Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Month: February, 2012

Social media and the change from information to formation

The change towards the creative economy has major implications for the nature of what we have called assets. In the industrial age, the assets were physical resources, plant and equipment. Most of the resources were traded in markets and could thus be valued. Taking care of the value of an organization could be understood as managing physical assets and resources.

Now knowledge and people are seen as the major assets. But since neither of them are efficiently traded in markets, their value cannot easily be measured. Neither can knowledge be understood as an asset that can be managed like a physical asset. This is what many people within the Knowledge Management community learned the hard way. Knowledge is not a thing! Thus it cannot be stored, measured or shared.

From a more modern point of view, knowledge creation is understood as an active process of communication between people. Knowledge cannot be stored but is constantly constructed and re-constructed in interaction. Knowledge cannot be shared but arises in action. Knowledge is the process of relating.

The assumption was that learning and knowledge management involve processes that transmit content. This notion derived from the information theory/model of communication developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. Their theory created a sender-receiver model of communication according to which person A sends a signal (message/content) to person B, who receives it and then perhaps sends a responding feedback signal back to A. From this perspective, learning and knowledge creation are processes that resemble transmission or the sharing of content. This is why schools and other educational institutions still look the way they do.

But Shannon & Weaver’s concept was meant to be purely technical. They were interested in whether a byte sent was a byte received in a technical sense. They said nothing about the meaning of the bytes. For a human being a message can evoke a very wide range of associations and interpretations depending on the experience and emotional state of the individual. One person’s interpretation is never quite the same as another person’s interpretation. There is no linear causality in the world of human beings.

If learning was understood from a more modern relational perspective it would resemble a process of many voices interacting at the same time. In this way, each comes to know the context in which the other makes meaning. The progression of B’s understanding of A’s story also constitutes a change to A’s story – creating new meaning, learning, for both.

Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal.

All stories continue, meaning that learning takes place, as participants create a more shared understanding of what the other means. Knowledge which used to be regarded as existing independently in people and things – becomes viewed as co-constructed in communication.

Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being in constantly surprising ways.

Supportive, energizing and enabling patterns of interaction are the most important “assets” of a modern organization. That is what should be nurtured and taken care of. Communication either accelerates and opens up possibilities or slows down and limits what would be possible. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication either creates energy and inspiration or demeans and demotivates.

Information theory is not only unhelpful but harmful, when trying to understand communication between human beings. Communication is not about sharing information but a process of formation.

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Thank you Karl-Erik Sveiby and Doug Griffin. What a great meeting!

Contributions from many to participate with one

The nature of the relationship between customers and firms has changed dramatically. For over a hundred years, companies have assumed that consumers are an undifferentiated mass. Lately, we have moved through different degrees of market segmentation. Today, we have reached a point where the latest interaction technologies are creating an entirely new dynamic between the firm and the people we used to call consumers. Tomorrow firms will compete in making unique customer experiences possible.

The traditional approach was that the firm created value and then exchanged it with its customers. This firm-centric view of value creation is now being replaced by customers’ contextual experiences and co-created value. Value is created in interaction, but outside the corporate firewall. Even if a company is dealing with a very, very large number of customers, the firm must focus on one customer at a time.

We are in a world in which value is determined by co-created experiences – all a bit alike but all a bit different.

During the still (mentally) prevailing industrial era, most firms were vertically integrated. It was only around twenty-something years ago that firms started to source components from outside, from suppliers on a large scale. Today it is natural to rely on global supply chains. This is because the business goal is to access the most competent, knowledgeable sources and paradoxically, at the same time the lowest-cost producers. Access to resources and resource allocation is today by default multi-vendor, crowdsourced and global.

The changing relationships with customers and vendors are the main drivers behind the new ecosystems for communication and participation.

These trends also explain the situation we are in at the moment. The network is the architecture of work. People need to communicate and participate in order to invite contributions and to co-create unique experiences. It is about the relational view. It is not necessary to own the contributing parties. Capacity to connect and cooperate is what is needed. Cooperation is the new competition.

The world we live in today is in many ways the polar opposite of what we have been used to. The management challenge in the era of social media is to invite and combine the contributions of many in order to participate with one (at a time).

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Thank you C K

A relational view to management

Gregory Bateson argued that humankind’s fall from grace began through separations such as separating the self from the other, separating thought from emotion, separating the sacred from the secular and separating the subject from the object.

Today, there is new thinking that is based on the very latest findings in the sciences of complexity and sociology. These new approaches define a participative, relational perspective: we should speak about subjects interacting with others in the co-evolution of a jointly constructed reality.

In mainstream thinking, managers are understood as the prime originators of what happens in their businesses. The central concern is how the manager/subject gets the follower/object to act in ways that reflect the manager’s perspective. Management continues to see relationships in terms of influence and manipulation. The manager’s perspective is taken for granted in terms of what the facts are, and what is true or false. Employees are treated as instruments. They are less active and less knowledgeable although they can be sources of information for the manager.

In identifying management with science, two concepts were imported, which we now take so much for granted that we hardly notice them. There is the assumption of the autonomous, rational individual which corresponds with the atomistic view of society and the objectification of nature. The second concept that is imported into management is that of the objective observer who identifies causality and tests hypotheses like visions and goals based on these identifications. The objective observer is detached from the phenomena being studied. When this idea is imported into theories of organization, the manager is the objective observer who is supposed to act upon rationally formulated hypotheses about organizational success.

These assumptions have created the still prevailing subject-object understanding of organizational relationships. When a person is understood as a knowing individual she is being viewed as a subject, distinct from others, the objects. Relations are considered from the point of view of the subject and are instrumental in nature.

The social business/relational perspective to management views life and knowing from a different point of view: knowledge is socially constructed. Knowledge is not stuff accumulated and stored by individuals. Contextual interpretation takes the place of the objective fact. When knowledge and truth are viewed as social and temporary then constructions of what we call understanding or knowledge are always a part of what is going on.

Whether the social process is called leadership, management, networking, or communication, knowing is an ongoing process of relating. Social media best produce connectedness and interdependence as processes that construct collective authority and responsibility. Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal. Accordingly, reality in science is no longer viewed as a singular fact of nature but as multiple and socially constructed as David Weinberger writes in his newest book: “Too Big to Know”.

In a relational model identity is constructed from being in relationships, being connected, as contrasted with the mainstream view of identity through separation. Knowledge of self and the other thus becomes viewed as co-constructed.

The relational view sees networking and social media as conversational processes of meaning making. Here, people who network may be regarded as seeking to understand the meanings of the others’ contributions. To do so, they would have to give up the assumption that they and others necessarily mean the same thing by the same terms or expressions. A manager, when networking, would be asking questions that invite others to make explicit what is usually left tacit. In the end it is a process of movement of thought on the basis of multiple perspectives.

For Bateson and many others, re-engagement is essential for recovering wisdom and long-term vitality. This requires re-connecting with participative ways of knowing, with others as part of the self.

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Thank you Gregory Bateson, Doug Griffin, Ralph Stacey, Kenneth Gergen, David Weinberger and Katri Saarikivi

Clubs may be the future of offices

Although work today is primarily digital, organizations still have a spatial dimension in one way or another. Even in the digital age we still think in terms of space. The key thing is that both the organizational structure and space greatly influence the patterns of work. A few years ago, the typical organizational design meant that work was divided into multiple parts that were simply added together to create the product. Individual workers did not need to know much more than what was specific to their individual tasks to complete their jobs. This created the offices we have today with separate meeting rooms for people to use when face-to-face communication with others was needed.

Today, the results of work are not brought together at the end but are communicated throughout the process. A growing number of people are involved in generating ideas and information and bringing those ideas together in collaborative sense making. Work is interaction and an ongoing meeting. Communication is not talking about work. Communication is work.

Three archetypes of communication can be seen in firms. The first type is communication for responsiveness and coordination. This creates the need for transparency. The right hand knows what the left is doing. The second type is asymmetric following. It is about a Twitter kind of information logistics to help people keep up with new developments that are contextually important for them. The third type is serendipitous inspiration from ad hoc encounters. It is spontaneous and helps people to come upon the unexpected. The third type of interaction often occurs between people who work on different things and draw on different disciplines. These people don’t often meet in traditional work arrangements. They don’t normally have a lot to do with each other on a daily basis.

Most managers will acknowledge the role played by the organizational structure and the process chart, but not all understand that physical space is equally important. Structure and space together influence how we work and how efficiently communication takes place when we meet.

There is an interesting benchmark available: private clubs. These clubs are places where typically only members and their guests are allowed in. The rooms are defined according to a function, such as socializing, eating and reading. These rooms are open to all, rather than being assigned to a single worker. You can book a more private room for a specific purpose, but in a clubhouse, you cannot put your name on the door.

Members of future organizations will use these new co-working spaces for projects, networking and for concentrated work, but they are not going to have spaces to fill with their personal belongings.

Many people bemoan the loss of a personal designated space, a little home away from home. However, I believe that they are going to learn to appreciate the value of freedom of choice and the escape from the control system of being seen in the same traditional office cubicle nine-to-five.

If you are in the middle of a conversation with someone, you seldom pause to talk about the conversation itself. But today, it is time to pause and consider, not only the new digital tools, but how we work physically together and where we meet to do that.

And yes, we are also going to continue to meet face-to-face in small groups in the future.

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The inspiration for writing this came from meeting my friend @elsua face-to-face for the first time a few days ago. Thank you @villepeltola and @sakuidealist

Advice on how to manage off-site workers