Thursday, August 27, 2009

Collaboration and Communication

In today's world of work the need for effective and efficient collaboration to create value is big. To create value we collaborate with coworkers, peers and customers form around the world to solve problems or create new and better products. Collaboration is for the most part communication between the collaborators. Communication is one of the hardest things to do out there. There are three mayor challeges in communicating to collaborate.

The first one is about communication in general. If we want to collaborate we have to communicate to express our thoughts on the subject, get feedback, discuss new ideas, summarize and make conclusions. This is a very hard thing to do effective and efficient. We need to know our own communication skills and preferences and know about these skills and preferences for the people we collaborate with. I think the MBTI assessment is a great way to figure out personal preferences and their impact on communication.

Second challenge is about language. The current playing field is a global one and thus we communicate in different languages. The langauage that is used in communication between people with different languages is mostly english. Let's call english the global interaction language. If you are a native english speaker you have some advantages here, but for the most of us this is a challenge to translate ideas of others and your own ideas from the interaction language to the native language. For me this blogpost is witten in english (as my cobloggers and myself want to engage the largest possible crowd) but my thoughts are in dutch. Somewhere between my mind and fingers my ideas get translated. Just the use of the interaction language is not enough because the crowd out there does not have the same level of english. For everybody including native english speakers another challenge is to use terminology that the reader can comprehend.

The third challenge is about cultural differences that have impact on communications. The sender and receiver of communication both have mental models in which they interpret communication. This interpretation is after translation. So in this blogpost I am thinking in dutch and writing in english. But I am writing this from a dutch mindset and chances are the you, my valued reader ;-), are interpreting my english writing with a indian mindset. Differences in your culture colour your reading and comprehension of my thoughts. To make this post succesfull I should have written this post with your cultural background in mind and you should have read this post with my cultural background in mind aswell! This is a very difficult task because I am not familiar with indian culture and I don't want to focus on indian readers but to a global audience, so where to start? For the reader this is also a hard thing to do, because it implicates you need to know about dutch culture as well! Some of the best examples on this challenge I read the other day in Outliers a book by Malcolm Gladwell. He talked about communication in the cockpit of aeroplanes and the possible destructive power of culture on collaboration.

If we take these challenges into account it is a mirracle that communication is succeeding in the first place. The question is if this mirracle is a consequence of contious actions or uncontius behaviour?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Information Age and the effect on the middle class

Nicholas Carr’s book The Big Switch has been on my mind this week. In my opinion: a must read. Besides the IT impact, it also looks at Cloud Computing and the networked world from a social-economical point of view. For instance: the similarity and difference between the shift into the Industrial Age and the shift into the Information Age is explicitly made.

But, I’m not sure if I totally concur with the proposed negative effect on doing work and the erosion of the financial strength of the middle class.

Without a doubt, when shifting into the industrial age, the way of doing work and business changed completely. Forever. Part of this was the introduction of the efficient production process and the big corporations (as we still know today). Economy of scale.

Because of this (but not only), the middle class flourished and became wealthier. Workers got more, and bought more. And, this new and readily available thing called “electricity” meant never before seen products. Which were sold. More production was needed. Bigger salaries. Et cetera, the virtuous circle is clear. (I’m leaving the big depression out of this, which you might not agree uppon). This process gave a more healthy spread of the wealth.

The statement that is given is that when the Information Age enters its mature state, the effect on the middle class will be totally different. The middle class will financially lose ground and the rich/poor ratio will skew; like it did before the Industrial Age. Perhaps even more (one signal is the Long Tail paradigm seen “dark”, were everybody can join in for nothing, and only a happy few take all the apples. I.e.: YouTube.).

This got me wondering. Is this true for all? Make no mistake, I think there’s a clear-cut case for the media industry: newspapers, music, films, et cetera. It’s being overwhelmed with free and readily accessible information, sharing and amateur production(s). The real deep professional's part gets lost in the shallow waters of information overload (although, "gets lost" doesn't mean "dissapears").

In fact, one can state that: everything that can be virtualized or digitized can succum to the zero cost of (sharing) information-paradigm.

A small, non exhaustive list of industries:

- Automotive

- Consumer Products

- Energy & Utilities

- Financial Services

- Healthcare

- Industrial Machinery

- Nonprofit & Public Sector

- Retail

- Technology

- Telecommunications

- Transportation Services

And Media

I’m a strong believer that the true digital (and networked) world in which we live (and which will further mature), combined with the steep increase in abundance of bandwidth, will have a massive impact in the way we do our work and how we organize our industries and business (although, a shift to IPv6 will be mandatory). A signal as “going in to the cloud” is one of them (let’s try to use this phenomenon to take on the energy problem the world faces?). Another one is the further and more swift rise of the knowledge worker and the service sector.

But, does this mean that all the industries and its workers as we now know them are threatened in their existence? (Here, I over-dramatize the statement to try to make a point). My statement: Does every industry, as summarized above, “suit” the thesis presented?

If not, what will be the effect for the middle class and the way of work? Will there come another (not anticipated?) positive spiral to next nirvana (again, dramatized)?

What’s your opinion?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cloud Computing: not the same pattern all over again?

Being a consultant in the field of Enterprise Content Management and Knowledge Management (or is it now called E2.0?), one tries to keep a sharp eye on the next thing on Strategic Technologies. Recently, I’ve had the luxury of getting some air instead of being swamped by my projects, so I plunged into the subject again (not sooner, unfortunately); trying to get the latest essence from the overall Information Randomness out there.

As Gartner stated earlier this year, Cloud Computing is, and will be, hot. Hmm: SaaS, PaaS, IaaS. It feels like its to a going to the top of the hype and the labels are rolling over each other and screaming for attention. What ever happened to Mutually Exclusive labeling (or for that matter: Outsourcing)? I mean: SaaS is also seen as a form of Green IT. Okay, that’s true, but an information architect would have sleepless nights trying to find the mother of this taxonomy… I’m still thankful for the rise of the folksonomy as an augment on that one.

Any way, don't get me wrong. In my humble expertise and experience I'm a believer of the notion that the big switch (as Nicholas Carr eloquently puts it) is tantalizing for organizations (or, for the normal human being at home, it’s already in full swing); but is it growing out of proportions? I mean, just a few years ago the statement that you do KM when you “put all knowledge in an IT system” (logically!) turned out to be cutting a few corners, to say the least…

Going from hindsight to foresight, I read that leaders in the field are putting up some warning flares to neutralize the phrase “it’s just like getting electricity out of the wall” a bit.

First of all: if it were true, why don’t we all have it then? Secondly: If you go to Nigeria, as a colleague of mine did, you’ll find out that getting electricity out of the wall isn’t a commodity as one would suggest! Finally, as I stated in one of my Tweets, Cargo transport isn't "just moving something from A to B" either... If you peal the outer layers of the business process, one can see that hauling cargo is infinitely more complex.

The "danger" of using the methaphor like that, is that it might end up oversimplified and then, overhyped.

In my experience I find it remarkable that patterns of (over) hype-ness and oversimplification don’t fade away but tend to rejuvenate with every new instance of the “next big thing”.

Why not really find the benefits of a shift to off-premises information systems? Try to find a correct translation for a business; not a one size fits all. Maybe not all companies should ride this wave (or "stop" at IaaS?). And finally let’s say that “doing Cloud Computing” doesn’t always mean instant “lower IT-costs” or “higher efficiency”. In my opinion it’s a strategical endeavor, and a complex initiative, just like any other one on that level.

Cloud Computing: "It’s not an instant plug-in. But it can be very electrifying".

Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning and Creativity

This week I read the article "Teaching Smart People How to Learn" by Chris Argyris. It is a great piece of work discussing the idea and practical application of double loop learning. The examples in this article are very vivid and really get to the point why proffesionals or knowledge workers avoid learning.

Defensive reasoning is a big barrier for double loop learning. Teammembers search for solutions and reasons to problems outside themselves. They are affraid to acknoledge failure and thus are preventing themselves from learning. Success in their careers is the main source for them to be affraid of critisicm.

Learning and the educational systems are two subjects rather close to each other and there is a great video from TED by Sir Ken Robinson.

Ken argues that educational systems kill creativity. Kids are not affraid to be wrong and if you are not prepared to be wrong you never come up with something original. Kids lose this ability to be wrong and turn in to adults that are affraid to be wrong. Education is telling students that mistakes are the worst things to make.

In sports it is a common sense that mistakes and losing are needed to win matches and achieve goals. If a player makes a mistake during a match this is the only moment you can make them see how to perform better and to avoid the mistake. When I am coaching I always try to make teams lose bigtime during the training season. That is the time when they learn the most and create a bigger appetite for succes.

Chris and Ken are both stating that the inability to make mistakes, to be wrong and be defensive about them is a big problem. This problem leads to the inability to learn and the inability to be creative. We need to start learning again to make mistakes, be honest about them and learn from these mistakes to do a better job!