Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Activity streams

Patterns

Social sciences are concerned with understanding and representation of what is going on and what has happened. Earlier, social scientists took great leaders and their personal characteristics as the topics to be explained. Context and time did not matter. More recent approaches to the study of social phenomena can be summarized as trying to understand temporality; the processes of becoming, live movement in time, which, in the world of business, either gives rise to viability or makes us slowly, or rapidly, obsolete.

The life stream of individuals is the new focus area. Life streams are also called social activity streams. The term “lifestream” was coined by Eric Freeman and David Gelernter in the mid-1990s to describe a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary; every document created and every document received is stored in the lifestream.

In management studies, the questions of becoming, remembering and forgetting are not only new concerns. They are the essence of modern knowledge management, especially in the time of Big Data, when “it is cheaper to keep than to throw away”.

There is a fear of memory loss in business, but there is also the opposite fear, that memory produces practices in the present that should best be forgotten.

Anthropologists claim that reproduction of the past is easier than change. This often leads us into situations where the past is no longer an adequate guide to the present, leading to a situation where an information asset turns into a liability.

Knowledge-intensive work takes place in communication. The process of knowing is the process of communication. The most important knowledge management challenge is to understand what takes place in that interaction: what is being discussed? What is not discussed, what is silenced? Who is included in the conversation, who is excluded? The most important measure, however, is how the common narrative develops, how fast, and where to.

This is why an organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a lifestream, a continuing story without beginnings. Everything we do is built on what has happened before. New people join this narrative and people leave. The patterns that emerge do so because of what everybody is doing. It is what many, many local interactions produce. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops.

Without understanding and visualizing where we come from and where we are heading, it is impossible to know whether we move at all, whether the flurry of daily activities is actually keeping us trapped in repetitive patterns without any progress. The same people having the same conversation again and again, as often seems to be the case.

Our past, together with our intentions for the future is present in the daily, mundane actions and interactions that often pass without notice. A lifestream is the ongoing reference point and visualization of progress in place (a map) and time (a calender). It is the means for pattern recognition to help create the future we truly desire.

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More on the subject: Euan Semple on Patterns. Doc Searls Weblog. Big Data and pattern recognition.

A relational view to management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from the early adopters of corporate social technologies

The mainstream approach to management places a heavy emphasis on the formulation of plans and intentions and then communicating them as actions to be implemented by the organization. The starting point for change involves conceiving a picture of the future that is somewhat different from the picture of the present. After the content side is taken care of, the focus is then on providing tools for the process of change.

The approach that is made possible through enterprise social media is very different. The question that is now asked is: “How can people participate in such a way that things develop and change over time?”

The strategic focus of the early adopters of corporate social media is an ongoing continuous movement that is open-ended, and always incomplete. The strategic logic is temporal rather than spatial. When following a spatial metaphor, there is a territory that can be explored and understood, but here the territory is seen as being under continuous development and formation by the exploration itself. “It is impossible to map an area that changes with every step the explorer takes.” People inhabit a world of emergence, uncertainty and responsive change.

Themes such as communities, social network analysis and social graph underline a fairly strong sense of definable relationships and a sense of “us”. Our studies, however, show that social media create a dynamic and shifting sense of groups one belongs to. Conversations always follow from previous conversations and move on involving others, often as a result of responses from outside the corporate firewall. Work utilizing social media has much less clear and managed beginnings and endings. There is, typically, no pre-conceived design for the pattern of work: it evolves live.

Corporate life is improvising together

Physical meetings in organizations are often more or less orchestrated and planned in advance: “You should come prepared. There should be a clear goal for the meeting.” Following this thinking, there is no true sense of creating the future together. It is much more likely that people construct what they have always constructed. When people use social media to connect, they experience the potential inherent in communication, depending on how they express themselves, and how they respond. “Social media create the experience of acting into the unknown, creating the future together, improvising together.”

By linking improvisation to a group, like in theatrical improvisation, we get to what is in fact happening in social media. All of us with our differing intentions, hopes and fears, are acting in corporate plays that are very close to improvisational theater. We are self-organizing in shifting social configurations in the responsive interplay of different players.

We are fellow-improvisers in corporate ensembles constantly constructing the future, and our part in what is happening, in responsive interaction. The idea of improvisation is often associated with notions of unrehearsed, unintentional action. However, the more skilled we are, the better we can improvise. The better we have planned, the more flexible we can be. The more intensely we are present, the more responsive we can be.

The real time web is creating a real time company. The most important outcome is that social media focus attention more on what people are doing in the present than on what they intend to do in the future. The focus is on communicative interaction, the next tweet and the latest blog post.

The pattern of relating also becomes very clear: “We get to see who is talking and who is silent? Who is invited to join and who is excluded or opts out?” The focus of attention is on the processes of participation and the life stream as the narrative of progress.

A senior manager in a very large multinational corporation explained the impact of social media: “Since I moved away from thinking that what I do is manage the corporation through communicating with the whole corporation, I have started to pay attention to my own participation with the people I meet or should meet, and my responses in everyday interaction. Through asking different kinds of questions and through pointing to different kinds of issues, through changing my own participation, I have in fact changed my company.”

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Thank you Keith Johnstone, Srikumar Rao, Patricia Shaw and Doug Griffin

Knowledge management and lifestreams

Social sciences are concerned with understanding and representation of what is going on and what has happened.

Earlier, social scientists took great leaders, cultures and social structures as the topics to be explained. The contextual nature of those topics was a less interesting concern. More recent approaches to social phenomena can be summarized as trying to understand temporality and the process of becoming, a live movement in time that either gives rise to viability or makes us slowly, or rapidly, obsolete. How does this happen? How does continuity happen? How does change happen? What creates agility and vitality? The lifestream of individuals and corporations is the new focus area. Lifestreams are also called activity streams. These are voices against the corporate rhetoric stressing the need for continuous reinvention, without any need to respect the past or even know where you come from. Continuity is seen as just the dead form of the past and memories belonging to the private world of old sweethearts and childhood summers.

Memories do matter. Memories are representations of the past that are manifested in the present, sometimes unconsciously, and carried forward into the future.  Accordingly, what is happening as we live on, is forgetting. There are many things and lessons learned that we should not forget. Taking an extreme example: There have been many instances in political history where powerful people have tried to erase the memory of what has happened. This was the case with the Nazis and the case with Stalin re-writing history. In both cases it led to a determined attempt to remember, as a protest, and as means to ensure that such things could never happen again.

In business and management studies, the questions of becoming, remembering and forgetting are not only new concerns. They are the essence of modern knowledge management.

Corporations are outsourcing their activities and downsizing at the same time as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement.  The growing concern is what is lost as a consequence? The statement arousing fear was: “People are walking out of the door and taking their knowledge with them.” The solution to this problem then was: “Let’s extract knowledge from the people and put it in databases. This way the individual knowledge is transformed into corporate knowledge.” This never really worked. It was the doomed dream of the IT-school of knowledge management.

Lifestream is the visualization of progress

There is fear about memory loss in business, but there is also the opposite fear that memory produces practices in the present that should best be forgotten. Anthropologists claim that reproduction of the past is easier than change. This often leads us into situations where the past is no longer an adequate guide in the present, leading to a situation where the knowledge asset turns into a liability.

The location of these assets in the corporate world has been databases and the process of knowledge management has been the production, maintenance and retrieval of written documents. These documents and databases then are the main resources for reflection and re-use. However, “remembering” does not happen until the documents are actually worked with. Files are assets only when used. A book is just a pile of paper before it is opened. Knowledge related practices should therefore be much more in the focus than the form and location of data storage.

Knowledge intensive work takes place in communication. The process of knowing is the process of communication. The most important knowledge management challenge is to understand what takes place in that interaction: what is being discussed? What is not discussed, what is silenced? Who is included in the conversation, who is excluded? The most important measurements are how the common narrative develops, how fast, and where to? An organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a lifestream, a continuing story without beginnings. Everything we do is built on what has happened before.

New people join this narrative and people leave. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops towards the future. Without understanding where we come from, our history, it is impossible to know whether we move at all, whether the flurry of daily activities is actually keeping us stuck in repetitive patterns without any progress. The same people having the same conversation again and again, as seems to be the case in politics today.

Our past, together with our intentions for the future are present in the daily, mundane actions and interactions that often pass without notice. Lifestream is the ongoing storyline.

Lifestream is the means for pattern recognition to help create the future we truly desire.

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Thanks @chrismessina for your thoughts.