Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Sense making and protocols as the future of management

Management thinking is moving towards an understanding of human action as a process of sense making. What an organization becomes emerges from the sense-making relationships of its members, rather than being determined by the choices of few powerful individuals.

Management is historically seen as a collection of tasks involving planning, organizing, controlling and incentivizing. A competent manager is believed to be able to analyze organizational and task requirements plus the emotionally loaded human motivations. Successful management has then been able to remove conflict and uncertainty and accurately predict and plan the future.

The future is accordingly described as goals and performance targets. Following this logic, the role of management is to control the movement into a chosen future. But what management really is, is about reduction of anxiety. Anxiety levels in the individual experiences most often depend on the perceived level of control people have over themselves and their environment. This drives our need to believe that someone is, or should be, in control.

The opposites of being in control, such as responsiveness as opposed to planning, not knowing as opposed to knowing or differences as opposed to consensus should be removed by management. Success is equated with equilibrium.

However, the ability to do this in a complex world that is highly sensitive to the tiniest changes is questionable. Neither can rational causality be applied to humans because human action is not deterministic. The idealistic view of a manager as one who is in control is not consistent with our practical experience, or with modern science. From the point of view of the sciences of complexity, an organization is not even a system, but should be understood as a pattern, or as interconnected patterns in time.

These interconnected patterns are the results of self-organizing processes across the network forming the organization. Many events, local interactions generate emergent outcomes that cannot be traced back to any specific management action. Looking towards the future, we create what happens next, without knowing what will happen next.

The organization, then, is no longer self-regulating in a cybernetic sense, but self-influencing in a complex sense. Self-influence as a concept is not necessarily positive, it can lead both to self-sustaining and self-destructive behaviors.

The key management capability is not being in control, but to participate and influence the formation of sense making and meaning. It is about creating a context that enables connectedness, interaction and trust between people.

Most people believe that the role of leaders is to choose strategic directions and then persuade others to follow them. A modern view of strategy is about exploration and experiments, a search process of trial and error. The openness to the possible through the search process leads to having to live with anxiety and not knowing. Work needs to equal learning.


Almost all management practices we have from goal setting to budgeting are cybernetic in the sense that quantified targets are set at some point in the future and the path toward the goal is planned and then controlled. Variance is continually fed back to determine needed management adjustments to bring performance back to the target path. The still dominant ways of management thinking are based on Newtonian dynamics with the belief that a manager can find leverage points for interventions to initiate a known change. The manager’s role is with these “if-then” causal rules.

What (cybernetic) management used to be, is tomorrow done by algorithms and the new enabling/constraining protocols. It is about individuals acting with each other according to the fewest number of rules that can produce global, emergent patterns of coherent, interactive behavior.

Post-blockchain smart contracts make possible, in economically viable ways, that person A can be part in the work/learning of person B. B again plays part in the work/learning of person C, who plays part in the work/learning of A. Work is by default networked cognition. Value creation is event-based and contextually highly interdependent cooperation.

No one agent is choosing the number and strength of connections for other agents in the network. While no agent can be in control of a complex system, it is evolving in a controlled manner because of the conflicting constraints, the differences in the network. This is why the goal is not to reach consensus. What an organization becomes emerges from the relationships of its members rather than being chosen by some individuals.

The fundamental dynamic of evolution is not competitive selection, but interactive cooperation. Management in the new economic spaces is then about self-influencing cooperation.

The changing system of skills and responsibilities

We have so far followed a very crude pyramid-like classification in work: skilled work was what highly educated individuals would do. Semi-skilled work was possible for trained people. Unspecified labor was what almost everybody could do after onboarding. This classification of work led to the unintended consequence that the most economical design of mass-era organizations reduces the amount of skilled work and increases the amount of less-skilled work, thus reducing costs. A bigger problem than low-skilled people is the low-skilled occupations we have created.

Classification of work as different bundles of skills and responsibility has been very easy to grasp and easy to follow in compensation schemes. More skills and/or more responsibility — more pay. Managers, who are responsible people, are given responsibilities — and higher wages. Workers are given less demanding tasks, less responsibility — and lower wages. The argument behind is a circular, self-fulfilling prophecy. People who are not made responsible tend to avoid responsibilities and therefore never become responsible. Skilled people acquire more skills because of the higher cognitive demands of their work. Less-skilled work roles give less opportunities for learning, leading in fact to a slow but certain de-skilling. This is something we see in many industries today. The phenomena and the causes of the problem become the same.

The organizational system of skills and responsibilities has been made on the assumption that all that has to be done can be known and managed with efficiency and insight. In mass-production, work corresponds mainly with what has been planned and budgeted. But today, in more contextual problem solving, work corresponds mainly with complex engagements with the customers.

The focus changes from generic skills to contextual presence, empathy and interaction.

The most modern definition of work is “an exchange in which the participants benefit from the interaction”. Interestingly, cooperation is also described as “an exchange in which the participants benefit from the interaction”.

The technological environment of work has changed fundamentally, but we haven’t yet developed a new mode of economic space design, neither have we escaped the pull of the traditional industrial system. Our relations at work are still asymmetrical involving status differences based on systems of responsibility and systems of skills. This inbuilt systemic fault generates increasing social distance and inequality, as we have now seen.

Due to the variety of contexts people work in, work requires interpretation, exploration and negotiation. The interpreter with the best situational awareness is the worker, working together with the customer, not a manager. The relations are built on symmetry.

What defines most problems today is that they are not isolated and independent. To solve them, a person has to think not only about what he believes the right answer is, but also about what other people think the right answers might be. Work, then, is exploration both what comes to defining the problems and finding the solutions. Again, the relations need to be based on symmetry.

Most decision makers are still unaware of the implications of the complex, responsive properties of the world we live in. Enterprises are not organized to facilitate interactions, only the actions of parts taken separately. Even more, compensation structures normally reward improving the actions of parts, not their interactions. This is why conventional jobs are increasingly inhibiting flexibility and contextual responses to new problem definitions or new technological solutions to old problems.

To succeed in the new economic spaces we need symmetric relationships, open assets and very open organizations.

When customers are identified as individuals in different use contexts, also the sales process is in fact a joint process of solving problems. You and your customer necessarily then become cooperators. You are together trying to solve the customer’s problem in a way that both satisfies the customer and ensures a profit for you. The industrial make-and-sell model required (explicit) skills as we still know them. The decisive thing was your individual knowledge and individual education. Today, in new economic spaces you work more from your presence and network than your skills. Work is interaction.

The really big objective of digital transformation is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings these relationships into the center. Success today is increasingly a result of skillful presence: it is about empathy and interaction. Through new technologies and ubiquitous connectivity, we have totally new opportunities for participation and communication in the new economic spaces

These economic spaces are about interdependent individuals and groups defining and solving problems in shared contexts utilizing smart contracts.

Individuals competing on job markets may be one of the historic mistakes we have inherited from the early industrial era. It made sense a very long time ago but now we should think differently.

Interaction creates capability beyond individuals. Cooperative performance can be more than what could ever be predicted just by looking at the performance of the parties involved. It is not about individual skills any more. Skills, performance and resilience are emergent properties of cooperative interaction. They are not attributable to any individuals. Higher performance is more a result from the quality of interaction than the quantity of training and education.

Networks provide problem-solving capability that results directly from the richness of communication and the amount of connectivity. What happens in interaction between the parts creates a reality that cannot be seen in the parts or even seen in all of the parts.

This is why it does not make sense any more to talk about skill levels and just managers being responsible. Either you are present in a relevant way or not. Neither can responsibility be somewhere else. You can only be present and contribute if you are response able.

Credits Nick Hanauer and Katri Saarikivi

A working class manifesto for the post-industrial era

Gregory Bateson wrote that the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and how people think. Mainstream economics still sees the economy and society as ultimately predictable and controllable rational processes, although the repeated crises have shown how deeply flawed this view of the world is.

Today, more and more scholars see organizations as being more analogous to complex networks. There, it is not about predictions and controlled outcomes, but about uncertainty, perpetual co-creation and fundamental interdependence. Their claim is that we should study links and interactions. Many aspects of our social and economic world would start to look completely different from this complex network perspective.

Knowledge work is understood as creative work we do in interaction. Unlike the repetitive business processes we know so well, where inputs are acted on in some predictable, structured way and converted into outputs, the inputs and outputs of knowledge work are problem definitions and exploration for solutions. Even more, there are no predetermined task sequences that, if executed, would guarantee success.

Knowledge work is characterized by variety and exception rather than predictability and routine.

It is thus impossible to separate a knowledge process from its outcomes. Knowledge work is about human beings being more intensely present for each other. Thus, a post-industrial business today needs to be human-centric by definition. But people still tend to see their work and personal lives as two separate spheres.

Although this conflict is widely recognized, it is seen as an individual challenge, a private responsibility to manage. It is now time to challenge this and see the conflict as a systemic problem. It is a result of the factory logic, which saw human beings as resources and interchangeable parts of the main thing, the production machinery. The employee gave her time and skills for the employer for certain duration in exchange for money. The context and logic of work are dramatically different today. In knowledge work we need to create an explicit, new connection between work and personal life. We talked earlier about balancing work and life. Here we are talking about connecting work and life in a new way, with a new agenda. Human beings in interaction are the main things, not the processes of production.

Traditional management thinking sets employee goals and business goals against each other. The manager is free to choose the goals, but the employee is only free to follow or not to follow the given goals. This is why employee advocates mainly want responsible employers, nothing else, and the employers want committed employees who come to work with enthusiasm and energy.

Must we then choose between the goals of the people or the goals of the business, or can the two sides be connected? As we know, passion and commitment are best mobilized in response to personal aspirations, not financial rewards. The aim, however, is not to have a single set of common goals, but complementary goals and a co-created narrative for both!

Linking personal lives with corporate issues may seem like an unexpected, or even a strange connection. But if we don’t learn from psychology and cognitive neurosciences, and continue to try deal with each area separately, both individuals and organizations will suffer.

The lack of a connecting agenda may also be one of the big challenges facing the emerging post-industrial society.

We need to study the intersection of business strategy and personal narrative and use the new agenda to challenge our industrial age practices and flawed ways of thinking. Knowledge work needs whole human beings. People, who are more fully present, people with responsibility and ownership. We are accustomed to taking work home, but what would the opposite be?

We need an approach to work that appreciates whole human beings, their passions and voluntary participation. Rather than focusing on accountability, community design should concentrate on energizing, enriching participation.

The new structures of work and new designs for value creation are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared information, shared interests and shared practices.

Post-industrial business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.


Elämme suurta mahdollisuuksien demokratisoitumisen vallankumousta, mutta samaan aikaan yhteiskunnalliset ongelmamme ovat ehkä vaikeampia kuin koskaan. Charles Dickensiä vapaasti lainaten: “It is the best of times and the worst of times.”

Aikaamme kuvaavat toisiinsa kytkeytyvät ja toisistaan seuraavat ongelmat ja yllätykset. Kompleksisten ongelmien ymmärtämiseksi ja ratkaisemiseksi tarvitaan aina ihmisten yhteistoimintaa ja hyvin monenlaisten kokemusten ja erilaisten osaamisten luovaa yhdistämistä.

On kuitenkin hyvin vaikeaa muodostaa yhdessä ymmärrystä tilanteesta jossa olemme koska tulkintoja on niin monta ja keinot tulkintojen yhdistämiseen puuttuvat. Elämme samassa maailmassa, joka kuitenkin näyttäytyy eri ihmisille erilaisena. Eri ihmisten luomat kuvat samoista tilanteista ja asioista poikkeavat merkittävästi toisistaan.

Miksi näin on? Yksi syy on se, että elämme ympäristössä jota kuvaa pitkälle erikoistunut työnjako, moniarvoisuus ja monikulttuurisuus. Tästä seuraa suoraan, että ihmisten kokemukset maailmasta ovat lähtökohtaisesti erilaisia ja toisistaan usein hyvinkin kaukana. Kukin lopulta kokee maailman perspektiivistä, joka ei ole täysin samanlainen kenenkään muun kokemusmaailman ja näkökulman kanssa.

Toinen syy on se, että ihmisen kuva maailmasta syntyy sosiaalisen toiminnan ja yhtesöllisesti koetun ympäristön kautta. Kokemukset eivät muodostu yksilön pään sisällä, vaan maailma koetaan ja luodaan yhdessä. Havainnot, kokemukset ja asioille annetut merkitykset syntyvät aina yksilön ja ympärillä olevien ihmisten sosiaalisessa todellisuudessa. Ajattelu tapahtuu enemmän ihmisten välillä kuin yhden ihmisen korvien välissä. Se, mikä on totta yhden ryhmän jäsenille ei välttämättä ole tosi toisille ryhmille joiden kokemusmaailman on erilainen.

Olemme tottuneet muodostamaan jakoja ihmisten välille ja luomaan kuvaa maailmasta erojen, reduktionismin ja vastakkainasettelujen kautta. Ymmärrystä ei voi syntyä jos toisiinsa kytkeytyneitä, keskinäisriippuvaisia ja vuorovaikutteisissa prosesseissa syntyviä ilmiötä yritetään havainnoida erillisyyksinä, irrotettuina niihin vaikuttavista suhteista.

Sen sijaan että tänään puhutaan faktojen jälkeisestä ajasta, meidän tulisi olla kiinnostuneita siitä, miten nämä erilaiset käsitykset asioista syntyvät? Mitkä ovat eri maailmankäsitysten ja eri ryhmien ”faktojen” taustalla olevat kokemusmaailmat ja miten niiden yhdistämisen kautta voitaisiin luoda rikkaampaa kuvaa todellisuudesta.

Tavoitteena ei ole kompromissi, yhden, kaikille sopivan ajatusmallin ja totuuden löytäminen. Sen sijaan meidän kaikkien tulisi pyrkiä ymmärtämään omasta ajattelusta poikkeavien, erilaisten näkökantojen taustalla olevaa erilaista maailmaa.

Luova mahdollisuus on siinä, että toisistaan poikkeavat näkökannat voivat rikastavassa vuorovaikutuksessa täydentää, mutta myös kehittää toisiaan. Ihmiset voivat työstää yhdessä toisten erilaisista kokemuksista jotain sellaista mihin kukaan ei pystyisi yksin. Erilaisuus voi olla suuri rikkaus ja lähtökohta luovuudelle.

Oppiminen lähtee aina erilaisuudesta.

Tämä ei onnistu jos keskustelu on asetelmaltaan epätasa-arvoista tai jos ajatuksen liike jumiutuu konflikteihin. Nyt syntymässä olevan, teollisen ajan jälkeisen maailman hyvinvointi edellyttää, että ihmiset voivat kohdata toisensa erilaisina, mutta tasa-arvoisina yksilöinä, jotka yhdessä luovat todellisuutta vuorovaikutuksessa.

Sisäänpäin kääntyvä heimoutuminen on tänään helpompaa kuin koskaan, mutta myös vaarallisempaa kuin koskaan. Se johtaa helposti sosiaalisia rajoja ylittävän vuorovaikutuksen loppumiseen ja siten demokratian elinvoiman heikkenemiseen.

Ensimmäinen teollinen vallankumous demokratisoi kulutuksen. Aikaisemmin kalliit tuotteet halpenivat massatuotannon ja koneellistumisen seurauksena dramaattisesti ja tulivat yhä useamman saataville. Massatuotanto loi sekä uudet markkinat että kulutusyhteiskunnan niin kuin sen yhä tunnemme.

Nyt käynnissä oleva teollinen vallankumous demokratisoi tuotannon. Aikaisemmin kalliit tuotantovälineet tulevat yhä useamman saataville. Teknologian kehitys laskee tuotantovälineiden hintoja dramaattisesti ja luo tilan uudelle massatuotannosta poikkeavalle arvonluonnille. Se mikä oli aikaisemmin mahdollista vain suurelle yritykselle on nyt mahdollista myös pienelle. Se mikä aikaisemmin vaati organisaation on nyt mahdollista muutamalle, hetkeksi yhteen tulevalle yksilölle.

Elämme mahdollisuuksien demokratisoitumisen kulta-aikaa.

Yhteiskunnallisen demokratian ytimessä on sama ihmisten mahdollisuuksien lisääntyminen ja uusien toimintavaihtoehtojen avautuminen. Yhteiskunnallinen hyvinvointi on lopulta kiinni siitä kumuloituvasta ongelmanratkaisujen määrästä, joka on yhä useammassa tilanteessa tarjolla yhä useammille ihmisille.

Kysymys on siitä kuinka monelle ihmiselle ja kuinka moneen ongelmankuvaukseen meillä on ratkaisun mahdollisuus uuden teknologian tukemassa vuorovaikutuksessa. Demokratia tarkoittaa vapauden luomien mahdollisuuksien käyttöä ja niiden hyötyjen kumuloituvaa jakamista arjessa.

Demokratia on silloin sekä tuotannollinen paradigma että valtiomuoto, joka nojaa keskeisesti erilaisten ihmisten kohtaamis- ja vuorovaikutuskykyyn. Demokratia vaarantuu heti jos kohtaamishalu tai -kyky puuttuvat tai jos keskusteluyhteydet katkeavat tai niitä ei ole ollutkaan. Yhteiskunnan arvot elävät tai kuolevat tavallisten ihmisten arjessa.

Teknologisen kehityksen jälkeen demokratia on tärkein jälkiteollista maailmaa synnyttävä yhteiskunnallinen voima.

Mitä paremmin ymmärrämme myös muita kuin omia näkökantojamme, sitä enemmän potentiaalisia ratkaisuja ongelmiin avautuu ja sitä enemmän meillä on mahdollisuuksia ja vapautta valita eri vaihtoehdoista ja luoda uutta. Kaikessa inhimillisessä toiminnassa näkyy sama lainalaisuus:

(1) enemmän kontakteja erilaisuuteen luo kuvan

(2) laajemmasta mahdollisuuksien maailmasta, joka taas

(3) luo suuremman vapauden valita ja

(4) luoda uutta arvoa ongelmankuvaus – ongelmaratkaisu prosesseina.

Valinnat taloudessa ovat aina moraalisia kannanottoja. Kaikki valinnat mitä teemme liittyvät aina arvoihin ja eettisiin käsityksiin hyvästä ja siitä mikä on toivottavaa. Teollisen ajan mekanistisesta luonteesta juontuu se, että ihmiset kohtelevat toisiaan monissa käytännön tilanteissa esineiden kaltaisina välineinä. Kun ihminen määrittyy toiselle ihmiselle välineenä on suhde epätasa-arvoinen ja johtaa helpommin autoritaarisuuden ihannointiin. Tässä nollasummapelissä toisen vallan kasvu vähentää toisen valtaa. Autoritaarisesti johdettu toiminta on ollut tehokasta ja tuottavaa massatuotannossa. Tämän johdosta symmetriset suhteet ja tasa-arvoisen arvonluonnin teoriapohja on kehittynyt hitaasti verrattuna yhteistoiminnan hierarkkisiin muotoihin.

Käsityksemme tehokkuudesta ja tuottavuudesta on rakentunut kilpailulle. Internet on oikeastaan ensimmäinen yhteiskunnallinen arkkitehtuuri, joka mahdollistaa tasa-arvoisen, yhteistoiminnallisen arvonluonnin uudet muodot laajassa mitassa.

Yhteistoiminta on aina kompleksista sekä seurauksiltaan että keskinäisriippuvuuksiltaan. Tasa-arvoista ja vapaata yhteistoimintaa ei voi kontrolloida, siihen voi ainoastaan osallistua. Koska yhteistoiminta on epävarmasti etenevää yhdessä synnytettyä ja syntyvää (emergenttiä) liikettä ajassa, se edellyttää aina tukea. Valta uudessa ympäristössä määrittyykin toiminnaksi, joka liittää erilaisia ihmisiä ja heidän erilaisia pyrkimyksiään yhteen.

Olemme ajatelleet, että vallankäyttö väistämättä johtaa valinnanvapauden kaventumiseen ja tasa-arvon vähentymiseen. Monissa yhteiselämän ja työn muodoissa joissa demokratian ihanne on ollut johtavana periaatteena on kaihdettu valtaa ja uskottu, että ilman vallankäyttöä toiminta löytää optimaalisen muodon. Tavallisesti tämä toteutetaan ohjeistamalla kommunikaatiokäytännöt ja byrokratisoimalla yhteistyörakenteet yhteisön toimijoiden välillä.

Valtasuhteita välttelevä yhteistoiminta toimii tavallisesti aluksi, mutta on usein käytännössä lopulta hyvin tehotonta. Huonolaatuinen vuorovaikutus eri intressejä edustavien ryhmien välillä luo mahdollisuuden sille, että autoritäärinen, valtaa haluava taho saa yhteisön hallintaansa tukemaan omia pyrkimyksiä.

Uusi demokraattinen vallankäyttö lähtee kuitenkin erilaisista periaatteista: valta on osa toimintaa, se ei ole toiminnasta erillinen rooli. Vallankäyttö onnistuu tasa-arvoisessa maailmassa kun moni osallistuja tukee muita toisiaan tarvitsevassa verkostossa ja täydentää muita vuorovaikutuksessa pyrittäessä jaettuihin tavoitteisiin. Valta mahdollistaa.

Teollisessa massatuotannossa oli tiukasti määritetyt rakenteet ja normit kuvaamassa kommunikaatiosuhteita ihmisten välillä. Vuorovaikutus tähtäsi tehtävän hoitamiseen eikä toisen ihmisen kohtaamiseen. Jälkiteollisen, demokraattisemman arvonluonnin keskeinen idea on tekijöiden vapaus liittyä ja yhdistyä arvoa luoviksi yhteisöiksi. Työ on jatkuvaa organisoitumista ja toisiaan tarvitsevien ihmisten vuorovaikutusta. Työ edellyttää ihmisten kohtaamista ihmisinä.

Demokraattinen, vapaa yhteistoiminta ei poista tarvetta luoda johtajuus-suhteita. Johtaminen on kuitenkin hyvin erilaista kuin autoritäärisessä tai hierarkkisessa mallissa. Johtamisen tehtävänä ei ole asettaa päämääriä tai antaa tehtäviä vaan ohjata toimintaa niin, että päämäärät muodostetaan ja tehtävistä sovitaan yhdessä. Valta tarkoittaa myös vastuuta keskustelun laadusta ja ajattelun etenemisestä yhdessä valitulla polulla.

Yhteisön oppiminen, oppimisen skaalautuminen ja yhteinen ajatuksen liike ovat tavoitteina kaikessa toiminnassa.

Ilman oppimista ja ajattelun liikettä, vanhoista kokemuksista kiinni pitävät yhteisöt ovat kyvyttömiä ymmärtämään muuttunutta ympäristöä. Selitysmekanismit eivät tue uuden toiminnan syntymistä, vaan jähmettävät yhteisön menneeseen.

Paras lopputulos syntyy vuorovaikutukseen osallistujien lisätessä toinen toistensa kykyä tunnistaa olemassa olevia vaihtoehtoja. Ihmiset käyttävät silloin toistensa esiintuomia asioita oman näkökulmansa laajentamiseksi, rikastamiseksi, muuttamiseksi ja myös korjaamiseksi. Kun yksilö ottaa omassa ajattelussaan huomioon muiden esille tuomat, usein oman ajattelun kanssa ristiriitaisetkin seikat, voi ajattelu, luovuus ja ongelmankuvaukset perustua paljon laajempaan pohjaan kuin vain omiin, aina rajallisiin, kokemuksiin.

Elämme keskellä valtavaa mahdollisuuksien demokratisoitumisen vallankumousta. Sen toteutuminen on viime kädessä kiinni siitä tukeeko yhteiskuntamme osallisuutta, laajaa verkottumista ja vuorovaikutusta.



Mary Parker-Follett, David Bohm, Martin Buber, Paulo Freire, Karl-Martin Dietz, Kai Alhanen ja Katri Saarikivi

Emmi Itäranta Helsingin Sanomat 30.12.2016

Kai Alhasen haastattelu. Yle Areena

A pattern language of post-industrial work

At the core of the post-industrial era is the idea that people should design for themselves. This principle applies also our value creating entities. This may sound radical but comes from the observation that most of the value on global scale is not created by firms but by people. People, then, should learn to be better designers. When designing something we always rely on certain patterns. We are in the midst of a shift from the industrial pattern of supply and demand to social, interactive patterns.

The customer is now seen as being directly and actively involved in the key moments of value creation as opposed to passively consuming value. There are profound implications that result from this change of thinking. Products and services are not reproducible as such any more. Solutions are by default contextual, but they can be starting points for someone else to create value. Creative, connected learning is at the core of the post-industrial business.

The most important principle is to build the organization around three design patterns: (1) Relations, (2) Network effects and (3) Solving problems /Asking questions.


Cultural homogenization is a theme of our time. It is apparent in fashion, food, music, and many services with a unified user experience. Everything is made to be basically the same everywhere. According to some psychologists, the desire for this sameness arises from anxiety about differences. This is one of the reasons why Gregory Bateson argued that the history of our time can be perceived as the history of malfunctioning relationships. More homogenization leads to more anxiety (when experiencing differences) which leads to more homogenization and the “differences that make a difference”, as Bateson put it, are lost.

Human behavior is learned in relations. Our brains are wired to notice and imitate others. Computational social science has proved that behavior can be caught like a disease merely by being exposed to other people. Learning and also non-learning can be found in communication. It is not that people are intelligent and then socially aware. Social intelligence is not a separate type of intelligence. All intelligence emerges from the efforts of the community.

To succeed you need relationships and interaction. When customers are identified as individuals in different use contexts, the sales process is really a joint process of solving problems. You and your customer necessarily then become cooperators. You are together trying to solve the customer’s problem in a way that both satisfies the customer and ensures a profit for you.

The industrial make-and-sell model required expert skills. The decisive thing was your individual knowledge. Today you work more from your network than your skills. The decisive thing is your relations. The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared contexts, meaning shared interests and shared practices. The focus of industrial management was on the division of labor and the design of vertical/horizontal communication channels. The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness.

The really big objective of the digital transformation is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the center. Success today is increasingly a result of skillful participation: it is about how we are present and how we communicate. Through new technologies, applications and ubiquitous connectivity, we have totally new opportunities for participation and communication — potentially changing the way we work together.

Network effects

The new platforms can be a valuable, shared resource making value creation possible through organizing and simplifying participation. Sociologists have called such shared resources public goods. A private good is one that the owners can exclude others from using. Private was valuable and public without much value during the era of scarcity economics. This is now changing in a dramatic way, creating the intellectual confusion we are in the midst of today. The physical commons were, and still often are, over-exploited but the new commons follow a different logic. The more they are used, the more valuable they are for each participant.

The ongoing vogue of business design transforms asset-based firms to network-based platforms. The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today.

The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. The industrial economy was based on supply-side economies of scale inside the corporation. The new focus is outside, in demand-side network economies.

The most important model is a network structure where the value of all interactions is raised by all interactions; where every interaction benefits from the total number of interactions. These are the new network businesses. In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents. The key understanding is that it is now the customers or members of the network who create value, not the network owner. The customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain. The Internet is a viable model for making sense of the value creating constellations of tomorrow. Perhaps the next evolutionary step in the life of the firms is a transformation from platforms to open commons with shared protocols. Perhaps Bitcoin/Blockchain is going to be part of the new stack, the TCP/IP of business.

Solving problems /Asking questions

Success in life has been seen governed by two concepts: skills and effort; how bright you are and how hard you work. Recently, researchers have claimed that there is a third and decisive concept. It is the practice of lifelong curiosity: “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” as Piaget put it.

The collective intelligence of our societies depends on the tools that augment human intelligence. We should welcome the fact that people today are smarter in large measure because they have invented and use smarter tools. Making tools is what human beings have always done. The interactions between tools and human minds are so complex that it is very hard to try to draw a line between humans and technology. Neither is it a zero-sum game where the human brain is losing to technological intelligence, but as technology changes, people and what people do, are necessarily changed.

Work starts from problems and learning starts from questions. Work is creating value and learning is creating knowledge. Both work and learning require the same things: interaction and engagement. With the help of modern tools, we can create ways for very large numbers of people to become learners. But learning itself has changed, it is not first acquiring skills and then utilizing those skills at work. Post-industrial work is learning. It is figuring out how to solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way — both with technology and with other people.

The new design patterns create new opportunities. It is not about having a fixed job role as an employee or having tasks given to you as a contractor. The most inspiring and energizing future of work may be in solving problems and spotting opportunities in creative interaction with your customers.

From transaction costs to network effects

Resonance occurs whenever two things vibrate in tune. If you strike a tuning fork, an identical fork on the same table will begin to vibrate. Energy is continuously exchanged between the forks, which are in resonance. Resonance is such a powerful phenomenon that soldiers marching across a suspension bridge break stride just in case their coordinated marching should resonate with the natural vibrations of the bridge. If this would occur, the bridge would absorb the energy of the marching soldiers and the structures could even oscillate out of control and break.

Quantum theory says that each (quantum) entity has both a wavelike and a particle like aspect. The particle like characteristic is fixed but the wavelike is a set of potentialities that cannot be reduced to the existing parts of the entity. If two or more of these entities are brought together, their potentialities are entangled. Their wave aspects are interwoven to the extent that a change in the potentiality in one brings about a corresponding change in the potentiality of the other. A new shared reality emerges that could not have been predicted by studying the properties or actions of the two entities. It is really about learning that scales.

The famous experiments with the fundamental entities of visible light have proven that we cannot claim that a photon is a wave or a particle until it is measured, and how we measure it determines what we see. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” as Max Planck put it.

The basic units of the industrial era were transacting entities enabled by market, price and coordination mechanisms. It was a world of particles separated from other particles.

As a social innovation the industrial era enterprise was born when the volume of economic activity reached a level that made administrative coordination more efficient and more lucrative than market coordination of these particles.

The important innovation of the modern firm was to internalize activities by bringing many discrete entities under one roof and under one system of coordination. The multi-unit business corporation replaced the small, single-unit enterprise because administrative coordination enabled greater productivity through lower (transaction) costs per task than was possible before.

Managers essentially carried out the functions formerly handled by price and market mechanisms.

The practices and procedures that were invented at the dawn of industrialism have become a standard operating system and are still taught in business schools. The existence of this managerial system is not questioned. It is the defining characteristic of the business enterprise.

But two aspects of work have changed dramatically.

The most successful firms are themselves multi-sided markets in interaction with entities “outside”, customers and network partners. These firms are the new platforms.

Secondly, the products/services the platform firm sells to its clients are not offerings of the firm per se, but offerings created by specific network players in specific situations of “local” network interaction.

Thus, aiming to become a platform requires a vision that extends beyond one’s firm and aims to build and sustain an ecosystem that benefits from more partners joining the network. During the industrial era, economists called this phenomenon network “externalities”. Now it is more properly called network effects.

This conceptual difference is hugely important because what assets were for the industrial firm, network effects are for the post-industrial firm.

We all have mindsets of the world that serve as maps that guide what we see and how we understand the world around us. The maps can be helpful but also outdated and incorrect. The approach that managers do the coordination is just too slow and too costly in the low transaction cost environments we live in. It is now more expensive to internalize than to link and network.

Traditional business economics focus on supply side economies of scale derived from the resource base of the company. It scales much more slowly than the demand side network effects the new firms are built on. Network effect based value can increase exponentially at the same time as costs grow linearly. If you follow the valuations of firms today there is an ever-widening gap between the network-economy platforms and incumbents driven by traditional asset leverage models. Investors and markets have voted.

People participate based on transparent information and high quality communication systems enabling “resonance”. The contributing individuals are not managers but customers and other network partners. The more of them there in active “resonance” the more assets there are.

The main mission of digital platforms is to make network effects possible. Platforms are (just) means to tackle network effects the same way the industrial corporations were (just) means to tackle transaction costs.

The big shift is from market transactions to network interactions. The world of business looks very different when we change the way we look at things from transaction cost economics to network effect economics.

The complex future of work

We live in an age of simplistic explanations. We build simple systemic models and crude abstractions. As a result, both our sense making and our decisions are built on an inadequate appreciation of the complex systems we are part of.

We have seen what it can lead to: industrial farming has caused a radical reduction of variety in nature in order to meet the goals of productivity. The simplification of crops was economically very efficient, allowing specialization in machinery and lowering the cost of learning, but it often damaged the local ecology in an irreversible way. The result was a fragile ecosystem, with a growing dependency on artificial fertilizers.

Every time we replace natural, complex systems with simplified mono-cultures we gain in short-term productivity, but at the cost of long-term resilience and viability. The less diverse a system is, the more vulnerable it is, and the more unsustainable it becomes.

Farming is now changing. New voices within agriculture say that “all farming takes place in a unique space and time”. These scholars claim that a mechanical application of generic rules and principles that ignore these contextual particularities is an invitation to catastrophic failure.

The principles of simplification still apply to the social systems of work: most of our firms can be described as mono-cultures. We also do our best to productize humans to fit the job markets. Many organizations are productive in the short term, but fragile in the long term. As long as the environment remains the same, simplified systems are very efficient, but they immediately become counterproductive when the environment changes even slightly. And it always will.

Our view of efficiency in firms still follows the line of thinking of efficiency on farms.

Job markets need standardized workers who are uniform in their skills and motivations. People are interchangeable labor. These people have no uniqueness. They have no original ideas to contribute to work. The focus is on the price of work; supply and demand.

In classical economic theory, markets are assumed to tend to a state of equilibrium. If there is an increase in demand, prices rise to encourage a reduction in demand and/or an increase in supply to match the demand. This is the principle behind Uber’s surge pricing. A market, then, is a simple cybernetic system: any significant change is self-regulating adaptation. There is no learning.

One-dimensional social designs have the same inbuilt risks as simplified natural designs. Simplified social systems can cause the same kind of damage to the human ecology as simplified farming systems have caused to the natural ecology. People become dependent on artificial motivation systems, the human equivalents of fertilizers. We call them incentives.

Just as all sustainable farming is now seen as taking place in a unique context, all human work takes place in a unique space and at a unique time. Human work is situated and context-dependent. It just hasn’t been understood that way. The digital architecture of this kind of work might resemble Amazon Dash buttons more than Uber.

Technological intelligence helps farmers to be more context-aware. Technological intelligence can do the same for human work. Mass systems were built on general knowledge and generic competences. Perhaps post-mass systems are going to be built more on situated knowledge and contextual competences.

An example of this might be the difference between the general knowledge of seamanship in open waters and the contextual knowledge of piloting. When a ship approaches land, the captain often hands over control to a local pilot, who then navigates the ship to the port. Pilots know well the dynamic peculiarities of the area, the winds and the currents. Much of this situated knowledge would be irrelevant somewhere else, at another harbor entrance.

A job market, as a concept, is a radical abstraction of human work. Every time we replace practical, local knowledge with general, standardized knowledge we gain in productivity, but at the cost of more environmental adaptation in the future. Learning debt is created and the whole system (of jobs) is less resilient and may even become dysfunctional. Short-term gains turn out to be extremely expensive in the long run!

The post-industrial era is too complicated to boil down into a single slogan describing work, but three scenarios seem to be emerging: (1) processes are automatized and robotized, leading to an algorithmic economy: (2) generic work is found through platforms, or turned into tasks circling the world, leading to a platform economy, and (3) context-specific value creation takes place in interaction between interdependent people, leading to an entrepreneurial economy.

I believe that the future of human work is contextual. Even after the captains are automated, the pilots may still be human beings. Even after the surgeons are robots, the nurses may still be human beings. Some people doubt this because there is some very advanced research going on that explores sensor technologies and responsive algorithms. The collaboration between sensors and actuators is getting better and better. Despite that, if you are a human being, it is better to be a tour guide than a travel agent.

It is a more profound change in work patterns than what the present platforms offer. It is not about employees becoming contractors. It is about generic, mass solutions becoming contextual and about interchangeable people who are now, perhaps for the first time, being seen as unique. The case for networked small units, such as human beings working together in responsive interaction, is stronger than ever. Local, contextual knowledge is needed not only for sustainability in farming but also at work.

What is most desperately needed is a deeper understanding of the complexity of life.

Farming is starting more and more with a true understanding of the particularities of the land. Work should also start with an understanding of the particularities of human beings.

Thank you Doug Griffin and James Scott

Työ on toisiaan tarvitsevien ihmisten vuorovaikutusta

Tietointensiivinen työ on erilaisten ajatusten ja tarpeiden kohtaamisia ja yhteisvaikutusta. Työ on myös sopimista: sopimuksia siitä mistä puhutaan ja mitä teemme, mistä pitäisi puhua, mitä pitäisi tehdä? Mikä on tärkeää ja mikä on vähemmän tärkeää? Työ on sopimista siitä kuinka edetään yhdessä, kuinka tehdään valintoja ja mitä valitaan. Puhumme yhteiskuntasopimuksesta tai paikallisesta sopimisesta, kun tarkoitamme yhteistä etenemistä yhteiskunnan tasolla tai yritysten ja työntekijöiden tasolla.

Ongelmat syntyvät siitä, että uskomme että juuri meidän näkökulmamme ja meille tärkeät merkitykset ovat jaettuja. Emme näe seiniä ympärillämme ja siiloja joista kaikki katsovat maailmaa, myös me. Koska omat ajatuksemme ovat meille selkeitä ja perusteltuja omista lähtökohdistamme, niin kai ne ovat sitä kaikille muillekin?

Kognitiivinen tietotekniikka (cognitive computing) on nostanut esille merkitystietoisuuden ja kielitietoisuuden käsitteet pyrittäessä ymmärtämään yhteisöllistä työtä, informaation tehokkaampaa käsittelyä ja kun halutaan  edistää tietotyön tuottavuutta. Monelle on ehkä yllättävää, että kieli ja sen säännöt tulevat olemaan tietotekniikassa yhtä tärkeässä asemassa kuin matematiikka ja sen säännöt.

Tuotamme työssä koko ajan sisältöjä joiden merkitys voidaan ymmärtää hyvin monella tavalla. Mikään tuotos ei ole objektiivinen fakta vaikka mediateollisuus on pitkään näin omista sisällöistään väittänytkin. Tarvitaan merkitystietoisuutta. Ongelmaksi nousee se, että olemme parhaimmillamme hyviä ilmaisemaan itsellemme selviä asioita itsellemme selvästi, mutta ilman vuorovaikutuksessa tapahtuvaa sopimista ne merkitykset joita herätämme muissa ovat jotain aivan muuta kuin mitä kuvittelemme niiden olevan. Voimme puhua jostain asiasta yhdessä kuukausia pääsemättä yhtään minnekään kuten yhteiskuntasopimuksen kanssa on nyt tilanne. Paikallinen sopiminen saattaa silloin tarkoittaa käytännössä vain paikallista riitelyä. Työ on sopimista ja sopiminen voi olla työn tärkein sisältö ja siinä onnistumisen tai epäonnistumisen mittari.

Kielitietoisuus on kognitiivisen tietotekniikan näkökulmasta ymmärrys niistä vaihtoehtoisista rakenteista, sanoista ja tavoista kommunikoida joita meillä on käytettävissä ja joista valitsemme. Emme useinkaan tiedosta valintojamme jonka takia ne ovat valitettavan usein vanhaa toistavia automaatioita. Eräs työmarkkinaveteraani sanoi minulle: ”Tässä samassa tilanteessa sanon aina nämä samat lauseet koska minulta odotetaan niitä. Puhun julkisuudessa enemmän omille taustajoukoilleni kuin pöydän toisella puolella istujille” Sama malli on erityisen tyypillistä poliittiselle puheelle.

Emme useinkaan tiedosta omaa kommunikaatiotamme ja sen roolikeskeisyyttä. Puhumme kuten oletamme että roolissani tulee puhua emmekä kuten tässä tilanteessa voisi puhua. Valinnat ovat sidonnaisia johonkin käsitykseen todellisuudesta joka useimmiten on sosiaalisesti ja historiallisesti määrittynyt. Haasteeksi muodostuu mukaillen Albert Einsteinia: ongelmia ei useinkaan voida ratkaista samanlaisella kielenkäytöllä mikä on luonut ne.

Kognitiivisen tietotekniikan alueella tehdään tänään ehkä mielenkiintoisinta perustutkimusta liittyen tietotyön käytäntöihin ja tiedon johtamiseen (knowledge management). Tämän alueen tutkijat korostavat, että tapamme kommunikoida muovaa meitä itseämme enemmän kuin kuvittelemme kielemme muovaavan muita. Omat viitekehyksemme määrittävät sitä mitä havaitsemme, mitä näemme, mitä nostamme tarkasteluun, miten käsittelemme tarkastelussa olevia asioita ja miten lopulta tulkitsemme maailmaa. Emme kuitenkaan ole koskaan yksin. Opimme ”oikean” tavan kommunikoida tullaksemme hyväksytyksi yhteisöön ja sen täysivaltaisiksi jäseniksi. Opimme sen oikean tavan yliopistoissa, järjestöissä ja työpaikoilla. Kielen kautta liitymme ja säilymme heimon jäsenenä.

Mitä pidempään olemme olleet saman yhteisön jäsenenä sitä vähemmän kyseenalaistamme ajatusmallejamme ja sitä vähemmän ymmärrämme niistä poikkeavia lähestymistapoja. Sama ryhmäytymisen mekanismi toimii niin, että koska ”Me” olemme lähtökohtaisesti oikeamielisten joukko ja koska ”He” eivät ole meitä, heidän täytyy olla väärässä, kaikissa tapauksissa.

Mitä vahvempaa heimoutuminen on sitä vaikeampaa on erilaisuuden kohtaaminen ja myös asioista sopiminen ”heidän” kanssaan. Sosiaalinen hyväksyntä omien taholta menee aina muiden, ulkopuolisten, kanssa yhteisen ajatuksen liikkeen edelle. Vallitsevien ajatusmallien pönkittäminen ja ylläpitäminen on keino pitää yllä yhteisöä, vaikka kaikki ympärillä olisikin muuttunut.

Tässä tilanteessa erilaisten ihmisten ja näkemysten luovaa yhteistyötä ei voi syntyä. Kommunikaatio on televisiokeskustelujen tutuksi tekemää raivokasta puolustustaistoa jolla yritetään ylläpitää uhan kohteena olevaa yhteisöllistä ja henkilökohtaista identiteettiä.

Vuorovaikutuksen tavoitteena ei voi olla lähtökohtaisesti toisen osapuolen näkökulmien kyseenalaistaminen, mutta ei myöskään toisen näkökulmien  omaksuminen. Tavoitteena on erilaisuudesta lähtevä uuden tiedon luominen ja olemassa olevien uskomusten rakentava tarkastelu.

Työ on toisiaan tarvitsevien ihmisten vuorovaikutusta. Kompromissien sijaan sopiminen (voi) tarkoittaa uusien mahdollisuuksia ja vaihtoehtojen luomista yhdessä.

Digital Cultures

A friend who works with Artificial Intelligence told me: “It is possible that there are complex and conteaxtual things about humans, but in terms of intelligence it does not look that way. With the brain there is nothing that isn’t computable. The brain is a computer like any other.” I begged to differ and claimed, a bit flippantly, that our brains do much more than solve differential equations.

Our present digital culture is oriented towards the objective and the quantifiable more than the subjective and the qualitative. The software we work with reflects the analytical minds of the people who built it, such as my friend. The downside of all this is a possible failure to understand and capture the paradoxical elements of life.

Traditional science was a project that aimed to get closer and closer to certainty. The new sciences of complexity are making it clear that this is not possible. Complexity sciences present paradoxes as being normal in everyday life. The dominant scientific way of thinking tries to eliminate paradox. An encounter with paradox, such as seeing the same thing differently from different points of view, has been understood as a sign of not thinking properly and thus has led to attempts to resolve or eliminate the paradox. What the new sciences are suggesting is that the dynamic patterns of knowing are inherently paradoxical and context-dependent.

A new language is appearing as scientists attempt to describe the complex dynamics in which phenomena are no longer perceived as certain. Things are both predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable at the same time. To force this complexity into a reduced number of cognitive patterns would be enormously repressive.

The question of what technology dealing with Artificial Intelligence is doing to our cognitive patterns has been the subject of strong opinions but few robust studies. Some scholars claim that the brain has always been adapting to new tools. New neural patterns emerged when people began speaking, reading or writing. Digital tools and software code are just the next step, they say. Man is seen as his or her own maker — a maker of life through new tools and new practices created by those tools.

The real question here is whether modern society is in effect de-skilling people in the conduct of the practices of everyday life because of our tools. We have more machines than our ancestors, but less idea of how to use them well. We have more connections with people, but less understanding of people who are not like us. Our social tools have in a way helped to re-create tribalism: solidarity with others like yourself (in your own echo chamber) and aggression against those who differ. Tribalism involves thinking you know what other people are like without really knowing them. Lacking direct, time consuming face-to-face experiences, it is easy to fall back on fantasies and stereotypes.

Digital tools have increasingly become our senses, our eyes and ears. Digitalization has given us amazing access to the world. But there are things it does not capture. The more people have superficial information about the world, the less they actually put themselves in the shoes of others. The psychological problem is that when we don’t know the history and the context behind something, we project those ourselves. When the context is stripped away, we add it back. We fill in the gaps in information when they are not there. It is so easy for us to comment very negatively on Twitter posts without any understanding of the context of the discussion. We don’t know much about the refugee crises, but we think we know, as we project our beliefs, fears and worries onto what is going on.

I am one of the people who claim that the new social technologies can also be used to solve these problems.

The concept of social skills often means that people are good at telling stories or accomplished at party talk, but there are social capabilities of a very serious sort. The social capacity of cooperation is more the foundation of human intelligence than differential equations are.

The next digital tools dealing with intelligence need to be more “dialogic”. The concept of dialogue has a very precise meaning. It is a discussion which does not resolve itself by finding common ground. Though no shared agreements are reached, people often become more aware of their own views and learn through expanding their understanding of one another and the different contexts of different people. We become more intelligent if the paradoxes are kept alive.

Cultural homogenization is a theme of our time. It is apparent in fashion, food, music, and many services with a unified user experience. Everything is made to be basically the same everywhere. According to some psychologists, the desire for this sameness arises from anxiety about differences. This is one of the reasons why Gregory Bateson argued that the history of our time can be perceived as the history of malfunctioning relationships. More homogenization leads to more anxiety (when experiencing differences) which leads to more homogenization and the “differences that make a difference”, as Bateson put it, are lost.

Unless you genuinely value the perspectives of others, and not just the ones that conform to your own, you are not going to understand them. Truly intelligent thinking is not just a means to an end: it has to be rooted in what we see as ends in themselves, the values by which we live.


The past and the future of work

The most modern definition of work is “an exchange in which the participants benefit from the interaction”. Interestingly, cooperation is also described as “an exchange in which the participants benefit from the interaction”.

The way we view work life is influenced by the way we view the world. This view rests on the most fundamental assumptions we make about reality. In the present competitive view of the world, we often think that the most capable are those who are the most competitive, and accordingly that competition creates and secures capability and long-term viability in the world (of work).

But what if high performance is incorrectly attributed to competition and is more a result of diversity, self-organizing communication and non-competitive processes of cooperation?

Competitive processes lead to the handicapping of the system that these processes are part of. This is because competitive selection leads to exclusion: something or somebody, the losers, are left outside. Leaving something out from an ecosystem always means a reduction of diversity. The resulting less diverse system is efficient in the short-term, competition seems to work, but always at the expense of long-term viability. Sustainability, agility and complex problem solving require more diversity, not less.

As losers are excluded from the game, they are not allowed to learn. The divide between winners and losers grows constantly. Losers multiply as winning behaviors are replicated in the smaller winners’ circles and losing behaviors are replicated in the bigger losers’ circles. This is why, in the end, the winners have to pay the price of winning in one-way or another. The bigger the divide of inequality, the bigger is the price that finally has to be paid. The winners end up having to take care of the losers, or two totally different cultures are formed, as is happening in many places today. Psychologically, competitive games create shadow games of losers competing at losing. These start-ups are trained in jails and the pitching takes place on streets very far away from the Sand Hill Road.

The games we play have been played under the assumption that the unit of survival is the player, meaning the individual or a company. However, at the time of the Anthropocene, the reality is that the unit of survival is the player in the game being played. Following Darwinian rhetoric, the unit of survival is the species in its environment. Who wins and who loses is of minor importance compared to the decay of the (game) environment as a result of the actions of the players.

In games that were paradoxically competitive and cooperative at the same time, losers would not be eliminated from the game, but would be invited to learn from the winners. What prevents losers learning from winners is our outdated zero-sum thinking and the winner-take-all philosophy.

In competitive games the players need to have the identical aim of winning the same thing. Unless all the players want the same thing, there cannot be a genuine contest. Human players and their contributions are, at best, too diverse to rank. They are, and should be, too qualitatively different to compare quantitatively. Zero-sum games were the offspring of scarcity economics. In the post-industrial era of abundant creativity and contextuality, new human-centric approaches are needed.

Before Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” and came out with the idea of the invisible hand, he had already written something perhaps even more interesting for our time. In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” he argued that a stable society was based on sympathy. He underlined the importance of a moral duty — to have regard for your fellow human beings

Cooperative processes are about interdependent individuals and groups defining and solving problems in a shared context. Individuals competing on job markets may be one of the historic mistakes we have inherited from the industrial age. It made sense a long time ago but now we should think differently.

Interaction creates capability beyond individuals. Cooperative performance can be more than what could ever be predicted just by looking at the performance of the parties involved in a competitive game. The higher performance and robustness are emergent properties of cooperative interaction. They are not attributable to any of the parts of the system or to functioning of the markets.

Networks provide problem-solving capability that results directly from the richness of communication and the amount of connectivity. What happens in interaction between the parts creates a reality that cannot be seen in the parts or even all of the parts. What we have called the “whole” is an emergent pattern of interaction, not the sum of the parts.

The same principle explains why we have financial crises that no one planned and wars that no one wants. On the other hand, the great societal promise is that interaction in wide-area networks, with enough diversity, can solve problems beyond the awareness of the individuals involved.

What defines most problems today is that they are not isolated and independent but connected and systemic. To solve them, a person has to think not only about what he believes the right answer is, but also about what other people think the right answers might be. Following the rhetoric of game theory: what each person does affects and depends on what everyone else will do and vice versa.

Most managers and decision makers are still unaware of the implications of the complex, responsive properties of the world we live in. Enterprises are not organized to facilitate management of interactions, only the actions of parts taken separately. Even more, compensation structures normally rewards improving the actions of parts, not their interactions.

Work that humans do used to be a role, now it is a task, but it is going to be a relationship: work is interaction between interdependent people. The really big idea of 2016 is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the center. The mission is to see action within relationships.

Amyarta Sen has written that wealth should not be measured by what we have but what we can do. As we engage in new relationships and connect with thinking that is different from ours, we are always creating new potentials for action. In competitive/cooperative games the winners would be all those whose participation, comments and contributions were incorporated in the development of the game.