The following post originally appeared on Capgemini’s Customer Experience blog which I write for occassionally.
I’m reading a lot of blogs, whitepapers and articles about the ‘age of digital disruption’ at the moment.
Disruption as a negative force, signalling some kind of necessary shift away from what has come before it: old business models becoming increasingly irrelevant, old ways of communicating becoming increasingly ineffective, old systems too slow to cope. The old ways are simply, well, in a word ‘old’.
The system as we know it, as we are led to believe, is unresponsive, slow, encumbered, weighed down, broken. The weight of the past hangs heavy. We cling on to our industrial heritage, only beginning to let go, once we (willingly or unwillingly) realise the old ways can no longer keep out the pace of the change that is increasingly all around us. We can no longer keep up the pretence that the system is not creaking.
We begin to turn our back on it, but in favour of what? What are we really replacing it with? An unknown future? The promise of something better? Faster? Quicker? Simpler? More relevant? How broken is the system?
In 2009, in ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’, Clay Shirky writes:
“Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.
“With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.”
Shirky goes on to write:
“That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
“And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it.”
And so Shirky poses the following question: If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?
To be honest, I’m not sure anyone knows. And in some respects, does it matter? We are aware that technology – disruptive technology – is changing many of the things around us; we can see it take place.
The last few years have seen the convergence of mobile, broadband, apps and the emergence of a willing user (some call them ‘connected’). A user free to explore, create and share. Where once we talked about disintermediation, we now talk about decentralisation and empowerment. Where just a handful of years ago we talked about social media, we are now talking about social business and even the eventual disappearance of the word ‘social’ itself. Business is business, right? What need to qualify it? But, all these changes, to what end?
For so long, business has been a journey into the known. Businesses knew or were able to predict the result before setting out. Businesses had the tools, frameworks, models and blueprints to help them understand what would work, what success would look like. And now, businesses are being asked or forced to take leaps of faith. Leaps of faith within a changing landscape, where they are just one of the participants. Think about BYOD as an agent of change, disrupting the familiar, infiltrating the organisation. The old rules no longer able to help navigate the entire length of the journey. Organisations are left having to rely on themselves to get the rest of the way; the challenge being, none of us are sure what the rest of the way looks like.
The friction, tension, helplessness, anxiety we feel is where the old, the emerging and the new rub against each other. We have forgotten how to be explorers.
But equally, what we don’t know is whether the assumptions we have made about the old model being broken are genuinely true or not, or whether the revolution is simply an evolution…
I was reading a couple of posts recently in which some things really resonated (I’m not a fan of the word ‘resonated’, but can’t think of another word at the moment). Perhaps it was more the combination of words that struck a chord. I’m hoping I can also escape the overuse of clichés tonight!
‘Beautiful collision’: What is happening around us is a ‘beautiful collision’ of our natural instincts to share and talk about things and the development of technology that allows companies to talk to customers where they are, using the platforms that they are using. [Source: Adrian Swinscoe, True customer engagement is not based on click throughs or contests - interview with Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction]
‘Elegantly disruptive’: All of this, Wendy believes, is ‘elegantly disruptive’ to our traditional way of doing business… [The 'Wendy' being referred to is Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction. This quote follows on directly from the one above]
‘Customer ingenuity’: All this to tell you that I think SAP (under Sameer’s leadership) seems to have cracked the code to build the social infrastructure for a collaborative enterprise … In other words, I saw how the collaborative enterprise begins to take shape. Yes, many more use cases and examples are necessary – but they are not building use cases – they are building infrastructure. The rest requires customer ingenuity to work. [Source: Esteban Kolsy, ThinkJar, Can SAP Really Get Social This Time?]
So what is it about these three phrases – ‘beautiful collision’, ‘elegantly disruptive’ and ‘customer ingenuity’ that made me remember them?
I’m not sure if truth be told.
But for me they sum up some of the changes that are taking place around me now. They humanise this change, they add a degree of sensitivity and intimacy that may not have been there when The Cluetrain Manifesto was written. They acknowledge the fact that I at last have the ability, the opportunity to make changes. To erode, to whittle away, to question the once impregnable notion of the organisation as monolith.
I do not seek your consent, your permission to make these changes. If truth be told, I have no real idea what these changes might be, what the actual result of these changes is. Serendipity will be my guide. Do I dare? Doubt is ever present, but so is faith. Because I have seen, experienced something better.
Collision and disruption are harsh words, violent words. They are menacing and brooding, dark. They imply change. There can only be one outcome, it is impending, known, implied. Foreboding. The result of them will be something that is different. Things will never be the same again. They unbalance, they question. The status quo, the familiar, what we know, today, will not be there in a moment, tomorrow, next week, or even in a second. This is not some kind of gradual romanticised decay that reminds us of the fate of Ozymandias.
Beautiful and elegantly are words that we might not immediately associate with collision and disruption. How can disruption or collision be elegant or beautiful? The result might be beautiful or elegant, but the process less so. These combination of words do not sit easily together. There is a certain uneasiness, an ever present friction.
And what of customer ingenuity? This thought gives us all hope. The hope that something better lies beyond the platform. It gives us the possibility that we might once again think, think for ourselves. The thought that the platform can only take us so far, the rest of the journey is in our hands; as it should be. But once again, do we dare?
But this thought frightens us. It makes us nervous and anxious. We have relied for so long on being told, knowing that which is familiar, structured. We have relied on knowing the answer before we set out. How can I possibly turn my back on these things? How can I possibly turn my back on things that are so ingrained in me, in my way of thinking, doing, behaving, that I don’t even know any more they are there. I don’t even know any more I do them. I am so accustomed to being given handbooks, instructions and guides written by others, that I have forgotten how to write my own. I have lost the art, the skill…
But perhaps now we have the opportunity to relearn these things, to relearn lost skills… If social media does no more than cajole us, provoke us, remind us of these things that we have forgotten, become complacent about, then, perhaps, it has done its job and that is enough.
I’m spending an increasing amount of time at the moment thinking about enterprise social networks (ESN) and the internal workings of organisations. There is no doubt that ESNs are challenging and changing the way we work, how we make decisions, the speed with which knowledge is distributed, found, created, the distinctions between private and public, the impact they are having on organisational hierarchies. ESNs challenge models and ways of doing things that have evolved over the last few decades. They seek to undo, undermine, create uncertainty.
Clay Shirky writes: When we change the way we communicate, we change society.
I was reading a great post the other day by Caterina Fake – How to be Free: Proustian Memory and the Palest Ink. The post was about how Fake had lost everything that was in her laptop when its hard disk crashed.
“Days later, after the initial shock had passed, I had a sudden sense of liberation and relief. 1999-2000-2001—I was completely free of those three years— I had no archive.”
“I had no archive” – this is a profound thought.
The ability to every so often empty the archive. To cast off the old ways of thinking, the old ways of doing, the same pavements that we walk every day, the same coffee shop that we buy a latte from every Tuesday…
The ability to strip ourselves of the habits, routines and idiosyncrasies that unconsciously populate our lives.
To establish new rituals, new ways of doing, thinking, communicating…
It is both an unsettling, yet liberating thought.
Fake goes on to write:
“I often wonder if we should build some kind of forgetting into our systems and archives, so ways of being expand rather than contract. … Proustian memory, not the palest ink, should be the ideal we are building into our technology; not what memory recalls, but what it evokes. The palest ink tells us what we’ve done or where we’ve been, but not who we are.
“If we are not given the chance to forget, we are also not given the chance to recover our memories, to alter them with time, perspective, and wisdom. Forgetting, we can be ourselves beyond what the past has told us we are, we can evolve. That is the possibility we want from the future.”
This idea of forgetting got me thinking.
Thinking how as we face the challenges presented to us by social media on both a corporate and personal level, we cling for our lives to what has been, we try to interpret the changes that we face every day within the realm of what we know today. We try to pin down a world that is constantly moving, evolving, reshaping in front of our eyes. We try to make sense of this fleeting moment by grounding it in a time that has long since passed us by.
We long for the comfort our past affords us, but we are equally curious about the unsettling future that is to come. The two rub against each other, and out of this tension, we live in a present of frustration and anxiety, as well as excitement.
But what if we could forget? What if we could clear away, so that we might build anew? A new set of definitions, a new way of looking at things, a new way of evaluating things…
Perhaps not new, but evolving
In this process we do not turn our back on the past. This is not an ‘either’ ‘or’, but an ‘and’. We are able to navigate through a past that informs, a past that is equally able to let go, a past that also embraces what is yet to come because it is an integral part of that future. This is the journey we all face today.
So what if we could forget? What if every so often we could empty our archive?
What would you forget?
What would you put in your new archive?
What would it look like?
What literacies might you need to learn? Not only how to forget, but also how to (re)build?
Do you know?
Do you even dare?
I published the following post on Capgemini’s Technology blog – Capping IT Off – and thought I would reproduce it here. Over the last few months I have found myself increasingly looking at enterprise social networks and the effect they have on an organisation. Perhaps this first post about internal social networks begins to mark a shift in my writing as well.
We are living in a time when an organisation has never had the possibility to be so aware of itself. BestBuy’s Mood QR code experiment - How are you feeling today? – from a couple of years ago gives us a glimpse of the organisation literally having its finger on its own pulse.
Social tools have emerged that are changing the way employees communicate with each other, make decisions and seek information. These same social tools are challenging, perhaps even forcing, each one of us to learn new literacies, not as a choice but of necessity.
These changes come without a blueprint, without instruction, but demand faith and courage captured within a playbook. We are drawing the blueprint up as we go along. We are creating our own playbooks with each message posted to Yammer, each Powerpoint deck uploaded to Slideshare, each job added to LinkedIn, each Tweet expressing dissatisfaction about waiting in a queue somewhere.
These changes are being played out in the open, on view, visible. Communication, decision-making, sharing information no longer happens in isolation or in private. These activities are participatory, collective and shared. Tim O’Reilly refers to it as an ‘architecture of participation’. An architecture that each one of us is building as we go along. Don Tapscott writes in Wikinomics:
“…think of a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on. “
I ask a question, someone answers, and then someone else, and then someone else… it prompts another question or a tangential observation and someone adds to that… someone disagrees and adds yet another view into the mix… this is a dynamic experience, where each participant is an equal.
We have, in the true spirit of The Cluetrain Manifesto, got off our camels and come to the marketplace to exchange views and barter goods. Our shared goal is not some kind of unattainable altruistic feelgood factor, but simply to arrive at the best possible outcome for each one of us. What is important is not that each one of us has a voice (we’ve always had that), but that each one of us is listened to, acknowledged.
Here in the organisation, this inevitable change is the norm. Change is the constant. The way I shared information in the past, is not how I will share it in the future. The way I created information in the past, is not how I will create it in the future. The way I curated information in the past, is not how I will curate it in the future. The fact that I can create, curate, collect and distribute information along networks that I have built, networks that cross and intersect other networks that others have built, changes the game forever.
These changes are profound. As Clay Shirky writes in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”
I was reading ‘7 Ways Social Enterprise Apps Are More Than Just Talk’ by Ashley Furness the other day. In the post she lists seven ways in which companies derive value from social enterprise applications. These include:
- Streamline project management
- Augment transparency and accountability
- Increase communications efficiency
- Find experts faster
- Better leverage information and insights
- Generate more, better ideas
- Boost employee recognition and engagement
The piece finished with an uneasy tension remaining between the belief that “socialized business will become the norm” – a matter of when not if, rubbing up against the question that nagged away throughout – “would there ever be a return on investment” of these social networking tools?
The value is undeniable, simply read through the list of verbs, comparatives and adjectives above: streamline, augment, increase, better, boost, faster. What organisation wouldn’t want to be more streamlined, more efficient, more transparent, more accountable, have more engaged employees, have better ideas, have better communication? But how do you prove the return on these things? How do we prove these things now? Does it even make any difference whether I am more efficient through Yammer or email or word of mouth? What’s important is that I know which works best for me within the context of the organisation that I work in.
So what happens when the return on investment of the inevitable is finally worked out? And in the end, does working it out even matter? Particularly when I’m only holding out until it becomes the norm anyway. Our ways of thinking, our definitions of value, our business models will be a distant memory one day.
It strikes me that just as the way we are working and communicating is changing, so too the way we need to think about, and make sense of, that changing world, must also of necessity change. And that perhaps is where the value lies.
It’s been awhile since I last blogged. Conveniently, LinkedIn tells me it was 56 days ago. My lack of writing is less about having nothing to say, and more about actually committing my words to paper.
So the catalyst for this was a post about storytelling I was reading this morning. Of the 22 rules it proposed, #11 was: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
“The new Web … think of a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on.”
It’s a great thought and completely changes the way you think about what you do. You do what you do, not as the end in itself, but as part of something bigger, as just one part of something else, something more. You do this knowing and accepting that you’re not quite sure of what or where you might end up. You do this knowing that from your one piece of the jigsaw, many other different jigsaws could be made. In this paradigm, serendipity is given free rein. You are not there to try to catch it, control it, limit it, harbour it, but rather to let it go.
Knowing at the outset of your journey, that you will let it go, requires a very different mindset and approach.
Each of us has a piece of a jigsaw, indeed many pieces for many jigsaws, each of us unlocks different aspects of different jigsaws… we just have to be brave and courageous enough sometimes to show our pieces!
This reminds me of my favourite quote/poem from Guillaume Apollinaire:
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge he said.
He pushed them and they flew.
So my question or questions to you are: What is your layer? Do you know your layer? Are you willing to share it with me?
“Now we have information technology, we are able to create new spaces. It is as if, rather than sailing to new countries to conquer and exploit them, we now create new spaces, to conquer and exploit them.”
Companies now have the opportunity to create these ”new spaces”, these “new geometries. New lands”, in a way they have never had before. The notion that companies can simply ’create new spaces’ (almost at will) is an incredibly powerful and far-reaching one, just as is the thought that each one of us, whether employee, customer or bystander can do so as well.
But, these new lands, these new spaces, require different ways of thinking, different ‘literacies’, gestures and currencies to converse with each other, to exchange ideas, to pursue serendipity; to ultimately take leaps of faith.
The irony is that at the very moment we have the power to create, to conquer, to exploit, we lack the conviction to do so. We revert to type and seek refuge (perhaps subterfuge) and comfort in discussions about privacy, ownership and value. Sooner or later, even these old chestnuts will require us to learn a new or different set of literacies to be able to talk about them.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about digital literacy as it pertains to organisations. Howard Rheingold talks about five literacies – attention, collaboration, participation, network savvy, critical consumption.
I’ve written a number of posts asking the question whether organisations understand these emerging literacies or if they simply assume them. To this end, organisational readiness is becoming increasingly important.
But I began to wonder over the weekend whether customers know what they’re doing when it comes to social? And following on from this, do customers even need to know what they’re doing? Or is the equivalent ‘customer literacy’ simply one of experimentation?
Customers do what they do when they want to do it: experiment, channel-hop, change their minds - these are part of their lexicon. But organisations, for the most part, are not built with this in mind. Organisations are built on averages, constancy, likelihoods… I am reminded of Ozymandias.
In order to talk to each other, who will give in first? Who will compromise, who will cede their position? And at what cost?
But does this have to be an uneasy encounter where protagonist and antagonist clash? Or can we learn the role of the synagonist or do we need to create a hybrid role? And if so, what is the literacy of this newly emerging role? Who do we learn from? Each other…perhaps?