Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Category: Design

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”.

Designing for sociability

Interactive technologies like smartphones have been with us long enough to become familiar and find their present dominant designs. The explosion of the mobile Internet and location based services have added the potential of connectivity for objects, places and services in ways that very few companies still grasp. There is a new design dimension to everything: designing for sociability.

Most of us are aware of the direct effect we have on our friends and relatives. Our actions can make them happy or sad. But we very rarely consider that things we do or say can spread beyond the people we connect with. Conversely, our friends and family serve as conduits for us to be influenced by people we don’t know. We can be deeply and surprisingly affected by events we don’t take part in, that happen to people we don’t know.

It may not be appropriate to think about (digital) action only in terms of spatial metaphors: spaces and walls. Things happen and develop in time.

Focusing attention on the temporal processes of relating between people encourages us to take a special view to what interaction design might mean. Organizations are processes, not things. People are processes, not things. They are reproduced and transformed in interaction.

It is about how we continuously experience being together. The outcomes of organizational interaction are not within the powers of any single individual to choose. Both the outcomes and the dynamics producing the outcomes emerge in the very interaction! You cannot take away the uncertainty and the surprises.

When we shift the focus from spatial to temporal metaphors, the ethics of participation become more important than ever. The experience of being together results less from the technical and functional aspects of interaction and more from the purposes and values of the people taking part –  in ways that are very hard, or impossible to predict.

Perhaps temporal processes and iterative designs are the new dominant ways of designing for sociability.

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Ten Timeframes“. “The Design of Time“. “Dark Matter and Trojan Horses“. “An interview with Nicholas Felton” by Dan Hill

Network design

In a typical large organization everybody is a long way away from everybody else. As a result the individual perception of the world is narrow and confined to a small group of immediate acquaintances.

That did not matter in factory-type of settings because physical tasks could be broken up. Bigger tasks could be divided by assigning people to different, smaller, fairly independent parts of the whole. Hierarchies made sense as a way to modularize work. The worker did not need to communicate with many people. The downside was a lack of flexibility. Reconfiguring a hierarchy always created a mess for a long time. And if you had a lot of interaction going on in a hierarchical structure, with many steps going up and down, it was slow and prone to misunderstandings.

For intellectual tasks, it is much harder to find parts that make for an efficient division of labor. Intellectual tasks are by default linked and complex creating an increased need to interact. Knowledge workers are often put in a position where they have to negotiate some understanding of what they face. The same event means different things to different people. The cognitive 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 in a creative, enriching way we can thrive in the complex world we live in.

New technologies give an organization the ability to reconfigure its form any way it desires. We are not confined to any one structure any more. The smartphone revolution has changed the logic of the network. The Web is no longer about linked pages but about connected purposes. We want to do something – with the help of information and other people. Often this means wanting to learn and respond in a situation.

Most often we seek two things: information and interaction.

For information the best structure would be a random, contextual network. A random network has the shortest possible path lengths. An example of this is performing a search. The key measure here is path length. That indicates how far everybody is, on average. The path length measures how many steps a piece of information has to go through between people. To create short path lengths in a typical hierarchical or process based structure you would need to know almost everything and everybody included in the hierarchy/process chart.  You would need to have access to information that we typically don’t have. Hierarchies and process charts are thus not efficient ways to organize knowledge work. They are not transparent enough.

For interaction, the challenge is engagement. Widening the circle of involvement means expanding who gets to participate. It is about inviting and including relevant, new and different voices. The measure is built on the social graph: how many of your friends know each other?

The network design principles successful organizations follow are: ( 1 ) shortening the distance between two randomly picked files/nodes/people; ( 2 ) getting more people who you know personally, to know each other.

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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

New structures – new designs

When we think about business structures, many of us picture an organizational chart or the layout of an office building. A structure often refers to the physical arrangement of things, the parts making the whole.  What we have missed so far is an understanding of the business structures that can foster faster learning and help us work better with information. Conventional structures don’t address knowledge-related challenges as effectively as they do problems of measuring input and output or accountability.

What social media have helped us to do is to link and coordinate unconnected activities or initiatives addressing a similar information domain. There have also been great successes in diagnosing recurring business problems whose root causes cross unit boundaries. We know that the problems we face today are too complex to be managed by one person or one unit. It requires more than one brain, one point of view, to solve them.

Sharing a practice or sharing an information domain requires regular interaction. Work is interaction and the new business structures should be built on interdependence and communication.

Almost all business communities started among people who worked at the same place or lived nearby. But co-location is not necessary any more. The Internet has changed that. Interdependent people forming a community can be distributed over wide areas. What then allows people to work together is not the choice of a specific form of communication, face-to-face as opposed to email or social platforms, but the existence of a shared practice, a common set of situations. What lies at the core of those situations is the need for different perspectives requiring interaction.

When you design for live interaction, you cannot dictate it. You cannot design it in the traditional sense of specifying a structure or a process and then implementing it. As many have experienced, communities seldom grow beyond the group that initiated the conversation, because they fail to attract enough participants. Many business communities also fall apart soon after their launch because they don’t have the energy to sustain themselves.

Communities, unlike business units need to continuously invite the interaction that makes them alive.

Community design is closer to iterative learning than traditional organizational design. Live communities reflect and redesign themselves throughout their life cycle. The design should always start with very light structures and very few elements.

What is also different is that good community architecture invites many kinds of participation. We used to think that we should encourage all the community members to participate equally. Now we know that a large portion of the network members are and should be peripheral. In a traditional meeting we would consider this type of participation half-hearted, but in a network a large portion of the members are always peripheral and rarely contribute. Because the boundaries of a live community are always fluid, even those on the outer edges can become involved for a time as the focus shifts to their area of particular interest.

Because conversations and communities need to be alive to create value, we need an approach to management that appreciates passion, relationships and voluntary participation. Rather than focusing on accountability, community design should concentrate on energizing, enriching participation.

The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared information, shared interests and shared practices. Business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.

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More: “Lead like the great conductors

Designing a beautiful business

I have recently heard people say: “I have a great job.”; “I love what I am doing here.”; “He did it in a beautiful way.”; “I work in lovely surroundings.”; “I work with nice people.” Conventional analysis of organizations is dominated by a rational tradition that ignores aesthetics, yet life is pervaded with beauty as these people proved.

Aesthetic considerations can sometimes be of decisive importance. Apple products and the Nokia N9 attract people the same way that the theory of Einstein attracts scientists – by virtue of their sheer elegance.

Organizations are social constructs. They are nothing but constructs to which people are drawn in pursuit of some purpose. Healthy organizations are a concept of relationships to which people are drawn by beauty, values and meaning, along with the freedom to pursue them cooperatively. Healthy organizations enable more than constrain.

Unhealthy organizations are a concept of relationships into which people are forced by birth, necessity or manipulation. Unhealthy organizations constrain more than they enable.

The concept of the social organization has intensified the debate as to whether competition or cooperation should rule in business. But competition and cooperation are not mutually contradictory. In the new design of work they don’t have opposite meanings. They need to be complementary. In every aspect of a healthy life we paradoxically do both at the same time. No successful social endeavor has existed without combining the two.

But sometimes things have not worked out.

The idea of cooperation went mad in socialism leading to an unhealthy and false pursuit of equality and left us with centralized, totalitarian governments enslaving their own citizens. Competition has also gone mad in many capitalist countries, which has led to mindless self-interest and left us now to cope with the results of the irresponsible abuse of people and natural resources.

We need new thinking beyond the old dichotomy: The political left lacks any convincing narrative in the post-socialist world. The right tells a story in which greed is the dominant human motivation and markets actually mean gambling.

The Internet era has proven that we are capable of working together competitively/cooperatively and building social communities that some time ago many would have dismissed as impossible dreams. Thus we don’t yet have a good idea of what cannot be done by connected people working together in new ways. Changes in existing organizations and the evolution of new ones will have characteristics in common. Just as natural systems like the human body are not vertical hierarchies with each part superior to another in ascending linear order, neither will organizations of the future be structured that way. This is not to say that all present industrial organizations are doomed but the models we use to describe the world around us are.

We need a new vocabulary beyond the models of industrial production and separatist, mechanistic concepts of a corporation.

The emerging organizations cannot be portrayed in two dimensions on a traditional organizational chart. They are closer to the networked organization of neurons in the brain. Yet, even these dimensions are not enough without the aesthetic dimension of doing a beautiful work.

The next challenge is to design a beautiful business.

Happy, Beautiful New Year!

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Thank you Dee Hock and Thomas Kuhn.

Developing new habits of participation and new habits of communication

It is not uncommon to think that knowing is something that goes on in the brain. Yet the evidence that it is really so is not quite clear. Some scientists have expressed doubts. The mind, they have argued, is not a thing to which a place can be allocated. Intellectual life is essentially social and interactive, they say. Life is carried on through communication between people. These researchers claim that interactions are not secondary by-products of thinking. They are the primary sites of that activity.

Industrial manufacturing was a fairly straightforward transformation process from physical raw materials to physical goods. Economic growth today is still about value added. The difference is that the generic, homogeneous raw materials and mass products of the industrial era are today different ideas and contextual, co-created solutions. The transformation process is also very different. In creative work, it is an iterative, unpredictable, non-linear movement, rather than a linear, sequential chain of predictable acts. Knowledge-based value added is a movement of thought.

Individuals should take part in the onward movement of thinking. People should know what the live, future-creating ideas are and how to take part in the conversation in a value-adding way. This is independent of what people do, or the organizational unit they belong to.

The management task is to understand (1) what is being discussed, (2) the quality of that conversation, and (3) whether there is movement forward or (4) are people running in circles. Are people stuck? Thinking does not take place inside independent people but in continuous interaction between individuals. The richer the interaction, the more economic value added is created. The poorer the interaction, the more value is destroyed and waste created.

Knowledge used to be seen as the internal property of an individual. Today knowledge should be understood as networked communication. This requires us to learn new ways of talking about learning, education, competencies and work itself. What is also needed is to unlearn the reductionist organizing principles that are still the mainstream. Work is communication and the network is the amplifier. The age of the (lone) expert is over. The process of communication is the process of knowing.

If we want to influence the process of knowing we need to develop new habits of participation and new habits of communication. This is what the new interaction technologies allow us to do. This is also where agile practices impact on knowledge work in a similar way to that in which lean practices impacted on manufacturing.

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Thank you Doug Griffin and Kenneth Gergen

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.

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Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin

Designing a life

Apple design was not about Steven Jobs alone, but about Steven Jobs and the lead designer Jonathan Ive. The way I see it, their collaboration in Apple followed a bit the story of another design icon, Braun. The key people then were the industrialist Erwin Braun, his brother and the designer Dieter Rams.

Jonathan Ive has described his first encounter with a Dieter Rams design: “No part appeared to be either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and appropriate in the hierarchy of the product’s details. You knew exactly what it was and how to use it.”

“Good design is as little design as possible” is one of Dieter Rams’ most famous phrases. The meaning behind it was that a well-designed product should be so good that it is barely noticeable. By leaving the unnecessary out, the essential factors rise to the foreground. The challenge is that the design may be simple but the path taken to create it highly complex.

Dieter Rams was one of the first people who made the distinction between consumers and users when he talked about the people at whom his designs were aimed. The term “consumer” corresponds to someone who uses things up. Consumption is then a process of reducing the value that is built into the product. Rams preferred to use the German term “Gebraucher”, which translates as someone who uses something. The consumer is turned into the modern notion of a value-creating customer. If the design is useful, if the product facilitates value creation, it makes sense that it lasts as long as possible. For Rams, the term “Verbraucher”, the consumer, had a negative meaning, implying waste and short-term thinking.

Another concept that Dieter Rams suggested was “re-design”. What he meant was to turn away from an addiction to novelty towards iterations, to improving what we already have.

“Less, but better” was the ultimate motto of Dieter Rams. The motto follows the idea of “less is more” of Mies van der Rohe and Peter Behrens. The original idea of Behrens was improvement through reduction, reducing quantity, waste, and excess and at the same time increasing quality, value and the effort to create a better world in a human centric way.

Dieter Rams formulated his ideas about good design into a set of principles to explain what makes a good product:

The first principle was: good design is innovative. Technological developments always offer new opportunities. Innovative design develops in collaboration with innovative technology.

The second principle: good design is about usefulness. A product is bought to be used. Design is about emphasizing usefulness whilst disregarding everything that could be a detraction from it.

The third principle: good design is beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to functionality.

The fourth principle: good design makes a product understandable. At best it is self-explanatory.

The fifth principle: a good design is honest and does not try to make a product more innovative or valuable than it is.

The sixth principle: good designs are neither decorative nor independent works of art. Their design should leave room for interaction and the user’s self-expression.

The seventh principle: a good design lasts many years rather than being short-term and fashionable.

The eighth principle: it is about attention to detail. Nothing should be left to chance.

The ninth principle: good design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It minimizes waste and it minimizes visual and physical pollution.

The tenth principle: good design is “as little as possible”: it is about less but paradoxically at the same time about better, more valuable.

The principles of a good design may be the principles of a good life.

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Thank you Dieter Rams, Sophie Lovell, Marco Steinberg and his team at Sitra. Thank you also @moia

More: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art New York. Helsinki Design Lab. Guy Kawasaki on Steve Jobs. Jonah Lehrer on Steve Jobs. John Sculley on Steve Jobs. Technology and social change. Fast Company: 50 Most Influential Designers in America.