Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Internet

A pattern language of post-industrial work

At the core of the post-industrial era is the idea that people should design for themselves. This principle applies also our value creating entities. This may sound radical but comes from the observation that most of the value on global scale is not created by firms but by people. People, then, should learn to be better designers. When designing something we always rely on certain patterns. We are in the midst of a shift from the industrial pattern of supply and demand to social, interactive patterns.

The customer is now seen as being directly and actively involved in the key moments of value creation as opposed to passively consuming value. There are profound implications that result from this change of thinking. Products and services are not reproducible as such any more. Solutions are by default contextual, but they can be starting points for someone else to create value. Creative, connected learning is at the core of the post-industrial business.

The most important principle is to build the organization around three design patterns: (1) Relations, (2) Network effects and (3) Solving problems /Asking questions.


Cultural homogenization is a theme of our time. It is apparent in fashion, food, music, and many services with a unified user experience. Everything is made to be basically the same everywhere. According to some psychologists, the desire for this sameness arises from anxiety about differences. This is one of the reasons why Gregory Bateson argued that the history of our time can be perceived as the history of malfunctioning relationships. More homogenization leads to more anxiety (when experiencing differences) which leads to more homogenization and the “differences that make a difference”, as Bateson put it, are lost.

Human behavior is learned in relations. Our brains are wired to notice and imitate others. Computational social science has proved that behavior can be caught like a disease merely by being exposed to other people. Learning and also non-learning can be found in communication. It is not that people are intelligent and then socially aware. Social intelligence is not a separate type of intelligence. All intelligence emerges from the efforts of the community.

To succeed you need relationships and interaction. When customers are identified as individuals in different use contexts, the sales process is really a joint process of solving problems. You and your customer necessarily then become cooperators. You are together trying to solve the customer’s problem in a way that both satisfies the customer and ensures a profit for you.

The industrial make-and-sell model required expert skills. The decisive thing was your individual knowledge. Today you work more from your network than your skills. The decisive thing is your relations. The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared contexts, meaning shared interests and shared practices. The focus of industrial management was on the 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.

The really big objective of the digital transformation is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the center. Success today is increasingly a result of 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.

Network effects

The new platforms can be a valuable, shared resource making value creation possible through organizing and simplifying participation. Sociologists have called such shared resources public goods. A private good is one that the owners can exclude others from using. Private was valuable and public without much value during the era of scarcity economics. This is now changing in a dramatic way, creating the intellectual confusion we are in the midst of today. The physical commons were, and still often are, over-exploited but the new commons follow a different logic. The more they are used, the more valuable they are for each participant.

The ongoing vogue of business design transforms asset-based firms to network-based platforms. The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today.

The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. The industrial economy was based on supply-side economies of scale inside the corporation. The new focus is outside, in demand-side network economies.

The most important model is a network structure where the value of all interactions is raised by all interactions; where every interaction benefits from the total number of interactions. These are the new network businesses. In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents. The key understanding is that it is now the customers or members of the network who create value, not the network owner. The customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain. The Internet is a viable model for making sense of the value creating constellations of tomorrow. Perhaps the next evolutionary step in the life of the firms is a transformation from platforms to open commons with shared protocols. Perhaps Bitcoin/Blockchain is going to be part of the new stack, the TCP/IP of business.

Solving problems /Asking questions

Success in life has been seen governed by two concepts: skills and effort; how bright you are and how hard you work. Recently, researchers have claimed that there is a third and decisive concept. It is the practice of lifelong curiosity: “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” as Piaget put it.

The collective intelligence of our societies depends on the tools that augment human intelligence. We should welcome the fact that people today are smarter in large measure because they have invented and use smarter tools. Making tools is what human beings have always done. The interactions between tools and human minds are so complex that it is very hard to try to draw a line between humans and technology. Neither is it a zero-sum game where the human brain is losing to technological intelligence, but as technology changes, people and what people do, are necessarily changed.

Work starts from problems and learning starts from questions. Work is creating value and learning is creating knowledge. Both work and learning require the same things: interaction and engagement. With the help of modern tools, we can create ways for very large numbers of people to become learners. But learning itself has changed, it is not first acquiring skills and then utilizing those skills at work. Post-industrial work is learning. It is figuring out how to solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way — both with technology and with other people.

The new design patterns create new opportunities. It is not about having a fixed job role as an employee or having tasks given to you as a contractor. The most inspiring and energizing future of work may be in solving problems and spotting opportunities in creative interaction with your customers.

Bitcoin represents a novel form of organization

The Internet can be seen as the combination of two much earlier innovations. The first was the telegraph, which allowed information to be transmitted electronically. With the advent of the telegraph, people could communicate instantaneously across long distances, which was unimaginable before that time.

The second innovation was the computer, which allowed information to be processed and stored with unimaginable speed and almost limitless storage capacity. Both the telegraph and the computer solved huge problems by themselves, but combining the two facilitated truly new and transformative social innovations that led to the network era we now live.

Our present understanding of the logic of networks is largely a result of the work of Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz, who connected the research done by Mark Granovetter and Stanley Milgram.

Following their findings, let’s think of people instead of computers and links of acquaintance as telegraph lines connecting them. This social world has not been designed by anyone. It has evolved through countless connections between chance and choice: people meeting people. Our social network is neither ordered nor random, but something in-between.

The potential of the network we are part of is mostly invisible to us in our ordinary social lives. We can only see as far as those to whom we are directly linked. We do not normally know, or think about, the people our friends know. But in a network-science sense these people are important to us. The friends of our friends act as ties that sew the larger social network together. They are the shortcuts to people far away. They make the world small for us. You typically have strong links to family members, friends and co-workers. The weak links, the connections of our connections, and the people we have met only once or meet very seldom, are bridges between worlds. An example of this may be the person from New Zealand whom you met at a conference a few years ago. Without that link you might not be connected to anyone in New Zealand. But because of it, you are linked in two steps to his friends and in three steps to everyone they know. This is called a small-world network.

Order, design, strong links and local proximity have been the leading principles of the world of work, but what if easier and more valuable work were in effect based on dynamic connections and interaction with people in the larger network? Finding these people is now possible with the help of digital social networks. The small-world geometry offers a way to see order and design in these apparently disordered networks. Digital, purpose-driven proximity may replace local proximity in the future world of work.

But the way we work needs to change. As people do their own thing, they also need to act as links for others. That is the new role in all work. People need to be fluent in connecting, curating and re-publishing.

What kind of technology would enable this to happen? I don’t believe the future of digital work is built on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn.

The “Blockchain”, the engine on which Bitcoin is built, is a new distributed consensus/authority system that allows transactions, or other data, to be securely stored and verified without any centralized authority at all, because the entire network validates them. Those transactions don’t have to be financial and the data doesn’t have to be money.

The future of work may be built on connecting small-world networks and the Blockchain technology. The network is then the market and commons for exploration, coordination and value creation without any central authority. The importance of Bitcoin may not lie in digital currency. It represents a novel form of network-based organization.

This kind of work, I think, may be unimaginable today.


Thank you Rob Wile, Mark Buchanan and Mike Hearn

More: The future of Blockchain.

The wiki way of working

Physical tasks can normally be broken up in a reductionist way. Bigger tasks can be divided by assigning people to different smaller parts of the whole. For intellectual tasks, it is much harder to find parts that make for an efficient workflow. Intellectual tasks are by default complex and linked. Knowledge work is a social construct.

The machine metaphor led to the belief that if we can only arrange the parts in the right way, we optimize efficiency. The demands of work are different now: how efficient an organization is reflects the number of links people have and the quality of the links they have to the contexts of value, the things that matter.

How many handshakes separate them from one another and from the things that matter most? We are beginning to see the world in terms of  relations.

We have examples of new social architectures that redefine some basic beliefs about work and cooperation between people.

At the moment the wiki is the best departure from the division of labor and workflows. Wikis let people work digitally together in the very same way they would work face-to-face. In a physical meeting, there are always more or less the wrong people present and the transaction costs are very high. Unlike email, which pushes copies of the same information to people to work on or edit separately, a wiki pulls non co-located people together to work cooperatively, and with very low transaction costs. Email and physical meetings are methods which exclude. They always leave people out. A wiki, depending on the topic, the context and the people taking part, is always inviting and including. The goal is to enable groups to form around shared contexts without preset organizational walls, or rules of engagement.

In 1995 Ward Cunningham described his invention as the simplest online database that could possibly work. An important principle of the wiki is the conscious emphasis on using as little structure as possible to get the job done. A wiki does not force a hierarchy on people. In this case, less structure and less hierarchy mean lower transaction costs. A wiki always starts out flat, with all the pages on the same level. This allows people to dynamically create the organization and, yes, also the hierarchy that makes most sense in the situation at hand.

People work together to reach a balance of different viewpoints through interaction as they iterate the content of work. The wiki way of working is essentially a digital and more advanced version of a meeting or a workshop. It enables multiple people to inhabit the same space, see the same thing and participate freely. Some might just listen, some make comments or small edits, while others might make more significant contributions and draw more significant conclusions.

New work is about responsive, free and voluntary participation by people who contribute as little, or as much as they like, and who are motivated by something much more elusive than only money. Society has moved away from the era of boxes to the time of networks and linked, social individualism. Being connected to people, also from elsewhere, is a cultural necessity and links, not boxes, are the new texture of value creation.


Architectures of work and Internet-based firms

The characteristics of work in the network economy are different from what we are used to: the industrial production of physical goods was financial capital-intensive, leading to centralized management and manufacturing facilities where you needed to be at during predetermined hours. The industrial era also created the shareholder capitalism we now experience. In the network economy, individuals, interacting with each other by utilizing free or low cost social platforms and relatively cheap mobile, smart devices, can now create information products.

The production of information goods requires more human capital than financial capital. And the good news is that you are not limited to the local supply. Because of the Internet, work on information products does not need to be co-located. The infrastructure of work does not resemble a factory but a network.

Decentralized action plays a much more important role today than ever before.

Work systems differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication between the components is predetermined and fixed or not. The architecture of the Internet is based on loose couplings and modularity. Modularity is the design principle that intentionally makes nodes of the network able to be highly responsive.

The Internet-based firm sees work and cognitive capability as networked communication. Any node in the network should be able to communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative participative engagement. Work takes place in a transparent digital environment.

As organizations want to be more creative and knowledge-based, the focus of management thinking should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsiveness.

The Internet is a viable model for making sense of the new value creating constellations of tomorrow.

But something crucially important needs to change:

The taken for granted assumption is that it is the independent employer/manager who exercises freedom of choice in choosing what is done and by whom. The employees of the organization are not seen autonomous, with a choice of their own, but are seen as rule-following, dependent entities. People are resources.

Dependence is the opposite of taking responsibility. It is getting the daily tasks that are given to you done, or at least out of the way. We are as used to the employer choosing the work objectives as we are used to the teacher choosing the learning objectives. The manager directs the way in which the employee engages with work, and manages the timing and duration of the work. This image of work is easy to grasp because it has been taught at school where the model is the same.

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

The interdependent, task-based worker negotiates her work based on her own purposes, not the goals of somebody else, and chooses her fellow workers based on her network, not a given organization. The aim is to do meaningful things with meaningful people in meaningful ways utilizing networks and voluntary participation.

It is not the corporation that is in the center, but the intentions and choices of individuals. This view of work focuses attention on the way ordinary, everyday work-tasks enrich life and perpetually create the future we truly want through continuous learning.

The architecture of work is not the structure of a corporation, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of organizing. The main motivation of work is not financial self-interest, but people’s different and yet, complementary expectations of the future.

The factory logic of mass production forced people to come to where the work is. The crowdsourcing logic of mass communication makes it possible to distribute work/tasks to where the right/willing/inspired people are, no matter where on the globe they may be.

Knowledge work is not about jobs or job roles but about tasks. Most importantly knowledge work can, if we want, be human-centric. Through mobile smart devices and ubiquitous connectivity, we can also create new opportunities and a better future for millions of presently unemployed people.

It is possible!



Why companies don’t grow – The idea of the platform company

The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size, the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today. The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. Traditional business economics focus on economies of scale derived from the capital base of the company, which tends to scale linearly

In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents.

The principles behind this are not totally new.

It used to be argued that goods for which the marginal costs, the cost of producing one more unit of customer value, were close to zero were inherently public goods and should be made publicly available. Before the digital era, roads and bridges were commonly used as examples. Maximum benefit from the initial investment is gained only if the use is as unrestricted as possible. People should have free, or almost free access.  Once the capital costs have been incurred, the more people there are sharing the benefits, the better it is for the whole value system in the future. This was the economic explanation for why roads were, and still are, under public ownership. The same logic applied to public libraries: a book can be read repeatedly at almost no extra cost.

What used to be called “public goods” is today called “platforms”. A new form of a company is being born!

Once the up-front costs have been incurred and the platform is established, the more people there are who are sharing the benefits, the greater the net present value of the whole value system becomes.  A platform company should therefore be as open, as accessible and as supportive as possible, to as many users as possible.  This is unequivocally the route to optimum value creation.  Moreover, the higher the value of the system, the costlier it becomes to all its members to replace it – creating a major barrier to entry.

Restructuring a firm for the new world would require concurrent relative downsizing of legacy systems and upsizing of the new open platforms.  As both are explicitly costly things to do and the financial rewards of the latter are typically deferred, the exercise becomes challenging for incumbents to implement within the constraints of the existing financial frameworks. But it is happening!

Internet scale economies can create almost boundless returns without the company growing at all. The goal of Supercell is to be “as small as possible” as Ilkka Paananen has said. At the beginning of 2013 Tumblr had only 145 employees and 100 million visitors. That meant it had 700.000 visitors per employee. The sheer size of an enterprise will tend to mean less in the digital network business than in the world of physical goods. Companies don’t grow any more in the way they used to! It is the networks that grow!

But something else needs to change too: customer focus has been the dominant mantra in business. Everybody knows that everything should focus on the customer. However this is not enough any more. Up to now, business has focused on the customer as an audience for products, services and marketing communications. In the world of digital networks, the customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor. The activity of the customer focuses corporate effort.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain, but a network space, where these platform companies are fully market-facing and the customer experience is defined by applications connecting to the platform.

The basis of executive power is shifting from being in charge to being connected. New leaders understand that power with people is much more effective than power over people. It is about integrating the best of networked thinking and leveraging the new platforms for value creation.


Thank you Sasu Ristimäki for the iterations and thank you for developing my thinking.

More on the subject: Jeremy Rifkin.

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!


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.


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

The foundations of social business: short path lengths


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.


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

The foundations of social business: private broadcasting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More on the subject: from content to connections.

Social business and the changing theory of management

A manager recently voiced his concerns: “Most employees prefer being told what to do. They are willing to accept being treated like children in exchange for reduced stress. They are also willing to obey authority in exchange for job security.” That is the way we have seen it: managers inspire, motivate, and control employees, who need to be inspired, motivated, and controlled. These dynamics create the system of management and justify its continuation.

If we want to meet the challenges of the post-industrial world, this relationship needs to change. The workers changing their role is often seen as a matter of the extent to which the managers are willing to allow it and give up responsibility. In reality it is as much a matter of how much the workers are willing to develop their (management) capacity and take more and wider responsibility.

The dysfunctional relationship between managers and employees creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and a systemic failure in creative, knowledge-based work. What is tragic is that neither side normally understands the predictability of what is going on. The pattern is a mutually reinforcing self-destructive process that manifests itself as a steady decline in the authority of management and productivity of work.

A few researchers have started to dispute the assumption that the present system of management is a fact of life that will always be with us. It may be time for us to question whether the recent problems created by bad management are isolated and should be tolerated. Or to ask whether the fault is in the system itself and not in individual managers?

Luckily, management theory and practice are slowly starting to catch up with the dramatic changes brought about by the loosely coupled, modular nature of creative work and the ideals of social business.

A social business does not behave in the way our dominant management thinking assumes. What is it, then, that has changed?

Organizations are always assemblies of interacting people. The reason for an organization to exist is to simplify, support, and enrich interaction.

At present, there are three types of organizational cultures depending on the type of management and the alternative mechanisms for the coordination of tasks. The different task interdependencies accordingly place different and increasing burdens on our communication practices .

I call these the administrative culture, the industrial culture and the creative, social culture.

The administrative culture, which is found in most governmental organizations is about function-specific independent activities. Two functions or tasks are independent if it is believed that they don’t affect each other. The most important communication exists between the employer and the employee, the manager and the worker. The principle is that the execution of two independent tasks does not require communication between the tasks. The architecture consists of black boxes that are not coupled directly, but in an indirect way by higher-level managers, who coordinate the work. Work as interaction is mainly communication between hierarchical levels.

The industrial culture of process-based organizations is about dependent and sequential activities. Manufacturing work is about dependent tasks. Being dependent means that the output of one task is the input of another. The reverse cannot normally take place. In sequential dependence, those performing the following task must comply with the constraints imposed by the execution of the preceding task. Since the process architecture is typically quite clear, management coordination is mostly about measuring and controlling whether the execution conforms to the planned requirements. The architecture consists of tightly coupled tasks and predetermined, repeating activities. Work as interaction is a sequential process with one-way signals.

A creative, social culture is different. It is about loose couplings and modularity, about interdependent people and interdependent tasks. Two people/tasks are interdependent if they affect each another mutually and in parallel. Interdependent tasks call for peer-level responsiveness and coordination by mutual adjustments, not coordination by an outside party such as a manager.

Most of the information that is relevant will be discovered and created during the execution of the task, not before. As a result it is not always possible for a manager and a worker to agree on a coherent approach in advance. Nor is it normally possible to follow a predetermined process map.

The basic unit of corporate information in creative, social work is not content in the form of documents but interaction in the form of conversations. Knowledge is perpetually constructed in interaction. Work as interaction is complex, situational communication between loosely connected nodes of the network! The structure of work resembles the structure of Internet.

The three cultures and corresponding architectures differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication between the components is fixed or not. In most creative work, and always in a social business, any node in the network should be able to communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative participative engagement.

As organizations want to be more creative and social, the focus of management theory should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsibility and the equality of peers. It is a systemic change, much more than just kicking out the bad managers and inviting new, better managers in. It is not about hierarchies vs. networks, but about how all people want to be present and how all people want to communicate in a way that was earlier reserved only for the people we called managers.


Eric Brynjolfsson video on TED. Steven Johnson video on peer networks. Gary Hamel interview.