Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Facebook

The really big idea of social business

It is often said that the transformation to becoming a social business means facilitating activities such as transparent action and cooperation instead of the competitive individualism we are so used to.

Management buy-ins are also seen as a challenge that needs to be tackled. But can it be that the real challenge is not the return of investment of the new tools or learning new ways of doing things, but acknowledging that there is a need for rethinking what management is and refreshing the theories it is built on.

The way business thinking sees the self and its relationships is based on Cartesian philosophy; I think, therefore I am. Everything in management and thus also in mainstream social business takes place from the first-person point of view.

This Cartesian isolation was strengthened in Newton’s physics, where matter and also people, were seen metaphorically as billiard balls, bumping against one another every now and then. Billiard balls don’t really meet. They don’t get inside each other and alter each other’s internal qualities. During a collision they may undergo a change of position or direction, but they remain essentially the same. This is why psychology and sociology were separate disciplines. This also explains why human capital and social capital are seen as two separate things.

The Cartesian/Newtonian paradigm of isolated individuals having external relations underlies the mainstream thinking about what is going on in Twitter, Facebook and social media in general.

The often-asked question is what causes things to happen. When we seek for causal explanations, we begin to split the world into independent entities. There are causes on the one hand and effects on the other. Thus when we try to understand a person’s actions or try to understand what is happening, we search for an independent set of conditions that bring these about. This is why we search for the good managers and blame the bad ones. The manager is the independent cause – and deserves to be paid accordingly. The rest of us are the effects.

In attempting to understand the big idea of  social business, let us replace the metaphor of billiard balls by the metaphor of baking as Kenneth Gergen suggests. It is then about the combination of ingredients and how the ingredients co-create the end result. With the right combination you get delicious food. The elements don’t independently cause the end result to be a success. 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. In the same way, a rude remark does not start a fight. The argument starts as a combination of an offensive remark and a coarse response

The really big idea of social business is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the centre. The task is to see action within relationships. It is about interdependence instead of independence.

Every human relationship serves as a model for what is possible. As we observe others we incorporate their actions into our own repertoire. Learning is the fundamental process of socialization. Within any relationship we are also in the process of becoming. We come to play a certain role, a certain identity. With my deceased father, I came to being as a child. This happened even when I was a grown up. With my son, I come to being as a father. Each relationship will bring me 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 in a traditional firm.

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. There is still the little boy in me but also much, much more, not least because social media are part of my life.

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Thank you Kenneth Gergen for great conversations! This is based on my notes from our meetings. Thank you also Stu Kauffman and Doug Griffin

Designing for sociability

Interactive technologies like smartphones have been with us long enough to become familiar and find their present dominant designs. The explosion of the mobile Internet and location based services have added the potential of connectivity for objects, places and services in ways that very few companies still grasp. There is a new design dimension to everything: designing for sociability.

Most of us are aware of the direct effect we have on our friends and relatives. Our actions can make them happy or sad. But we very rarely consider that things we do or say can spread beyond the people we connect with. Conversely, our friends and family serve as conduits for us to be influenced by people we don’t know. We can be deeply and surprisingly affected by events we don’t take part in, that happen to people we don’t know.

It may not be appropriate to think about (digital) action only in terms of spatial metaphors: spaces and walls. Things happen and develop in time.

Focusing attention on the temporal processes of relating between people encourages us to take a special view to what interaction design might mean. Organizations are processes, not things. People are processes, not things. They are reproduced and transformed in interaction.

It is about how we continuously experience being together. The outcomes of organizational interaction are not within the powers of any single individual to choose. Both the outcomes and the dynamics producing the outcomes emerge in the very interaction! You cannot take away the uncertainty and the surprises.

When we shift the focus from spatial to temporal metaphors, the ethics of participation become more important than ever. The experience of being together results less from the technical and functional aspects of interaction and more from the purposes and values of the people taking part –  in ways that are very hard, or impossible to predict.

Perhaps temporal processes and iterative designs are the new dominant ways of designing for sociability.

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Ten Timeframes“. “The Design of Time“. “Dark Matter and Trojan Horses“. “An interview with Nicholas Felton” by Dan Hill

Twitter, Facebook and management

Emotional contagion is a fact of life. It means that our moods and even physical health are created in interaction with other people. We tilt either to the positive or the negative as a result of our relations, and the further relations, the people that we relate with have. It is a chain that goes far beyond the horizon. This is why we can no longer see our minds as independent and separate but as thoroughly social. Our mental life is co-created in a larger and larger interconnected network. What we have called the individual mind is something that arises continuously in relationships between people.

Our social interactions also play a role in shaping our brain. We know now that repeated experiences sculpt the synaptic connections and rewire our brain. Accordingly, our relationships gradually frame our neural circuitry. Being chronically depressed by others or being emotionally nourished and enriched has lifelong impacts.

Mainstream thinking sees the social in social business as a platform or a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is seen as separate from the individuals.

The approach suggested here follows a different reasoning and sees individuals as social. Both the individual and the social are then about interaction, where the individual is interaction inside and the social is interaction outside. The inside and outside cannot be separated or understood separately.

Interaction starts with recognition. It is about granting attention to others and making room for them in our lives. Being recognized has tremendous significance. People in traditional companies were often stuck in narrow, repetitive patterns of communication that provided them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.

Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.

When seen through the logic of social media, leading and following have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new social business sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area which is temporally meaningful for them. People also recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.

Another huge difference from traditional management thinking is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one “boss”. Thus, an individual always has many leaders that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.

Following is at best a process of active, creative learning through observing and simulating desired practices. Leading is doing one’s work in an open, inspiring and transparent way. Leading is engaging with people and being reflective. Patterns of recognition and patterns of communication are the most predictive activities there are in forecasting viability, agility and also human well-being.

Identity is a pattern in time. The individual and the social are born, and form one another at the same time. You can’t add a social layer to what you do, or to your IT systems – you are social!

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Thank you Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Ken Gergen and Dian Marie Hosking

More: “The idea of following in the age of Twitter

Attention blindness and the social business

Cathy N. Davidson has studied the way we make sense and think. Her claim is that we often end with problems when we tackle important issues together. This happens “not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are right in what they see, but neither can see what the other does”. In normal daily conditions, it may be that we don’t even know that other perspectives other than our own exist. We believe we see the whole picture from our point of view and have all the facts. Focus however means selection and selection means blind spots leading to (attention) blindness. We have a partial view that we take as the full picture.

This is one of the reasons why people in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive and negative patterns that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.

The opportunity provided by social tools lies in the widening and deepening of communication, leading to new voices taking part and new conversations that cross organizational units and stale process charts.

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

Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. The challenge is to see the filters and linkages as communication patterns that either keep us stuck or open up new possibilities.

The opportunity lies in the fact that as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things. If we can pool our insights we can thrive in the complex world we live in. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other.

From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing.

Our attention is a result of the filters we use. These filters can be a mix of habits, company processes, organizational charts or tools. Increasingly these filters are social. They are the people we recognize as experts. Our most valuable guides to useful bits of insight are trusted people whose activities we can follow in real time to help us enrich our views.

Management research has focused on the leadership attributes of an individual. Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.

Leading and following when seen as a relationship, not as attributes of individuals, have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area, which is temporally meaningful for them.

People recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.

Another huge difference from traditional management is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one boss. Thus, an individual always has many “leaders” that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.

We are now at the very beginning of understanding leadership in the new contextual, temporal framework. The relational processes of leading and following should be seen as temporary, responsive activity streams, not only on the Internet but also inside companies. They are manifested as internal (Twitter) feeds, (Facebook) updates and blog posts from the people you associate with.

Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative and effective action.

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Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin

The problem with the iPad and Facebook

I loved Napster.

I saw Napster as a fundamentally important social innovation when it came out in 1999. These thoughts were brought to my mind as I recently heard of Shawn Fanning and his new venture.

The original Internet was designed as a peer-to-peer system, like Napster was. Up until around 1993, the Internet had only one model of connectivity. Computers were assumed to be always on and always connected. The goal of the original Arpanet after 1969 was to share computing resources through integrating networks and allowing every host to be an equal player. Any two computers on the Internet could send packets to each other. Firewalls were unknown and communication patterns were by default symmetric.

Reach together with symmetry and equality were the things that made the Internet such a radical social innovation.

The explosion of the Internet in 1993 – 1994 was largely the result of the web browser and a different logic: the client-server protocol. The client initiates a connection to a known server, asks a question, downloads the answer and disconnects. The device running the client doesn’t need to have a permanent address. It does not even need to be always on. This is the reason why broadband providers gave us asymmetric bandwidth. More bandwidth is offered when getting data from the Internet than when sending data to it. The assumption was that the majority of users want to download and consume, not upload and produce.

It was not about symmetry and equality any more.

The client-server model was not the only development that changed usage patterns. The original model was transformed even more as a result of firewalls. Now the hosts of the network could not talk freely to other hosts because of firewalls creating obstacles to communication.

One of the most common and widely spread social developments is people being able to be their own authors and publishers. What Napster did was a different and likewise revolutionary social innovation. It came up with a third alternative, a new logic between producing and consuming: every computer in the network was used as a re-publisher and curator.

The assumption that there were few publishers and many consumers did not hold any more. Napster changed the flow of data.

The real genius of Napster was the way it made collaboration automatic. By default, a consumer of files was also a producer of files for the network. Once somebody downloaded a file, her machine was available to pass along the file to other users when needed. A central addressing authority connected the nodes of the network and then after that left everything else to take place by itself.

The totally transparent architecture produced value as a by-product of people getting what they wanted. No altruistic sharing motives were needed

Napster was a very decentralized system with some important centralized elements. In a decentralized system every host in the system is an equal participant. No hosts have facilitating or administrative roles. But Napster was also a search engine. It maintained a master song list adding and removing songs as individual users came online. This created redundancy and led to a high probability that a given file could be found although the probability of a given user being online is very low. As a result the contribution of one individual is very small but the collaborative interaction of the group creates tremendous value.

In a centralized, hierarchical system, coordination between peers is controlled and mediated by a central server, one host. A modern version of a hierarchical system transfers some coordination responsibility down from the centre to a tree-like architecture of coordinators. In this model, peers are organized into groups, where a local manager/host mediates communication between peers in the same group, but communication between peers in different groups is passed upwards to a higher level manager. This is essentially the way firms operate today.

Ronald Coase developed the concept of transaction costs. These are the costs of coordinating actions and the costs of interacting and contracting.  When it is cheaper to do this inside a formal organization than as a network of more or less independent parties, organizations will form and prevail.

The reverse side of the Coasean theory is even more interesting. As transaction costs outside the organization fall as a result of technological and societal advance, the reasons for formal coming together dissolve. This leads to the organization becoming outdated, unless it can simplify its processes significantly. The big challenge for many organizations is to do things in a much, much simpler and more responsive way. The sad truth is that it is easier for managers to grasp the threat of competition than the risk of simply becoming obsolete.

In theory, if transaction costs in society at large become low enough, there will be no hierarchical, formal organizations as we have known them. The transaction costs of forming and maintaining these types of organizations are higher than the transaction costs of the alternative ways of creating the same value. The traditional hierarchical and formal organization is just too complicated, slow, and far too costly as a system. Unfortunately, the mainstream business schools haven’t figured this out yet. They still keep on teaching yesterday’s pricey way of doing things.

Peer-to-peer is an architectural model that is much more interesting, but also much more demanding, than the dominant client-server models. I believe that Napster gave us a glimpse of the future. The architecture it pioneered is going to be a viable model for the agile value constellations of the very near future.

Client-server is not the only truth and Facebook is (just) a modern version of a Telco. Facebook is not the same as the Internet.

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Thank you Larry Lessig, Clay Shirky and Andy Oram

More on the subject: The early history of the Internet. Blog post by Doc Searls. Blog Napsterization.org. On personal dataPersonal leverage for personal data by Doc Searls. On user-centric identity. Blog post by Venessa Miemis.

Productivity and mobile devices

Lenovo unveiled their new tablet-capable business laptop last Monday. The company made a conscious decision not to bring out an iPad like tablet PC. They said customers don’t want it. “The feedback was that for our customers it would not work because of the need to have a physical keyboard.”

The discussion around a virtual or physical keyboard caught my attention. The purpose of a keyboard is fairly straightforward: to get words onto the recording medium. The ability to capture a symbolic representation of spoken language for storage or transfer frees information from the limits of individual memory or location. But do we need a physical keyboard for that?

The patent for the typewriter was awarded in 1868 to Christopher Sholes. An early problem of the typewriter was the jamming of the type bars when certain combinations of keys were struck in a very close sequence. As a solution to the problem, Sholes arranged his keyboard in such a way that the keys most likely to be struck in close succession were approaching the type point from opposite sides of the machine. The keyboard is actually configured to minimize speed of input. At the time, reducing the speed of the typewriter was the best way to prevent it from jamming. The QWERTY keyboard was designed to accomplish a now obsolete mechanical requirement. It can be claimed that it is very unproductive to use a keyboard as an interface to productivity tools. The situation would of course be different if we all used ten fingers and did not need to look at the keyboard as we type.

Mobile phones are still mainly associated with communication, not productivity software. As a result a knowledge worker needs two devices: a laptop and a mobile phone.

No mobile phone has created as much of a buzz as the Google Nexus One since Apple launched the iPhone. As in other Android-based mobile devices, there is no physical keyboard. Text input relies on a virtual keyboard. But there is also a voice-to-text input functionality. We could use our voice and video instead of a keyboard! And additionally the camera is paving the way towards augmented reality!

The third device category is tablets: bigger than mobile phones but smaller than laptops – and often without a physical keyboard. The critiques claim that tablets like the iPad are just laptops without keyboards, while others are really mobile phones with proper-sized keyboards, without any definition of a real market need. At least the Lenovo customers don’t want them. Hopefully the Lenovo case is not  a matter of history repeating itself, as when Ken Olsen was explaining that DEC customers didn’t want PC’s.

The question here is not only how we think about the means of input. In the corporate context, it is even more about how we think about productivity and what kind of software can be called productivity software.

Productivity is a function of interaction

Instead of thinking about productivity as if it were associated with certain types of documents, it is closer to experience to think that productivity emerges or does not, in people’s interaction with each other and in interaction with the devices we use. Productivity is a function of interaction. Interaction is the content of social media! Therefore, it may not be a very good idea to bring the old document-based productivity software to mobile phones, or use Lilliputian keyboards.

The key productivity focus should be on widening and deepening interaction and reflection. This leads to a new perspective on information-related practices and productivity tools. Rising productivity requires changes in the way we communicate. Can there be a richer and easier way to use our devices? This, by the way, is the main sales argument behind the iPad.

The fastest immediate increase in productivity comes from either learning touch typing or using voice and video as means of input. Perhaps the keyboard of the future is speech combined with transcription? Anyway, the productivity software of tomorrow needs to be interaction-based. The most efficient productivity suit of tomorrow may well be a combination of Twitter, blogs and Facebook.

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Thank you Kuutti Lavonen

Background

Mobile data

A temporal pattern of networked intellect

Charles Darwin is reported to have written 15.000 letters during his career. The case of Charles D becomes interesting if we assume that he received roughly the same number of letters as he sent. Think about the time he spent reading and writing; think about the time he spent networking.  Would we have advised Charles to limit his time spent on social media and stick to his productive work? Perhaps not.

The history lessons taught in schools and leadership case studies taught in management education classes see the properties and ideas of particular persons as the drivers of the events that unfold in the world. Even today, this reinforces the common notion that history is made by outstanding individuals. But is it really so that if Newton had never been born, we would still be ignorant about gravitation?

The question we should ask is whether the great man theory of innovation, science and business really helps us to understand the world? Alfred Wallace, the British explorer and anthropologist published his version of the theory of natural selection at the same time as Darwin, or, as many claim, before him. Wallace had an impact on Darwin and among other things, prompted him to publish his work.

The interesting thing here is that a great idea matured in different places roughly at the same time.

However, the idea had a history. Both Wallace and Darwin based their studies on earlier work by the Augustinian priest and scientist Gregor Mendel. To be really fair, we should of course continue the chain and know who the nodes in the network were well before Mendel? So instead of talking about Darwinian evolution, we should really call it Darwinian-Wallacian-Mendelian-and-the-scientists-before-them, evolution!

People have always networked. Before the time of universities scholars depended largely on correspondence networks for the exchange of ideas. These communities, known as the Republic of Letters were the social media of the era, following the communication patterns of today astonishingly closely. Many researchers claim that one of the key success factors in science is the network of the scientist. This was also the case with Darwin. Historians claim that Darwin’s network was the decisive thing that tilted the focus towards him and not towards Wallace.

The better-networked scientist is the better scientist. The better-networked knowledge worker is the better knowledge worker. The better-networked student is the better student.

The main difference from the time of Charles Darwin is the efficiency of our tools for networking, meaning thinking together.

This is what Darwin used letters for, to think together with his network of contacts.  Over 6000 of those letters can be studied today at the Darwin Correspondence Project web pages. What is similar to the social media of today is the many casual, almost intimate letters Darwin sent, reflecting his own life and the life around him. Darwin did not make a distinction between his professional life and his private life in his approach to communication with his network. Perhaps we shouldn’t either.

A “man of letters” may today be a man of tweets, blog posts and Facebook, but the principle is the same: the size and quality of the network matters. What matters even more than the network, is networking, the way we use the network. In trying to understand what is going on, we should shift our focus from independent events and independent heroic people to networked temporality.  Even more than understanding networking, we should acknowledge the inherently creative commons nature of thinking and all development. Life is a temporal pattern of emotional and intellectual interaction.

We are our interaction.

The Individual and the Social

There are two distinctly different approaches to understanding the individual and the social on the social web. Mainstream thinking sees the social as a platform or a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is separate from the individuals. A totally different approach to social media sees individuals as social. Both the individual and the social are then about interaction, where the individual is interaction “inside” and the social is interaction “outside”. The interaction inside is silent and private, while the interaction outside is vocal and more public. The main difference from the first approach is that the inside and outside cannot be separated or understood separately. Here I repeat my friend, Professor Ralph Stacey, and his work which builds on that of Norbert Elias and George Herbert Mead: here both the individual and the social are sides of the same process of communication.

The individual is the singular of interdependence while the social is the plural.

If we subscribe to the second approach, the main importance of social media is in the formation of who we are. An individual recognizes herself, as a self, in the recognition of those she follows and who follow her on Twitter, who like her updates on Facebook etc. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other as Professor Doug Griffin, my close friend and teacher has put it. From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing. We form our groups and our followerships and they form us at the same time, all the time.

Identity is a pattern in time.

People in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive patterns of conversation that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences. We should look at communication as the most predictive group activity there is in forecasting viability and agility. The opportunity provided by social media lies in the widening and deepening of communication leading to new voices taking part and to new conversations that cross siloed organizational units and stale process charts. A key management challenge today is to understand that the only way to guarantee agility and resilience is to actively and widely participate in the conversations that matter.

Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative action.

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Thank you Doug Griffin and Ralph Stacey.

Contextual Leadership

Information overload and distractions have been understood as something that knowledge management takes care of. The task of knowing what to pay attention to has been tried to solve through corporate guidelines. Companies have also worked on information processes to mine nuggets worth the attention of knowledge workers. None of the approaches have really helped because it is really not about knowledge management, but about leadership, understood very differently than before.

Our attention is a result of the filters we use. These filters can be a mix of habits, media and tools. Increasingly these filters are social. They are the people in our network who we recognize as experts. Our most valuable guides to useful bits of insight are trusted people, people whose activities we can follow to help us advance and make sense.

Leading, then, is not position-based but recognition-based

There can hardly be a follower without a leader. A lot of management research has focused on the leadership attributes of an individual in the hierarchical organization. Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him or her through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.

Leading and following when seen as a two-sided relationship, not as attributes of individuals, follow a very different dynamic. Leading in this new sense is not position-based, but contextual and recognition based.

People, the followers, decide who to follow, why and when. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in the area, the context, which is temporally meaningful for them. People recognize as the leader someone who inspires and enables them in the present. Another difference from traditional management is that because of the diversity of contexts people necessarily link to, there can never be just one “boss”. Thus, an individual always has many leaders as a default state. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.

We are now at the very beginning of trying to understand leadership in the new contextual, temporal, framework. The relational processes of leading and following should be seen as temporal and responsive, not only on the Internet but also inside companies.

These patterns can be restricting or enabling. Knowledge work is not about acquiring facts or consuming information. It is about associations. Links are more important than information. Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. We don’t only connect with people; we link with topics, with contexts. The challenge is to see all the filters and linkages as communication patterns that are either keeping us stuck or open up new possibilities. We need new skills of dynamically connecting to people, topics and places. This is a growing challenge for our tools. Social media tools have developed tremendously on the publishing and sharing side. The next developments need to take place on the sense making side.

Following is at best a process of learning through observing and simulating desired practices. It is about growing the network and filtering at the same time. Leading is doing one’s work in an inviting and transparent way and being reflective. Leading is thus helping people link to information, filter information and to make sense of the world.

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Thank you Stephen Downes