networked, and they are democratized.
SB: The democratization is part of the pull: I get to decide who I want to follow. We are using concepts derived from the open social networks, the revolution that has come from the open web. Most of the work media tools — the enterprise social networking apps — have stuck to the old models of collaborative work that we have been seeing since the mid 90s. These were originally on local area networks, and then reimagined as web based tools. In these tools users are aggregated into departments, or groups, or projects, and they principally interact through that model. We have seen some innovation, some of the tools provide a mechanism for generally following people or news sources or topics. We’re getting a flavor of that. We’re beginning to get the mixture of those two models: the old collaboration tools and the new social networks.
DL: First of all, the way we understand work needs some examination, so we understand work at these large organizations, and we’re creating intranets and streams. Building a community as a whole where I can chit chat about whatever I want. I can create a community for joggers and antiques cars. The community of the organization. When we talk about collaboration that one word can mean many things. One way to break it down is to distinguish between creative, connective, and compounding sorts of collaboration. Creative collaboration is how the term is generally used. I have a project or a goal that I’m trying to reach with a group of people: that’s more a project kind of collaboration. There is connective collaboration, where through some kind of black magic, or serendipity, expertise finds where it’s needed, resources gets where they’re going, ideas connect with one another. People come together into innovation networks in highly connected environments.
SB: Ronald Burt wrote about structural holes in social networks. In general, the people who are best positioned to help others to innovate are next to holes in the network. They act as bridges between cultures, or different teams, or groups. He spoke about specific kinds of ways we use social capital to help the organization. One way is bringing in a diverse way of doing things from a different culture or background. Sometimes that social capital allows the bridge to synthesize new ideas or practices, deriving parts from different cultures. The ability to be connected in that way is a form of social capital, and you are able to apply it by helping people to think in new ways. People have some role in the organization — they are a creative director or a sales lead — and they spend their time mostly doing that kind of work with certain groups of people. But there is this other kind of work that’s associated with innovation, tied to making the association more effective, or dreaming up new things to do. In most jobs that’s not the primary purpose of your role. But increasingly, everyone is spending more time on innovation: making new things using old skills, or making new things all together.
DL: Businesses ran like a well oiled machine. We could understand them. It’s was a mechanistic way of viewing things and when you broke them down to their constituent parts and when you understood those parts everything was good. But of course that’s nonsense.
S: Well, it’s not a nonsensical thing. A lot of businesses are built that way, because they are programmed. Work is becoming less and less routine. There was a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. They measured the shift in number of people in different occupations, and starting in 2005 the majority of people working in America are doing nonroutine cognitive work. At this point a growing majority of American’s work is non routine: what they are doing can’t be preprogrammed as a checklist or a business process.
DL: You wrote today that business processes aren’t becoming socialized, it’s that social is going to replace business processes. I think the reason for that isn’t that there’s going to be less process. I think there is always going to be processes involving expertise, and defined as such, even if there’s going to be more and more work that isn’t going to be addressed that way.
SB: That shapes the way organizations are configured. If you’re not building things around routinized work and those well-scripted roles you start to see the viability of other means of operating
DL: Then you ask ‘what you want that network to do for you?’ and so there is a number of different things networks can do you. Can we use networks to exert control? In general, that’s not what we’re trying to achieve there.
SB: There’s an alternative system of control. The difference is it’s not centralized, it’s decentralized. It’s becoming more and more about autonomous workers who have to be able to make their own decisions to fulfill the tasks and activities they are working on.
DL: For that you need a shared sense of values. You need a shared sense of mission. You need something to ally these independent agents.
SB: At least a shared view of how the world works, and each person rights and responsibilities. I don’t think it has to be a collective where everyone has to be indoctrinated or everyone has to share the same principles. Everyone doesn’t have to agree on what the businesses goals are. It’s a cultural change, or it’s like flocking in birds where very simple rules leads to very complicated flight patterns of birds. The same way that people can walk down a crowded city street and not bump into each other. There’s not a single central control telling us to pick our foot up and put our foot down. We are each heading where we are heading, and we each get out of it what we want to get out of it.
DL: What about the US military, where decision making has to be pretty centralized? We can analyze that and debate ‘does decision making have to be centralized?’ It’s the Socratic thing, that ‘those who know rule’. I don’t know if a cooperative approach can become the only organization model, but I trust it will thrive.
SB: That’s like saying that you don’t want capitalism to change. ‘I don’t want it to change into some kind of new capitalism, I want it to say the same way it was in 1950’. Moving into a new style of work gives companies and institutions that boost that they need. Most CEOs believe that they can’t get another round of productivity from reapplying the techniques they used in the past. They can’t just scale up the institution. They have reached the limit and encountering rapidly diminishing returns.
DL: You’re talking about scaling learning as opposed to productivity.
SB: That was John Hagel's argument [see Interview with John Hagel]. I think that suggests the changing role of leadership. The leader’s new job is teaching enduring lessons, not telling people what to do.
DL: I think leadership is going to have a different role than that. I think great leaders ask questions. So, you have a network: what are you going to do with it? Well, it’s it going to be your eyes and ears on the ground. Are you using it to extend your ability to sense and understand your environment? Is it going to be a way of making sense of your world? Sometimes it’s going to be all of those things. But I think it’s one of those things we need to understand and understand well. Just because you are networked doesn’t mean it necessarily helps you understand, or realize your needs more effectively. So what does decision making look like when it’s decentralized? Do some decisions need to be centralized? what decisions need to be centralized?
SB: You can’t generalize about these things. You have to ask these questions within the specific context. It’s like in chess rooks aren’t always stronger than knights: it depends on the state of the game.'Just because you are networked doesn’t mean it necessarily helps you understand, or realize your needs more effectively.'
DL: That’s true, but we have to at least try to understand what networks’ capabilities are and aren’t. I said a few months ago that soon technology will stop blaming culture for why technology’s failing. One of the dangers that the social business movement faces is a desire to prove that it works so bad that it doesn’t allow dis-confirming information, and that blocks the evolution of social business. By saying ‘networks are inherently good’ and ‘if you have a network good things will happen’… while these are not entirely wrong but they get in the way of asking deeper and harder questions, questions we might not know the answers to.
SB: Personally, I think people are asking those questions. The thing I said early is a counter to your last argument. We don’t have to say that networks are here and they are better, in some nebulous way. You can say networks have certain properties. and when people are communicating through networks certain things happen. That’s why it’s more likely for good ideas to travel more quickly through a network with more connections: it’s a provable assertion. This gets close to the last question I ask in every one of the interviews in this series. One premise is that management should be assimilating scientific understanding from cognitive science, behavioral studies, and other scientific findings. Among other things, these studies shed light on how social we actually are. We are like fish in the ocean: we don’t see the water. We don’t realize how socially constrained, and how socially influenced we are. One finding: if you want to change the culture in the company take steps so people have more connections. Then it becomes an environment where ideas spread more quickly, and change happens more rapidly. Those are tangible findings from social science that can be adopted by businesses to influence cultural change. Do you think this kind of thinking will have a short term impact in business? How do we get people to think more scientifically about business and business culture?
DL: That kind of science needs to have an impact in business. At the same time, most business leaders want innovation, they want more creativity, but they don’t actually want to change how decisions are made. So the CEO and the executive team only understand innovation as a centralized construct, for the most part. I think one of the biggest hurdles we have to leap while we can teach leaders about creativity, trust, and connectivity. One of the things we need to get them to ask is ‘what does it look like if we decentralize decision making?’ Do we want to do that, and are we willing to make the trade off that is required? I believe that most leaders understand that this is a trade off that is required. But the only kind of decision making they know is centralized — from hundreds of years of human behavior. It’s been the dominant view for so long. I don’t think we have enough discussion in the mainstream about alternatives. Networks do these really fascinating things — we can build them to do these things — and we have definitely made a giant leap in connecting people within organizations. But how do you and in what way are you willing to change how decisions get made, how goals get set, and what gets measured? And, at the same time, as all of this human measuring is going on, in some ways we are measuring to learn and in some ways that measuring can be Darwinistic: it can be punitive.
SB: Are you going to accept the whole person? Or are you going to suppress people’s natural tendency to experiment and adopt new ways to do things, by shifting the rules around?
DL: Command and control is management by fear, management by KPI [key performance indicators]. I shouldn’t say that we shouldn’t measure stuff because that’s how we learn. It’s all about intention here. What is your intention for your KPI? What is your intention for your network? The network may decide its outcome, in the end. I don’t feel that most executives have had enough discussion and understanding to imagine different ways of decision making.
SB: You are laying out one of the central pillars or tenets of being able to turn the corner on this. Clearly the possibility exists for management to play slow down ball, and continue to do things that don’t work in the new context.
DL: You can take on a networked organization, and it might be no different than a hierarchical one, except in execution. You can have a logistically networked company instead of in actuality…
SB: You can have an artificially egalitarian company — ‘we are completely egalitarian blah blah blah’ — but in secret the entire company hinges on the core management team, who decide everything.
DL: How do we use networks to synthesize complex information without filtering it through an oligarchy? There will be organizations that remain networks with oligarchies… and they may all be legitimate.
S: I don’t believe that they will all be legitimate. [Sigh.] Thanks, Deb, for the chance to catch up.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
Deb Lavoy, Find Your (Corporate) Greatness
'Not Just Narrative, Purpose'
A solid piece about the motive force inherent in aligning a company’s narrative with its mission. From upper right, clockwise: Leaders, Niche, Lost, Marketers.
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 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.
- 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.