Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Emergence

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

The Social Graph of Work

The approach of the industrial era to getting something done is first to create an organization. If something new and different needs to be done, a new and different kind of organizational form needs to be put into effect. Changing the lines of accountability and reporting is the epitome of change in firms. When a new manager enters the picture, the organizational outline is typically changed into a “new” organization. But does changing the organization really change what is done? Does the change actually change anything?

An organization is metaphorically still a picture of walls defining who is inside and who is outside a particular box. Who is included and who is excluded. Who “we” are and who “they” are.

This way of thinking was acceptable in repetitive work where it was relatively easy to define what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities.

As a result, organizational design created two things: the process chart and reporting lines, the hierarchy.

In creative, knowledge based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of people, capabilities and tasks in advance. In many firms reporting routines are the least important part of communication. Much more flexibility than the process maps allow is needed. Interdependence between peers involves, almost by default, crossing boundaries. The walls seem to be in the wrong position or in the way, making work harder to do. What, then, is the use of the organizational theatre when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something?

What if the organization really should be an ongoing process of emergent self-organizing? Instead of thinking about the organization, let’s think about organizing.

If we take this view we don’t think about walls but we think about what we do and how groups are formed around what is actually going on or what should be going on. The new management task is to make possible the very easy and very fast emergent formation of groups and to make it as easy as possible for the best contributions from the whole network to find the applicable tasks, without knowing beforehand who knows.

The focal point in organizing is not the organizational entity one belongs to, or the manager one reports to, but the reason that brings people together. What purposes, activities and tasks unite us? What is the cause of interdependence and group formation?

It is a picture of an organization without walls, rather like contextual magnetic fields defined by gradually fading rings of attraction.

Instead of the topology of organizational boxes that are still often the visual representation of work, the architecture of work is a live social graph of networked interdependence and accountability. One of the most promising features of social technologies is the easy and efficient group formation that makes this kind of organizing possible for the first time!

It is just our thinking that is in the way of bringing down the walls.

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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 Internet of Things

Industrial era enterprises viewed customers through the lens of a fairly uniform set of features, leading to customers being seen as having relatively uniform needs. But even commodity products are always a bundle of use contexts, buying patterns, complementary goods and delivery options. Just because a product is a commodity doesn’t mean that customers can’t be diverse in the ways they use the product.

All use cases are somewhat the same and somewhat different. This means that different customers and processes use products that are manufactured in the same way, with the same product features, differently. It is contextual. Customers and the way products are used, are today understood to be active contributors to value creation. The word “consumption” really means value creation, not value destruction. Companies don’t create value for customers, the way the products are used creates value, more value or less value.

The parties explicitly or implicitly “help each other to help each other”. Value creation is a process of interaction. As the goal is to create more value together, a critically important element would be to implant context aware intelligence and interaction capability to a product.

The Internet of Things refers to embedded computing power and networking capability of the physical objects through the use of sensors, microprocessors and software that can collect, actuate and transmit data about the products and their environment. The gathered data can then be analyzed to optimize, develop and design products, processes and customer services. IoT is often about two new digital “layers” for all products: (1) an algorithmic layer and (2) a network layer.

The algorithmic layer “teaches” the customer and the product itself to create more value in a context-aware way, and accordingly teaches the maker the product to develop. As a result, the customer’s need set is expanded beyond the pre-set physical features of the offering. This changes the conceptual definition of the product and it becomes more complex. The more complex the product, the more opportunities there are for the maker to learn something that will later make a difference.

From a marketing standpoint, when a customer teaches the firm behind the product how she uses the product, what she wants or how she wants it, the customer and the firm are also cooperating on the sale of a product, changing the industrial approach to sales and marketing. The marketing and sales departments used to be the customer’s proxy, with the exclusive role of interpreting changing customer needs. Internet-based business necessarily transforms the marketing function and sales specialists by formally integrating the customer use case into every part of the organization. Thus the customer of tomorrow interacts with, and should influence, every process of the maker through the connected, intelligent products.

In the age of the Internet of Things, all products are software products. The value of the code, computing power and connectivity, may determine the value potential of a product more than the physical product itself. The effectiveness of an offering is related to how well it packages the learning from past activities, other use cases and from other similar products and how it increases the users options for value creation through network connections in the present. The offering actuates data via algorithmic smartness and through live presence (in the Internet). Connectivity also enables some functions of the product to exist outside the physical product in the product system, the cloud.

A product or a service should today be pictured as a node in a network with links to supplementary services and complementary features surrounding the product. The task today is to visualize the product in the broadest sense possible.

Visualizing these connections changes the strategic opportunity space dramatically. The study of isolated parts offers little help in understanding how connected parts work in combination and what emerges as the result of network connections. Every link and relationship serves as a model for what might be possible in the future. What new relational technologies are making possible for manufacturing industries is a much, much richer repertoire of business opportunities than what we were used to in a traditional industrial firm.

The ability to create value in a remarkably more efficient and resource-wise way corresponds to possibilities for interaction with relevant actors, information and products. If interdependent links are few, poor, or constraining, the activity and value potential will be limited.

The Internet of Things and technological intelligence in general, create transformative opportunities for more efficient and more sustainable, resource-wise, practices and also higher margins!

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Thank you Rafael Ramirez

More on the subject: Ford’s OpenXC. Bosch. Kari A. Hintikka (In Finnish)

Resilience, rationality and how we make decisions

We have been studying companies’ connections and disconnections for more than twenty years and have worked inside a huge number of them. Across all this research, common themes have emerged and intensified during the past few years: good communication in the era of the Internet and the new interactive tools does not mean any more that companies should listen carefully to their customers or that leaders should talk clearly with their subordinates. The linear view of communication, the movement of messages or sharing of content between people is giving way to a totally new understanding of what interaction, and work, are all about.

The first emerging theme is that communication is in fact a process of continuous coordination and knowledge creation. Knowledge is not shared as contents, but arises in action. Knowledge is never transmitted from one mind to another. It is a change from the movement of messages to a joint movement of thought. The future and viability of an organization depend on this process.

Economics still makes the assumption that individuals, the agents, as they are called, operate autonomously, separately from the influences of others. When choosing something, making a decision from a set of alternatives, the agent compares the attributes of the alternatives and selects the one that corresponds to her preferences. It is a world where independent individuals carefully weigh up the costs and benefits of any particular course of action.

However, scientists have emphasized the limits of our understanding. An important point is that these limits apply to everyone. They apply to politicians, to central bankers and to top executives of multinational companies. John Maynard Keynes once wrote that we have, as a rule, only the vaguest idea of the consequences of our actions. Herbert Simon and Stuart Kauffman on the other hand have argued that the number of future paths open to us at any point in time is so vast that it makes no sense at all to speak of the best or optimal decision.  But we still think the world works like a predictable machine operated by rational agents

Behavior that does not follow an economist’s definition is often called irrational, but it may be that in a world of ubiquitous networks, a proliferation of choice and an abundance of information, the economic definition of rationality has itself become outdated and irrational.

We need a new model of rational behavior and a new understanding of how we make decisions. We need a new decision model!

The second emerging theme is that the assumption that people make choices in isolation, that they do not adopt opinions simply because other people have them, is no longer sustainable. The choices people make, their buying decisions and their political views, are directly influenced by other people. That is to say that we construct our world together in communication. Network scientists such as Duncan Watts and Mark Granowetter have proved that the world comes to be what it is for us in our relationships. In the end it all depends on the company you keep and the conversations you have.

This leads to the importance of emphasizing relations instead of reductionism and separations. Reductionism means that the organization is understood as being split from its environment and one functional team is seen as being separate from another function. The worst mistake we make as a result of reductionist thinking may be that we assess and reward employees as if they were disconnected from other employees.

Links and communication are at the centre of organizational life. Depending on the quantity of interdependent links and the quality of communication, the organization lives or dies. Work is interaction between interdependent people.

The third emerging theme is that communication creates patterns. Words become what they are through the responsive actions of the people taking part. The relational view means in practice that if a conversation goes badly, it is always a joint achievement. On the other side, a conversation can only be successful if both participants join in and make it so as Ken Gergen points out. In management, it means that there is nothing one person alone can do to be a good manager. Good ideas don’t count as good ideas, if other people don’t treat them as such.

New leadership is about an awareness of creative and destructive patterns and having the ability to influence what is going on. In a creative pattern, the participants build on each other’s contributions. The conversation, thinking and action are in a process of forward movement.

Destructive patterns are the most harmful in terms of organizational viability. These patterns don’t contain forward movement but running in circles. People and organizations get stuck! People slow down in bitterness and silence, or even to the breaking of the link. The most destructive patterns often begin subtly, but unless they are worked with soon, not only will relations suffer but the whole network will deteriorate.

Being aware of the patterns includes being aware of the roles that we play. Whenever we speak, we do two things: we subtly define ourselves and define the other. Does the speaker in a company context define herself as one who can talk down to others or as an equal? What we say is important to the viability of the organization but the way we say it can be equally important. Talking down or talking up between people creates an asymmetry that leads to bad decisions and inefficient movement of thought.

The machine metaphor meant that we tended to think that the people “above” us have significant power. They are in control. We thus talked up to them. They should decide. They should do things for us because they were the ones who were responsible, not us. Knowing that they are not in control raises the question of a need for a new distribution of responsibility. Bottom-up as a metaphor is as harmful as top-down when the common goal is resilience.

There is no aspect of work or leadership that takes place outside the realm of communication. Human agency is not located or stored in an individual, contrary to mainstream economics. The individual mind arises continuously in communication between people.

Being skilfully present in the forward movement of thought and relational action is the new meaning of being rational.

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Thank you Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Ken Gergen, Marcial Losada, Katri Saarikivi and Paul Ormerod

Links: “Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty” “Possibilianism” “Stanley Milgram and the uncertainty of evil” “The fluid core“. “On functional stupidity and trust“. “Tulipmania” “Neuroeconomics

Pattern recognition, quantified self and big data

The creative era we live in is an age of unprecedented possibility compared with the industrial age. Major shifts are taking place: ideas matter more than money and as there are more people with good ideas than there are people with money, new opportunity spaces are being created. Industrial workers used to do as they were told. Today, knowledge workers negotiate solutions in active interaction with their peers. We also used to think that organizations outlived workers. The organization came first, and people served the organization. Today, workers´ careers outlive organizations, profoundly challenging our thinking. People have to come first, creating a revolution in work related social structures.

Companies are not managing their employees’ long-term careers any more. Workers must be their own HRD professionals. With opportunity comes new responsibility. It is up to the worker to construct the narrative of working life, to know what to contribute, when to change course and how to keep engaged – for much longer than we have been used to. To do those things well you have to develop a new understanding of yourself and what you are actually up to.

The schools and workplaces of the industrial era were organized on the assumption that there is one right way to learn, or to do things, and it is the same for everybody. To improve was to subscribe to this ideal, the goal somebody else gave you. After that, the task was to know where you are, and (try to) close the gap.

This is where the biggest changes are taking place. Instead of the industrial era’s generalizations and abstractions about what is good for you, or what five steps everybody should take, it is now time to cultivate a deep understanding of the context, the unique, particular situation you are in. Who are you and where do you come from? What kind of relations are the building blocks of your life? Reflecting on your reality should be the starting point of any effort to change things. This is also where we are often at our weakest. It did not matter in the past because most decisions were made for us. But now people can, and must, choose. The new task is to be able to make these choices on the basis of our own particular strengths and our own sense of belonging.

Most of the choices we make each day are believed to be the products of well-considered, rational decisions based on knowledge, but they are not. They are repeated patterns, habits. We are not conscious in the way we think we are; we do most of the things we do on autopilot.

Habits in an individual’s life are a natural consequence of our neurology. Patterns in the brain emerge because of repetition and learning. When patterns emerge, the brain stops participating fully in decision-making. The brain stops recruiting prefrontal areas, allowing consciousness and attention to be potentially focused on other tasks. The brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. It is the same thing in organizations. A community is always a collection of routines and habits. The aim of these patterns is the same as in the brain, to make life easier and more predictable.

The problem here is that neither the brain nor the people in a tightly knit community can, in the end, tell the difference between a bad habit and a good habit. The patterns repeat in a self-reinforcing way. Repeating patterns, not reason, are the root of how we behave.

Although each situation means relatively little on its own, over time, the patterns of our life have an enormous impact on our creativity, productivity, health, well-being and happiness.

We all know that the primary thing that causes change is a major crisis! It may be the first heart attack or a sharp, deep drop in revenues. It is remarkable how fast people then find the ways to live in the right way, or how businesses suddenly start to deal with the “burning platforms” they could have tackled a long time ago.

I don’t think that people and organizations really have to wait until something serious happens to them to fix things. I believe that the productivity suites of tomorrow are going to be a combination of sensors, big data and quantified-self technologies. When used together, these create totally new opportunities for live feedback, daily reflection and iterative change. And, most importantly these opportunities are based on our own unique context and our own unique storyline.

Managing yourself is first and foremost about pattern recognition. It is essential to remedy the things you do repeatedly, that don’t serve you and the life you want to create.

It is about changing the focus from what we should be doing to what we actually do!

More soon!

Thank you Katri Saarikivi

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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.