Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

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

Tag: Knowledge management

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


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.


More on the subject: Euan Semple on Patterns. Doc Searls Weblog. Big Data and pattern recognition.

The core of the social business

We are in the midst of a shift from the industrial system of supply and demand to social, co-production models. 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 and personalized, but they can be starting points for someone else to create value.

Creative, connected learning is at the core of the social business.

It is not learning related to meeting the requirements set by someone else, but learning that is motivated and expressed through personal, situational needs. As a result, a new meaning of education and learning is emerging.

Business, more than government, is driving the changes in education that are required for the knowledge-based economy. The government-run education systems are lagging behind the transformation in learning that is evolving outside schools. Businesses are even coming to bear the primary responsibility for the kind of education and learning that is necessary for a country to remain competitive in the future.

Gutenberg’s printing press broke the monopoly of the church on what was taught and by whom. Today’s social technologies are doing the same to schools and universities. The learners decide what is taught and by whom. The new technologies are perhaps not making teachers and schools obsolete, but are definitively redefining their roles and breaking local monopolies.

A learning business is not the same as the learning organization made popular by Peter Senge and many others. It is not about systems thinking, or learning how to use technologies and data.

A learning business is one that leverages the economic value of knowledge.

Producing more value than is used is the characteristic of productivity. True learning businesses must therefore be teaching businesses. This means communicating to customers the additional value of learning in the context of the services and products offered. Learners are teachers and teachers are learners. Creating learning connections is more valuable than creating learning content.

Inside an organization, all people must take responsibility for information and communication. Each person needs to take responsibility for his or her own active contribution. Everyone needs to learn to ask three questions continuously. What information do I need? What information do I owe others? With whom should I communicate?

Each level of management and each process step is a relay. That was OK when the speed of learning was not an issue. It was also OK that businesses were hierarchy-based, because transparency was not possible. In a learning business each relay means cutting the potential for learning in half and doubling the noise. Hierarchy used to speed things up, now it slows down.

The most important principle of a social, learning business is to build the organization around information and communication instead of around a hierarchy.

There is a debate going on that focuses on the distinction between ethical and practical education. There are people who emphasize moral values and those who underline the practical reasons for education. There are voices that are concerned that business-driven learning would mean less moral and ethical education than under government-led learning. But there are also people who stress that in order for any business to thrive in the new economy, it needs to show a new, intense and honest interest in values and sustainable ethics. Some people I know inside the church have been surprised that leading corporations dedicate more time to education about values than they, or schools do.

We have moved to a new economy, but we have yet to develop a new educational paradigm.


Andrew Ng on the importance of universal access to education. Clayton Christensen on disrupting the education industry. Joi Ito on formal vs. informal education. Clay Shirky on social reading. Paul Graham: “Large organizations will start to do worse now because for the first time in history they are no longer getting the best people

Productivity revolutions and the most misunderstood man in history

Few figures in the history of management have had a greater impact than Frederick Winslow Taylor. The irony is that there have also been few who have been so greatly misunderstood and so gravely misquoted.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was born in 1856 to a wealthy family in Philadelphia. Poor eyesight forced the very talented young man to give up on the idea of going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer like his father. Instead, almost by accident, he went to work in a pump-manufacturing company whose owners were friends of the Taylor family. At that time, industrial work was far beneath the attention and interest of wealthy and educated people. Taylor, very exceptionally, started as a manual worker and gained shop-floor experience. He experienced the factory conditions personally and saw from the inside what was going on. As a result, he was the very first person to talk openly about poor manual work efficiency. What ultimately started his study of work was not interest in productivity, but his disgust with the growing hatred between employers and employees. Taylor thought, contrary to Karl Marx, that this conflict was unnecessary.

His mission was to make workers more productive so that they could earn more money. In contrast to what many writers claim, Taylor’s main motivation was not efficiency, but the creation of a society in which owners and workers had a common interest.

It did not go very well.

Workers unions at the time were craft monopolies. Membership was often restricted to the sons and relatives of existing members. They required an apprenticeship of many years and had no systematic training. At that time, you were not allowed to write down instructions. Some historians claim that normally there were not even drawings of the work to be done. It was widely accepted that there was a mystique to craft skills. The members were sworn to secrecy and were not permitted to discuss their work with non-members. Before Taylor, people took it for granted that it took years and years of experience before you could turn out high quality products.

Taylor’s crime in the eyes of the unions was his revolutionary idea that there is no skilled work based on some mystique, there is just work. All manual work could be studied and divided into series of repetitive motions that could be taught and learned. Work-related training was a genuine innovation. Any worker who was willing to be educated and followed the “one right way” of doing things should be called a “first-class” worker deserving a first-class pay. This was much more than the worker got during their long years of apprenticeship.

Taylor offended everybody.

He also insulted the owners. Among other things, he publicly called them “hogs”. The biggest insult was that the authority in the plants should not be based on ownership but on something he called superior knowledge. Taylor insisted that the workers should also benefit from the increased productivity that his scientific management produced. He wrote in 1911: “The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity of the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee”.

He was the first person to demand that managers should be educated. He thought that management should be a profession and managers should be professionals. This led the owners’ associations to  attack him bitterly as a socialist and a troublemaker. Again he was seen as a criminal!

But he was right! The application of knowledge to manual work created a tremendous boost in productivity. By the 1940s Scientific Management had swept the industrialized world despite the early resistance. As a result the workers, rather than the capitalists were the true beneficiaries of the industrial revolution that was changing society.

The working class largely became transformed  into a new social structure and true social innovation, the middle class.

When Taylor started working, nine out of ten people were manual workers. Today, nine out of ten people are knowledge workers. We ask some of the same questions, but the world is totally different. Taylor’s revolutionary ideas are over 100 years old. His thinking was based on Newtonian mechanics and his ways of understanding human behavior are not up to the task any more.

Scientific Management as a concept is not only unhelpful, but totally outdated.

Still the struggles we face with productivity may be the same. If you look at what the labor unions and employers’ organizations are opposing today, you may find the seeds for the next revolution in productivity.


Resource library. Peter Drucker on HBR.

Redesigning work

Corporations as we know them arose around 150 years ago. They were modelled on the most successful organization of the time – the army. The army was then, out of necessity, based on a familiar management model: a few well-trained people at the top commanded a very large number of unskilled people, the “employees”, who were drilled in a few repetitive motions.

This organizational model reached its peak around the time of the Second World War. By that time it had become clear that the command and control organization was rapidly becoming outdated, even for the needs of the army. It was actually in the military that the transformation towards the knowledge worker paradigm first began. Contrary to mainstream thinking, there are examples of armed forces developing furthest from being based on command and control to being based on knowledge and responsibility.

Just as industrial society became a society of corporations, it developed into a society of employers and employees. These were two different ways to explain the same phenomenon. An employee is by definition somebody who is dependent on access to an organization, access to an employer.

Many people still think that one can only work if there is an organization – a “machine” to operate.

Corporate ICT systems are the machines of today. They are too often used in essentially the same way as machines were used in factories. Machine operators in the factory did as they were told. The machine dictated not only what to do but how to do things. The worker was dependent on the machine and served the machine.

To become a social business and to improve the productivity of work will require very different thinking and big changes to ICT-systems, management, and even, the structure of society. In knowledge work the “machines” necessarily have to serve the workers. It is the knowledge workers who decide what to do next and how to do it.

Economic theory and industrial management practice see workers as a cost. A social business, wanting to increase productivity, has to consider knowledge workers as a capital asset. There is a huge difference. Costs need to be reduced, but assets need to be made to grow.

Our present system of industrial management creates systemic inefficiency in knowledge-based work. It can only be removed if the knowledge worker’s role includes a more active responsibility leading to responsive, agile practices. This cannot be achieved unless our mental constructs and the societal structure of work changes radically.

We should ask whether the current social construct of employers and employees is inevitable for some reason, or whether it is a social artefact that is over 100 years old, and should be redesigned.

The change would mean that employees/knowledge workers would explicitly bear the entrepreneurial responsibility for the success or failure of the company, as they do anyway in the end, and, additionally, benefit from any possible upside, just as shareholders do.

From the point of view of corporate governance, it would mean that companies should be run in the interests of workers, as much as in the interests of their owners. That’s what the change from command and control to knowledge and responsibility really means.

And that’s what is needed to become a social business.


Every young person is an entrepreneur now” and a short video presentation by Peter Senge.

Social media and the change from information to formation

The change towards the creative economy has major implications for the nature of what we have called assets. In the industrial age, the assets were physical resources, plant and equipment. Most of the resources were traded in markets and could thus be valued. Taking care of the value of an organization could be understood as managing physical assets and resources.

Now knowledge and people are seen as the major assets. But since neither of them are efficiently traded in markets, their value cannot easily be measured. Neither can knowledge be understood as an asset that can be managed like a physical asset. This is what many people within the Knowledge Management community learned the hard way. Knowledge is not a thing! Thus it cannot be stored, measured or shared.

From a more modern point of view, knowledge creation is understood as an active process of communication between people. Knowledge cannot be stored but is constantly constructed and re-constructed in interaction. Knowledge cannot be shared but arises in action. Knowledge is the process of relating.

The assumption was that learning and knowledge management involve processes that transmit content. This notion derived from the information theory/model of communication developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. Their theory created a sender-receiver model of communication according to which person A sends a signal (message/content) to person B, who receives it and then perhaps sends a responding feedback signal back to A. From this perspective, learning and knowledge creation are processes that resemble transmission or the sharing of content. This is why schools and other educational institutions still look the way they do.

But Shannon & Weaver’s concept was meant to be purely technical. They were interested in whether a byte sent was a byte received in a technical sense. They said nothing about the meaning of the bytes. For a human being a message can evoke a very wide range of associations and interpretations depending on the experience and emotional state of the individual. One person’s interpretation is never quite the same as another person’s interpretation. There is no linear causality in the world of human beings.

If learning was understood from a more modern relational perspective it would resemble a process of many voices interacting at the same time. In this way, each comes to know the context in which the other makes meaning. The progression of B’s understanding of A’s story also constitutes a change to A’s story – creating new meaning, learning, for both.

Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal.

All stories continue, meaning that learning takes place, as participants create a more shared understanding of what the other means. Knowledge which used to be regarded as existing independently in people and things – becomes viewed as co-constructed in communication.

Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being in constantly surprising ways.

Supportive, energizing and enabling patterns of interaction are the most important “assets” of a modern organization. That is what should be nurtured and taken care of. Communication either accelerates and opens up possibilities or slows down and limits what would be possible. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication either creates energy and inspiration or demeans and demotivates.

Information theory is not only unhelpful but harmful, when trying to understand communication between human beings. Communication is not about sharing information but a process of formation.


Thank you Karl-Erik Sveiby and Doug Griffin. What a great meeting!

Clubs may be the future of offices

Although work today is primarily digital, organizations still have a spatial dimension in one way or another. Even in the digital age we still think in terms of space. The key thing is that both the organizational structure and space greatly influence the patterns of work. A few years ago, the typical organizational design meant that work was divided into multiple parts that were simply added together to create the product. Individual workers did not need to know much more than what was specific to their individual tasks to complete their jobs. This created the offices we have today with separate meeting rooms for people to use when face-to-face communication with others was needed.

Today, the results of work are not brought together at the end but are communicated throughout the process. A growing number of people are involved in generating ideas and information and bringing those ideas together in collaborative sense making. Work is interaction and an ongoing meeting. Communication is not talking about work. Communication is work.

Three archetypes of communication can be seen in firms. The first type is communication for responsiveness and coordination. This creates the need for transparency. The right hand knows what the left is doing. The second type is asymmetric following. It is about a Twitter kind of information logistics to help people keep up with new developments that are contextually important for them. The third type is serendipitous inspiration from ad hoc encounters. It is spontaneous and helps people to come upon the unexpected. The third type of interaction often occurs between people who work on different things and draw on different disciplines. These people don’t often meet in traditional work arrangements. They don’t normally have a lot to do with each other on a daily basis.

Most managers will acknowledge the role played by the organizational structure and the process chart, but not all understand that physical space is equally important. Structure and space together influence how we work and how efficiently communication takes place when we meet.

There is an interesting benchmark available: private clubs. These clubs are places where typically only members and their guests are allowed in. The rooms are defined according to a function, such as socializing, eating and reading. These rooms are open to all, rather than being assigned to a single worker. You can book a more private room for a specific purpose, but in a clubhouse, you cannot put your name on the door.

Members of future organizations will use these new co-working spaces for projects, networking and for concentrated work, but they are not going to have spaces to fill with their personal belongings.

Many people bemoan the loss of a personal designated space, a little home away from home. However, I believe that they are going to learn to appreciate the value of freedom of choice and the escape from the control system of being seen in the same traditional office cubicle nine-to-five.

If you are in the middle of a conversation with someone, you seldom pause to talk about the conversation itself. But today, it is time to pause and consider, not only the new digital tools, but how we work physically together and where we meet to do that.

And yes, we are also going to continue to meet face-to-face in small groups in the future.


The inspiration for writing this came from meeting my friend @elsua face-to-face for the first time a few days ago. Thank you @villepeltola and @sakuidealist

Advice on how to manage off-site workers

New structures – new designs

When we think about business structures, many of us picture an organizational chart or the layout of an office building. A structure often refers to the physical arrangement of things, the parts making the whole.  What we have missed so far is an understanding of the business structures that can foster faster learning and help us work better with information. Conventional structures don’t address knowledge-related challenges as effectively as they do problems of measuring input and output or accountability.

What social media have helped us to do is to link and coordinate unconnected activities or initiatives addressing a similar information domain. There have also been great successes in diagnosing recurring business problems whose root causes cross unit boundaries. We know that the problems we face today are too complex to be managed by one person or one unit. It requires more than one brain, one point of view, to solve them.

Sharing a practice or sharing an information domain requires regular interaction. Work is interaction and the new business structures should be built on interdependence and communication.

Almost all business communities started among people who worked at the same place or lived nearby. But co-location is not necessary any more. The Internet has changed that. Interdependent people forming a community can be distributed over wide areas. What then allows people to work together is not the choice of a specific form of communication, face-to-face as opposed to email or social platforms, but the existence of a shared practice, a common set of situations. What lies at the core of those situations is the need for different perspectives requiring interaction.

When you design for live interaction, you cannot dictate it. You cannot design it in the traditional sense of specifying a structure or a process and then implementing it. As many have experienced, communities seldom grow beyond the group that initiated the conversation, because they fail to attract enough participants. Many business communities also fall apart soon after their launch because they don’t have the energy to sustain themselves.

Communities, unlike business units need to continuously invite the interaction that makes them alive.

Community design is closer to iterative learning than traditional organizational design. Live communities reflect and redesign themselves throughout their life cycle. The design should always start with very light structures and very few elements.

What is also different is that good community architecture invites many kinds of participation. We used to think that we should encourage all the community members to participate equally. Now we know that a large portion of the network members are and should be peripheral. In a traditional meeting we would consider this type of participation half-hearted, but in a network a large portion of the members are always peripheral and rarely contribute. Because the boundaries of a live community are always fluid, even those on the outer edges can become involved for a time as the focus shifts to their area of particular interest.

Because conversations and communities need to be alive to create value, we need an approach to management that appreciates passion, relationships and voluntary participation. Rather than focusing on accountability, community design should concentrate on energizing, enriching participation.

The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared information, shared interests and shared practices. Business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.


More: “Lead like the great conductors

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.


Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin

Social media, start-ups and the system of management

In a start-up, the coordination of work takes place through the transparency of activities, close proximity of people working together and mostly informal, responsive, ongoing communication. I have often wondered when and how the transformation to the world of formal reports and meetings takes place.

After closely studying several case companies, it seems to me that it is not at all the growth of the company that requires the development of formal communication systems. That takes place as a result of the managerial thinking that has evolved in response to growth.

The mainstream view of management science sees the organization as having a separate existence from individuals. In organizations, as in machines, the interchangeability of parts is thought to promote efficiency. This means that processes retained in workers´ interaction should be recorded in documents and passed back to govern work. The aim is to rise above the individual memory and to establish an organizational memory. This is what mainstream knowledge management was all about twenty years ago: “If only HP knew what HP knows”.

Industrial management has been about depersonalizing the workplace in the interest of efficiency, even up to the point of seeing people as (human) resources or (valuable) assets. Because of the strong desire to outdo the individuals, the communication habits of a “managed” company need to be different from the start-up. You have to go from conversations to documents. Management is really a particular system of communication

In this system you talk about flows, not people. There are flows of information to allow middle and upper management to monitor and control what goes on at lower levels. There are flows to guide the lower levels and to coordinate process steps. The ideology of management demanded “exact” written communication. It dismissed ordinary conversation as just talk. The controlled form of talk was a meeting with an agenda and clear outcomes. And you were supposed to come well prepared.

Industrial management is a particular pattern of communication based on specific assumptions about causality and human agency. This approach to coordinating activities was technically based on the high price and low quality of communication tools.

What social media allow us to do in organizations is to create transparency of activities, close proximity of non-co-located people and active, ongoing, responsive communication that coordinates and controls. The price of communication has gone down and the quality of tools is dramatically better today. It is time to rethink some major issues.

What an organization is emerges from the relationships of its members, the interacting individuals. It is the people! The efficiency and creativity of the organization is a result of the efficiency and creativity of daily communication. We all enable and constrain one another all the time, meaning that we coordinate and control one another all the time – as we talk.

Changes in the organization always mean changes in the patterns of communication and vice versa. Novel patterns of communication necessarily change the organization. This is why social media challenge management as a system of communication and coordination. Management as we are used to seeing it is getting more and more outdated.

We have started a research program on management in complex, responsive work. We study human-centric value creation that builds on the Internet and the very latest digital interaction technologies. If you want to be involved in the group of academic researchers and practitioners, please contact me or professor Doug Griffin.

We know that even very big corporations can be like start-ups!


Thank you @jobsworth for being the inspiration for this post. I hope the discussions around the “systems of engagement vs. the systems of record” continue

Thank you Doug Griffin, Ralph Stacey and Clay Shirky

More on the subject: Steve Denning. Umair Haque. Peter Stoyko.