The Unattained Summit of Social Business
Last Thursday I attended the the Social Business Summit in London, organized by the Dachis Group, the great people at Headshift, and Somesso. Lee Bryant was so kind to invite me to participate and I gladly accepted. This because I think the term 'social business design' which was the topic of the event is pointing at something very important, and very much in tune with my general attitude to social media: that it's not for communication only, but that it is a way of effectively organizing knowledge work that fits basic human characteristics and behaviour.
'Social Business Design' as excersize
If you take social media up a level to 'social business design' it means discussing how to take the network metaphor and the new affordances it brings into organizations wholesale, while realizing what non-technological consequences the technology causes. However, even though we didn't talk all that much about technology (and so avoided that pitfall at least), we never took that as a starting point, but ended up talking from the current business perspective mostly, using the jaded jargon that comes with that. Innovation management, internal communications, development and strategy, a sharing culture, anyone? It all becomes meaningless if you do not make it concrete and tangible beyond that point. It also makes anything new or different about your 'social business design' completely invisible if you don't allow yourself to escape or redefine the language that comes with the incumbent way of doing things.
Even though both Jeff Dachis and JP Rangaswami in their kick-off talks asked a number of excellent and challenging questions, skillfully trying to set us on the right path, those questions did not carry over into the sessions I took part in afterwards. Even though the event was meant as a kind of 'future backwards' session on how we can try and achieve the type of business structures we envision five or ten years from now, we mostly discussed it from a 'history forward' perspective, trying to steer ahead by looking in the rear-view mirror for guidance.
Organization and individual
If you look at social media, you see that the tools are all centered on the individual in the context of her interaction with the groups she's part of, and that the collective aggregate of that makes for interesting new affordances. So when it comes to social business design why didn't we look at the individual professional and her context and groups both within and without the organization she works in, and what organizational structures are needed for that? If you do that a whole range of different questions come into play than we now discussed. How are people connected? Are the groups a professional is part of 'healthy' in terms of communities of practice? Are our professionals part of the conversations and flows they should at least be part of considering our organizational strategy and goals? Is our organization part of the professional identity of our people? Lots of cues exist in sociology, anthropology, learning theory and complexity theory that would be extremely valuable in such a discussion.
Instead we never left the abstract organizational level, sticking to the default language that comes with that.
I found it almost impossible to begin pointing out why I thought that was fruitless, or bring forward the things that I think are pertinent to a discussion like this. The 'old' words simply got in the way. Such as talking in 'us' versus 'them' terminology and wording interventions as something to be done to employees to 'get them to adopt' something. Such as using dehumanized terms like 'strategic communications' when talking about of all things social (!) media.
Knowledge and sharing
So we talked about sharing by discussing what we can do about 'hoarders' and 'hermits'. In place of letting go of our notion knowledge as an object and seeing it as a social construct in each interaction (connectivism anyone?). In place of realizing that if somebody is not willing to share something with you, you are probably asking all the wrong questions and should try coming up with better ones. I think coming up with good questions to help people share is a very practical approach, but it was brushed aside as a philosophical rathole you don't want to go down. It all seemed so mid-90's Knowledge Management.
Tools of choice
So we talked about how corporate systems might integrate social media tools into sharepoint and ERP-software, but not about the notion that it is quickly becoming ridiculous that IT departments should be prescribing what tools professionals should use at all, and not just stick to managing and securing the data flowing through those tools. We let craftsmen and artisans pick the tools they think fit the task at hand and their personal skills best, but we still don't allow our professionals in knowledge intensive environments to do so.
So we never talked about what type of information you need and can collect about the network structures in your organization or within the ecosystem your business is part of, and how to align your actions and interventions with that. Even though tools for that are already widely available. So we never got around to how production of goods and delivery of services can be different from the conveyor belt metaphor if you switch to the network metaphor. In fact the term 'co-creation' wasn't even mentioned once, even though that involving stakeholders in your primary process should already be a well-known notion for the participants and cases are not hard to come by even in my own work.
So we never went deeper than 'culture is hard to change' and going there is 'opening a can of worms', while we already should be aware that culture is but the sum of individual behaviours, and nothing is more contagious than effective behaviour so cultural change propagates and scales itself. Some kept calling for 'scale' saying that 1 on 1 steps to help people to become better at sharing or to affect cultural change doesn't scale and would never work for let's say a multinational company, or across diverse cultures like our Western one, and those of Asia. As if we didn't just live through the first decade (!) of social media, a group of tools that do nothing else than scaling the type of interaction we used to only have with a few people to a global scale, involving a majority of all internet users regardless of their location on this globe!
What's a result?
So we never went beyond the suggestion that maybe instead of tracking employees time (introduced with the conveyor belt metaphor) we should start tracking results. We never got around to what 'results' actually are in the networked age, and how we should go about measuring them in complex environments. Especially knowing how bad we humans are both at thinking in causal chains of more than two steps even without there being multiple factors in play and feedback loops, which is the norm in a networked environment.
Or given how bad we are at finding ways to measure intangibles. We don't even get measuring results right yet when it comes to tangible metrics, always forgetting that the measurement changes the game and is therefore an intervention too. In fact the complexity aspect met with the same throwaway fate as culture (i.e. another can of worms best left unopened).
Considering the invited participants and the qualities and experience they brought we could have done and should have done way more than we did. I for one am sorry I could not see my way into the discussion to put this forward at the event itself (it even led me to this). I did learn a lot though nevertheless, about the path we still need to go, about how to try and frame or not frame the accompanying discussion. It disappointed me during the event, but right now it rather makes me wonder about the consequences, and worried about the state we're in.
A very talented and experienced bunch of people got invited to the Social Business Summit, but that summit proved too hard to climb. In fact I think we never really made it properly through the foothills, though there were those that already greatly admired the view even from there.11 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink
Maker Households - My Proposal for SHiFT
Next month will see the next edition of the SHiFT ("social and human ideas for technology") conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The theme is Do It Yourself (DIY). Last week I sent in my proposal, for a talk that tries to combine the sweeping impact of digitization with the wider context of a fully connected world and the challenges it faces. The title is Maker Households.
Maker Households - Abstract
The internet, reaching into every corner of human society, has hyperconnected individuals globally. It also has made it very visible that we live in a finite world, a closed system of diminishing physical resources. The hyperconnnectedness means an increasing interdependency that causes vulnerabilities as well as open access to an abundance of ideas, knowledge and human creativity.
Local resilience is needed to cope with finite resources and the fall-out of global interdependency. The digitization of everything and being connected to all of human knowledge and creativity are the means to do that. Local resilience based on full digitization and global connectedness means we will be living as Maker Households.
Below is a general outline of the story, to give you an idea of what I intend to discuss.
Scarcity and vulnerability
The interdependency that is the result of our internet-connected world brings with it a vulnerability. A bank falling over in NY causes immediate responses all over the globe. False information can spread faster than counter-acting measures can be activated. Just in time world wide logistical systems are highly efficient but leave no margin for error. At the same time our world is throwing vast challenges our way: growing scarcity of all physical resources and a changing climate. This will cause disruptions in multiple places, causing ripples throughout our hyperconnected societies. While internet is build for robustness our new connectedness is the source of new vulnerabilities because of that robustness.
We need local resilience to deal with both those vulnerabilities as well as the scarcity of resources of our finite world. Local resilience helps contain the local effects of far away events that propagate through the global network. Local resilience makes use of the global network to leverage scarcer local resources with abundant knowledge. That resilience can be found in Maker Households rooted in local community.
The interdependency that is the result of our internet-connected world also brings with it a lot of potential. We now can see that ideas, knowledge and creativity are truly abundant and that the internet is our access to that abundance.
The digitization of almost everything, books, designs, discussions, products, has two important effects. One is that transportation through the network (internet) is instant and costless. Two is that digitization enables us to do at home a myriad of things that you couldn't do before without a significant barrier to entry.
Maker Households use global connectedness to access needed knowledge and ideas and use digitization to then create what they need locally and by themselves. They then feed back their experience, adaptations, new ideas and modificiations into the network again.
In Maker Households the notions of personal production (FabLab), Open Data, Open Design, Creative Commons, the social web, Internet of Things, community building and easy group forming, network visualization, information literacy, Open Source and Favela Chic, all come together. In Maker Households this is being applied to creating production machines, food, energy, local sourcing, urban farming, and arts. Maker Households are the realization of networked DIY.
You are already on your way to Maker Households
Ever used a recipe from the internet? Do you use a digital camera that commoditized functionality previously only available to professionals? Do you own a phone that comes with internet, GPS, motion sensors, and compass? Ever used open source software to write or draw anything? Ever co-created something or organized a bottom-up event? You are already showing signs that make up Maker Households.
Is this making sense to you? Does this sound like a worthwile or exciting story to explore? Feedback is appreciated.2 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
New FabLab In The Netherlands: FabLab Groningen
Yesterday saw a great turnout at the FabTable, the regular meet-up of the Dutch FabLab community, held every 6 weeks. Our hosts were Thuur, Bart and Peter at the brand new FabLab Groningen.
They opened their doors March 1st (official opening on the 31st). With delegations from The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Enschede, Leuven (Belgium) and even Iceland, it was a great afternoon that stretched well into the evening over dinner in the 'Het Paleis' venue where the FabLab is located as well.
The beautifully renovated 19th century former chemistry lab of the local University is a fitting environment for the newest FabLab in the Netherlands. The building is populated with lots of different companies and artists, making it into a major hub for the creative industry in the north of the Netherlands. A theater and conference venue, hotel accommodation, rooftop apartments as well as a restaurant make it a great spot in a quickly redeveloping area just a few minutes walk north of Groningen's city center.
FabLab Groningen has a Trotec 60W laser cutter, a Zcorp 3D powder printer and a 3D full color scanner to go with it, a Modela CNC router, a vinyl cutter, as well as a home built vacuum-form (at 50 Euro!), a t-shirt press, and a rotary engraver. Of course they are also connected to the Polycom video-conferencing system (using a software based solution, not the expensive Polycom hardware). The big screen providing a window on the other labs is mounted on a wall that is painted with a world map showing the various locations of FabLabs from around the world.
Discussions during the FabTable ranged from business models to our shared efforts around the different websites we run, legal aspects and creative commons for product development, and organizing the Fab6 conference in August. Elmine did a whole range of video interviews for both the FabLab documentary she is making, as well as the FabLab video channel the good people of 23Video provided us with. Over dinner we swapped more stories, enjoying the beer, food and hospitality of the restaurant two doors down from the FabLab in the inner court yard of this amazing facility 'Het Paleis'.1 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink
Tim Berners Lee on Open Data, One Year Later
Last year Tim Berners Lee made a call for 'Raw Data Now' at the TED conference.
This year he is back, to show the TED audience what has been created with open data in the mean time. A great video to watch and see how Open Data can create value.0 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink
FabLab BarCamp Bremen
Last Saturday Karsten Joost and Axel Grischow organized the first meet-up in Germany of people interested in FabLab. There was room for 40 people in the venue, and that number quickly filled up. In fact there was a waiting list for people who would have liked to attend as well. People came from different cities, apart von Bremen, there were people from Berlin, Hamburg, Aachen, Nürnberg and Düsseldorf, as well as from other places.
Karsten and Axel had invited several of us from the Netherlands. Peter Troxler (to talk about business development), Bart Kempinga (FabLab Groningen, and how to get from idea to product), Petra Koonstra (creating a venue for the creative industry at Het Paleis in Groningen) and me (Dutch FabLabs as a network, and community building)
In true barcamp style the program of sessions was decided collectively at the start of the day. It was a good an varied programme. Talking both about organizational aspects of starting a FabLab as well hands-on topics, as well as a demo-space where different equipment was available to give a try.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day as well as the cool people. I hope that this may be the start of the emergence of a range of FabLabs in Germany.
My slides on the network effect of FabLabs and community building (partly in German, but mostly in English) can be seen below, as well as the pictures I took.0 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink