Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Month: December, 2014

Christmas Letter

The world of work in 2014 still consists of cultural metaphors that have guided the development of industrial firms and societies for the past 100 years. These habitual mindsets act as intellectual and emotional standards for determining what is the right way to think and what are the right things to do.

The characteristics of creative work utilizing technological intelligence in 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. The industrial era also created the shareholder capitalism we now experience.

The architecture of work is metaphorically still a picture of walls defining who is employed and inside and who is unemployed and outside. Who is included and who is excluded. Who “we” are and who “they” are. This way of thinking was acceptable in repetitive work where it was relatively easy to define what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities.

In creative, knowledge-based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of people, capabilities and tasks in advance. Interdependence between peers involves, almost by default, crossing boundaries. The walls seem to be in the wrong position or in the way, making work harder to do. What, then, is the use of the organizational theatre when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something?

What if the organization really should be an ongoing process of emergent self-organizing? Instead of thinking about the organization, let’s think about continuous organizing. If we take this view we don’t think about walls but we think about what we do and how groups are formed around what is actually going on, or what should be going on. The new management task is to make possible very easy and very fast emergent formation of groups and to make it as easy as possible for the best contributions from the whole network to find the applicable tasks.

The focal point in tomorrow’s organizing is not the organizational entity one belongs to, or the manager one reports to, but the reason that brings people together. What purposes, activities and tasks unite us? What is the reason for the formation of groups? The architecture of work is a live social graph of networked interdependence and accountability.

New interaction technologies give individuals and organizations the ability to do this, to reconfigure agency and its form in any way they desire and can imagine. We are not confined to any one structure any more. Sometimes people stay together for a long time, sometimes for a very, very short time. The Internet is no longer about linked pages but connected purposes. We want to do something — with the help of other people and technological intelligence.

Industrial work clearly predetermined the tasks that had to be done. The technology, the machine and the ways to work with the machine were given. Creative work is very different. The first thing for a worker is to answer the questions: What am I here for? What should I achieve? What should I do next? Key questions for a creative worker have to do with how to do things and what tools to use.

Historians claim that the invention of the printing press led to a society of readers, not a society of writers despite the huge potential of the new technology. Access to printing presses was a much, much harder and more expensive thing than access to books. Broadcasting systems such as radio, newspapers and television continued the same pattern. People were not active producers, but passive receivers.

Computer literacy still often follows the same model. In practice it means the capability to use the given tools of a modern workplace. But literacy to just use, to be the consumer of, the technologies and the programs is not what we need. The perspective of the consumer/user was the perspective of the industrial age. That should not be the goal today.

In creative work the machines necessarily have to serve the workers. It is the workers who decide what to do next and how to do it. In the digital world, it is not enough if we know how to use the programs, if we don’t know how to make them.

The underlying capability of the creative era is programming to utilize technological intelligence. It is a change from using things to making things. Creating things for yourself and sharing them. Today the code is the main domain of creativity and innovations. It is a new language and the number one high leverage activity in the digital society.

The task is to combine technological intelligence and creative interaction between interdependent human beings.

What could it look like? In 1996, the chess grandmaster and then world champion Garry Kasparov, was defeated by a computer for the first time. The same thing happened again in a rematch in 1997. The new champion was the famous Deep Blue from IBM. After these world-changing events and after many subsequent matches against computers, Kasparov had the idea of re-writing the rules of the game. He came up with a new form of chess in which humans would be allowed to use computers when playing. This form of chess was named “Advanced Chess”. The key insights are that today the best chess player is not a computer or an individual assisted by a computer, but a team of people making moves and decisions in creative cooperation with one another and in cooperation with computers, in cooperation with technological intelligence.

The really big idea is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings these relationships into the centre. The task is to see action within complex human relationships supported by our relationship with algorithmic technological intelligence.

In 2015 it is time for “Advanced Work”!


More on the subject: “We need to improve the interaction between humans with the support of machine learning

Designing change

Mainstream thinking sees a community on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is seen as separate from the individuals. From a Designing Change -point of view, this would mean different plans and actions on the individual level and different plans and actions on the communal level. And this is how we often think.

Another, newer, approach sees individuals themselves as social. Both the individual and the social are then about the same thing: interaction. The main difference from the first approach is that the individual and the social cannot here be separated or even understood separately. Both our individual and organizational lives are co-created in an interconnected network.

The human mind is not located and stored in an individual. Rather, what we have called the individual mind is something that arises continuously in relationships between people, in communication. This is also how organizations are born and how they develop.

If you want to change things, you have to understand what happens in that communication. Designing change starts with studying the patterns of interaction and then influencing interaction.

Interaction starts always with acknowledgement. It is about granting attention to others and making room for them in our lives. Thus how we connect has tremendous significance. Who do I acknowledge and who acknowledges me? The modern version of hierarchies is inclusion and exclusion. Who do I talk to and who are the people I don’t talk to. Who do I listen to and who are the people I don’t listen to?

In this model, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual, that suggests a response from someone else. The gesture is also called a bid. There is no linear causality from the gesture to the response. The response is always a choice. The meaning of the gesture can only be known in the response. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning of the gesture is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning of the same gesture is contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one social act.

Do you turn towards me or do you turn away when I talk to you? Not answering is turning away. Is your response constructive although you don’t agree with me, or do I see it as destructive? The thing is that neither side can independently choose the meaning, or control the conversation. It is always co-created.

Change starts often with recognition between new people with different views and different approaches, evolving into a creative, complementary sense of consciousness. Designing change is sometimes about new connections, new people taking part. It is about new agendas, asking different kind of questions and pointing to different kinds of issues.

It is especially about analyzing how and when we get stuck in the forward movement of thought. Is it in endless advocacy, instead of collaborative inquiry? Is it in self-absorption? Is it about a “me” instead of an “us” orientation in the way we interact?

The requirement for efficient work is not necessarily to have common goals or to reach agreements. Creative work is a movement of thought that is always based on working with differences. Paradoxically you always need people who agree, but equally, you need people who don’t think like you. Thinking develops best through constructive friction and argumentation.

The most important metrics are about how the common narrative develops? An organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a continuing story. New people join this narrative and people leave. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops towards the future.

The key management role is to enhance the speed of the interactive movement of thought, often expressed as the entrepreneurial capacity for transforming ideas into customer value.

There can be no change without changes in the patterns of communication. Organizations of any kind, no matter how large or how small they are, are continuously reproduced and transformed in the ongoing communicative interaction.

The distinctive characteristic of a high productivity organization is the capacity to generate expansive, positive, emotional states. Emotions can thus be seen as the driving force behind cognition and action. There is a lot of truth in the sentence “I don’t remember what you said, but I remember how you made me feel”.