Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Communication

Disrupting Unemployment

The concepts that govern our thinking and language in relation to work are not just semantic entities, but influence what we perceive and what we think is possible or not possible. Usually we are not aware of how these concepts prime our thinking. We simply think and act along certain lines.

A seminal concept related to how we perceive work is the division of labor, the notion of work as activities separated from other activities, as jobs. The industrial management paradigm is based on the presupposition that activities are the independent governing factors of creating value. The organizational structure of jobs comes first. Then an appropriate system of co-ordination and communication is put into effect. The scheme of interaction conforms to the planned division of labor as a secondary feature.

What if the increasing global competition, the Internet and the huge advances in communication technologies made it possible, or even necessary, to think differently? What if interaction was seen as the governing factor? The smartphone has now become information technology’s key product. Surely, then, it has an impact on the way we work. As jobs and communication are mutually dependent, it means that if there are changes in interaction, so the activities will change.

In the mainstream conceptual model of communication (Shannon & Weaver 1948) a thought arising within one individual is translated into words, which are then transmitted to another individual. At the receiving end, the words translate back into the same thought, if the formulation of the words and the transmission of those words are good enough. The meaning is in the words.

Amazingly, our conceptualization of value creation has followed the very same model. Companies transform ideas into offerings that are delivered to customers. At the receiving end, the products translate back into the same value that the company has created. The meaning is in the product.

Management scholars have lately made interesting claims saying that although the product is the same, different customers experience the value potential of the product differently. They say that it is in fact wrong to say that companies create value. It is the way the offering is contextually experienced and used that creates value, more value or less value. The bad news is that our present conceptualizations of work make it very hard to do anything about it. The good news is that for the first time in history we can do something about it. Companies can connect with users and be digitally present when and where their products are used.

Tor Arne

But we need a new conceptualization of communication if we want to have a new conceptualization of work. Luckily, there is one. A completely different approach to communication exists. The alternative view is based on the work of George Herbert Mead. This model does not see communication as messages that are transmitted between senders and receivers, but as complex social action.

In the social act model, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual that evokes a response from someone else. The meaning of the gesture can only be known from the response, not from the words. There is no deterministic causality, no transmission, from the gesture to 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 gesture is contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one social act, from which meaning emerges.

Gestures call forth responses and products call forth and evoke responses. Value lies not in the product but in the (customer) response. Accordingly, work should then be conceptualized as an interactive process, a social act, because the value of work cannot be known in the separate “job” activity or be understood through the capabilities of the worker.

If we subscribe to this relational view, it means that people and actions are simultaneously forming and being formed by each other at the same time, all the time, in interaction. Perhaps in the future it will not be meaningful to conceptualize work as jobs or even as organizational (activity) structures like the firms of today. Work will be described as complex patterns of communicative interaction between interdependent individuals.

All interacting imposes constraints on those relating, while at the same time enabling those people to do what they could not otherwise do. Enabling and energizing patterns of interaction may be the most important raison d’être of work.

The relational view is a new conceptualization of work, potentially opening up new opportunities to disrupt unemployment. Perhaps it is time to change the focus from creating jobs to creating customers – in new, innovative ways. To quote Max Planck: “If you change the way you look at things, the things that you look at change.”

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Thank you Katri Saarikivi

From jobs to tasks and from the value chain to the Internet

Economic theories are derived from the era of the production of tangible goods and high-cost communications. These mind-sets are not only unhelpful, but wrong in a world of information products and ubiquitous, low-cost/high-quality connectivity.

New communication technologies have always had a strong impact on industries and the logistics around production. But this time, with information products, the societal changes are potentially even bigger than before.

The Internet is the first communication environment that decentralizes the financial capital requirements of production. Much of the capital is not only distributed, but also largely owned by the workers, the individuals, who themselves own the smartphones and other smart devices, the new machines of work. When computers were expensive, the economics of mass industrialization and its centralized management structures ruled them. Not any more!

The factory logic of mass production forced people to come to where the machines were. In knowledge work, the machines are where the people are making it possible to distribute work to where they are. Architectures of work differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication between the components is predetermined and fixed or not. It was relatively easy to define in repetitive work what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities. As a result, management theory and practice created two communication designs: the hierarchy and the process chart.

In a hierarchy the most important communication and dependence exists between the employer and the employee, the manager and the worker.

Manufacturing work is perhaps amazingly not about hierarchical, but horizontal, sequential dependence. Those performing the following task must comply with the constraints imposed by the execution of the preceding task. The reverse cannot normally take place. The architecture consists of tightly coupled tasks and predetermined, repeating activities. Communication typically resembles one-way signals.

Creative, highly contextual work creates a third design. It is about loose couplings and modularity, about networked tasks. In creative work, any node in the network should be able to communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative, participative engagement.

The architecture of the Internet is based on the very same principle of loose couplings and modularity. Modularity is the only design principle that intentionally makes nodes of the network able to be highly responsive. The logic of modularity and ubiquitous communication make it possible for the first time to create truly network-based organizations.

Creative network-based work in the future is not about jobs, but about modular tasks and interdependence between people. You don’t need to be present in a factory any more, or in an office, but you need to be present for other people.

In an economy, people essentially produce goods and services for people. Companies are theoretically intermediary organizational forms that arrange the development, production and delivery processes. Companies can perhaps be in some cases be replaced by apps? Or managers can be replaced by apps? Or perhaps the new companies look a lot like apps like Uber or Airbnb already do. Many of these new companies see themselves as market makers rather than as service providers.

The modern firm has developed into a perfect vehicle for financial contributions and as a toolkit serves the needs of financial investors well, at least in good times. As creativity and knowledge define success today, access to capabilities is at least as important for a firm as access to money. The Internet may prove to be an extinction-level event for the corporations as we have known them. In the network economy, individuals, interacting with each other by utilizing the new apps together with relatively cheap mobile, smart devices, can now create information products.

But many things need to change!

We are as used to the employer choosing the work objectives as we are used to the teacher choosing the learning objectives. The manager directs the way in which the employee engages with work. This image of work is easy to grasp because it has been taught at school where the model is the same.

In contrast to the above, creative, digital work and the Internet have brought about circumstances in which the employee in effect chooses the purpose of work, voluntarily selects the tasks, determines the modes and timing of engagement, and designs the outcomes. The worker might be said to be largely independent of some other person’s management, but is in effect interdependent. Interdependence here means that the worker is free to choose what tasks to take up, and when to take them up, but is not independent in the sense that she would not need to make the choice.

The interdependent, task-based worker negotiates her work based on her own purposes, not the goals of somebody else, and negotiates who her fellow workers are based on cognitive complementarity and her personal network, not a given organization.

The architecture of work is not the structure of a corporation, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy or a predictive process, but an ongoing process of organizing. The Internet-based firm sees work and cognitive capability as networked communication.

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 economies of scale inside the corporation. The new focus is outside, in 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.

Yes, customer focus has been the dominant mantra in business. Up to now, business has focused on the customer as an audience for products, services and marketing communications. In the world of digital networks, 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.

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From productivity to social innovations

The printing press constituted a true revolution in communication. But what really happened as a wider consequence of that revolution? Let’s try to reconstruct the circumstances that preceded printing. We know that there was a strong, although very divergent scribal culture before the printing press. The cultural texture was quite thin outside monasteries, libraries, and cities such as Bologna. That led to a heavy reliance on the vocal transmission of information, on storytelling.

The information culture was half-spoken, half-written.

The influence of the scribe was greatly enhanced because of a complementary character, the copyist. At first, the shift from script to print produced a social culture that was not very different from the culture produced by scribes. The writer – printer process was not very different from the scribe – copyist process, if looked at from the outside. Of course there was a huge increase in the output of books and a drastic reduction in the man-hours required to turn them out.

The first change was a remarkable increase in productivity. But then, the communications revolution of print caused remarkable changes in information-related practices that led to even wider social changes.

The well-informed man had to spend a part of each day in temporary isolation from his fellow men – reading. Another development was the Sunday papers replacing church going.  Sermons used to be coupled with news about local and foreign affairs. The new media players handled news gathering and circulation logistics much more efficiently.

The most noteworthy social change took place on the community level. To hear, you have to come together. To read encourages you to draw apart. The notion that a society can be regarded as a bundle of discrete units supported the principle that detached people can be represented through a system of disconnected political parties. The reading public was very different from the one before. It was not only dispersed, it was very atomistic and individualistic. As a result, the present political system was born.

Learning, which used to take place through vocal interaction in groups, was now the activity of a solitary, independent individual. The picture of the student in the library reading room was transferred to classrooms and the architectures of education.

According to some researchers, print silenced the spoken word. The orators of Rome gave way to the men of letters. Written text was now about facts and talk was cheap.

From this point on, people have tended to see information and communication technologies as two separate domains, not only for technological reasons, but because of the historical developments described above.

We are again going through another revolution in communication. The way the written word is used on Twitter or on Facebook is much closer to the vocal transmission of information than to writing. Through closely combining communication and information technologies, we are creating a much richer cognitive tapestry than the present separate ICT-systems are capable of.  Second, instead of drawing apart, we can now come (digitally) together. The culture is again half-spoken, half-written. The printing press separated information and communication. The Internet and the new social technologies are causing the two to converge.

The first change is again a remarkable increase in productivity, but again, it does not end there. The real promise of the Internet is in the new information-related practices and the social innovations that are still ahead of us.

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A new theory of growth

For most of human history, creativity was held to be a privilege of supreme beings, initially, the gods who shaped the heavens and the earth, and then it was extraordinary human beings who were the creators and not the helpless, dependent subjects of the wrath of the gods. We switched our views further as we began to understand more how the world worked. Whether this has helped the human race is debatable. But it would help us if we realized the responsibility that comes with our new role.

Our future is tied to human creativity.

You would think that given its importance, creativity would have a very high priority among our concerns, but we face a disturbing reality if we look at what is really going on today. The arts are seen as unessential luxuries and instead of exploring creative new solutions, cutting expenses is the approach of most managers trying to deal with global competition.

What holds true for the arts and the economy, also applies to education. The models of mass society and mass production still prevail in the world of mass education. The industrial society is re-born daily at the expense of a different sociocultural context that would embrace creativity.

The sociocultural context matters because creativity is a systemic rather than an individual phenomenon. Workable new solutions to our most pressing concerns will not appear by themselves as isolated ideas of independent people. Creativity is born in connections and in enriching interaction.

To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a popular, but misleading simplification. These breakthroughs would have been inconceivable without (1) the social and intellectual network that stimulated and advanced their thinking and (2) the people who recognized the value of their contributions and spread them further. A good, new idea is not automatically passed on. From this standpoint a lighted match does not cause a fire. Rather the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was one. One cannot be creative alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition.

The creative era is about interdependence, not about superhuman individuals.

MiinaAn inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are people around to agree with it. It is not enough to look at the individuals who seem to be responsible for a new idea. Their contribution, although important, is always a node in a network and a phase in a movement of thought. Creativity takes place in connections and communication. The network is the enabler and amplifier. It is time now for a new epistemology; new ways of talking about knowledge creation.

However, people have always networked. Scholars depended heavily on correspondence networks for the exchange of ideas before the time of the universities. These communities, known as the “Republic of Letters” were the social media of the era, and resembled the communication patterns of today astonishingly closely. The better-networked scientist was often the better scientist. Today, the better-networked knowledge worker is usually the better worker. In the future, the better-networked student will always be the better student.

The main difference from the time of letters and the printing press is the transformative efficiency of our new interaction tools. A “man of letters” may today be a man of tweets, posts and updates, but the principle is the same: what matters most is the way we are skilfully present and communicate using all the different means that are available.

Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the core of creative progress and growth.

To be human means communicative interaction. Creativity is an emergent pattern of that interaction.

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Thank you Ari Manninen, Pasi Aaltola, Katri Saarikivi, Kenneth Gergen, Doug Griffin, Edmund Phelps, Esa Saarinen and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

More on creativity and non-routine work

A Christmas Letter

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 (machines), although the repeated financial crises have shown how deeply flawed this view of the world is.

Luckily, during 2013, more scholars than ever before saw organizations as being more analogous to nature. There, it is not about predictions and control, but about perpetual co-creation, complex responsive processes 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.

2013 also brought us closer to understanding how work itself is changing.

Knowledge work is creative work we do in interaction. Unlike the business processes we know so well, where tangible inputs are acted on in some predictable, structured way and converted into outputs, the inputs and outputs of knowledge work are ideas, information and decisions. Even more, there are no predetermined task sequences that, if executed, would guarantee success. Knowledge work is characterized by variety and exception rather than routine. It is thus impossible to separate a knowledge process from its outcomes. Knowledge work is not “just work”, a means to doing something else! Knowledge work is about human beings being more intensely present. Thus, a business today needs to be human-centric – by definition.

The good news then, is the advances during 2013 in network theory and knowledge work practices. The bad news, as we now look ahead to 2014, is that today we are as far from being human-centric, as we have been for ages. As one example, 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 controllable resources and interchangeable parts of the main thing, the production machinery. 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 are the main thing.

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 socially responsible firms, nothing else, and the management of those firms wants 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. We need a new agenda connecting people and businesses! 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 unnecessary connection. But if we don’t learn from network theory and knowledge work practices, and continue to 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? This may be the next frontier of social business. More on this next year!

Christmas is a special time for family and friends. Perhaps the rest of the year can also be made very special through rethinking and reinventing some of the basic beliefs we have about work!

Happy New Year!

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Thank you Deborah Kolb, Lotte Bailyn, Paul Ormerod, Ken Gergen, Ralph Stacey, Joyce K Fletcher, Doug Griffin, Kim Weckström and Katri Saarikivi

More on the subject:

Futurice. A company that is already in the future. HBR: “To Optimize Talent Management, Question Everything” HBR: “The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013” “Essential Zen Habits” “The Third Way of Work” “a way of working where the people doing the work matter as much as the work being done” “Bring Your Own Device is really Bring Your Own Mind” “work is you, you are the work. So what is the future of You?

The foundations of social business: private broadcasting

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Two distinct modes of communication have emerged and spread since the invention of the telegraph. The first mode was private point-to-point communication that was meant to connect individuals. The second mode was the public broadcasting of content. These two approaches to communication were advanced significantly by a series of innovations resulting in media technologies being perhaps the most socially disruptive developments of our time, but the basic division into the two modes has remained essentially the same.

But now, a new form of communication in the digital, networked world combines broadcasting and point-to-point, creating a third mode of communication.

In its most basic form, what I call private broadcasting, involves a three-part relationship: (1) an initial broadcast gesture from one individual, leaving free the matter of who in the audience acts on the gesture, (2) a voluntary, active response to that gesture by another, and (3) resulting connectivity and activity. Here, the model differs from both the private point-to-point logic and the public broadcasting logic.

The biggest change, however, is in the role of the audience. The passive audience view suggested that the media influences people easily. This is why broadcasting has been the domain of politicians and marketers. The active audience view, that is behind the third mode of communication, thinks that people make active decisions about how to aggregate, and when to interact.

In contrast to the earlier mass era thinking, the society is seen as consisting of numerous differentiated communities, each with its own values and interests. All media content is interpreted within the community according to social sense making within the group. The individuals are influenced more by their peers than by the media.

The mass society theories of marketing subscribed to a passive view of the audience and public broadcasting. It is time now to subscribe to an active, responsive notion of the audience and the possibility for true interaction. The audience for this new form of communication are the emerging, active communities that the individual or the company wants to reach and connect with.

The public access that the Internet now allows people to have is mistakenly believed to mean trying to get the broadest possible audience. There has been a tremendous increase in the amount of content that is available to the public, but not really intended for the public. Instead, these materials are meant for the emerging conversations and communities, changing the way we learn and changing our sense of belonging.

Private broadcasting means a new way of connecting. It is successful if it creates a conversation, and very successful if it helps to build a community.

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More on the subject: from content to connections.

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

Lean and social

Waste seems like a straightforward term, but lean thinking has given new meaning to the word. In lean vocabulary, anything that does not create value, slows one down, or does not contain potential for learning is waste. A thing or a document sitting around waiting to be used is waste. Making something that is not needed is waste. Unwanted movement is waste. Transportation is waste. Waiting is waste. Any extra processing steps are waste.

The concept of waste has lately been transferred from manufacturing to other practices such as product development. According to lean principles, when a development project is started, the goal is to complete it as rapidly as possible. In a sense, ongoing development projects are just like inventory sitting around in a factory. Design and prototypes are only valuable when (paying) customers are involved.

Eliminating waste is a fundamental lean principle. Thus three of the steps towards implementing lean development are learning to see waste, uncovering the sources and eliminating them. We recently studied the product development methodology of a large multinational company. They have been very successful in the past, leading in most of the markets they have entered. But lately, many people have voiced concern that there have been unnecessary delays in getting new products to market. To find out why, we gathered input from managers and ecosystem partners.

A division into two main areas of concern developed: technology/process and social interaction. We asked people what percentage of the barriers to faster time-to-market might relate to the technology/process side and what percentage would be on the social interaction side. The answers were almost unanimous: over 75 percent of the reasons for slow product development were on the social interaction side. The results were alarming because in this organization almost all approaches to being more agile and to taking waste out of the system were historically on the technology/process side.

People are used to lean thinking when it comes to technology and processes but it is still very rare to look at taking waste out of communication. Many managers still trivialize the power of conversation. They think that social interaction issues are soft compared to the hard issues of technology and process.

We still don’t understand that work is communication: we live and work in a network of conversations. Being lean means understanding that conversations are never neutral. They always affect the quality and pace of the outcome. Communication either accelerates or slows down. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication can create energy and inspiration or take energy away and reduce inspiration.

The world around us is changing. The interactions in mass manufacturing were very different from the interactions in complex, dynamic, knowledge-based work. Many managers possess the skills that meet the challenges of static conditions. Those conditions are based on predictability and systems thinking, meaning that the crucial variables are known in advance. The main risk factor is then the accuracy of the predictions.

In a static environment, you know how each role fits within the larger system. You know how the processes work, and you don’t want deviations. You know what it takes to make the products and you don’t want people experimenting and making things up. You want everyone to do their part and not get in each other’s way. Roles and organizational units are separated from other roles and other units. You, as a manager, do the coordination and share the information necessary for each to make their planned contribution and nothing more.

In dynamic business conditions the management practices described above are not only unhelpful but cause damage and create waste rather than value.

If you cannot predict you have to invest in real-time learning and iterations instead of more predictions. Success is based on speed of learning and responsiveness. Responsiveness is not possible if you are many handshakes away from the things that you should respond to. Learning is then based, not on teaching materials, but on conversations linking interdependent people. The question is what the design of a valuable conversation is? We spend countless hours attending meetings and sending/answering emails, but the nature of those hours goes unexamined. Many people think that a conversation is inherently valuable. That is not the case. The challenge we face is to deepen our awareness of how conversations create either value or waste. The goal is not just to be more social.

The agile manifesto points out that individuals in interaction are more important than processes and tools. Working prototypes are more important than documentation. Customer collaboration is more important than contracts and most importantly responding to change is more important than following a plan. Creating value or waste is a result of how we interact.

We need to embrace change, unpredictability and complexity as inescapable constants in all product development. It is about being lean and social!

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Thank you Craig Larman, Petri Haapio, Ari Tikka, Mickey Connolly, Vasco Duarte and Ken Schwaber