Podular Organization and Edge Businesses

May 9, 2013
Podulation -- From Dave Gray's Connected Company

Podular Design — From Dave Gray’s Connected Company

In Institutional Innovation and Podular Design I noted a number of insights from the Aspen Institute’s report, Institutional Innovation: Oxymoron or Imperative?, especially that “the most important innovation challenges are now in fact institutional in nature.” As an aside, let me just note that institutions typically change in dramatic ways only over long periods of time. Think of institutions such as religion, government, the economy, and then consider the various organizational forms in which these institutions took shape across cultures over time.

One insight I have not discussed in previous posts is relevant to understanding the changing way teams work together in organizations and, by implication, in a Connected Company — as outlined by Dave Gray. Richard Adler the Rapporteur for the Aspen sessions, noted that,

“New findings about the power of collective intelligence and about the most effective ways of organizing teams are providing practical insights about how to accelerate innovation.”

To start, let’s consider many companies organize teams and then turn to the “power of collective intelligence” mentioned by Adler to see how the two relate to podular organization. Several research projects in recent years noted the fuzzy boundaries of teams in large organizations. Skilful Minds first noted this phenomena in Who’s on Your Team? Enterprise 2.0 and Team Boundaries , and then a couple of years later in Social Learning, Collaboration, and Team Identity.

In fact, the phenomena of transitory team membership is so pervasive that some people propose we analyze “teaming” rather than teams when talking about how groups organize for cross-functional purposes within, or between, companies. Consider, for example the way, Mark Mortensen summarizes this trend in team dynamics,

First, organizations increasingly require collaborations to be fluid in their organization and composition, able to adapt to the rapid changes of the external environment. Second, collaborations increasingly overlap with one another, sharing resources — including people — as those resources become more limited due to increased competition. Third, collaborations must increasingly take into consideration the different contexts within which collaborators are embedded, including locations, time zones, cultures, and languages, structures, or organizations.

The liminality of such transitory teams results from several institutional challenges including the high degree of misunderstandings that initially occur due to team members rarely having the time to translate the different ways of thinking that people bring from their professional specializations into a mutual understanding of their shared business purpose. Developing mutual understanding requires shared experiences, getting to know who you are collaborating with, not just what they do or their skills profile. In addition, conflicting functional priorities, and often a lack of clear accountability, make it difficult for such teams to remain focused on the business purpose of their collaboration.

Teams were not always organized this way. As Mortensen notes, teams in multi-divisional companies were, at one time, defined by bounded and stable team membership and common goals that interdependent work was required to meet. Cross-functional teams in such companies today are not typically defined by bounded and stable membership, and common goals are still too often related to divisional performance driven by scalable efficiency rather than a connection to the purpose of the business the team is serving.

As Brown and Hagel recently observed:

Over the last 40 years, the emergence of new digital infrastructures and a global liberalization of economic policy have increased the pace of change exponentially. Many companies that were extremely successful in earlier times of relative stability are now finding that their relationship architectures are fundamentally misaligned with the needs of their business today. As the pace of change increases, many executives focus on product and service innovations to stay afloat. However, there is a deeper and more fundamental opportunity for institutional innovation—redefining the rationale for institutions and developing new relationship architectures within and across institutions to break existing performance trade-offs and expand the realm of what is possible.

Institutional innovation requires embracing a new rationale of “scalable learning” with the goal of creating smarter institutions that can thrive in a world of exponential change.

The challenge then remains how to enable organizations to adapt to their ecosystems by enhancing access to flows of knowledge that are likely to result in learning. Leinwand and Mainardi recently observed that permanent cross-functional teams tend to fare better than transitory teams in engaging organizational ecosystems. As they note:

We’ve recently seen a more robust cross-functional construct emerge, one  with an overarching organizational structure, based on building and maintaining a distinctive capability. Members of these capabilities teams are assigned permanently to them, reporting there rather than through a functional hierarchy.

Permanent cross-functional teams provide an institutional basis for what Hagel and Brown refer to as edge businesses that develop within large-scale enterprises, noting that such companies “should resist the temptation to confront the core, and instead  focus on opportunities on the periphery or at the ‘edge’ of their businesses that can scale rapidly.” I suggest below that Dave Gray’s conception of podular organization affords an important insight regarding how the institutional innovation of edge case businesses can develop and organize. Read the rest of this entry »


Paradigm Shifts, TED Talks, and the Rosetta Stone

May 2, 2013
rosettastonemuseum

Rosetta Stone

People discussing the pace of change that organizations face in dealing with connected customers, globalization, competition, distributed workforces, innovation, etc. often assert that the world needs a paradigm shift to a new organizational form. I agree with the basic point. However, the way forward is seldom clear and simple when facing the need for dramatic changes in how we think about organizing what we know into practical changes to meet such fundamental challenges.

Just a side note here though. If you are not the sort of person who enjoys using historical insights to think about current challenges you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post.

Read the rest of this entry »


Revisiting the Great Innovation Debate

January 2, 2013
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

An early Skilful Minds post introduced The Great Innovation Debate, focusing on the distinctions between Tom Friedland’s conception that when it comes to innovation the world is flat, and the alternative point of view espoused by Richard Florida that the world is spiky. Meaning that the aggregation of creative people in cities, in proximity to one another, largely drives innovation and economic growth. As our previous post noted, John Hagel added an interesting vantage point on the debate by observing that, “Even though you can participate in innovation from more remote locations, if you want to develop your talent more rapidly than others, you are more likely to be able to do that in a major urban area.” In other words, the debate about innovation is largely a difference of viewpoints on the feasibility of effective collaboration across distributed people who work together to get jobs done. These collective efforts typically exist as cross-functional teams working with business partners, or customers.

The innovation debate was raised again recently when John Hagel and John Seely Brown added substantially to the questions behind it in a post titled, Friedmand vs. Florida and offered some key insights that coincide with key points from the McKinsey survey. The gist of Hagel and Brown’s position goes as follows:

It’s true that globalization has led to increased competition; however, there is also a significant opportunity for companies to access the talent gathering in different spike cities and then connect those people around the world using digital technology infrastructure so that they might leverage the skills of, and learn from, one another. Such a model does not develop overnight; to move from competitors to collaborators, participants must form long-term, trust-based relationships with one another.  When these relationships develop, then firms can connect capabilities across spikes, and ultimately, pursue opportunities for innovation and capability building across spikes.

Consider the following observations from recent research on the importance of proximity in how team members relate to one another. A recent Forrestor report, Making Collaboration Work for the 21st Century’s Distributed Workforce (registration required) noted that most information workers (including Gen Yers) prefer email, telephone conversations, and face-to-face meetings. These preferences appear to result as much from limitations in the available collaboration tools as anything else. The Forrestor recommendations are three-fold:

  1. create the sense of a “shared office” among distributed employees
  2. use tools that follow distributed employees on the go
  3. provide collaboration tools that make the work easier, i.e. are integrated into the work.

I’ll get back to the major challenge among the three outlined in the Forrestor report (creating the sense of a shared office) in a following post. First though it is important to note that the Forrestor report’s findings indicate fundamental differences between the opposing points of view in the debate over innovation by Friedland and Florida, especially as they relate to distributed employees (i.e. people who are not colocated). For example, a recent McKinsey Global Survey of 2,927 executives, Making Innovation Structures Work (registration required), offered two key insights dealing with innovation that merit attention in relation to the topic.

  1. “Companies cannot rely on a single innovation function alone to create successful outcomes, it must be integrated with the entire organization.”
  2. “The functions located near talent or target markets have more market success and meet objectives more effectively than others, though they are less likely than the functions at or near HQ to engage regularly with company leaders.”

The first conclusion relates to the McKinsey report’s overall insight that organizations are more likely to succeed with innovation efforts when those initiatives are integrated with corporate strategy as well as benefiting from the engagement and support of company leadership. It implicitly recognizes the ineffectiveness of organizing innovation efforts that occur in corporate silos, such as innovation centers or research & development labs.

On the other hand, the second conclusion recognizes the constraints faced in organizing innovation efforts among distributed employees. Creating a sense of a shared office, or workspace, is fundamental to efforts attempting to integrate innovation and corporate strategy, especially if the corporate strategy involves social business.

In my thinking, the key to Hagel and Brown’s point is that, as Gunter Sonnenfeld recently observed in a post called Relationship Economics, “relationships are the foundation of the social web, and the basis for the flat, seemingly infinite distribution plane that is the Internet.”  Rather than focus on whether the world is flat or spiky, serious attention is better paid to how enterprises organize collaboration and what limitations place and cultural context impose on that organizational effort to create innovation capabilities. How to organize distributed collaboration and manage the social interactions involved is the topic that requires discussion when these concerns are brought into focus.


Video Analysis for Experience Design: The Video Card Family Game

July 12, 2010

From "A Journey Round My Skull's" photostream on Flickr

 Digital ethnography is an increasingly feasible research technique as smartphones decrease in cost and more people carry them around. The photographic capability of smartphones is an important resource in making digital research ubiquitous, giving people the ability to capture images and record observations as they go about their everyday lives, and characterize those observations for ethnographers. 

Of course, taking photographs and sharing them online as part of a diary or journal for ethnographic research predates smartphones. Smartphones simply increase the likelihood that an everyday experience is recorded as a representation of the moment in which it occurs. Nevertheless, the video recording capabilities of smartphones afford collaborators an opportunity for representing experience in a manner previously unavailable to ethnographic research. 

I’ll discuss the range of implications for ethnography posed by the ubiquitous access to video recording capabilities by ordinary people in another post in the near future. For now, my discussion focuses on how to use video in ethnographic research to inform product/service design. 

Video of people using products or services is one of the most challenging data resources used in ethnographic research. Playing and replaying video segments for review is time-consuming and, depending on the number of people involved and the type of activity recorded, difficult to distil into agreed-upon insights. 

I recently read several chapters from Sarah Pink’s Visual Interventions: Applied Visual Anthropology, thoroughly enjoying all of them. One chapter in particular though, Video Ethnography Under Industrial Constraints, by Werner Sperschneider, really caught my attention. Werner spells out a technique (the Video Card Game) for analyzing video in design research that I remembered reading about several years ago but, at the time, didn’t really give a lot of thought to.   

The Video Card Game draws from the “Happy Families” childrens’ card game, a game in which players collect families of four cards as they ask one another in turn for cards of a particular archetype. The goal of “Happy Families” is to collect a family of four cards, forming a stack. Collecting the most stacks makes you the winner.  

Werner provides an overview of how researchers in user-centered design at the Danish industrial manufacturer, Danfoss A/S, initially created the Video Card Game as a method for combining ethnographic and visual research methods using video. Design researchers, Margot Brereton, Jared Donovan, Stephen Viller, at the University of Queensland, as well as Jacob Buur and Astrid Soendergaard, of  the University of Southern Denmark, and the University of Aarhus, respectively, also provide case studies of its use. 

Family Resemblance and the Video Card Game

The Video Card Game’s design provides a collaborative space of interaction for researchers, designers, and design collaborators to co-create insights for product and service design, using video as a primary source of insight. The rendition of the game offered here refers to it as the Video Card Family Game for the explicit purpose of making it clear that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance is a key criteria in the gaming process for deciding to which themes a video card belongs. Using the concept of family resemblance to analyze video enables design researchers to organize, prune, and interpret actions taken in their research with collaborators in the field, providing actionable ideation outcomes.  

When playing the Video Card Family Game the key is remembering that, even though the cards give the video a tangible mode of expression, the images remain on relatively small cards, whether on the surface of a table or attached to a poster on the wall. One can imagine an interactive wall display like Microsoft’s Surface that minimizes the legibility problem. Short of such a solution however it is important to keep in mind the spatial limitations imposed by rendering video representations of action onto tangible video cards arranged on tables or walls. 

Keep reading if you are curious about how the Video Card Family Game is played in the context of video analysis for design research. 

Read the rest of this entry »


Transformations in the Grocery Shopping Service Journey

April 15, 2010

Grocery shopping is one of those chores that we all have to do from time to time. I’m introducing the topic of grocery shopping as a service journey not because the concept is new.  In-store ethnographic studies, and shop-alongs, implicitly recognize the concept. Few people who analyze what grocers do, and how people who shop in their stores get the job of buying groceries done, would be surprised that it is a journey. And, of course, the journey starts in the shopper’s home, which Tesco’s Fresh and Easy discovered the hard way when they expanded from the United Kingdom to the United States. What I want to do here is provide a brief, high level history of the U.S. grocery shopper’s journey, and key transformations of that journey, to establish the context for my next post. 

Other than time, money, and typically transportation, two pieces of technology are critical to the journey we take as we shop, especially for groceries. We must collect items around the store and move them to the checkout counter. Once our grocery items are checked out and we pay for them, we must move those groceries from the store to our source of transportation. For many of us that transportation consists of an automobile, or other vehicle; for others it may be public transport. 

A partial solution to the challenge of collecting items around the store came with the invention of flat-bottomed paper bags by Margaret Knight in 1870. However, it really wasn’t until Walter H. Deubner, a grocery store owner in St. Paul, Minnesota, created a shopping bag  in 1915 (a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength) that a workable solution to the challenge of collecting and moving items from shelves to the checkout counter came along. The Deubner Shopping Bag carried up to seventy pounds of groceries. In other words, at least initially, the grocery bag was supplied before customers began to shop. 

The invention of the shopping cart by Sylvan Goldman in 1936 provided the basis for changing the shopping journey. Consider the problems he faced in persuading shoppers to change their shopping journey. 

Goldman’s concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more. Unfortunately, the customers didn’t want to use the carts. Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping. That, and an attractive store greeter encouraging use of the carts, did the trick. 

Paid female model pushing shopping cart.

By 1940 shopping carts had found so firm a place in American life as to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Supermarkets were redesigned to accommodate them. Checkout counter design and the layout of aisles changed. 

As a result, shopping bags were relocated in the shopper’s journey, with the exception of small bags for produce and other perishables. The invention of plastic bags later on added another alternative for bagging, in the produce section as well as the checkout counter, and it was a cheaper direct cost than paper. 

Today, the result of these basic technologies for supporting grocery shoppers makes the experience much easier, no doubt less stressful on the back and shoulders than carrying heavy bags around the store while shopping. My next post focuses on the current transformational challenge facing the grocery shopper’s service journey through the diffusion of reusable bags.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Customer Competencies, Co-Creation, and Brand Communities

October 20, 2009
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

Word of mouth communities and networks using social software are increasingly spread over regional, national, and international borders, making them much more important to those who market branded products and services, online and off. The recent buzz around the concept of social business points to the growing importance of social networks and communities to the evolution of business practice. Whether companies are in fact closing the community gap or the engagement gap remains an open question though.

As Rachael Happe of the Community Roundtable notes in commentary on the Community Maturity Model:

in the stages before a company becomes truly networked, metrics are isolated to supporting one business process vs. in a networked business the whole business becomes social and the communities are set up to support cross-functional goals.

In other words, customer communities approaching maturity produce value for the business, or organizational enterprise, rather than only a specific functional area — such as research and development, product management, customer support, or marketing. Rachel’s overall point receives validation in a recent article in the September (2009) issue of the Journal of Marketing that reports on long term ethnographic research on brand communities by Professors Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, “How Brand Community Practices Create Value .”  The most interesting thought in the article for me is their point that customer competencies are a valuable resource for building co-creation opportunities in brand communities.

Unlike earlier discussions of customer competence, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould contend trying to co-opt customer competencies is the wrong strategy. Rather, their research findings suggest community management benefits from developing opportunities for customers to grow their competencies with the brand. They make it clear that their research indicates,

Companies wishing to encourage co-creation should foster a broad array of practices, not merely customization.” In other words, don’t try to keep the community focus only on what benefits the brand as you define it. The important point to keep in mind when discussing value in brand communities is that members create value for themselves through producing cultural capital distinguishing their status relative to the community, aside from the ROI and business value gained by the company owning the brand. Making sure members are provided opportunities to grow their competencies encourages them to reinvest their cultural capital in the brand community.

I discussed co-creation in several posts this past year in relation to eLearning 2.0 generally as well as Nokia and, back in 2005, its overall importance to the challenge of creating successful innovation, including the relevance of customer communities to innovation outcomes. The concept of customer competencies captures the overall significance of co-creation for efforts to produce value through engaging customers. However, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould offer the additional insight that the competencies critical to brand communities are developed through community practices. By practice they mean the linked, implicit way people understand, say, and do things. The term is further used to refer to the activities, performances, and representations (video, graphics, etc.) or talk of community members.  

Experience designers can use the concept of customer competencies  to inform choices about how to manage practices in customer communities.
Read the rest of this entry »


Informal Learning in Health Care 2.0

August 19, 2009

transform-masthead

Update:

The presentations from Transform are now available online. Take some time and listen to these videos if you are in the least interested in how to transform health care. 


Health care is increasingly gaining attention as an area in which innovation involves informal learning, and many of the other topics that go along with using Web 2.0 to engage people. The current debates at the national level about changing health insurance carry with them an underlying focus on innovation in the design and delivery of healthcare services, an area referred to for several years as Health Care 2.0. And the Mayo Clinic is always at the top of the list when innovation is discussed in healthcare. So, it isn’t a surprise that the Mayo Clinic is sponsoring a symposium in September focusing specifically on innovating health care experience and delivery.

The symposium includes a number of segments with intriguing topics. However, the two I find most interesting are the Redefining Roles and the Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices segments. It looks like a promising experience for those fortunate enough to attend.

Redefining Roles
This segment will introduce the emerging roles of disruptive technology and business model innovations in making products and services in health care affordable and accessible. It will touch upon the evolution of health care delivery systems — particularly hospitals — from geographically-centered and costly entities to decentralized and more focused operations. Participants will be introduced to emerging business models in health care, including facilitated networks — online communities of people who help to teach one another about how to live with their diseases. This segment will also explore the notion that health care can be designed to minimize the degree to which it disturbs peoples’ lives.

Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices
Communities of people are sharing health care-related content online. This has come to be called “Health 2.0.” Individuals and organizations have built business ventures around sharing content. But what does it take for these models to evolve into reliable facilitators of wellness? How can these communities link with existing bricks-and-mortar care delivery systems in ways that help people in their journey to wellness? What are “microchoices” and how might they be more powerful than all of health care?

My interest in using communities to enhance the service experience goes back several years. I had not considered their application to health care services until recently when an associate pointed me to several hospitals using social media to connect with patients. It looks like a promising area for innovation and highlights the relevance of informal learning to health care services. 

Thanks to Tim Brown at Design Thinking for the pointer to the Mayo symposium.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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