Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The art of interaction, the design of digital work and the science of social complexity

Month: November, 2011

Attention blindness and the social business

Cathy N. Davidson has studied the way we make sense and think. Her claim is that we often end with problems when we tackle important issues together. This happens “not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are right in what they see, but neither can see what the other does”. In normal daily conditions, it may be that we don’t even know that other perspectives other than our own exist. We believe we see the whole picture from our point of view and have all the facts. Focus however means selection and selection means blind spots leading to (attention) blindness. We have a partial view that we take as the full picture.

This is one of the reasons why people in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive and negative patterns that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.

The opportunity provided by social tools lies in the widening and deepening of communication, leading to new voices taking part and new conversations that cross organizational units and stale process charts.

According to Cathy Davidson, attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain. Attention blindness is also the fundamental structuring principle of our organizations and our political system. We see and understand things selectively.

Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. The challenge is to see the filters and linkages as communication patterns that either keep us stuck or open up new possibilities.

The opportunity lies in the fact that as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things. If we can pool our insights we can thrive in the complex world we live in. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other.

From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing.

Our attention is a result of the filters we use. These filters can be a mix of habits, company processes, organizational charts or tools. Increasingly these filters are social. They are the people we recognize as experts. Our most valuable guides to useful bits of insight are trusted people whose activities we can follow in real time to help us enrich our views.

Management research has focused on the leadership attributes of an individual. Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.

Leading and following when seen as a relationship, not as attributes of individuals, have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area, which is temporally meaningful for them.

People recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.

Another huge difference from traditional management is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one boss. Thus, an individual always has many “leaders” that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.

We are now at the very beginning of understanding leadership in the new contextual, temporal framework. The relational processes of leading and following should be seen as temporary, responsive activity streams, not only on the Internet but also inside companies. They are manifested as internal (Twitter) feeds, (Facebook) updates and blog posts from the people you associate with.

Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative and effective action.


Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin

The competitive edge of the social business

“In the future, when the history of our time is written from a long-term perspective, it may be that the most important things historians will see are not technological advancements or the Internet, but the fact that for the first time a substantial and rapidly growing number of people had choices.” (Peter Drucker)

The industrial age was about limiting the scope of choices. This was accepted since the need to gather costly information and to communicate with low quality tools was minimized. Furthermore, as the scope of decision-making and action was narrowed, the learning requirements for workers and customers were limited, reducing the transaction costs of work. The efficiency contribution of mass production was in fact derived from these lower information- and communication-related costs.

Today, in contrast to people being content with limited choices, offerings need to be created to meet diverse, unique requirements.

For knowledge workers and customers the task of gaining the input needed for these situations is creating an entirely new environment. Creative learning is becoming the fundamental activity. It is not about consuming pre-determined content, passing tests or something with beginnings and ends. Learning is continuous transformation. It is the foundation for creative action. The ability to meet the needs of a situation better can only exist partially prior to the live moment. You can never be fully prepared in advance: success depends on how you are present and how you communicate.

The new competitive edge comes from interactive capacity: the ability to connect with information and people, as and when needed. What gives the edge is not what is already known by the individual, as much as the ability to solve problems that require real-time learning through live interaction. In increasingly complex environments learning curricula cannot be effectively designed beforehand. Needs and also solutions emerge responsively.

This view focuses attention on the way everyday conversations between people create the future. Organizations are self-organizing patterns of participation and communication through which coherent action and innovation emerge.

The concept of the social business builds on an agile, iterative framework. Learning is not related to meeting the requirements set by someone else, but is motivated and expressed through personal situational needs and aspirations. The idea of interactive competence also reflects the radical change in thinking that is going on. We are leaving behind the Western preoccupation with the autonomous individual and beginning to appreciate the importance of social processes and interdependence.

This understanding of competence suggests that the capability to act is a social process. The primary learning asset for a knowledge worker is interactive, reflective practice. The network is also a means for signalling: making one’s own learning visible not only to oneself, but also to others, thus creating a platform for comments, conversation, and even formal accreditation.

Learning happens in interaction between interdependent people. Competence, the ability to act more purposefully is the emergent phenomena resulting from that interaction. People are simultaneously forming and being formed by each other at the same time – all the time.


Thank you Riel Miller, Doug Griffin, Stephen Downes, Kenneth Gergen and Ralph Stacey

The future of work – the way I see it

Technology does not determine social and organizational change, but it does create new opportunity spaces for social innovations like new employment forms. Partial employment for young unemployed people is becoming much easier than before, and truly global task-based work is becoming possible, perhaps for the first time in history.

The opportunity today is in new relational forms that don’t mimic the governance models of industrial, hierarchical firms. We are already witnessing the rise of very large-scale efforts that create tremendous value in a very new way. Coordinated value in the cases of helping Haiti or building Wikipedia type of platforms is the result of uncoordinated actions by a large number of individuals. People with different goals, different values and different motivations take part and co-create together.

The characteristics of the network economy are different from what we are used to: the industrial production of physical goods was financial capital-intensive, leading to centralized management and manufacturing facilities where you needed to be at during predetermined hours. The industrial era also created the shareholder capitalism we now experience. Having a great idea, or simply wanting to do something, was not enough to get one going. You needed a lot of money. In the network economy, individuals, interacting with each other by utilizing free or low cost social platforms and relatively cheap mobile, smart devices, can now create information products.

The production of information goods requires more human capital than financial capital. It is more about connecting with brains than connecting with money. And the good news is that you are not limited to the local supply. Work on information products does not need to be co-located. The architecture of work does not resemble a factory any more.

This is why decentralized action plays a much more important role today than ever before. The architecture of work is the network and the basic unit of work is not a process or a job role but a task.

Our management and organizational thinking is derived from the era of tangible goods production and high-cost/low-quality communications. These mindsets are not helpful in a world of widely distributed ownership of means of production/smart devices and ubiquitous connectivity.

“A corporation/employer exists to make money and the employee goes to work for the employer to make money.” Almost all economic theories have made the same assumption: the employer – employee relationship is necessary to make work possible.

We have taken that relationship as given. The other taken for granted assumption is that it is the independent employer/manager who exercises freedom of choice in choosing the goals and designing the rules that the members of the organization are to follow. The employees of the organization are not seen autonomous, with a choice of their own, but are seen as rule-following, dependent entities. People are resources.

Dependence is the opposite of taking responsibility. It is getting the daily tasks that are given to you done, or at least out of the way. We are as used to the employer choosing the work objectives as we are used to the teacher choosing the learning objectives. The manager directs the way in which the employee engages with work, and manages the timing and duration of the work. This image of work is easy to grasp because it has been taught at school where the model is the same.

In contrast to the above, digital work has brought about circumstances in which the employee in effect chooses the purpose of work, voluntarily selects the tasks, determines the modes and timing of engagement, and designs the outcomes. The worker here might be said to be largely independent of some other person’s management, but is in effect interdependent. Interdependence here means that the worker is free to choose what tasks to take up, and when to take them up, but is not independent in the sense that she would not need to make the choice.

The interdependent, task-based worker negotiates her work based on her own purposes, not the goals of somebody else, and chooses her fellow workers based on her network, not a given organization. The aim is to do meaningful things with meaningful people utilizing networks and voluntary participation.

It is not the corporation that is in the center, but the intentions and choices of individuals. This view of work focuses attention on the way ordinary, everyday work-tasks enrich life and perpetually create the future through continuous learning.

The architecture of work is not the structure of a corporation, but the structure of the IT-network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of organizing. The basis of work is not financial self-interest, but people’s different and yet, complementary expectations of the future, conditioned by their accounts of the past and developed skills.

The factory logic of mass production forced people to come to where the work is. The crowdsourcing logic of mass communication makes it possible to distribute work to where the people are, no matter where on the globe they may be.

Knowledge work is not about jobs or job roles but about tasks. Most importantly knowledge work can, if we want, be human-centric. Through mobile smart devices and ubiquitous connectivity, we can create new opportunities and a better future for millions of unemployed people.

It is possible!


Thank you Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin and Yochai Benkler