Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Complexity

The foundations of social business: short path lengths

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New technologies give an organization the ability to reconfigure its form any way it desires. We are not confined to any one structure any more. The mobile revolution has changed the logic of the network. The Internet is no longer about linked pages but connected purposes. We want to do something – with the help of information and other people.

For optimizing information the best structure for a social business would be a random network. A random network has the shortest possible number of steps between any nodes. An example of this is performing a Google search. The key measure here is the path length. That indicates how far away from each other everybody is, on average. The path length measures how many steps a piece of information has to go through between people. To create short path lengths in a typical hierarchical or process based structure you would need to know almost everything and everybody included in the organizational chart.  You would need to have access to information that we typically don’t have in an organization of any size. Hierarchies and processes are thus not efficient ways to organize information based work. They are not transparent enough creating slowness and inefficiency. As a random network is not the easiest mental benchmark for an organization that wants to develop its information- and communication-related practices, another model has emerged to shorten the path lengths between people and information.

It is social filtering, curation.

There are very few isolated geniuses. But there are many bright people who have continued and improved the work of others. Capable people have capable predecessors, people who act as filters connecting people and high quality information. The key concept in the knowledge-based future is acknowledgment of the importance of these messengers beyond what we have been used to so far.

Social filtering, curation, is the new search.

In a sense, creative people are more remixers of other peoples’ ideas than inventors. Technology and development are not isolated acts by independent thinkers, but a complex storyline, where the storytellers and curators, are more important than the heroic inventors, if there ever were any.

We never know how the story will develop, but it cannot develop unless it continues. The new challenge for the creative economy is to understand the importance of attribution and giving credit. The first thing is to acknowledge the vital role of social filtering and the huge importance of the retweet.

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. 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.

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More on the subject: The role of curators. Mesh networking. Jonathan Zittrain on mesh networks.

Business and complexity

Up to now, we have seen the world around us as systems that, we thought, could be described and understood by identifying rational causal links between things: if I choose X, then it will lead to Y. If, on the other hand, I choose A, it will lead to B. We are accustomed to drawing boxes and arrows between those boxes. We try to model the world as predictable processes based on knowing how things are and how they will be. We want to be certain, and we think we are.

Management thinking is based on the sciences of certainty. The whole system of strategic choice, goal setting and choosing actions to reach the given goals in a controlled way depends on predictability. The problem is that this familiar causal foundation cannot explain the reality we face. Almost daily, we experience the inability of leaders to choose what happens to them, to their organizations – or to their countries. Things may appear orderly over time, but are inherently unpredictable. We live in a complex world.

Complex systems are, as their name implies, hard to understand. Social systems, like organizations consisting of people, are accordingly complex and hard to understand. There is no linearity in the world of human beings. There are no arrows and people are not boxes, or fit inside of boxes. This is why our thinking needs to develop from the sciences of certainty to something more applicable, the sciences of uncertainty, the sciences of complexity.

Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is, at the same time, predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Chaos theory explains how these patterns form. A parameter might be the flow of information in the system. At low rates, meaning no input or more of the same input, the system moves forward displaying a repetitive, stuck behavior. At higher rates and more diversity the pattern changes. At very high rates the system displays a totally random behavior. The pattern is highly unstable. However, there is a level between repetition/stability and randomness/instability. This level where simultaneous coherence and novelty are experienced is called the edge of chaos.

Classical physics took individual entities and their separate movement (trajectories) as the unit of analysis in the same way we have analyzed and rewarded individuals. Henri Poincaré was the first scientist to find that there are two distinct kinds of energy. The first was the kinetic energy in the movement of the particle itself. The second was the energy arising from the interaction between particles. When this second energy is not there, the system is in a state of non-dynamism. When there is interactive energy, the system is dynamic and capable of novelty and renewal.

Interaction creates resonance between the particles. Resonance is the result of coupling the frequencies of particles leading to an increase in the amplitude. Resonance makes it impossible to identify individual movement in interactive environments because the individual’s trajectory depends more on the resonance with others than on the kinetic energy contained by the individual itself.

We are the result of our interaction. We are our relations.

The conclusions are important for us: firstly, novelty always emerges in a radically unpredictable way. The smallest overlooked variable or the tiniest change can escalate by non-linear iterations into a major transformative change in the later life of the system.

Secondly, the patterns are not caused by competitive selection or independent choices made by independent agents. Instead, what is happening happens in interaction, not by chance or by choice, but as a result of the interaction itself.

The new social technologies have the potential to influence connectivity and interaction as much as the sciences of complexity are going to influence our thinking. The task today is to understand what both social business and complexity mean. The next management paradigm is going to be based on those two, at the same time.

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John Hagel on “harnessing the power of randomness” and “resilience

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.

Changing the way we work together

Many organizations are trying to ease into the social business environment. They take parts of the agenda in piecemeal fashion following an “easy steps” logic. Often this, in the end, means some additional communication tools inside the organization, or additional content through some additional new channels for customers. Nothing really changes what comes to the way people work together.

The way in which companies organize themselves and define their boundaries has essentially been determined by the way in which communication between people is planned and access to information is designed. The classic organizational structure was based on the assumption that a manager or worker could have rich interaction and exchange of information only with a limited number of predetermined people.

Our mainstream management theories are derived from the era of the production of tangible goods and high-cost/low-quality 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 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 largely owned by the workers, the individuals, who themselves own the smart devices, the machines of work.

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. The logic of ubiquitous communication makes it possible for the first time to distribute work to where the willing people are, no matter where on the globe they may be. Knowledge work is not about jobs, but about tasks and interdependence between people. You don’t need to be present in a factory, or an office, but you need to connect with, and be present for other people.

Work is communication and cooperation, and there are so many new ways to do that.

We are living in a world that is built on the centrality of information and radically distributed contributions. As a result, the organization is not a given entity or structure, but an ongoing process of organizing. The accumulating failures of attempts at organizational resilience can be traced to the fundamental but mistaken assumption that organizations are vertical and/or horizontal arrangements, that guide and, as a consequence, limit interaction.

Information is the power plant that has the ability to change the organization. When information is transparent, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers and new opportunities. Different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization.  The easier the access that people have to one another and to information is, the more possibilities there are.

Rather than thinking of organization as an imposed structure, plan or design, organization arises from the interactions of interdependent individuals who need to come together. Sometimes people stay together for a long time, sometimes for a very, very short time. This is because any higher-value activity involves complementary and parallel contributions from more than one person, team, function, or a firm.

The focus of industrial management was on 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.

What comes to the productivity of work, these may be the most important points on the social business agenda. The really big objective of social business is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the center.

Success today is increasingly a result from 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.

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More: the trend from routine to nonroutine work.

Emergence and self-organization

Many people say that open source software developers have the most efficient ecosystems for learning that have ever existed. What is it, then, that is so special about the way developers do things? Is there something that could act as a model for the future of work, or the future of education?

What takes place in open source projects is typically not the result of choices made by a few (powerful) people that others blindly implement. Instead, what emerges is the consequence of the choices of all involved in the whole interconnected network, “the connective“, as Stowe Boyd puts it. What happens does not follow exactly a plan or a design, what happens emerges. It is about the hard to understand process of self-organization.

We still don’t quite understand what emergence and self-organization mean. The problem is that we believe that the unit of work is the independent individual. Self-organization is then thought to mean that individuals organize themselves without the direction of others. People think that it is a form of empowerment, or a do-whatever-you-like environment, in which anybody can choose freely what to do. But connected people can never simply do what they like. Cooperating individuals are not, and cannot be, independent. People are interdependent.  Interdependence means that individuals constrain and enable each other all the time. What happens, happens always in interaction and as a result of interaction.

According to the present approach to management, planning and enactment of the plans are two separate domains that follow a linear causality from plans to actions. From the perspective of open source development, organizational outcomes explicitly emerge in a way that is never just determined by a few people, but arises in the ongoing local interaction of all the people taking part. For example GitHub “encourages individuals to fix things and own those fixes just as much as they own the projects they start”.

What emerges is, paradoxically, predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable at the same time. This does not mean dismissing planning, or management, as pointless, but means that the future always contains surprises that the managers cannot control. The future cannot be predicted just by looking at the plans.

Emergence is often understood as things which just happen and there is nothing we can do about it. But emergence means the exact opposite. The patterns that emerge do so precisely because of what everybody is doing, and not doing. It is what many, many local interactions produce. This is what self-organization means. Each of us is forming plans and making decisions about our next steps all the time. “What each of us does affects others and what they do affects each of us.”

No one can step outside this interaction to design interaction for others.

An organization is not a whole consisting of parts, but an emergent pattern in time that is formed in those local interactions. It is a movement that cannot be understood just by looking at the parts. The time of reductionism as a sense-making mechanism is over.

What we can learn from the open source ecosystems is that organizational sustainability requires the same kind of learning that these software developers already practice: “All work and learning is open and public, leaving tracks that others can follow. Doing and learning mean the same thing.”

The biggest change in thinking that is now needed is that the unit of work and learning is not the independent individual, but interdependent people in interaction.

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Thank you David Weinberger, Ken Gergen, Ralph Stacey and Doug Griffin

More on the subject: the GitHub generation, Sugata Mitra. Video: “Knowledge in a MOOC” Steve Denning on complexity. The mundanity of excellence.

People, machines and the future of work

I took part in a high-level workshop on technological intelligence and the future of work. One of the questions raised was: “If machines can replace people’s minds in knowledge work as well as machines replaced their muscles in manual work, what will ultimately be left for human beings to do? Are we going to run out of jobs?” My answer was that this concern is based on a totally incorrect assumption. Working life does not consist of a finite number of problems and opportunities to which the human mind and human effort can be applied.

The challenges that confront us are unlimited. Every solution to a problem generates several new problems and also new opportunities. No matter how many problems are solved, there will always be an infinite number ahead of us. Although modern technology has reduced the number of things that in the past had to be dealt with by human beings, it increases the complexity of the challenges that require our attention now and in the future.

Technology: robotics, machine intelligence and cognitive computing do change what people should be doing and how organizations come to be what they are. This is why we need to revisit and rethink our conceptualizations of work.

When the Industrial Revolution began, the dominant Newtonian worldview meant that what was happening in the world was thought to be understandable without any reference to the environment in which things happened. Physical laws described what things following a linear, rational causality would do. The dominant view was that there are no significant uncertainties, or unknowns, messing things up. Most academic experiments were constructed accordingly, with the effect of the environment being eliminated. The aim was often to study the effect of one known variable on another.

Business enterprises were consequently thought of as machines. Enterprises conceptualized as machines, like all machines, didn’t have a will of their own. They were serving the intentions of their creator, the owner. The principal purpose was to obtain a return on the investment. Employees were, of course, known to be human beings, but their personal intentions were seen as irrelevant. People were retained as long as they were needed to fulfill the intentions of the employers.

The biological, meaning a systemic and cybernetic conceptualization, then replaced the notion of an enterprise as a machine. One, often overlooked, reason for this was the changing structure of ownership. When a firm went public, its creator disappeared. Owners were seen as anonymous, and too numerous to be reachable. The Industrial Revolution turned into the Managerial Revolution we are still living through today.

The Managerial Revolution changed the thinking around the purpose. Like any biological entity, the enterprise now had fitness and longevity as raisons d’être of its very own. Profit came to be thought of as a means, not an end in itself. Success came to be measured by growth. It was seen as essential, just like in nature.

The systemic view was a profound change in thinking compared with the mechanistic view. A biological organism is not goal-oriented in the sense of serving external purposes or moving towards an external goal. The movement is toward a more fit or more mature form of itself in a particular environment. An organism can adapt, but cannot choose to be something else.

But humans are creative and humans can choose.

Things are changing again. The sciences of uncertainty and complexity have helped us to understand that organizations are patterns of interaction between human beings. These patterns emerge in the interplay of the intentions, choices and actions of absolutely all the parties involved. No one party can plan or control the interplay of these intentions. But even without being able to plan exact outcomes, or control what others do, people accomplish great things together.

The thing is that people can only accomplish their work in the necessarily uncertain and ambiguous conditions through ongoing conversations with each other. This is why the next revolution is dawning.

The social revolution, the next industrial revolution, is about deeply rethinking the value of human effort. An increase in value can only occur if the parts of a “system” can do something in interaction that they cannot do alone. Social business may be more about complementarity and coordination than collaboration and working towards the same goal.

An enterprise that is conceptualized as a social business should serve the purposes of all its constituents. It should enable its parts to participate in the selection of both the ends and the means that are relevant to them personally. If the parts of a system are treated as purposeful, they must have the freedom to choose and to act. This means that the defining characteristic of a social business is the increased variety of behaviors that is available. It is not necessarily about common goals or shared purposes any more.

The way our organizations are conceptualized has a great effect on what people do, and what they do affects the way organizations are conceptualized. Enterprises have always consisted of people who have ideas, intentions, creativity and purposes of their own.

This, in the end, is what makes people different from machines.

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Background:

Kevin Kelly: “dream up new work that matters”. The Atlantic: “The Robot Will See You Now”. Russell Ackoff on Systems Thinking. David C. Aron on Systems Thinking, Complexity Theory and Management. Changing the social contract of work. Gary Hamel on the invention of management. McKinsey Quarterly: “The next revolution in interactions”. MIT Technology Review: “The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it”. Race against the machine by Brynjolfsson and McAfee. Greg Satell blog post. Ross Dawson and John Hagel on the humanization of work.

Neuroscience, The Internet and Leadership

The structures of the brain and the Internet look the same. In the brain there are neurons that link as a result of being active at the same time. This firing together creates a connection, a wiring together, that increases the strength of the connection. On the Internet there are wired servers and people that are linked in temporal interaction, sometimes as a result of being inspired and interested in the same topic, firing together. This short-term communication sometimes leads to a longer-term relationship, increasing the strength of the connection. New connections are formed, connections get stronger and connections are lost.

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.

We often think of individuals as independent and self-contained. The view suggested here sees individuals as interdependent nodes of the complex networks they form interacting with others and co-creating themselves and the reality in which they participate.

According to Cathy Davidson, attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain. Attention blindness is also the fundamental structuring principle of our society. We see and understand things selectively.

The opportunity lies in the fact that just 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.

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 we are creating new potentials for action. Every human relationship, every connection, serves as a model for what is possible. Within any relationship we are in the process of becoming. Each relationship will also bring us into being as a certain kind of person creating a huge repository of potentials. What social technologies are making possible is a much, much richer repertoire than what we were used to before the Internet.

The dominant ways of thinking about the world have their origins in Newtonian mechanics in which the universe was simply the sum of its independent parts. At the moment, this part – whole thinking is being directly applied to the ways we think about leadership. Interdependence plays a minor role and anyway it is seen as the result of a deliberate choice. The Populist political thinking follows the logic that we can choose not to be interdependent.

The old ways of understanding human behavior are not up to the task any more. In contrast to Newtonian traditions, the science of social networks and modern neuroscience offer an entirely new way of understanding the fundamental interdependence of human beings and the human society.

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

In this way of thinking, we leave behind the idea of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established and developed in complex interaction with each other.

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Interactive competence and flash communities

All of us have at some point in our lives experienced performance appraisals where we as individuals were evaluated. This approach to judgment was the same in school and at work: individuals separated from other individuals.

As a result of recent developments in psychology and sociology, we are now leaving behind the preoccupation with the autonomous individual and beginning to appreciate the importance of relational processes and interdependence. The way we perceive organizations is changing accordingly. Rather than an organization being though of as an imposed structure of separate, autonomous functions, today’s organization arises from the interactions of individuals who need to come together. An organization is a continuous process of organizing.

This shift in the way we see organizations changes the way we perceive competitive advantages. The new competitive edge comes from openness and interactive capacity: the ability to participate and connect, as and when needed.

Similarly produced products with the same product features are used by different customers in different ways. Just because a product is a commodity doesn’t mean that customers can’t be diverse in their needs and the way they use the product.

Companies used to have no mechanisms for connecting with the end users in order to understand and influence this. Social media and mobile technologies are now changing this.

Organizations are creative, responsive processes of communication. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Solutions are always temporary and contextual.

In this view, it is information that is the energy of organizing. Or, as Gregory Bateson wrote, “information is a difference, which makes a difference”. When we see information as a power plant that has the ability to organize and change the organization, we realize the power of openness. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, products and new technologies.

When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization.  The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.  What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information streams that no one could predict they would want to know about. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus information architectures can never be fully planned in advance.

No one person or function can meet today’s challenges alone. We need a community of people who willingly participate and provide their insights to address increasingly interdependent issues. Collaboration is necessary because one person no longer has the answer. Answers reside in the interaction, between all of us.

Therefore the challenges of today are engagement and reducing the transaction costs of participation. Widening the circle of involvement means expanding who gets to participate, comment and contribute. It is about inviting and including relevant, new and different voices.

The unfortunate misunderstanding is that engaging people requires managers to let go. As managers contemplate widening the circle of involvement they sometimes believe that it means to have less ability to provide input based on their knowledge and experience. Paradoxically, engaging more people requires more from managers than the current management paradigm.

Instead of being responsible for identifying both the problem and the solution, they are now responsible for identifying the problem and identifying the other people whose voices need to be heard. Who else needs to be here? How do I invite people who do not report to me? How do I invite customers and other people from outside our organization?

Success today is increasingly the result of skilful management of participation: who is included and who is not. Who is needlessly excluded from the information streams and the subsequent interaction?

A common misunderstanding is that productivity will suffer if larger numbers of people are involved. The new social platforms and interaction technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of communication and participation. Temporary, flash communities can be formed to solve a problem or to tackle an opportunity more easily, more cheaply and faster than ever before – if there is openness and people are invited and if people want to engage. It is about distributing the intellectual tasks at hand and integrating the contributions of many resulting in creative learning.

Creative learning is the new productivity. In creative, interactive work, productivity cannot be measured in quantitative terms or as a difference between input and output, but as the speed and quality of learning.

The management task is not to understand people better, but to understand better what happens, and can happen between people. Our world is co-created in relations.

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The management of the social business

The division of labor reduced organizational effort and the cost of work in factory production. The division of labor also increased the quality of work through specialization. This led managers to focus on the efficiency of activities that were separated from other activities. Organizational design was seen as the planning and execution of a collection of independent, but connected jobs forming the workflow system.

Connections were based on top-down command-and-control and horizontal, sequential processes. In both cases the action of one part was meant to set off the action of another. Interaction was understood as one-way signals, a system of senders and receivers, a system of causes and effects.

In the cause-and-effect model of communication a thought arising within one individual is translated into words, which are then transmitted to another individual. At the receiving end, the words translate into the same thought, if the formulation of the words and the transmission of those words are good enough.

Physical tasks could be broken up in a reductionist way. Bigger tasks could be divided by assigning people to different, smaller and fairly independent parts of the whole. For intellectual tasks, it is not possible to find independent parts because intellectual tasks are by default linked and interdependent, creating a totally different work environment. In this new work, communication is not talking about work, but work is communication between people.  This is why a social business follows a very different model of causality.

In this model of complex causality, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual that evokes a response from someone else. The meaning can only be known in the gesture and response together. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning may be contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one act. Neither side can independently choose the meaning of the words or control the conversation. Thus you can never control communication.

The cause-and-effect model of management presumes, accordingly, that leadership potential resides within an individual person, who is the cause. From a social business standpoint the individualistic view is fundamentally misleading. One cannot be inspiring or energizing alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition. An inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are agreeable people around. Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the sources of progress. Actions always emerge in a network of relationships – in co-action instead of cause and effect.

Any higher-value activity involves complementary and parallel contributions from more than one person or one team. Instead of division of labor and the vertical/horizontal communication design, the managerial focus should now be in synchronous co-action and enriching interaction. Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being.

Social businesses are about interdependent people working in complex interaction

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Organization is a process, not a structure

The way in which companies organize themselves and define their internal boundaries has essentially been determined by the way in which communication between people is planned and transfer of information is designed. The classic hierarchical structure was based on the assumption that a manager or worker could have rich interaction and exchange of information only with a limited number of predetermined people. A narrowing of interaction always marked operational boundaries. Thus you did not want people to cross functional silos. This was the infamous trade-off between richness and reach.

An increasing number of companies trying to become social businesses are now becoming aware of the technical barriers and structural bottlenecks that hinder or totally prevent cooperation that is not planned in advance.

It is time to rethink. Rather than thinking of organization as an imposed structure, plan or design, organization arises from the interactions of interdependent individuals who need to come together.

The accumulating failures of attempts at organizational agility can be traced to the fundamental but mistaken assumption that organizations are structures that guide and, as a consequence, limit interaction. An organization as a structure is a seventeenth century notion from a time when philosophers began to describe the universe as a giant piece of clockwork. Our beliefs in prediction and organizational design originate from these same ideas.

A different ideal is emerging today. We want to be agile and resilient and we want to learn effectively and fast. The tension of our time is that we want our firms to be flexible and creative but we only know how to treat them as systems of boxes (or network nodes, where the shapes are round instead of square), with a fixed number of lines between them.

It is time to change the way we think about organizations. It is not about hierarchies vs. networks, but about a much deeper change. Organizations are creative, responsive processes and emergent patterns in time. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize all the time. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Change is the organizing input rather than the typical managerial re-design process.  All solutions are always temporary.

Gregory Bateson wrote: “information is a difference which makes a difference”. Information is the energy of organizing. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, new technologies and competitors.

What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information that no one could predict they would want to know. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus an organization can never be fully planned in advance. When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization. The context matters more than ever. The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.

We seek organization, but organization is a continuous process, not a structure.

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Thank you Ken Gergen for a great evening and great conversations

More on Gregory Bateson. On social business. Narrative work.