Monday, September 19, 2011

The IT Flower Revisited

A long time ago I blogged about the IT Flower. I thought is was a very interesting diagram and I still use it regularly. I find it helps people understand the different types of work, how things get done and how they are(n't) support by tools in companies.

Recently I read Harold Jarche's post about "Informal Learning is a Business Imperative". I find his work on social learning and personal knowledge management highly interesting. Most of his posts contain lots of food for thought and have interesting diagrams to chew on.

This post did as well. The diagram in this post clearly shows the different types of work and how they relate to different types of learning. This fits perfectly on my two above-mentioned posts about the IT Flower. This diagram is an extra layer focused on types of work and learning. (Or the other way around, whatever you like!) I’m also happy to see that the diagram shows that even in very structured work there are still non-routine tasks. Just like in typical knowledge work, routine stuff like filling in hourly reports has to be done...

I love these connections via the blogosphere. Information learning in practice!

(Diagram is link to actual picture by Harold Jarche.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Problem with Intranets

I really like the way Socialcast is sharing their vision on the workplace of the future. Every Tuesday they share an interesting infographic about an interesting topic related to their vision (and product). They call it #e2sday. The last one was about the intranet. I thought I'd share it with you because I recently wrote a post about why intranet is so hard and... why it can be easy as well.

I was curious which sources they used to set up this infographic. It struck me the sources were pretty old! Which is not the same as outdated, to be sure. The problem with the intranet is an old(er) problem for sure.
I agree with the statements made in this nice visual. What I tried to do in my posts is ask: But why does this happen? Why is information not up-to-date on traditional intranets? Why is it unclear what the strategy and intention of intranet is? Etc.
Hope you enjoy and learn from this nice infographic!

Interview Marc Benioff and Eric Schmidt at Dreamforce 2011

Recently took the time to watch some Dreamforce 2011 talks. There's lots to learn from them. I particularly enjoyed Marc Benioff's interview/talk with Eric Schmidt. I liked the way they stepped back and looked at the history and future of the technology industry in general, and the internet especially.
Just to list some of the questions they talked about:
  • what the future of the manufacturing industry (in the US and Europe) will be?
  • Why is it hard for existing players to move to new technology standards?
  • What should an existing company do when technology shifts?
  • Where is 'cloud' and 'social' going?
  • What is the potential of the internet for business and government? Is this only for large companies or more so for small companies?
In short the future according to Schmidt is: mobile, local and social. And here's the whole talk for you. Hope you enjoy it!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blogging for Frankwatching

Recently I started blogging for Frankwatching, a Dutch blogging platform about the internet in general. My first 3 posts are:

Happy to say the last two posts have received a lot of good comments. I'll be translating the posts and publishing them on my personal blog as well.

You can find my profile and post feed here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Learning Organizations Then and Now

‘The Learning Organization’ was a hot topic in the nineties. Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline was published at the beginning of the nineties (1990). And The Fifth Disciplines Fieldbook shortly after that (1994). Recently I reread the Fieldbook. Nowadays lots is being written about social media and its power for personal and business use. Not very often you hear people and businesses say they use new media for learning. Although this area is very interesting.

Harold Jarche and Jay Cross (who recently pointed me to these interesting posts about this topic), to name just two experts, have been writing and publishing about this topic. They wonder: How can learning be improved by using social media? How does social media affect and possibly change learning? What is social learning? Related to this, Jarche also writes and talks about personal knowledge management, which also relates to personal learning. Really interesting stuff. I follow their work closely. (I've collected some links here.)

Back to the Fieldbook. Peter Senge’s work was published before the internet went mainstream. And way before we even thought about social media, likes blogs and wiki’s. Reading the Fieldbook in 2011 is fascinating if you keep that in mind. Often I wondered: How would people in the nineties have implemented that idea? Now, with modern tools that’s easy, but then?

The core of the learning organization was that people agreed to increase the collective insight and capacity of the organization. And by learning faster than the competition, a competitive advantage could be achieved.

Interestingly the book is also focused on managers that want to ‘learn to learn’ from the results, reflections and experiments of others. This information which is shared and developed, is not only discussed but used as springboard for new experiments and initiatives.

The Learning Organization consists of 5 learning disciplines (which are never done):
  • Personal mastership: using our skills to get the results we want and create an organizational context in which all are encouraged to develop in the direction of the goals of their choice.
  • Mental models: think about our internal world view, continuously changing and improving it, influencing our actions and decisions.
  • Collective vision: work towards a joint vision of the future and define the principles with which we want to achieve that future.
  • Team learning: create a situation in which the collective intelligence of the whole is more than the sum of the individuals.
  • Systems thinking: understanding and using the whole to create harmony.
One of the things learning does is make people want to change. Learning and change are not the same, but they are tightly related.

According to the Fieldbook, which is based on cases from practioners, successful learning organizations will be defined by the following:
  • Power is distributed
  • Self-discipline is encouraged
  • Systems thinking will be developed
  • Improved discussion skills
  • Leaders will be followed voluntarily 
And the three most important principles of learning organizations:
  • The whole is more important than the sums of its parts
  • ‘me’ is intrinsically connected with and part of the whole
  • The creational power of language 
When you read through this book and my notes, I’m sure you think: Hey, this relates nicely to social media and that connect to social media concepts. Right?

Of course the focus of the learning organization book is on changing organizations and people. So when they talk about implementing the learning organization they look at changing employee behavior and skills, and organizational structures. Every now and then technology does pop up in the book through. An example from AT&T mentions forums. And email, virtual meeting (then called: electronic meetings), computer networks and databases are mentioned. The databases are mentioned relating to the importance of institutional memory in communities.

The learning organization sees companies as communities (organisms). A very interesting statement is made towards the end of the book:
The lifeblood of the organization as community is dialogue, not only within teams but in the whole organization. If intellectual capital is the most important production factor than the capacity to have deep discussions about important topics is essential for breakthrough thinking and innovation.
Isn’t this interesting? Isn’t this also one of the ways social media can be used inside and outside organizations? To facilitate and encourage dialogue. And learning. To be that’s what using social media has brought me. And the nice thing is, you and I can do this if we’re manager or not. The tools to support learning have a lot to do with human skills. But the tools can support that learning processes in huge vibrant networks. By articulating what we learned, what our questions are, who we know, what we’ve found, etc. And we’re not limited to doing this within organization anymore. We can do this between organizations and institutions as well.

To me this is progress. This really helps us implement the learning organization in our daily lives. And in that we in the organizations, communities and institutions we live in and work for. We are creating and using “creation spaces” as mentioned in The Power of Pull (p. 19):
Creation spaces differ in at least two ways from the “learning organization” approaches pioneered a couple of decades ago. First, they emerge as ecosystems across institutions rather than within a single institution, so they reach a much more diverse set of participants. Second, they are not primarily focused on learning – their goal is to drive more rapid performance improvement, and learning occurs as a by-product of these efforts.
Bonus quote from the Fieldbook relating to social media/enterprise 2.0 ROI: “Measure in a quantitive way what can be measured quantitively; measure qualitively what can’t be measured.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are you Pulling or Pushing? My Review of The Power of Pull

After reading the Shift Index (Big Shift) I was curious what the book ‘The Power of Pull’ would bring. I was hoping for a more practical story than the Shift Index. I was also hoping for examples on how to move from Push to Pull.

I’m not sure if I got what I was looking for. And I’m not sure why either. Is it because I read the Shift Index before reading this book? Is it because I’m already in the Pull area for some time (at least I think I am…)? Or is it because I’ve read lots of books and blogs about the same topic (like the books The Cluetrain Manifesto, Wikinomics and Macrowikinomcs)? (After writing this interview I went through the reviews on Amazon. Lots of different reviews there: from very positive to very negative.)

What is this book about? Let me give you the author’s short summary on p. 2:
“Pull” is the common dynamic they see under several success stories. Pull is “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges. Pull give us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we’re not quite sure that “it” is. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence, and serendipity. Using pull, we can create the conditions by which individuals, teams, and even institutions can achieve their potential in less time and with more impact than has ever been possible. The power of pull provides a key to how all of us – individually and collectively – can turn challenge and stress into opportunity and reward as digital technology remakes our lives.
There are two challenges in this time: making sense of the changes around us, and making progress in an increasingly unfamiliar world.

The book starts with describing where we came from: the push era. Push operated, and still operates, on one key assumption: that it is possible to predict demand. (p. 34, also refer to list on page 37) Control is the essence of push. (p. 49)

So how do we (move to) pull? “Pull starts by exploring three increasingly powerful levels of pull – access, attract, and achieve.” (p. 6) The first part of the book explains what these levels are. The last part of the book wants to help you implement them in your life, institutions and the world. Every chapter is closed with a set of very good questions to assess yourself, institutions (you work for) and the world. The questions are maybe the best part of the book to me. I found them very valuable and confrontational.

Pull is about flexible access. The ability to fluidly find and get to the people and resources when and where we need them. The authors stress the fact they don’t point to digital networks in the first place. Pull platforms can also by physical networks. Why is access important? “Access will become increasingly necessary as competition intensifies and disruptions become more frequent. It used to be that we could rely on “stocks” of knowledge – what we know at any point in time – but these stocks are diminishing in value more rapidly than ever before.” (p. 11) We need to make sure we tap into knowledge flows, as chapter 2 says. Interestingly these flows relate to tacit knowledge, therefore connecting to (lots of) people is essential.

But access is becoming increasingly less important. We’re often at loss what to search for and what questions to ask. “Our success in finding new information and sources increasingly depends upon serendipity…” (p. 13) Interestingly the authors stress serendipity can be organized (to a certain extent). (Also refer to page 90 and on.) For serendipity to happen we need amplifiers and filters. (p. 97) And we have to pay attention to environments (physical and digital location), practices (be passionate, attract (sustained) attention, beginner’s mind), and preparedness (be open to encounters, deep listening, relationship-building skills). Serendipity can be shaped by the people you talk to, the conferences you go to and the sites you pay attention to. We have to look at the edge of our areas of interest. “Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers.” (p. 16)

But even accessing and attracting have little value unless they are coupled with a third set of practices that focus on driving performance rapidly to new levels. These practices involve participation in something they call “creation spaces” – environments that integrate teams in a broader learning ecology so that the performance improvement accelerates as more people join. (p. 18 and from p. 140 and on the authors give insight into how to design creation spaces)

Second part of the book starts with how we can work on the power of pull in our personal lives. The reason to start with individuals is mentioned in the book: the locus on power and change is inexorably shifting to individuals (p. 241) Lots of management books describe how organizations should/could change. This leaves the reader thinking: OK, how am I going to do this by myself?

The steps to move from push to pull in your personal life are:
  • Pursue your passion (develop a deep understanding of who you are)
  • Find a good location where your passion can be fulfilled (geography matters)
  • Use social tools that create and capture value from knowledge flows
  • Maximize return on attention (don’t narrow your information sources to soon, be aware that we live in a world of information overload and knowledge scarcity) 
I like the way the book talks about small steps. The book doesn’t talk about taking a big leap, but taking small steps and slowly move to pull. In the words of the authors: Shaping strategies show has small moves smartly made can have an impact far beyond the initial resources and effort invested. (p. 29) Even the authors stress we are still at the beginning of the Big Shift. (p. 45 and 148)

I enjoyed reading the book, although I skimmed through larger parts of it. There lots of repetition in the book. In my review I tried to cluster topics together. I think this book would have been better with more visuals. This book contains one diagram, which isn’t a very helpful diagram. For instance I wouldn’t hang it up on a wall. It’s not self-explanatory. Furthermore the diagram shows one arrow going up exponentially in one direction with a spiral in it. Aren’t there also larger feedback/learning loop going (all the way) back when we find out we followed the wrong passions, lived in the wrong place, etc.? Moving to pull can never be a single shot; it’s more like trying (and learning) over and over again. Right? (Or is that what page 163 says?)

I like the focus on individuals/you first in this book. I/You can start right away and don’t have to wait for institutions to move.

As I said, I loved the questions at the end of the chapters, they’re very good. I wonder if more could have been done with them to help readers drill down and move to action. I think the questions really help you and your company define where you are on the push-pull spectrum.

Bonus: A extensive part of this book is about organizing for serendipity. Ana Silva gave a very insightful talk about this topic some time ago.

Will Everything be Free? – My Review of Free

So, I’m on a roll now. As promised I would share my review of several books. This is the next one: Free by Chris Anderson. An article in Wired about Free triggered me to read this book. Free is a big deal nowadays. Many products and services are offered for free. And people are making lots of money charging nothing. “Not nothing for everything, but nothing for enough…” (p. 3)

Free has always been around a long time, but it’s changing. The internet seems to be doing something interesting to what we pay for things. “Somewhere in the transition from atoms to bits, a phenomenon that we thought we understood was transformed. “Free” became Free.” (p. 4) This book is about this phenomenon.

Chapter 1-3 dive into the fascinating history of free. And the different kinds of free: direct cross-subsidies, three-party market, freemium and nonmonetary markets. (p. 23) Free started out as a marketing method. Now free is an entirely new economic model. (p. 12) The old free was based on the economics of atoms, now it’s based on bits. When something becomes software it inevitably becomes free, in costs and often in price as well.

Interestingly Anderson shows how humans are wired for scarcity. We focus on the things that are scarce, e.g. time and money. While there’s abundance of lots of resources now. We have to get used to that. And work with abundance. “When abundance drives the costs of something to the floor, value shifts to adjacent levels…” (p. 52, 131) And: “… the highest profit margins are usually found where gray matter has been added to things.” (p. 54, also refer to ch. 13 and 15) So knowledge is added, ideas are shared. Why are ideas so interesting and important in this context? Let me share two interesting quotes from the book:

Ideas are the ultimate abundance commodity, which propagates at zero marginal costs. Once created, ideas want to spread far and wide, enriching everything they touch. (p. 83)

Information is how money flows; aside from the cash in your wallet, that’s what money is – just bits. Information is how we communicate, as every call is turned into data the moment the words leave our lips.” (p. 92) “Information wants to be free.” (p. 95, ch. 6) This means: “Commodity information (everybody gets the same version) wants to be free. Customized information (you get something unique and meaningful to you) wants to be expensive. (…) Abundant information wants to be free. Scarce information wants to be expensive. (p. 97)
So, information is abundant now. Where’s the value now? Anderson quotes Herbert Simon on this:
In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. (p. 180, relate to this blogpost for more about information and attention.)
The rise of “freeconomics” is being driven by the underlying technologies of the digital age. Computer processing power halves in price every two years, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. The internet combines all three. (p. 13, also refer to ch. 5) Google is mentioned as a company that makes more money as the costs of information falls. (p. 125)

Chapter 4 is about the psychology of free. It’s about the excitement we experience when something is free. But free also makes us think the quality must me less than with a paid product/service. And do you care about something you get for free?

What are the free rules? The ten underlying principles of free or abundance thinking are (p. 241):
  1. If it’s digital, sooner or later it’s going to be free.
  2. Atoms would like to be free, too, but they’re not so pushy about it.
  3. You can’t stop Free.
  4. You can make money from Free.
  5. Redefine your market.
  6. Round down.
  7. Sooner or later you will compete with Free.
  8. Embrace waste.
  9. Free makes other things more valuable.
  10. Manage for abundance, not scarcity. 
I enjoyed reading this book. The visual examples of free throughout the book explaining how free is/can be applied in different markets are insightful.

I’m not an economist. I read these books because they take me to the edge, challenging me to think and reassess what I’m doing. A big question for me and my work is: How far does free go for a consultant? For instance, I love to share what I know about certain topics. I’d happily go to a company, share my knowledge and leave without asking money for my vision/advice. When do you stop giving/sharing for free? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bonus: I’ve collected some links about ‘free’ here. Hope this helps.