Empathy and Collaboration in Social Business Design

August 27, 2009
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Source: David Armano "Social Business by Design"

My first corporate position carried the title Methods Analyst, working for a large billing center serving a telephone company. One of my main tasks in that role involved learning how other employees performed their work and documenting it. On each project I typically spent several hours observing people work (what some today call rapid ethnography or guerilla ethnography) and then did in-depth interviews of the people I observed. Usually, at the end of my observation, I took responsibility for doing the work for a brief time under their watchful eye. In some sense you could say my work required me to continuously cross train in other people’s work, analyze the process, and write it up in a technical document.  The main insight I took away from that experience was an appreciation for the importance played by empathy in effective collaboration.

First off, collaboration isn’t just about people sharing information to achieve common goals. Collaboration is about people working with other people to achieve common goals and create value. Advocates of Enterprise 2.0 sometimes make the fundamental mistake of arguing that collaboration is really only about achieving business goals, leaving the implication that incorporating social software into the work flow of organizations is sufficient. Even though goal-orientation is a big part of collaborating, collaboration requires more to achieve goals effectively. It requires shared experience. As Dev Patnaik and Evan Rosen recently noted, empathy and collaboration go hand in hand.

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Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes

August 18, 2009

shapeThe emergence of social media provides people inside and outside organizations with a way to actively speak about, speak to, and engage the product and service offerings of enterprises. Currently, 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content and 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands. Enterprises, on the other hand, listen to, engage, and act on insights gained from social media.

A recent study of social media engagement by Ben Elowitz and Charlene Li covered the 100 largest brands and, among other conclusions, noted that,

One recurring theme throughout these case studies is that engagement cannot remain the sole province of a few social media experts, but instead must be embraced by the entire organization.

Channels, policies, processes, touch points and transactions are increasingly viewed as parts of the social experience organizations use to encourage employees in collaboration (also known as — Enterprise 2.0), and engage customers in conversation (also known as — social media) for the purposes of innovation and transformation of the business. The common goal of the ongoing discussion involves transforming business practices to incorporate social relationships into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders.

Integrating engagement into enterprises is crucial to strategic efforts to use social software throughout an ecosystem, inside and outside the formal organizational hierarchy, as social business design. My contention is that such integration is most likely to succeed with a focused approach to informal learning. In my last post, Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design, I offered the following point.

The concept of learnscape is a useful framework for thinking about the strategic challenge to the range of learning activities occurring as companies attempt to create feedback loops between their brand experience and the functional areas of their enterprise, especially in regard to the multidisciplinary collaboration needed to make these efforts successful.

The concept of a learnscape, initially outlined by Jay Cross, focuses our attention on designing ecosystems to heighten the innovation and performance of people. I lay out some thoughts about learnscapes and shaping ecosystems below, using key concepts from the Dachis Group’s framework, initially discussed in an earlier post on HP’s WaterCooler project. I don’t claim these insights provide proven techniques for shaping enterprise ecosystems. But, I do think they point in a useful direction for those thinking about Enterprise 2.0 and social media strategy to keep in mind. Read the rest of this entry »


Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design

August 10, 2009

 learnscapeAbout a month ago I read What Would Andrew Do?, an unbook by Jay Cross and friends. I’ve mentioned Jay’s work in previous posts dealing with elearning 2.0 and collaboration in informal learning. In particular, its important to remember that focusing on informal learning doesn’t mean we must disregard the relevance of formal learning because learning is never 100% formal or informal.

However, the term scalable learning probably does require a bit of clarification. After all, isn’t elearning supposed to scale to the size of the learning group and remain available when they need it, where they need it, as long as they are connected to the Web? Well, yes–and it does pretty much. Nevertheless, instructional designers too often fail to incorporate emergent learning requirements of the organization, the enterprise, into  their learning architecture largely because the approaches used to evaluate learning content (whether elearning, blended, or instructor-led) do not incorporate assumptions about the larger ecosystem’s need for the co-creation of knowledge.

The concern for whether the learner is exposed to every thread of content in every course, and assessed for mastery of the information, tends to predominate design thinking about learning, and for compliance training sometimes this is required.  However, too often, instructional design fails to focus on whether the learning scales to support the learner’s ability on-the-job to recognize a problem as a particular kind of problem, much less provide the ability to find the learning content that provides a solution.

I don’t intend to delve here into the minutiae of distinction possible between types of learning. Suffice it to say that when a learning architecture supports all types of learning along the range of formal, non-formal, and informal experience, it must design formal learning in small enough chunks to serve as resources for non-formal and informal learning activities. It also means that the knowledge created using non-formal learning (whether mentored or accomplished in collaboration with peers), or informal learning taken on its own, needs to become a performance resource in developing new formal learning content.

Jay contends that the performance challenges facing organizations are most aptly conceptualized as a learnscape, a concept initially articulated by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. In the August 2009 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, Jay offers the following synopsis.

Learnscapes are the factory floor of knowledge organizations. The “scape” part underscores the need to deal at the level of the learning environment or ecology…The “learn” part highlights the importance of baking the principles of sound learning into that environment rather than leaving it to chance.

 John Hagel sees learnscapes as part of a global transformation of industrial society that he, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison call the Big Shift: the move from institutions designed for scalable efficiency to institutions designed for scalable learning. Hagel’s thinking is relevant since, as I explain below, Jay uses the Push/Pull distinction to demarcate formal and informal learning. The basic insight is conveyed by Hagel, Brown, and Davison in their thoughts on Measuring the Big Shift:

Companies must move beyond their fixation on getting bigger and more cost-effective to make the institutional innovations necessary to accelerate performance improvement as they add participants to their ecosystems, expanding learning and innovation in collaboration curves and creation spaces. Companies must move, in other words, from scalable efficiency to scalable learning and performance. Only then will they make the most of our new era’s fast-moving digital infrastructure.

The participants that Hagel, Brown, and Davison refer to consist of consumers, customers, partners, and employees using social media to talk about, talk to, and engage the products and services, i.e. brands, that an enterprise markets. Don’t misunderstand the focus on performance in the discussion of scalable learning. It isn’t about the traditional focus on efficiency, pursuing ever leaner processes for the sake of officially recognized best practices. Rather, the focus is on creating the knowledge needed to adapt to emergent challenges and manage the flow of that adaptation through the enterprise’s ecosystem. For learning architecture it begins with understanding the importance of keeping the focus on distinctions between push and pull learning.

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Social Business Design: Insights from HP’s WaterCooler

July 15, 2009
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Social Media Snake Oil?

Does your organization approach using social media in its business as something to fear or as something to evangelize? Several recent observers note that incorporating social media into business involves changing the culture underlying communication patterns and decision-making in many large organizations.

Amber Naslund, for instance, tells us that adopting social media means changing the mindset on how to do business. In particular, she says using social media in business means “giving your customers a visible, valuable say in how you do things, and having the faith that doing that is just good business.” On the other hand, Caroline Dangson, of IDC contends enterprises aren’t yet sold on social media and that “there are executives still fearful of the transparency that comes with the social media spotlight.” Specifically, Caroline says that,

Corporate culture has everything to do with adoption of social media. I believe the number one factor preventing full adoption of social media is the lack of executive trust in employees. This culture is about control and creates a workplace of silos. This type of workplace is not set up to be social and the silos are barriers to worker productivity.

So, here social media sits, between fear and faith. Needless to say, the truth about social media’s implications for business design lies somewhere in the middle. The fact of the matter, as Todd Defren tells us, is that we need to begin seriously discussing “how Social Media Thinking will impact the greater whole of the company.”

As noted in an earlier post, keeping in mind the distinctions between formal, process-oriented organization and informal, practice-based organization is crucial in thinking through the collaborative challenges posed by social software for enterprises and designing for the experiences supported. We can learn a bit about the complexity of the challenges involved by considering a recent framework offered on social business design by the Dachis Corporation team and discussing the way it relates to a recent report on an experiment in enterprise social media at the Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories.


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SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking

March 18, 2009
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Social Software Stack

The title for this post is drawn from a recent assessment of SharePoint 2007 offered on Thomas Vander Wal’s bog, Personal InfoCloud. Thomas’ post, as always, offers a unique point of view on what Enterprise 2.0 consists and, specifically, how SharePoint measures up. He isn’t offering his own formal assessment as much as reporting the stories clients and potential clients shared with him over the past couple of years. The social software stack, in particular the difference between collective understanding and collaborative understanding, frames Vander Wal’s perspective.

Given SharePoint’s widespread use, and the growing interest in applying social media applications to collaboration challenges in organizations, Thomas’ discussion deserves wider attention. His overall impression is well summarized in the following point.

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside [the] enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organizations have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

In other words, SharePoint works well for situations in which defined groups need to reach a collaborative understanding of project requirements, their role in achieving those objectives, and what success means for the project. It works less well in providing resources allowing people across the enterprise, and across teams or departments, to discover connections with others and develop social relationships for networking together in ways that meet both personal and organizational challenges.

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Twitter Friends and the Influence of Influentials in Word of Mouth Marketing

January 16, 2009
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Social Networks that Matter

Without going into links to specific posts, I’ve noticed a trend among many blogs I try to keep up with over the past couple of years. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen prominent bloggers post publicly about having to pare down the list of RSS feeds they read, or tweets they respond to. Since Peter Kim’s blog is the most recent instance of the trend I’ll use one of his recent posts as an example of what I mean. Peter noted that he increasingly hears an echo chamber across social media blogs in which the same content, case studies, anecdotes, etc. gets repeatedly posted and commented on. More cynical observers might contend that the complaints about information overload from influentials is a little like strutting in front of a crowd. Nevertheless, it is difficult to dispute the point that attention is a scarce resource on the Web. So is engagement.

Ross Mayfield recently pointed to a study published by researchers at the Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories that addresses the point succinctly by pointing to constraints on friendship in directed social networks such as Twitter. A directed social network is characterized by an absence of explicit reciprocity constraints, fifty people can follow one person without that person necessarily following any of them. First Monday’s most recent issue includes an article, Social Networks that Matter: Twitter under a Microscope, that reports on a study of Twitter users by Bernardo A. Huberman, Daniel M. Romero, and Fang Wu of HP Laboratories.

The authors analyzed data from 309,740 people using Twitter. They compared the network of interactions people actually engage in while using social computing technologies such as Twitter to the network of connections with whom one shares a social relationship. Networks of actual interaction are considered networks that matter by the authors.

By networks that matter we mean those networks that are made out of the pattern of interactions that people have with their friends or acquaintances, rather than constructed from a list of all the contacts they may decide to declare.

In other words, the research focused on reciprocity as well as connection in studying the social network of Twitter. 
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Transformation as a Deep Metaphor for Design

January 7, 2009

Bruce Nussbaum recently declared Innovation is Dead, initiating a lively discussion around the issue of whether one term for change is better than another.

Before listing out Bruce’s key points, it is important to recognize that he isn’t saying that innovation is unimportant. Rather, he is pointing to the necessity of approaching meaningful change as a transformation of relationships between people and institutions, not just innovation at the edges through altering the systems allowing us to manage products and services.

Following his initial post, Bruce summarized his thinking in succinct form.

1- Our institutions aren’t working. They are broken. Corporations, investment banks, health care, schools, universities, Congress, transportation. The current crisis is accelerating the breakdown in the major institutions of our lives that began in the 90s.

2- Digital technology is disintermediating every organization, eroding the role of all middle men and women, from ad agencies to college professors, from newspaper editors to hospital administrators, from political parties to savings banks. The shape of all our institutions is radically changing.

3- The power to create and participate is moving to the masses. Digital technology is giving everyone the tools to tinker again, to design and shape their learning, their working, their play. Craft is back in newly significant ways that we are just beginning to understand.

4- “Innovation” is inadequate as a concept to deal with these changes. You have “game-changing” innovation, which is big but rare and incremental innovation which is small but common. “Innovation” implies changing what is. “Transformation” implies creating what’s new. That’s what we need today, a huge amount of totally “new.”

5- Design is the answer. I use the term “transformation” to capture the immensity of the task ahead of us and to guide us in the magnitude of that task, but the actual tools, methodologies and, yes, philosophy of that mission is found within the space of design and design thinking.

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