Nodes: The hyperconnected nervous system and digital literacy

The transformation in our culture since the mass availability of the public Internet has occurred more rapidly than any previous change in society. Like all changes that bring about a transformation, this one has, and continues to take place in leaps and bounds rather than at a linear, more manageable pace. These leaps are uncomfortable. They bring about feelings in us all that are akin to that which we feel riding a roller-coaster — some nausea, an odd sensation in the pit of the stomach, and not a little disorientation. Get used to it. It’s still going on and we’re on the biggest trip ever. At least for now.

We live today in a world of rapidly increasing connectedness. We are connected to each other as individuals and in groups in a way that changes everything. And I do mean everything — education, families, business, government, causes, empowerment, culture, globalisation. Everything. This school, indeed any school, or any government, business, organisation or person that remains disconnected for much longer risks an ever-increasing marginalisation in the face of a hyperconnected world.

Set aside for a moment that large parts of the world remain not connected to the Internet. Those parts that are are visibly, measurably different to how they were 15 years ago. They are even markedly different to five years ago.

Of real significance amongst these changes, is the change in the way humans now learn. It is important to understand that the formal education I went through, and the vast majority of those teaching today went through, bears little or no resemblance to either the way we or our kids themselves learn when left to our own devices nor to the way the real world operates. The real education revolution that needs to occur is a transformation based on that understanding.

This connectedness, which began back in the mid-90’s with the introduction of the public to the World Wide Web has introduced us all to a network of people, places and possibilities we simply did not have access to before that time. And we now depend on that network. Deeply so. It’s about trust. About relationships. And about being something more than we are, intellectually and personally, that we can be without the network.

I remember my first hesitant steps into the online world, around 20 years ago. As an early adopter, they were at 14.4K per second and on the pre-public Web world of CompuServe. After 1998, CompuServe was swallowed up in the rapid expansion of AOL, becoming just a part of that behemoth. In the years I was online with CompuServe before that, I was a part of a much smaller, yet no less fascinating network of people, places and possibilities — interacting with people far and wide, as far away as remote northern Canada, Brasil and Scotland on things that we were collectively fascinated by; science fiction, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and fitness.

I’m still fascinated by those and other things 15 years later. Though my community — the network I share those fascinations, and others, with — is now vastly larger and richer than I could ever have imagined in my early dabblings on CompuServe.

Size and richness are just two of the important measures of the hyperconnected world we now live in. When we go online and choose to participate in that global hyperconnected community, a third aspect takes form. We each become a cell in a great hybrid nervous system, electronic and human, that often is difficult to understand. But the core aspect of that nervous system. The very heart of it is collaboration. Sharing.

As nodes in this system, we are both sender and receiver, seeker and finder. And there is an expectation that we collaborate and share that which we both seek and find. And the very act of sharing, of collaboration, adds immense value to the network each time we participate. That value goes far beyond the simple, single act that takes place. The whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts. This sharing has been a part of what the Internet has been about since the first servers were switched on back in the late 1960’s. But now we’re in a position to do something rather more substantial.

When we first went online, none of us were quite sure what to do. I remember seeing the personal homepage of the person that introduced me to the web. It was a prototypical “About me” page. An early form of what we see today on any business web site and on the multitude of blogs and other profiles we create online. Who am I? What do I do? I like Vegemite, do you?

Well, now we know. We know who you are. We know what you do. We share your love of Vegemite and a cornucopia of other things through shared experience online. Through tweets, blog posts, Facebook status messages, pokes, likes, ratings, links.

This sharing, divorced from the tool by which it’s shared, but all borne on the same carrier wave, is where things begin to get profoundly interesting. It’s not the technology that’s the cool thing (though at times that’s cool enough), it’s what we do with it, together, that’s got legs.

Perhaps the crowning glory of the shared online experience is, rather than the color of your tractor on Farmville, the in excess of 100 million hours of effort taken to produce the English language version of Wikipedia. In the words of my colleague, friend and educator, Mark Pesce:

“…what is new about Wikipedia?  Simply this: the idea of sharing.  Wikipedia invites us all to share from our expertise, for the benefit of one another.  It is an agreement to share what we know to collectively improve our capability.  If you strip away all of the technology, and all of the hype – both positive and negative –from Wikipedia, what you’re left with is this agreement to share.”

This capability to share, and through sharing, transform culture, is the thing that has become the most powerful, most enticing, most terrifying part of what the online world offers us.

Interestingly, many schools and other educational institutions place so little value on the sharing, knowledge and effort that has gone into Wikipedia over its existence, that they ban its use as a research tool. How quaint.

Of course, as humans, we don’t always make the most of the power accorded to us. Some of the sharing done online is less than edifying — the excesses of public voyeurism through videos of bullying and the defacing of Facebook tribute pages set up by people mourning a loss and without the knowledge of how to curate that space to protect and preserve its cultural value show that sharing need not be an act that adds to the world.

Those that share negatively have learnt the skill of sharing, but not the human attributes that go alongside it of empathy, compassion, love, respect. They sometimes lack a certain maturity. Perhaps it is the case that the offline networks into which these people share — their families, friends and physical social networks also lack that maturity. Perhaps too, they are unskilled in the ways of the online world and are pushing its boundaries as a child does with parents and teachers. Or perhaps they are just getting their jollies.

On the other side of the coin, those of us that share positively do so with an astounding variety. Some of us share inanities — our lunch, a new piece of clothing. Other share deep feelings — love, anger, amazement, joy. Still more act as creators, gatherers and gardeners of knowledge, whether that’s as profound as climate science, or as superficial as better ways to play World of Warcraft. It all adds value. It all makes us senders and receivers.

If we are to send and receive, to act as a node, we must shoulder a level of responsibility in the management and distribution of the signal we carry. We must learn to become good digital citizens.

As educators, the teaching of good digital citizenship is arguably one of the most important skills you can pass to those in your charge. You have a hand, as big or bigger often, in the development of those you teach than do their parents. Not only that, their parents are often lacking in the skills needed to teach digital citizenship. Few of us were brought up with the Web as kids are today. Even five or six years ago, few online social networks existed. You are in a position both enviable and unenviable; you get to be the first adults to teach the digital natives how to be a tribe of nobles rather than savages.

Good digital citizenship is a complex notion. It involves aspects of technical competence, familiarity with changed culture and emotional intelligence all at once. Wrapping these together, and dealing with them well in the context of a rapidly changing online environment is immensely complex. Yet, we’re all exposed to this environment, and from an increasingly young age.

There’s no way to examine these three aspects in isolation from each other. They are inexorably wrapped up in each other. In examining one, so many aspects of the others are apparent that the taks is futile.

Technology moves apace. The mobile phone I use today is barely that. Rather it’s a complex converged device providing telephony, messaging (in various forms), access to the Internet in familiar ways such as email, chat and the Web as well as less familiarly, with point solution tools such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and the emergent augmented reality applications I can use. There’s significantly more computing power in my hand than sent the Apollo missions to the Moon. And significantly more even than the first desktop PC I owned in 1991. Let alone raw functionality.

I’ve another point to make about mobile devices, but I’ll get to that a little later.

We’ve already discussed the cultural and technological revolution wrought by the Internet, but let’s remind ourselves. This thing that was originally created to ensure the persistence of United States’ defence information in the face of the outbreak of nuclear war and pass esoteric data between academics has utterly reshaped Western society and is having no less impact in Asia and Africa, though the tools being used there to conduct that impact are somewhat different.

The Pew Internet and American Life project reported last year that 46 per cent of US adults have used a social network on at least one occasion, with 27 per cent using one within a day of being surveyed. Here in Australia, the latest ComScore research indicates a massive 96 per cent social network membership of some sort amongst Internet using adults. With more than a quarter of Australians with an active Facebook profile, there is a massive community out there connecting and sharing. Granted, it’s not all deep, but it’s certainly meaningful.

But how meaningful? The answer is very.

Being connected to each other online, rather than being a large pool of unconnected points, has had a number of profound behavioral impacts. We now use social networks more than we use email and search. This has singular implications for society; the very way we interact, share, relate, trust and learn has been transformed and continues to undergo transformation, much of which we can’t yet begin to imagine. The very behaviors and changes we’re seeing are themselves emergent and unpredictable. And their implications are significant.

Let’s start early.

Today, children begin forming relationships of real substance in preschool. It’s at about the same time many of them are beginning to use the Internet. It’s not inconceivable that many children will establish loose ties with each other at this early stage that will persist through hyperconnectedness across the span of their lives. I can see this in my own daughter, Hannah, who has maintained a relationship with her best friend from child care, Shannon. They connect regularly from half a world away, and in just a few weeks, will see each other physically for the first time in seven years when we visit them on a trip to Washington DC.

As she matures, Hannah is adding more and more relationships to the network she exists within. They possess both physical and virtual elements, and will continue to do so over the coming years. She has the opportunity to foster and maintain a network on a scale that I simply could not at her age, and cannot now, no matter how many people I meet and enjoy the company of.

The value of that network, as it grows and is curated; as she cherry picks who to be close to and who to be loosely associated with, grows in value with each node added. Each new cell in the system provides value not only to its neighbors, but also to the distant, loose connections. It may be a connection several years and many steps away from the hub that is Hannah, that proves of special value at some point in the future.

But this also illustrates a problem. The sheer scale of the network that Hannah will exist in is orders of magnitude greater than that of her grandparents’ and still significantly larger than that of her adept, but still, digital immigrant, Dad. The only way this network will be able to be easily maintained will be through careful, ongoing curation and breaking of the network down into more granular chunks — these are Debating Club people, and overseas friends, and swimming friends, and people I know through Mum and Dad. That kind of curation is simple at small scales, but incredibly difficult on the scale that Hannah will need to manage.

On top of the vast number of relationships having to be managed, is an ever increasing volume of data that needs to be made sense of — email, links, web sites, news, video, audio, podcasts, and more. It’s simply not possible to store this in your head. The notion of our tools as “outboard brain” has real credence; whether we’re collecting information for a public speaking engagement as I did using Evernote, or storing easily forgotten phone numbers in our mobile phones, conveniently synced with our contacts online, or making lists of friends and where they fit into our lives on Facebook.

So, how does this fit into education?

My belief, as someone who is not an educator, but is passionately interested in both my own ongoing education and that of my daughter, is that hyperconnectedness has so fundamentally changed education that the model we’ve operated under to now is no longer relevant. We have little time left to change and it’s not going to come with the Education Revolution.

As hard as it is to keep up with technological changes, the emergence of new platforms and tools, and an understanding of the benefits and risks they may offer the networked teacher, student or parent, is a core skill for modern educators.

Equally, an understanding of the culture of the network is critical. Who connects to who. Why? How? To what end? Where is the value? What is my role in this new world where the value accorded expertise is decaying as access to factual material, and even rich interpretation and context is becoming a trivial task.

It’s simply not good enough to say “I don’t have the time” or “It’s too hard, I can’t keep up.” Others do, and are. And your students certainly are. If you can’t be their guide through the technological changes, you can no longer be the mentor they need in the networked age of education.

The model for the class room, from a child’s first day at child care right through to the very end of tertiary education is fundamentally broken. We still operate according to rules established in the 19th Century to train compliant workers for the factories of England’s Industrial Revolution. I’ve also seen it described more than once, so I don’t lay claim to the idea, as the “airplane model”; get in, sit down, face forward and be quiet.

In schools now, too often, technology is a part-utilised add-on. More often, it’s crippled. And the network of connections? Ill-used and piecemeal, even in the best schools.

When I talk with educators, many know what they should do, but have lacked the resources to do so. We now have those resources at hand, if we use them and share.

Education must become the place where the network is best utilised. Where use of tools is taught well and goes deep. We now have the resources to create an age where the boundaries of the classroom break down, where the exploratory learning we so value in giving small children is extended to the class for older children.

The hyperconnected world has created a new way of doing things that run strongly counter to the power relationship inherent in education before now. The conflict that this sets up will be the deciding factor. Can education change to cope with the open, shared, collaborative future of the hyperconnected world, or will it try to insist on maintaining its position of power and thus disengage from learners who will go about seeking their own learning?

Let’s then look at some real-world, practical examples, beginning with one of my personal bugbears, blocking and filtering the school network and providing students and teachers with crippled hardware.

It was back in February 2009 that I wrote a fairly short piece entitled Blocking never works. I absolutely stand by the core premise of that piece, which is that providing people with whom you work — in the context of schools that’s teachers, other staff and students — with a less than full access experience to their hardware, software and online access infantilises them. Imagining that this crippled experience is somehow better and provides you shiny, happy people who will compliantly obey your edicts is foolish at best and deeply damaging in many cases. Better to, as I said in that article:

“…make sure your [people] are empowered to use social tools at work but also understand with crystal clarity what is and isn’t acceptable.”

Now, of course, I have no problem with schools trying to block porn from their network. It’s a rare workplace that such access is ever necessary. But the sheer availability of such stuff and the ease with which it can be sought, and make no mistake, it must be sought, it cannot be “stumbled across” as the Communications Minister would have us believe, makes the task fairly pointless. Rather, I say teach proper behaviors. Make students and staff aware that their Internet use can and will be logged. Being watched is as good or better filter than a filter itself.

Further, and research bears this out in a multitude of cases, schools and workplaces that have filtered Internet access are more likely to have cases of attempts at inappropriate access than those that have unfiltered access accompanied by appropriate guides to behavioral expectations. They also tend to have students and staff with less rich understanding of what it takes to be a responsible and safe digital citizen with a well-managed and appropriately curated online identity.

Here in Australia, the NSW DET is notorious as a particularly stringent restricter of access to hardware, software and the Internet. The people at the Department have obviously not read the report from their British colleagues at the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, whose report, The safe use of new technologies, released in February this year noted in particular that in respect to locked down systems such as those being released under the laptops for schools program here:

“this approach had disadvantages in the schools visited. As well as taking up time and detracting from learning, it did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.”

Far better to teach some responsible behaviors and technical skills in order to manage the tools properly.

Additionally, the same report noted that with respect to managed, but not locked down systems, including hardware, software and Internet access, that an environment of collaboration and sharing, where responsibility was given and expected to be taken that it:

“…[provided] them with richer learning experiences; and [enabled them] to bridge the gap between systems at school and the more open systems outside school.”

In other words, blocking access to the Internet, and particularly to social tools — the parts that form the third places in the network — may ultimately prove more distracting — and potentially more dangerous — to students.

We hear, more often perhaps than we like, about how difficult it is to engage kids with technology. I don’t think we should be surprised at all. After all, the moment they enter class, we make it abundantly clear that the core piece of technology that connects them into the network, their mobile phones, is anathema to the learning experience. This too has been given the lie in several pieces of research. One particular case in the US, mobile phones, ubiquitous amongst students, are used as a teaching tool, providing access to teaching resources of various sorts and being used as a way to notify students of work due. This school finds they have less misuse of the technology than if they banned it.

And of course, this becomes progressively more difficult as students get older. You won’t find an adult educator who can successfully get a class to switch off their devices. Far better to have students use them productively in class than sneaking furtive use when your back is turned.

Next, let’s look at the way kids learn and the benefits available to teachers through the network of sharing.

For teachers, as much as students, the network or organisations and individuals available to them extends now well beyond the classroom, the school and even the city you live in. Failing to take advantage of this network, placing yourself both as the hub of your own network and as simply a point in the multitude of other connected networks, does you a great disservice.

Imagine this network; you are connected to your peers through shared experience, knowledge and understanding, your students are connected to each other by the same network, you and the students are connected. And that network then extends out through a multitude of nodes, each providing a slightly difference perspective, or pool of knowledge or set of experiences. This network, which, given its scale, might as well be infinite, extends to parents, the community. The classroom stops being four walls, some desks and chairs. The physical construct becomes as irrelevant as the intellectual one. Neither hold any longer.

The class, no longer bound by a room, can observe itself from the outside, or observe and participate in any other event or happening. The potential richness of this experience is limitless. Equally, the outside can observe the class, in context, in real time or after. Parents can see the magic happen.

Today, Hannah’s learning environment is the entire world. Arguably it’s larger than that. More specifically, it’s this — Hannah’s learning environment is the hyperconnected world she finds herself a part of on a constant basis. She’s connected continually to experiences and groups from which she learns and contextualizes. Most of those are not mediated in a classroom environment, and many of them are amongst her peers. This will become more so as her ability to socialise and collaborate with her peers increases in complexity and becomes more refined.

As a group they, and others like them, are entirely collaborative, conversational and community focused. She’s connected into these learning experiences on a constant basis through mobile phones, her iPod, the tools she uses like wikis, blogs, online bookmarking and social networks, and any one of the several ‘Net-connected devices she encounters during the course of her day. Often, those experiences are massively parallel — IM and text, while reading or editing something online and listening to something else or conversing with the group in the room. Hannah and her peers are a part of an environment beyond the classroom that empowers them and puts them in control. That allows them to follow the white rabbit down the hole of connectedness until their curiosity is sated. This form of learning is also multi-directional. Hannah teaches as much as she learns. The network responds to her as much as she to it. They are, as Don Tapscott puts it, “the ‘Net Generation”.

Arguably, her learning experiences in the classroom are becoming progressively more irrelevant as the learning experiences she undertakes beyond the class — deliberately or coincidentally — more directly prepare her and equip her with the skills she will need to successfully tackle the 21st Century. She is more connected to, and more contextually so, to what digital ethnographer Kevin Kelly termed “The One” than any generation before her.

In generations to come, this will be seen as natural. Right now, it presents an enormous challenge to many educators and education bureaucrats and policymakers in the political arena as they struggle to keep up. Certainly the Prime Minister and Education Minister, as keenly interested as they are in education, by no means envisioned this as their Education Revolution.

This approach is as accessible to teachers as it is to students. You can and ought to participate in the richness the network affords. Your own literacy in the tools, the culture and the network itself is a critical component of your ability to mentor students through the emotional, social and technical maze that they are navigating. If you are left behind, you will, in short order, decrease in relevance to modern learning. That places you in an unenviable position; unable to adequately mentor your students and teach them not only the content of their class but what it means in the greater context of their existence as humans in the 21st Century, you may find yourself and your outdated skills consigned to the same scrapheap the Industrial Age classroom model finds itself.

To move to where I propose teaching and learning needs to go is no trivial task. It will require a singular will and no small amount of reimagining what the school experience looks like. But we’ve done this before, in so many parts of society, including schools when we transformed from the unstructured learning and one-to-one transfer of skills largely based around the family farm to industrialised society where we went off to work leaving our children in the charge of others to be taught. This will be no less a leap.

But now, we have the network not only to learn from, but to help us. Its value is manifold. We can use the network and the sharing we do on it to transform education as much as we use it as a tool of education.

Imagine the possibilities.

Cluetrains, Conversations, Trust and Openness

When you’re given just 20 minutes to cover the notion of the more open business models the proliferation of social networks encourage, there’s not a great deal of time to waffle. Hopefully I didn’t the other day, when I gave this talk to close off the speaker sessions at the Technology to Drive Growth workshop at the National Growth Summit conference in Sydney.

Today’s business world suffers many problems, many of them seemingly intractable through their complexity and frequently changing scope. These problems now have a name, wicked problems.

A 2008 survey by Neutron Group and Stanford University asked 1500 executives to cite the most complex of the wicked problems they faced. Looking at just the third:

Innovating at the increasing speed of change

we can see that change is a big issue.

The increasing pervasiveness of access to the Internet and the empowerment that access places in the hands of the stakeholders of a business – staff, executives, stakeholders and especially customers – makes business innovation a key differentiator today. If we go online to look for a new fridge, or computer, or flowers for Valentine’s Day, or a holiday, there’s so much on offer that we need a better way of making a choice. Often, we’ll choose the most innovative provider of that service or product.

But what do I mean by innovative? A few year back, everyone was defining this in terms of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. I think that’s a good starting point. We do want remarkable products. But flowers are flowers, right? A fridge is a fridge? A book from Amazon is the same as the book from Borders. So it’s rarely the product itself that’s the differentiating point.

The differentiation point is, in part, reputation and customer focus. Which provider do my trusted, expert friends recommend. What is it about the provider that they recommend? Is it incredible customer service? Is it the little touches like chocolate mints in amongst my hardware orders (like one online store I shop at does)? Is it that they put a human face on an otherwise faceless company?

Let’s focus on the last of those points, because it goes very directly to the point of one of my favorite books, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and to the heart of what I’m talking about.

While Cluetrain presents us with a comprehensively argued 95 theses for better, more human business, I want to focus on just the first. Markets are conversations.

Anyone whose ever been to a fresh produce market in Australia, or open air markets anywhere in the world will understand this completely. Things get done in business in these situations because people talk to each other and act in a human way.

Market segmentation, one of the favorite tools of businesses over a certain size, divides their potential customer base into demographics they can then target their sales and marketing efforts at. I’d argue that while you might want to do this to understand what your market consists of, it gives you no insight into who your market consists of. And, in today’s connected, ever-changing world, we need to know who we’re providing our product or service to because they are so empowered by the hyperconnected world they live in that the market segments break down.

Every customer is now a market segment of one.

And you better know them. Personally. And treat them like a human being.

Because, it’s a demonstrated fact that if you don’t, it’s going to backfire on you in a big way. You could suffer irreparable brand and business damage if you fail to treat your customers like humans.

So you do you behave like a human business and treat your customers the way they frankly deserve to be treated; as humans?

Start by listening. Listen online and off. Make sure you know what people are saying about you, about your products and about your competitors.

And, when you hear something, reach out. Ask “how can we make this better?” or “how can we improve?” or, perhaps unusually, point out someone saying bad about a competitor to that competitor and let them know they need to fix it. If they don’t, then it’s your chance to get that customer. After you’ve been the good guy first.

It’s not that hard. It’s just a case of ensuring that in all things, you continue to act like a human, instead of that inhuman construct we’ve managed to create for ourselves, the business. Sometimes, that acting like a human leads to good that you can’t immediately measure in dollars but that has a profound impact (BTW, great job on this Telstra. You won a lot of friends for this).

At the core of behaving like a human in business is the notion of trust. Particularly trusting your staff, every one of them, to be a face for the business and empowering them to take action on behalf of the business to do good, to solve problems and to make sure that issues go to the person in the business who knows how to solve them.

And trust your customers. They know better than you what they want from your offering. So ask them. Not as you’re about to take something to market, but all through the process from concept to delivery. It’s like having a 24x7x365 focus group on hand. And you know what? Do something nice for the customers that helped, something human, if they made the product better by their ideas.

Business has always been about keeping secrets. About hiding your ideas. But what happens when you switch that on its head. You don’t necessarily have to go the whole radical transparency route, but what about exposing your ideas, your thinking, and the humans that work for you? Make these things your point of differentiation. Make them the things that keep you innovative as you adopt an approach that keeps you agile and razor focussed on delivering the best products and services you can.

When you hide, and keep unnecessary secrets from your customers (of course there will always be things you don’t reveal – but think about what they should be), your failures can, and will go global as disgruntled customers, some of them with mighty big soapboxes, point out your failings. You get what you deserve.

It is far better to be out there, being human, being trusting and trustworthy, being open. Wouldn’t you rather be a part of the conversation than the subject of it?

I believe by combining these factors into a formula, we can have a little fun with this, and also make some sense. So here it is.

Conversation + Trust + Openness = Delight, or more simply C + T + O = :D

Focus on that. Imagine.

Only Connect

The presentation below is the slide deck from my opening keynote at yesterday’s AIS NSW ICT Integration Conference 2009: eConsumers or eProducers?

It went over very well. The teachers and other educators seemed enthused by my contribution to their event. A sound file, that I will sync with the slides, is coming.

The title, from the dedication in E.M. Forster‘s Howard’s End urges that we “live in fragments no longer“. Pretty amazing for something from 100 years ago. In education, that we teach and educate in fragments no longer is a key success factor to my mind.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

Rethink. Reimagine.

I gave the opening keynote yesterday at Michael Specht’s HR Futures conference. Michael asked me to speak on the recent trip I made to the US to attend TED and reflect of the experience, what I learned there and it’s applicability to business and HR. I was only too happy to help Michael out. He’s a friend, a great guy and I was interested in the subject matter.

While I’ve given a closing keynote before, I’ve never opened a conference. I felt more than a little challenged and worked really hard on the presentation. A Slideshare embed doesn’t do it justice.

Unlike previous talks I’ve done, I didn’t tightly script this one. Instead I used thematic notes. I had many themes I wanted to touch on, an activity I wanted to do with the audience, and the ability to riff off their reaction to what I was saying. I think this arguably worked better than previous talks I’ve done.

So, the “transcript” below doesn’t really reflect exactly what I said, more the themes I talked about.

In the world of business, we’re facing some major dilemmas. Openness, engagement, trust, motivation – these are big issues. Today is about these things. Today, during every talk, I want you to do something you don’t always do – in work or in life. I want you to be present. To the speakers. To the subject matter being discussed. To each other.

So, it’s time to…

Think and then rethink. Imagine and then reimagine.

From the TED web site:

“TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.
The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

Let’s take a look at a video showing what TED is all about. You can’t have these 4 minutes back, but you won’t regret it either.

The apparently unreasonable expectation you build in your mind about the power and buzz at TED actually isn’t close. It’s incredibly empowering to spend four days immersed in people that believe all things are possible, that “no” is not an option, that all problems are fixable. And the attendees are diverse – scientists, politicians, artists, actors, marketers, environmentalists, philanthropists, techies and yes, HR practitioners.

These people are switched on to something important, and what it is is a belief in their own power and the power they have as a group to effect change.

They are also notable for one other thing – they are present. To each other, the topic and something else (but we’ll get to that shortly).

Now, let’s look at three of what I consider the most important talks at TED this year…

First, Juan Enriquez on The Ultimate Reboot. How is a life scientist relevant to business, you ask? It’s about this.

We live in a time of massive, rapid, nearly unmanageable change. Politics. War. Markets. Climate. How do we cope? We change too. We reboot. Everything – law, policy, business, family, government. Everything. But how do we cope?

Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, offers hope.

(At this point, I did the Happy Birthday to You exercise we did at TED. Lucky it was nearly Miriam‘s birthday. Smiles all around.)

What is this all about? What does it teach us? What it teaches us is about choice. In all situations in life, says Benjamin Zander, we essentially have three choices. The first is anger. It’s not constructive. It’s immensely destructive. As is the second option, resignation. There is in fact, only one positive choice we can make, and it’s this…

Possibility. In all things, to be successful, we must see the possibility. We must ask, “what can I do to make the situation better?” To improve the world. Help someone. Achieve a result.

Anger and resignation seem to rule much of the world of business. The carrot option is far too rare – reward, achievement, recognition, outcome. The default is stick – penalty, put-down, layoffs. Or possibly worse – the curse of business as usual, where we just step along, never seekeing to be better, or change what we do. They are the wrong choices in almost every case.

Barry Schwartz delivered one of the final talks of TED 2009. It was my favorite talk of the entire conference. He also proposed a reboot. A reboot of business.

We’ve all heard that common sense is not so common. And so it is with business. We operate in an environment where bureaucracy rules. Largely for the sake of bureaucracy and to perpetuate control in the hands of irrelevant feifdoms – of petty controlling fools who control for the sake of their own fragile egos.

Barry Schwartz says we need to reboot all our businesses to operate with a new morality. One where bureaucracy no longer reigns. Where a kinder, practical wisdom guides us to the right decision, not the decision the policies say we should make. Practical wisdom, as defined by Aristotle, is:

“The capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life.”

What is policy but a guiding framework? There are always exceptions to rules. With our newfound practical wisdom, we do the right thing before we do what the policy says.

We must change the rules of the way we do business. Pacific Brands showed this week they do not understand this. A $150M loss and 1850 jobs and lives flushed down the toilet. It’s not just the global financial crisis. Something has been rotten for a long time for those number to come into play. Where was the practical wisdom?

So what does this mean for you? For your business? You probably need a reboot as well.

Engagement is key. You. Your people. The work your company does. Engaged and making decisions tempered by practical wisdom. And here’s why.

So what attributes do we need in our businesses to make this a reality?

We need leadership. Impassioned, visionary leadership. Leadership that takes us on a journey with them to a place the entire organisation can share. It’s much more then the ducks in a row management (somethimes that’s badly done, too) that many mistake for leadership. I want a Gary Vaynerchuk or a Sir Richard Branson far more than I want a Jack Welch.

We must empower our people to make decisions, to take actions and to resolve issues without having to negotiate a maze of pointless rules. We must trust them to behave like adults and not treat them like children. Treating people like children – blocking actions, imposing needless rules – encourages them to behave like children.

We must make work deeply meaningful. Both in terms of it’s larger meaning in the world as well as on the micro scale of the job. Context in and context out. In isolation, nothing works properly. The pre-9/11 intelligence community and the discoveries since are a prime example of decontextualised busy work leading nowhere (or, indeed, to disaster).

We have undergone a fundamental economic shift from making to knowing. We need creative ideas to continue to improve. We need to look at ourselves and our employees in terms of the value they are yet to create, not the value they have already created (and has been paid for). We need to reach the edges and explore our organisations for undiscovered ideas and insight.

We must remove “dumbplexity” from business. Most meetings and even projects have no defined resolution or action – except to have another meeting. This is not wise. Nor purposeful or useful. Change it.

The greatest hurdle to progressive business today are siloed organisations and kingdom keepers. Get rid of them. And you will if you shift your business. Change your DNA. Make openness a feature. Allow connection to take place. Inside and outside.

We are trained to fear failure and don’t experiment at work. But what if the next idea was the best one ever. The aprocyphal story goes that the successful version of the incandescent light globe was Edison’s 1000th attempt. In business, we must be like Edison and fail gloriously many times.

Never, ever forget that people are your greatest asset. Pacific Brands did. As have every other organisation working only for the mighty dollar and laying off large numbers during current times. So what do we do?…

We must do everything in our power to empower and encourage the conversation. Without it, we lose our humanity. With conversation, we can come together in small numbers and collaborate. We work together for a better outcome today. A better project tomorrow. A better company next month. A better world.

Once we collaborate, we can learn to live in that world and have community. People working together. Playing together. Wanting to be together. Motivated, engaged, loyal. It’s always about people.

Without people, the community that is our workplaces fail and we have no companies. Without our people, we can’t serve our clients or stakeholders. Without our people. Our community. We fail. At everything.

I want you to take everything I’ve spoken about today and return to work with it in your minds. Nothing is unfixable. We don’t always need to retrench, we need to operate morally. Anything is possible if we care about it enough.

What I want you to do in every situation is imagine then reimagine. Think and then rethink.

Connect.ed – The story of a girl

My closing keynote from eLearning08, the primary event on the NSW Australian Flexible Learning Framework calendar.

I want today to tell you a story. Like many stories, our hero is a young girl. She will face challenges and adversity. But she will also achieve great things. She might even find herself a humorous sidekick.

So who is this girl? And what is her journey? She is girl on the verge of the journey into adulthood. A journey that will take her through high school and perhaps to university or vocational training of some sort.

That girl is my daughter, Hannah. She is 11 years old. She is about to finish 5th Grade. In 2010, Hannah will enter high school. It will be the six years she spends there that are perhaps the most important years of her time in formal education, for they will establish the foundation of the skills she will need to carry into further education, into the world of work and beyond into her career and any additional education she might choose to undertake.

As Hannah’s parent, as a business person with more than 20 years of work experience, and as a potential employer, I am only too aware of a number of issues surrounding her education and the working world she will ultimately join that concern me greatly.

Not least of those issues is how the education system and governments in Australia – Federal and State – are dealing, or indeed not dealing, with the increasing need for students of today to have an education that is connected. An education that focuses on the tectonic shift in the nature of society transformed by the emergence of the World Wide Web. An education that understands that the global economy and work were transformed fundamentally in the late 20th Century from an economy of making things to an economy of knowing things. An economy of conversation, collaboration and community.

Society is now connected in a way that changes the game. The village is truly global and even in the Third World hyperconnectedness is making waves. More than this, the classroom and the material taught there is losing relevance as students everywhere, from primary through to post-graduate and vocational education take control of their own learning experiences, collaborating with each other and in social networks that foster creativity, innovation, big thinking and independence of viewpoint.

Educators and education policymakers risk increased marginalisation and further irrelevance if they fail to move quickly. To adapt and adopt to a world that is streaking away from them as the connected – from primary school students to Indian Ocean fishermen – follow the links and learn from each other in a true global village that empowers and permits them to be as productive and innovative as they can and forgives or even ignores the notion of being wrong in favor of the idea of failing fast, cheap and often.

At Kansas State University, Professor Michael Wesch runs a digital ethnography program that explores the changes being wrought upon our culture by the Internet. Let’s take a look at something he and his students made about a year ago.

The quote from Marshall McLuhan at the start of the video is particularly relevant. Let’s look at it.

“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th Century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects and schedules.”
Marshall McLuhan, 1967

1967… That’s the year before I was born. So what’s going wrong and what’s happening now?

When Hannah went into class this morning, the environment she entered was fundamentally little different to that which my grandfather experienced in his first day of school in Wellington, nearly 100 years ago. Or that of my father in Devonport 60 years ago. Or mine, in 1974. Chairs, desks, silence, the tools that keep you connected turned off or at best scarce, the teacher in front of the class.

It was then and is now a largely disjointed, form-and-function driven environment where at best, only the very finest teaching draws a few of the virtually countless contextual threads together. It’s an environment designed to produce compliant, 19th Century factory workers. Workers who were a part of a model where one held the same job for life, where creative and lateral thinking were discouraged and where you were expected to simply do and follow orders.

But the world doesn’t work that way any more.

Today, Hannah’s learning environment is the entire world. Arguably it’s larger than that. More specifically, it’s this – Hannah’s learning environment is the hyperconnected world she finds herself a part of on a constant basis. She’s connected continually to experiences and groups from which she learns and contextualizes. Most of those are not mediated in a classroom environment, and many of them are amongst her peers. This will become more so as her ability to socialise and collaborate with her peers increases in complexity and becomes more refined.

As a group they, and others like them, are entirely collaborative, conversational and community focused. She’s connected into these learning experiences on a constant basis through mobile phones, her iPod, the tools she uses like wikis, blogs, online bookmarking and social networks, and any one of the several ‘Net-connected devices she encounters during the course of her day. Often, those experiences are massively parallel – IM and text, while reading or editing something online and listening to something else or conversing with the group in the room. Hannah and her peers are a part of an environment beyond the classroom that empowers them and puts them in control. That allows them to follow the white rabbit down the hole of connectedness until their curiosity is sated. This form of learning is also multi-directional. Hannah teaches as much as she learns. The network responds to her as much as she to it. They are, as Don Tapscott puts it, “the ‘Net Generation”.

Arguably, her learning experiences in the classroom are becoming progressively more irrelevant as the learning experiences she undertakes beyond the class – deliberately or coincidentally – more directly prepare her and equip her with the skills she will need to successfully tackle the 21st Century. She is more connected to, and more contextually so, to what digital ethnographer Kevin Kelly termed “The One” than any generation before her. In generations to come, this will be seen as natural. Right now, it presents an enormous challenge to many educators and education policymakers in the political arena as they struggle to keep up with those wacky kids.

It is a challenge for which they seem ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Consequently, we are seeing significant resistance amongst some educators and politicians to the paradigm shift that must take place in order to build the education system we need. Just this week, we saw further evidence from government and educators of the chasm of misunderstanding of the new paradigm for learning.

With new funding approved, the NSW Government is only too happy to give a laptop to every child in years 7 to 12, taking advantage of the Federal Government’s laughably misnamed Education Revolution. But what is NSW Education Minister Verity Firth crowing about? She’s crowing about the fact that these machines will, in effect, be crippled by preventing the students who have them from connecting to their peers and social groups – where they do the vast majority of their learning. She took singular delight in noting:

“We don’t want these kids to be using these computers for the not-so-wholesome things that can be on the net. And they won’t be able to because essentially the whole server is coming through the Department of Education.”

How wrong Ms Firth is. And how deliciously ill-informed.

Of course, this will fail. The blocking systems will be subject to Gilmore’s Law within days, if not hours. The kids will figure out a way to route around the damage so that they remain connected. And what about when they are in cafés, or at home, or public institutions beyond school walls?

And people like me? We’ll encourage and help the kids break the security. Why? Because it’s when we are connected to each other that we are at our best as a species. When we are engaged in a conversation with our communities, our collaborators, that we are able to most actively seed fertile minds. To reach into the hidden spaces and draw forth the intangible and form it like clay into ideas, and innovations, and the next big thing.

Let’s look to our young hero, Hannah, again for a moment. Hannah began using the Internet at two years of age. She has had her own email address, unchecked by me or her mother, since she was eight. She has administrator level access to the network at home and unfiltered connection to the Internet. And she knows how to use that access.

Contrary to the rantings of Stephen Conroy, of the views of moral stormtroopers like Clive Hamilton, former Executive Director of The Australia Institute, or of Minister Firth, Hannah has never encountered any of this “not-so-wholesome” content on the Internet. She has never downloaded a virus, encountered an unwanted person, viewed porn inadvertently or deliberately. Yet she uses the Internet every day, so by the estimation of some, she should be repeatedly traumatised by inappropriate material, be stalked by a veritable crowd of unsuitable individuals and be someone who is incapable of coherent thought, of spelling or stringing a sentence together and of engaging with others in face-to-face situations.

Of course, this is demonstrably not the case. Hannah is an engaging young person, able to hold her own in conversation with adults and her peers alike. She speaks, spells and writes and does math above her grade level. She enjoys socialising – online and off. Her ability to do most of these things has less to do with her classroom (although many of the fundamentals were taught there) and more to do with her natural affinity, like many people of her generation, to engage with each other in a more human, more village-centric style of conversation, collaboration and community.

Of course, this engagement is mediated via a different tool set than it was before the Industrial Revolution, when humans last really engaged this way. Back then, it was the mead hall or the village green. Now, it’s a much larger place – the Internet.

It’s my view that, generally speaking, the education system is falling a long way behind in terms of providing learners of any age with the type of education they need. I’d like to look specifically at a number of the issues I believe need resolution.

Connected and unfiltered.

From the time the World Wide Web became a public reality rather than a cool toy of the military research establishment, education has become progressively more connected. Yes, our schools are largely online, but the interpretation of online used in education is pretty much a joke.

When our kids walk into the class, what do we do? We tell them to disconnect! We make them turn off their mobile phones and give them limited access to a network that is so tightly filtered it verges on censorship. We force them into a structure that no longer reflects the way society operates. This approach fails to use the way students today learn to enhance the learning process. Rather, it disconnects and decontextualizes the experience.

We take away that which defines our students and the way they live – their hyperconnectedness. Legitimate resources are blocked because they contain words referring to genitalia, or are blocked because they fail to pass someone’s appropriateness filter. What if I want to study the ethnography of White Supremacists? What if I need to research sexual health issues?

Educators often seem to find themselves behind the 8-ball. It appears that there is a serious lack of the right sort of teacher training in using online resources. I don’t believe this is deliberate; more a matter of knowledge, time and understanding. But it is an issue of note.

It’s often the case that the kids are ahead of the teachers in their skill level at finding and exploiting online resources. This was driven home to me this year when it was made apparent at parent-teacher interviews by Hannah’s teacher that she was far and away amongst the most online- and tech-savvy students in the school. None of those skills were learned in class.

Use of online resources is limited by computer availability. Students are afforded time online or even just on a computer in a strictly limited way. In the worst of cases, there are too few computers in a school for there to be several in every class. This execrable situation is arguably the stuff that should be solved by the Federal Government’s Education Revolution. Only, with approaches like those of Stephen Conroy and Verity Firth, it doesn’t look too revolutionary to me. It’s barely evolutionary.

Putting this into perspective for Hannah, she and her peers are being denied frequent enough access to what may be the most revolutionary, most paradigm-shifting cultural change in human history – hyperconnectedness. Without adequate access to online information and connectedness between individuals and groups, they risk emerging into the workforce lacking core skills in discovering and consuming knowledge, in collaboration and in wide-ranging critical thinking.

Contextual.

In a world where knowledge is the stuff of most jobs – including jobs like artist, farmer, fisherman and coal miner – the ability to rapidly contextualize and draw wide-ranging conclusions about information is critical. We need to see the big picture

We must be willing to be and accept others like Alice – insatiably curious followers of the white rabbit down the hole. For it is down the rabbit hole where the bigger picture that will really build our understanding of problems lies. It is there, amongst the talking flowers, the Cheshire Cat and all the madness of the Tea Party and the Queen that the exploratory learners will see the bigger picture and draw in the diverse threads that let them discover the next big idea.

Knowledge workers in today’s world need to be fuzzy and T-shaped. That is, having a core of strong, deep skills, but having a wide ranging and insatiable thirst for more information, wider-ranging skills and more context and meaning for what they do. These skills, fundamental to the new economy of the 21st Century, aren’t being taught enough. Granted, the question of how to make a fuzzy person is a tricky one to solve, but immersive, contextual, connected education is a starting point for making it happen.

I want Hannah to be as fuzzy and T-shaped as she can be. I want her to be able to look at a problem and see the 10 other problems that define it. To try things just so she can get what a problem or person is all about. For her to be able to gather the threads together in a storm of fuzzy, apparently illogical thinking to solve problems in an innovative and creative way, unfettered by thinking either inside or outside of any theoretical box. In fact, she should throw the box away entirely as Step 1!

Engaging.

The classroom, tutorial or lecture theatre is still largely run on an Industrial Age model where learners are taught to behave like factory automatons. The classroom environment makes them ready for a job on the production line, or in a faceless cube farm. It’s anti-creative and busywork focused and not at all designed to equip our children for a world where bursty thinking, creative knowledge work is ever-increasingly the norm. Take a look at Sir Ken Robinson’s talk from TED 2006 if you’re not convinced.

A parallel issue with classroom engagement is that of kids who are unsuited for one reason or another to structured, classroom learning.

My friend, Harriet’s son is gifted. Not dramatically different from other kids, he is able to attend a normal school, has friends, engages with people quite normally most of the time. Yet, in a blog post she wrote responding to an early version of the thoughts in this talk, she describes a child nearly destroyed by an education system that fails to engage him or engage with him:

“The… imagination which creates such complex images, stories, songs and machines is becoming a problem. If you can’t fill in worksheets then you can’t be intelligent. As a result, the small sparkly boy  escapes to more interesting places in his imagination.

He is officially becoming a ‘problem’.”

“…parents “INFORMED” that sparkly boy is eligible for gifted education – but there’s a small problem… disorganisation. It is apparently impossible to be intelligent without being super organized, being able to multi-task, track multiple subject areas, and reference officially.”

“By learning to build bridges he is able to use his intelligence and skills to connect people.  The world is once again an intriguing and fascinating place. He has confidence in his ability to make a difference.  He feels his own place in the world and works collaboratively on issues which he feels are important to his world and himself… His adventures and his risks are real, exciting and relate to the future he is constructing for himself.”

But it’s not just our kids, it’s us too. I began and abandoned Masters’ studies this year because the classes failed to engage me adequately. By being connected and engaged beyond the formal frame of the course, I already had more information of more relevance and more currency, direct from world-recognised subject experts, available to me than that which was being presented in class. And when I attempted to introduce the leading thinkers and their work to the class, I was met with stunned silence or an “I don’t quite get it” response.

I’m not the only one. I know several people for whom the formal education process, either at school or in tertiary study, simply wasn’t viable. They were or are too curious, too well-read, “unstructured in their thinking”, unable to complete written tests, disorganised in a classroom situation. Too fuzzy. At least one of those people is now a an internationally known academic in his field.

To quote another of my colleagues, Nathanael, who is one of the smartest web development minds I know:

“I did Year 8 to 11. [I was] home-schooled for the first seven years. [I was] mostly self-taught; microbiology, quantum mechanics, [and lots more]. My four years at school and college made me dumber, stunted my creative growth and blunted my potential.”

So once more to Hannah. What does engaging mean for her? I can’t think of the number of afternoon’s I’ve asked, “Tell me about school today,” only to be answered with, “Normal,” or a low-detail description of a few activities. Yet, there are also times when I get a detailed, blow-by-blow description of everything! That should be the norm. Education needs to be exciting and relevant to each and every student. In the collaborative, hyperconnected world, everything is relevant, because everything encountered and learned from is a deliberate choice.

Dynamic, diverse and passionate.

Literacy and numeracy are unarguably critical components in a well-rounded education. But it’s not enough for several reasons. The target shouldn’t be functional literacy and numeracy, it should be deep, contextualised expertise.

As well, the notion of creative and arts subjects as lesser to literacy and numeracy is madness. In all schools, the aim should be to produce graduating students that are not only appropriately educated in many subjects, but to do so in such a way as the students are invigorated and excited by the things they are taught. And taught in such a way that during and after school, they remain insatiably curious about their worlds and what their place in it could mean.

We need more Leonardos, more Isaac Newtons, more Jared Diamonds. We need to graduate more people like polymath, Ben Dunlap, President of Wofford College in the US. Ben is a man so passionate about the diversity of the experiences he has had and learned from that you can’t help but be inspired by him. His talk at TED 2007 is truly incredible and something that all educators should watch.

It’s no longer enough to graduate people from education at any level who just get through. The world today, even in business-as-usual, needs more passionate, driven, widely experienced, contextualized life-long learners to drive the agenda – politically, socially and creatively.

Hannah’s interests are diverse. Like many 11 year old girls, she’s a fan of the Veronicas, loves cats and dresses like her friends. But she’s also an emerging explorer. I see in her a growing curiosity about the world. And I actively encourage her to follow the white rabbit wherever it may lead her.

Collaborative on as many levels as possible.

The notion of truly collaborative learning – between students, between teachers and students, between classrooms, between different schools, between different countries – began to emerge when I was at school. We had the concepts, we had the ideas, but the technology was a massive hurdle. Now, the technology has caught up and exceeded those ideas. A massively collaborative, constantly hyperconnected education is a practical and technical reality.

So why isn’t education like this completely pervasive? Why are we still mostly stuck in the classroom? Why is the entire experience not a multifaceted, collaborative, global village of contextualised learning within individual institutions and across any grouping that might be worthwhile? I think it is the very concept of education as an institutionalised practice that holds us back.

It’s things like online gaming that is teaching us leadership and team building skills. It’s editing pages on Wikipedia that help us to learn to reach consensus. It’s the always-on network of text messages, email, social networks that is helping us to build a village where everyone is our immediate neighbor. The power to collaborate easily with anyone and to make it a viable and valuable cultural and learning experience is here. Now.

For Hannah, this world just is. For the rest of us, it’s sink or swim. Too many of us, too comfortable with a world where hyperconnectedness didn’t exist seem to be choosing the sink option, or we are trying to ignore a problem we hope will go away. It’s too late. Society is connected and changed already. It’s time to join in.

My final thought is that education needs to be targeted at producing graduates equipped for 21st Century society.

In Australia and many other places, there is a massive skills shortage across many industries. It’s arguable our schools, from primary school to universities, are not adequately considering the needs of society in preparing graduates for work and worthwhile, functional participation. Issues such as the shift to knowledge work in much of business, the need for creativity and innovation, the apparent schisms between worker generations are all issues I feel are at times inadequately dealt with.

As a potential employer and more importantly as a human, I am less interested in whether someone has formal training in a particular field than if they are engaged and engaging, a big thinker, excited about their world, insatiably curious and prepared to jump in and try something new. It is far better to fail and learn from the experience than to not try and play it safe.

In today’s world, willingness to take a risk in the name of learning and broadening experience is a key factor in building a successful life and business. Too many rest on their past success and hope that this will maintain them. Meantime, the hyperconnected continue to pull ever more rapidly away as our lives become an experience in constant, connected learning and personal and cultural growth.

I want Hannah to take risks. To learn and grow from them whether those risks were successful or not. She will never be told “no” by me if she wants to try something and has a well-reasoned argument for doing it (provided it’s not illegal or a risk to her health).

My view is that there is just one critical question we should be asking our educators and the politicians responsible for education policy and programs:

“What are you actually doing – now, tomorrow, next year – that will ensure our children are equipped with the best connected tools, inspired and engaged by the diversity of their education, taught by the best possible teachers and equipped with all the right skills to enter society as a valuable, contributing, collaborative member?”

For Hannah’s sake, for the future of the type of education I believe she needs to thrive, I’m not interested in policy exploration, white papers, committees and the like. I’m interested in positive, measurable action.

Imagine.

Enterprise 2.0 – A new Age of Aquarius?

It’s two weeks after the event, but here are my slides and notes from my presentation at Edge of the Web. Apologies for the delay.

To those for whom some of this looks familiar, it shares an amount of common content with my recent paper at the BTELL EA conference. The audiences were very different, so the common content wasn’t an issue. I actually think this version is a little clearer and more succinct (for a very loose definition of succinct).

The world of business is experiencing a groundswell of near tectonic change. Products must be better and more competitively priced, faster to market and available to a wider customer base than ever before. All of this in a world that haas seen a shift in financial markets away from the boom of the early 21st Century to a position far more like that of business nearly a generation ago – a world of uncertainty and potentially dire economic times.

Today, economic Darwinism is becoming a reality. Only the strong, the adaptable and the quick will survive. That survival will depend on your business and its relationships with employees, stakeholders, clients and customers being strong, human, open and real.

Customers, stakeholders, consumers, clients and particularly our employees expect, quite rightly, to have a hand in the way your organisation operates. We need to be aware of that, and of the growing power of each of those groups as consumer activism and personal branding become significant considerations in our interactions with them.

The consumer base is no longer passive. They’ve read The Cluetrain Manifesto and expect to have a conversation with you. Your push messages no longer hold sway in their minds. You do not control the message or the medium. The life and reputation of your business if very much in your customers hands. And they want a voice.

Quite rightly, they expect your products to be the embodiment of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

Your up and coming managers and your smartest employees have voraciously consumed the words of Fish!, of Wikinomics, of Made to Stick and of The Starfish and the Spider. They expect their workplaces to be engaging, innovative, open to input and new ideas and to give them appropriate autonomy to get the job done in a way that suits them. Which isn’t necessarily 40 hours a week in a cube farm.

The need for revolutionary innovation and collaboration throughout our organisations and effective management of knowledge workers is a driving force for change. As is the need to attract, engage in meaningful work and retain over time a skilled (and skilled in the right things) workforce.

Taylor’s 19th Century model, designed for Industrial Revolution factories – where the employee is a simple and uninformed cog in the machine – is dead. Efficiency is not gained through presence at a desk. Indeed, efficiency is hardly the right focus. Rather, effectiveness ought to be your goal.

Is your business designed for effectiveness? Are your people able to work whhen and how suits them, keeping them engaged in exciting, meaningful work and connected and collaborating with like minds right to the edges of your business?

We are at a tipping point. One where we have just two choices; business as usual and the accompanying inevitable crash, or a reboot.

That reboot will change our businesses dramatically.

That change will bring about organisations where empowerment, sharing, open communication and a preparedness to fail openly, fast, cheaply and often are the core for a model of success. These businesses will be a more human place that envisages workplaces, both formal and informal, as exciting, collaborative, engaging places to be. Old world businesses, where walls, gates, silos and unnecessary control are already dead. They just don’t realise it yet.

But what will bring about this change? What’s doing it already?

What we’re talking about is a set of cultural, organisational, leadership and technological changes that are usually termed Enterprise 2.0. Comfortable, or at the very least more capable of managing technological change, rather than understanding and empowering people, many businesses are coming at this problem from the technology angle. It’s the wrong place to start.

Enterprise 2.0, or enterprise social computing, is more about enabling your business to be swift and adaptable, to have open, empowering communication and collaboration and to be innovative in dealing with product and service offerings. These are very human problems. The most successful businesses were already doing this stuff. It’s only now the technology has caught up to the need that we’re seeing the ability for business to change in a revolutionary way.

We keep hearing that these practices and tools are social in nature. About a more human-centric way of doing things. About a return to the village and networks where wisdom, expertise and knowledge count for more than some box on the org chart.

There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about what Enterprise 2.0 actually means. So let’s clarify some of that meaning.

First, adoption of Enterprise 2.0 culture, processes and tools in your organisation is no panacea for the problems you may be facing. And it won’t bring about an epiphany in your business tomorrow. This path is fraught with risk. There is a potentially huge amount of organisational change to be led and managed.

That change will inevitably touch almost every part of your business – HR, Marketing, Sales, Comms, Finance, Production, IT and the C-suites on the top floor. You need a thorough strategy and implementation plan in place. Adopting Enterprise 2.0 approaches in your organisation is something that affects management and people strategy, technology strategy and almost everything else you do.

That said, while you should be careful in your Enterprise 2.0 adventure, it’s no cause for panic. The sky is very definitely not falling. This will not bring about unfettered leaks of corporate data through the firewall, nor will it mean people sit around all day wasting time grooming their Facebook profiles.

Those not ready for this change – the micromanagers, those for whom heads-down-backside-up work is the only way, the fat cats and tenured managers comfortable in their corner offices – they  will have you believe that it’s the end of civilisation itself. Dogs and cats living together in harmony stuff.

Hardly.

Yes, adopting Enterprise 2.0 tools and techniques will bring about some major changes – culturally, organisationally and technically. But well thought out strategy and equally careful implementation will make it entirely doable.

We’ve all heard of Web 2.0. Some of us even think we know how to define it.

Let’s look at what is considered one one of the most definitive explanations of Web 2.0 – the one laid out by publisher and analyst Tim O’Reilly way back in October 2005 in his article What Is Web 2.0?

Tim’s first assertion is that for Web 2.0 applications, the Web is the platform. What this means is that we’re no longer in client-server land.

But it’s more powerful that that. By using the Web as the deployment platform, as the carrier for the signals the applications generate, you can, as Tim O’Reilly says, “Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.”

This is an incredibly big assertion, and it carries an equally big, and perhaps more powerful effect. By using the Web as delivery platform – whether the World Wide Web, or just the internal web provided by your corporate network, you expose opportunities and information to a far richer ecosystem; one where users are self-organising and self empowering, one where your ideas, and the ideas of others, and the knowledge you collectively generate are available to the very edges of the network.

Indeed this approach is something we’re seeing more and more.

Let’s look briefly at the web-based ecosystem for acidlabs

I use applications on the Web every day for a multitude of things – my email is hosted on Google Apps, as is my calendar. I host photos with Flickr. I manage my travel with TripAdvisor, TripIt and Dopplr all working together harmoniously. I do project management with BaseCamp. I’m permanently connected to my accounts – and my accountant through Saasu and track my time use with 88 Miles. I keep all my conference presentations at Slideshare. I host videos of my conference talks on my own YouTube channel. I keep up with events on Upcoming and Facebook. I don’t bother keeping a CV or Rolodex anymore – LinkedIn, Soocial and HighRise do a much better job of both those tasks than I ever did. And to keep in touch with my network – professional and personal – I use Facebook, Twitter Friendfeed and Brightkite.

Few of these tools even existed five years ago. And none of them in their present form.

What’s more, most of them are free or cheap. Looking at these tools, I spend a total of less than $1200 a year on all of them.

The second of Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 factors is the notion of the harnessing of collective intelligence. Indeed, it’s a core premise of Web 2.0 applications that there is an exponential increase in the value of both the network of contributor-users and the information in the network as new information and users are added.

As O’Reilly puts it, “Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era.”

The third of O’Reilly’s factors is data as the DNA of the application. Without good data, no application, Web 2.0 or otherwise, is of much value. Garbage in definitely equals garbage out. But quality data in is a very different beast indeed when leveraged well by the network of users.

Flexibility of data, too, is a core aspect of this competency. Data needs to be freed for consumption via APIs so that it can be mashed up and repurposed by other applications and the multitude of end users. As O’Reilly says, “Database management is a core competency of Web 2.0 companies… [but often] allow users to take control of how data is displayed on their computer.”

Monolithic projects with two-year lifecycles are dead. The groundswell emerges, matures and evolves so quickly that an agile (not necessarily in the development methodology sense) and innovative approach to understanding the marketplace and the needs of business is a prerequisite to building and developing applications in a 2.0 world.

Applications need to be launched with core functionality quickly and evolved and matured just as quickly. All the time taking into consideration the needs of the user base as a key factor.

Failure to consider users and their explicit needs is guarantee of failure and is a frequently identified key factor in those IT projects that in Australia and around the world, fail as much as 70 per cent of the time. How many bad implementations of grand scale enterprise applications have you seen? I’ve seen plenty.

My friend and Bostonian, Michael Krigsman of Asuret runs a well-read blog at tech web site ZDNet dedicated to exposure and analysis of such failures.

To quote O’Reilly once more, “Operations must become a core competency… Users must be treated as co-developers.”

O’Reilly touches again on the models for Web 2.0 success, big-bang projects are once again having the death knell sounded upon them. He says, “Support lightweight programming models that allow for loosely coupled systems… Think syndication, not coordination… Design for “hackability” and remixability.”

Business practices, release cycles, programming approaches, platform choices all must undergo significant change in order to achieve success. An approach that abandons slow, management-heavy practices needs to be substituted with more lightweight approaches that allow for flexibility, frequent change and release, breadth and depth of stakeholder input and light-touch management where development and business teams are allowed to get on with the job.

The notion of a single choice of platform, or even a single browser for web application delivery was always a bad idea. Today, it’s suicide.

In Africa and Asia, and increasingly in the West, mobile devices are the go-to platform for consumption of applications. Failing to account for multi-platform, multi-device, multi-browser delivery of your application is at best, unwise, at worst, a guarantee of failure.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that your application could be consumed by an iPhone user, or on a Blackberry, an Eee PC, a TiVo, a PlayStation 3, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, or even machine-to-machine using RSS or some other form of syndication.

Equally, those same platforms could be providing data back to your applications. Are you ready for that? You should be.

Another quote, then, from Tim O’Reilly, “What applications become possible when our phones and our cars are not consuming data but reporting it? Real time traffic monitoring, flash mobs, and citizen journalism are only a few of the early warning signs of the capabilities of the new platform.”

Tim O’Reilly’s final factor for Web 2.0 applications is one of aesthetics and good user experience. I can’t think of the number of times I’ve been forced to use an awful interface or workflow because the user experience and actual user needs weren’t a core consideration of the development process.

No wonder your projects fail when they are deployed and nobody uses them because they are, frankly, unusable. Did you actually ask the users what they wanted or needed? Did you actually articulate their problems and solve them in the application? Or did you bypass that because “the users will do what they’re told” or you ran out of time to hire a decent information architect and usability expert.

Sorry, but the days of passive users that will accept the crap shovelled at them in the name of enterprise applications is over. The sooner that’s realised in many organisations, the better.

Tim’s last quote on the matter; “Companies that succeed will create applications that learn from their users, using an architecture of participation to build a commanding advantage not just in the software interface, but in the richness of the shared data.”
What all of these applications do is focus on people over process. They bring people together in a community. They empower them to communicate and collaborate in new and engaging ways.

There are a multitude of measurable benefits to working this way – a higher inclination to innovation, higher engagement and motivation of the people involved, increased ability to capture data and apply meaning to it as knowledge, greater discoverability of expertise and information. There are already several case studies showing these benefits and others.

Alongside the increased human way of working, O’Reilly talks a great deal about network effects. So what’s he on about?

A network effect describes the increase in value in a system the more users join in on it. As every new user joins, there’s an exponential increase in the value of the network for both the new user and the existing user base.

There are good mathematical and observational models to prove this. Perhaps the most important is David P Reed’s 2001 observation in Harvard Business Review on the increase in utility, particularly in social networks, when the number of two, three and larger groups are extrapolated out of a larger network.

“The value of a group-forming network increases exponentially… its implications are profound.”
David P Reed

Reed argues convincingly that eventually the network effect of potential group membership can dominate the overall economics of the system, regardless of the smallness of the network. This has big implications for the implementation of social technologies in business where knowledge networks are core to successful operation.

Web 2.0 is not Enterprise 2.0, but they are siblings. It’s a little like one being artistic, creative and a bit of a hippie, and the other being meticulous, orderly and kind of nerdy (but in a good way).

Arguably, the first mention of Enterprise 2.0 as a coherent set of tools and technologies was by Harvard Business School’s, Professor Andrew McAfee in the Spring 2006 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review; one of the world’s leading management best practice publications.

Andrew, who I had the pleasure of meeting in June this year, is a world-recognised expert on management best practice and the enterprise use of social technologies to boost innovation, implement leadership best practice and build new-world collaborative businesses.

Since the Sloan article, Andrew has continued to set the standard for analysis and thought leadership in enterprise social tool analysis.

So, what is Enterprise 2.0? What are the tools, processes, cultural factors and practices that make up this potentially revolutionary change for business in the 21st Century? How are the tools used? Where? By whom?

And what results might we see?

Put simply, Enterprise 2.0 implementations use the tools of Web 2.0 in a business-appropriate context Wikis, blogs, social networks, and other Web 2.0 applications are used inside the wall, amongst employees, to enable low-barrier collaboration across the enterprise.

A number of research projects, including most recently the McKinsey Global Survey, Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise, published in July 2008, have found an increasing use of both tools and the type of tools, the willingness to adopt across all parts of business, the range of activities being undertaken using the tools and the range of beneficial effects on business, management and leadership practices the tools are facilitating.

Enterprise 2.0, like its sibling Web 2.0, brings a more human focus to collaboration and knowledge management. The open, barrier-reducing leadership practices required for success are also strongly centered on people rather than traditional command-and-control management.

The McKinsey Global Survey also identifies a number of business and cultural changes of benefit that Enterprise 2.0 programs can bring including customer and supplier communications, recruitment, engagement and retention strategy and practice, the introduction of new roles focussed on supporting, enabling and evangelising programs and flattening of organisational hierarchies to the end of improving intra-organisational communications and collaboration.

Visibility to activity across business – effectively, removal of siloed activity – is a key factor in Enterprise 2.0 implementations. Resulting in increased discoverability of both expertise and information, visible, in-context activity streams for individuals and projects have a measurable effect on improving corporate and individual communications, increasing employee engagement and breaking down departmental walls.

With all of this activity going on, realising real benefits takes only a short time.

Several research projects as well as real-world successes have found Enterprise 2.0 projects can boost an organisation’s ability to collect and retain information. And, in particular, to contextualise that information into knowledge and to facilitate the gathering of knowledge that had previously remained tacit, stuck in people’s heads until just the right questions were asked.

Training is a virtual non-issue. Most people can become comfortably adept at using these tools with less than a hour of training. There’s actually an ongoing case study in Canada with 5th Graders. They are taught to use a wiki, as a tool for a group project involving writing, video, audio and other multimedia in less than 30 minutes of training. Are you and your staff smarter than a 5th Grader?

The human-centric approach to using Enterprise 2.0 tools allows patterns of work and processes to be emergent, introducing efficiencies that aren’t otherwise realised in a workplace where “the way we do things” is predefined and laid down.

One of the greatest impediments to productivity, innovation and program success in organisations of all types is lack of visibility to activity by the entire business. Whether it’s the result of a deliberate culture of secrecy and siloing to protect some theoretical patch, or simply a lack of communication through inaction or undeveloped skills and activity makes no difference.

The implementation of Enterprise 2.0 programs, adopting both the cultural and technical components, brings forth an opportunity to radically rethink notions of openness and visibility for work. The accompanying spread to the edges effect of openness also gives activity the opportunity to receive input from otherwise uninvolved parts of the organisation.

With open exposure of activity in programs and projects, the likelihood of duplicated effort – a huge source of wasted dollars in many businesses – is reduced. In fact, projects approaching similar problems are given the opportunity to collaborate and join far more easily.

With all of this exposure, input, innovation and reduction of waste, the opportunity to see real ROI on Enterprise 2.0 projects can be realised. It’s not immediate, but it is measurable over useful timelines.

Also, this pattern of working and the tools allow people to be more productive generally, as they work in a more natural style and, when done right, are able to be more engaged in their work. There is a significant and growing pool of research and case study evidence pointing to productivity gains through well-implemented Enterprise 2.0 programs.

Andrew McAfee’s original article came up with the mnemonic SLATES. Let’s take a quick look at each of the components.

Here’s a quick quote from Andrew’s article. Just something to chew on.

“These [tools] are part of a platform that’s readable by anyone in the company, and they’re persistent. They make an episode of knowledge work widely and permanently visible.”
Andrew McAfee

The first core component of Enterprise 2.0 is Search. Enterprise search is a frequent bugbear in many organisations. No doubt many of you will have heard cries of, “I can’t find anything on the intranet.” Good Enterprise 2.0 tools facilitate discoverability of information.

Linking – we all know the hyperlink is the heart of the World Wide Web. The same goes for your internal tools. Everything should link together so that related projects, tools, topics, people, business units or whatever are discoverable in the context of everyday activity.

Authorship -identifying the source of a piece of information or knowledge is key. How else do you know who and where to turn to when you need the next piece of the puzzle? No more anonymous white papers. Authorship also grants ownership for the creation of material to individuals, providing self-actualising factors that aid in their establishing themselves as organisation resources on their subject matter.

Tags – many of us have probably seen tools like del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia and StumbleUpon in the outside world. They allow end users to apply their own meaning to information, over and above the more considered corporate taxonomies we work with.Tagging has been found, in at least one study, to offer in excess of 70 per cent greater discoverability for information. Imagine people in your organisation finding things easily because they were tagged with words and phrases meaningful to them and the other people they work with.

Extensions – we’re talking here about the ability of smart systems and smart users to surface up the long tail of content through features such as reputation systems and “other material like this” or “people like you” algorithms.
Extension of the threads out to other sources increases the likelihood of discoverability of your information.

Signals – we’re all overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content available to us, and sifting through it can be a task so onerous as to discourage action.

Enterprise 2.0 implementations adopt inbound signaling as a way of alerting users to new and changed material that has been identified explicitly as f relevance to them. Use of email is the most basic form, but is inefficient and far less powerful than technologies like RSS.

We can see by combining the forces of Enterprise 2.0, we can build an ecosystem where users are connected to information and each other, can find it easily and are made aware of change.

Successful programs implementing Enterprise 2.0 tools can give us a radically shifted workplace where we get better, richer outcomes. But what outcomes?

The systems, the tools, push new material to users. The need to go looking is reduced.

Just as easily, users are empowered to pull data to themselves through RSS or other notification systems.

Flow, in the psychological sense is potentially increased, as employees suffer fewer distractions and interruptions, leading to higher productivity and higher engagement.

How do we make it happen?

Let’s look very briefly at some of the key findings from the McKinsey Global Survey mentioned earlier.

The Survey found that businesses that focussed tool choices around real, well-described user needs rather than reliance on a vendor or perceived need that didn’t address real user requirements had measurably greater success with their Enterprise 2.0 programs.

To quote the survey, these organisations realised “increased productivity and enablement of tacit interactions on a previously unknown scale.”

That’s compelling stuff.

The same analysis identified that businesses seeing success were also enagaging customers and suppliers in their product development. This led to better-realised products and offerings. They drew feedback from outside the organisation that the business was paying attention to customer and supplier needs, driving return business and new business by referral as well as a number of other benefits around cost-savings and client and supplier interactions.

The best knowledge or innovative ideas about something may not always reside in the product team, or marketing, or R&D. Successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations, again according to the McKinsey Global Survey, tapped into a rich ecosystem of ideas and input, both within the wall and from customers.

The final key finding to look at is a transformational change the businesses seeing success in their Enterprise 2.0 programs are realising.

These companies are not only rapidly adopting additional Enterprise 2.0 technologies over and above their original efforts, but they are using them to aid in organisational and management change – flattening structures, opening lines of communication and breaking down barriers.

None of these ideas is new. As mentioned earlier, we’re simply now at a point where the tools have finally caught up to the theory, the practices, the culture.

How many of us have read, or know of The Cluetrain Manifesto? Next year, Cluetrain will be 10 years old.

That’s right. 10 years ago we were all made aware of how changing our businesses to operate this way would bring more customers who were more satisfied with what we are doing, would attract more of the right staff who would be more motivated and engaged in their work and would transform management and leadership practice.

So what’s our problem? Why aren’t we all doing this? Why are so many of our businesses still 9-5 (or later) sausage factories where we work head-down backside-up in a state of blissful, decontextualised ignorance?

Why is it that century-old practices devised to operate factories rather than innovative, knowledge-centric businesses still predominate?

Your business and every other business you work with, have a stake in, or are a customer of, actually needs to operate focussed on people and the conversations they have.

As leaders in your organisations, it’s up to you to provide the right tools at the right time in the right context to make the jobs of the people you work with easier and more productive. You may need to change the culture, or the  management approach, or work practices and almost certainly the tools you use and how you use them.

Now, finally, we’re in a position to talk about technology and tools. Let’s take a brief look at the core pieces of the Enterprise 2.0 toolkit.

Wikis are often seen as the big bang product. A place where everyone in the organisation can get involved as much or as little as they see fit.

There are several case studies in Australia and overseas where successful wiki implementations have replaced an otherwise unused and unusable corporate intranet and, in a very exciting new case, the Australian Navy have just implemented a brand new public website using MediaWiki; the same free, Open Source, extensible platform that runs Wikipedia.

Not just the fevered rantings of millions of self-reflective, self-indulgent emo kids, blogs are a great way to actually communicate the progress and activity of your project or business unit out to your colleagues, or implement a useful customer relations channel.

The open data APIs offered by many Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 tools make mashups a reality. Far more than the dashboards of the 90s, mashups can offer real-time two-way looks into business activity, system status and corporate and market trends.

We all live in communities and engage in them. Yet we come into work and hide away in our 10m2 or less of floor space and never communicate with the rich community of thinkers and doers we work with. Enterprise 2.0 tools offering community aspects can help build the collegiate, village feel we crave for – whether it’s the lunchtime soccer club or the CEO’s Feedback Forum.

We all have favorites in our browsers, but they’re locked away and unusable by our colleagues. Bookmarking tools inside the wall – a corporate del.icio.us or ma.gnolia – can expose a vast world of information to ourselves and our colleagues as each of us discovers new and valuable knowledge we want to share.

Not quite the same as communities, but sharing aspects of them, social networks inside the wall, and across them out to our customers and suppliers, can facilitate the discovery of talent and expertise, sources of information and connections we can exploit to do our jobs better.

Let’s look at some of what are often considered “soft” benefits that can be realised by successful implementations of Enterprise 2.0 tools and practices.

Enterprise 2.0 culture and tools are equally accepting of variant work styles. The busy, 8-hours-a-day worker who likes to be head-down backside-up is just as easily accommodated as the bursty, creative worker who spends time in conversations, or collaborating on many projects.

That doesn’t set aside the potential cultural clash between these worker types, that’s altogether another issue. But it is one that is addressed by the overall cultural changes that come along with successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations.

Back in April 2007, my friend and colleague Anne Zelenka published something of a manifesto regarding the busy/burst dichotomy, falling strongly on the side of burst.  Same place as I am.

“The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity.”
Anne Zelenka, Web Worker Daily

Recent research published shows a strong tendency, greater than 90 per cent in fact, for new hires under 40 years of age (and frankly, that’s most of your new hires) to pick roles where they are facilitated in engaging in open, collaborative work environments.

Given the choice of two otherwise equal roles, these people will choose the role where the corporate culture and the tools available make it easy for them to engage in the conversation, collaboration and community they want in their work.

Given employee turnover and attraction of new hires is an extremely expensive business – on average at least $10000 on the first year’s other costs – aren’t you better off making sure you have the right tools and culture in place to keep your people motivated and doing a great job?

“Employee recruitment and retention could become one motivator and one very significant ROI.”
Bill Ives, FASTForward

There’s a lot of talk going on about the schism between various worker generations – the near-to-retirement Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers like me, and the brash young Gen Ys who want to rise rapidly up the corporate ladder without paying their dues.

And yes, these generalisations apply across large sample populations. But solid research out of the HR industry suggests very strongly that this divide is false. People are far more influenced by life events and personal preferences in the way they work, in the roles they seek and in the attitudes they bring than by any arbitrary generation they are supposed to belong to.

The capability that a successful Enterprise 2.0 implementation brings to an organisation to engage employees across generational lines and to get them working together is a strong motivator for success.

Let’s take a very quick look at two Enterprise 2.0 success stories.

The CIA. Of all places. Don’t tell me doing this stuff in your organisation is too risky if this organisation can do it.

In June this year I had the privilege of meeting two of the CIA’s leading players in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts, Don Burke and Sean Dennehy at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Since 2005, the CIA have implemented a suite of tools as well as a number of core cultural changes in order to bring about a new best-of-breed practices. They’re collaborating at several levels of classified material with 15 other agencies in what is referred to as the “Intelligence Community”. That suite of tools includes:

  • Intellipedia for aggregation
  • Intelink blogs for communication
  • Tag|Connect (similar to the Internet’s del.icio.us) for organization
  • Inteldocs (a document management system for file sharing community-wide)
  • Gallery (similar to the Internet’s flickr)
  • iVideo (similar to YouTube)
  • Intelink Instant Messaging (IIM)
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Janssen-Cilag are an Australian pharmaceutical company that undertakes significant research programs and product development. With around 350 employees, like many organisations, they had an underused, often out of date intranet until mid-2006 when they replaced it all with a wiki. The wiki was implemented after a careful examination of and research into actual user needs and was switched live during a demo in a large staff meeting. Gutsy.

Nathan Wallace, one of the driving forces for JCintra, estimates that a large percentage – in excess of 70 percent – of staff now actively contribute to or update content on the wiki. Nathan puts the following four points forth as a manifesto for successful implementation:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Ease of use over comprehensive training.
  3. Flexible tools over completeness.
  4. Responding to needs over creating demand.

Janssen-Cilag are now taking further steps in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts, introducing blogging to any staff member who want to do so and Jitter, an internal equivalent to Twitter.

We’ve seen fairly comprehensively the benefits that a well-considered, people- and problem-centric approach to Enterprise 2.0 programs can offer.

As more and more businesses undergo the shift to operating this way, your business risks being left behind, flailing, as it fails to adapt to the changed way of doing business in the 21st Century.

James Governor from RedMonk threw this one at us back in April 2007.  He’s right.

“Networked, social-based opportunities are so explosive today that when we pursue them we’re flung forward at pace.”
James Governor, RedMonk

Your organisations stand upon ground that offers you an opportunity to take leaps forward in innovation, collaboration and productivity that they’ve never been offered before.

Imagine your organisation if this was the way things were done.

Why are we even arguing about this?

Presented to the AGM of the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship and for the product launch of IntranetManager.NET.

It was just lucky that two groups asked me to present on essentially the same content on consecutive days.

Just 10 or so years ago, we were arguing whether email was necessary for our staff to do their work.

Not long before that we were arguing over the value of giving them phones on their desks. And Heaven forbid we give them long distance access!

At the same time, I doubt any of us even considered the corporate web site as a critical business asset.

15 years ago, the public Internet and the web were in their infancy, and we weren’t certain at all what we should be doing with them.

So why now, are we arguing about the value of social media for our businesses? There’s a wealth of good research on the returns for business on factors such as customer service, product development, innovation, findability of information and brand reputation.

For no good reason many businesses seem highly reluctant to allow staff to participate in social media activity – either internally or in public. I doubt there’s anyone in the room today that gives a second thought to the importance of the corporate web site, staff email and personal phones for all staff.

Why is this?

Today, we live in a world where almost everything about your business is public information. Not only that, the world is now hyperconnected in a way that makes discoverability and conversation about you a trivial exercise.

A few seconds of effort at Google and I can discover who your management team are. Shortly after that, a slightly more diverse search on Google, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Facebook and perhaps MySpace will give me a pretty intimate window into the business.

It’s quite possible that I’ll have a window into personal lives of many of your employees and probably your management team and board of directors. I’ll know where they’ve worked and when. What people thought of them. I might even know what they wore to the last New Years’ Eve fancy dress party and whether I think they have a sense of humor.

With not much more additional effort, I’ll know what your customers think of your products and of your business. What’s good, and what’s bad. And why.

I’ll be able to consume a vast range of opinions – a conversation – around your offerings.

Are you participating in that conversation? If you’re not, there’s nothing you can do about it. It will go on regardless.

In the end, you have two choices, and I’m not being extreme here – join the conversation and thrive, or die.

And to join the conversation you need to cede some control. Not all of it. Just some.

It’s actually highly likely that your staff are already taking part in this conversation on your behalf. Wouldn’t it be better if they had your backing?

The emergence in the past five years of blogs and wikis, of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and of empowering publishing platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and similar tools have fundamentally changed the way you and your business need to interact with your customer base.

They have also shifted the power base – away from the PR flacks, the marketers and the heritage media into the hands of the people formerly known as the audience. Today, the audience is no more. They are your collaborators and your users. Whether you like it or not.

The Obama campaign used these tools – the tools of social media – to groundbreaking and groundswelling effect. Have no doubt that a significant and measurable part of the success of the Obama campaign was due to the grassroots empowerment of the volunteer community through the use of social media. Let’s look at some of the numbers:

Platform Obama McCain Difference
Facebook 2379102 supporters 620359 supporters 380%
MySpace 833161 friends 217811 friends 380%
YouTube 1792 videos since Nov 2006
114599 subscribers
Channel views 18413110
329 videos since Feb 2007
28419 subscribers
Channel views 2032993
403% more subscribers
905% more viewers
Twitter 112474 followers 4603 followers 2400%
Branded social network mybarackobama.com
Numbers not available but estimated in millions
McCain Space
Numbers not available

The use of social media for both Presidential candidates was significant, yet the Obama campaign, appealing directly to a part of the constituency that voted strongly for it, leveraged social media as an incredibly powerful medium to reach out, appeal to voters and garner both contribution and volunteer support.

And now that he has been elected, President-Elect Obama isn’t dropping the ball on social media. He has already released the first of what is to be weekly updates via YouTube.

And now, we have the Greens, Malcolm Turnbull himself, and just last week, the Prime Minister’s office using these tools to conduct an ongoing conversation with their constituency. Canvassing opinion. Discovering previously unknown issues. Connecting and having a meaningful, rich and human conversation.

In Australia though, we’re lagging behind the rest of the world in business adoption of these tools. And even further behind in government use of them.

In the UK for example, Downing Street uses social media tools to allow the PM’s office to speak directly to the constituency. And public sector workers, at an individual level, are expected to engage on subject matter within their are of expertise.

The same approach is being used by a number of successful businesses.

In Australia, Telstra has taken significant steps in the right direction this year after paying attention to the connected, social media using community. Formerly very old-school push-message focused, Telstra has fundamentally changed. Their customer service channel via social media such as Twitter and their Now We Are Talking blogs is arguably a more responsive, easier, more direct and most notably, more human way to get problems fixed than the robot call center that must be navigated in order to talk to someone on the phone.

Beyond our shores, brands such as SAP, IBM, Dell (Dell Community, Twitter), Comcast (video interview, Twitter) and the worlds largest online shoe retailer, Zappos (blogs, Twitter), rely on the reputation and innovation channels they have established via social media channels to get things done quickly, canvas opinion on product development, learn about issues and solve problems easily and in a way that builds reputation rather than customer dissatisfaction.

It’s critical that you empower your staff to be communicators and evangelists for your business. Understand and expect them to take part online in conversations about you and let them do so as a part of their jobs. Right now, stop passing everything through Legal and the Marketing Department and allow the conversation to be real, responsive and human. Your customers and staff will respect you for it.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. Mistakes are human. In today’s social media empowered world, mistakes are expected. So make them fast, cheap and early, and then be real about admitting them and fixing them.

All of this applies equally to efforts inside the wall as it does to external communication. The use of social media tools within your walls provides your business with a wealth of opportunities you simply did not have access to five years ago.

A recent study by McKinsey found that deploying the tools of social media within businesses can be used successfully to address issues such as attraction, engagment and retention, locating expertise, building teams, enhancing flow, understanding workload, flattening communication and organisation structures, transforming leadership and management practice and increasing ability to innovate and change according to market demands.

Significant numbers of businesses are transforming their ability to communicate across the organisation, marshal staff, drive innovation and discover previously unknown expertise within their organisation by using social media tools within their walls.

In Australia, companies such as Janssen-Cilag, Cochlear and Westpac have made significant investment in social media tools to empower their staff to be more efficient and productive.

In today’s financial climate, where customer spending is trending sharply down and the need to be increasingly innovative and competitive is rising, can your business afford not to look closely at these tools? To identify issues that might be solved by them and build and implement a strategy that introduces these tools to make your job easier to do?

A word of warning.

These tools can’t be a bolt-on and nor can they be implemented without some strong strategic analysis.

You need to consider them as an integral part of your strategic plan and of the working life of you and your staff. You must evolve from bureaucracy to infocracy. This move is fundamental to building the conversation, collaboration and community your business needs to ensure ongoing success in the 21st Century. Social tools are not going away and your competitors are adopting them now.

Imagine your business if this was the way you worked.

Enterprise 2.0 – Enabling change or part of the problem?

This is my slide deck and script for the The 6th Annual Enterprise Architecture Conference in Sydney on 3 September 2008.

We all know the world of business is experiencing massive change. The nature of how we do business itself is undergoing a groundswell that redefines work for the early part of the 21st Century.

We can no longer push messages to a passive consumer base, or an equally passive workforce. Customers, stakeholders, consumers, clients and particularly our employees expect, quite rightly, to have a hand in the way your organisation operates. We need to be aware of that, and of the growing power of each of those groups as consumer activism and personal branding become significant considerations in our interactions with them.

The need for collaboration throughout our organisations and effective management of knowledge workers is a driving force for change and innovation. As is the need to attract, engage in meaningful work and retain over time a skilled (and skilled in the right things) workforce.

Continuing to operate by Taylor’s outmoded rules – where the employee is a simple and uninformed cog in the machine – is setting ourselves up for failure and a spectacular and messy crash as we rush headlong into what looks like the light but is actually the onrushing train of progress.

We are at a tipping point. One where we have just two choices; business as usual and the accompanying inevitable crash, or a reboot.

That reboot will change our businesses dramatically.

That change will bring about organisations where empowerment, sharing and open communication are watchwords for this new world. Where walls, gates, silos and unnecessary control are collapsed in favor of a more human place that envisages our businesses as exciting, collaborative, engaging places to be.

Continue reading “Enterprise 2.0 – Enabling change or part of the problem?”

Slouching towards intertwingularity

UPDATE: and now, there’s video! Thanks to the guys at StickyAds and MediaHunter.

These slides and the accompanying text are my presentation from the PubCamp events in Sydney and Melbourne. Enjoy!

If you’re listening in, apologies for how fast I talk. I was on the clock!

Through the Looking Glass

So, the Internet’s a teenager now – 16 years old and quite the rebel. As it hit puberty, we all started taking real notice of how it was behaving. Not all that notice was good. Traditional media – television and newspapers – have made a point of highlighting that the ‘net is apparently full to the brim of pedophiles after your kids and scammers trying to expatriate your hard earned dollars to Nigeria.

But really, if we take a long, hard gaze into Alice’s looking glass, what we see is neither a meadow full of flowers nor a dark wood full of impending danger. What we do see is a tool, perhaps more powerful than we have ever had before, for connecting people and leveraging the almost infinite power of those connections. . The power of, as my friend Mark Pesce puts it, hyperconnectivity.

Let’s first wind the clock back a little for some perspective. Just five years ago, most of the social networking tools I rely on in my business today didn’t even exist – LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Youtube, Twitter, Dopplr, Slideshare. Just five years ago, pretty much all I had was web browsing and email.

Now, the web and email were pretty powerful tools, but not nearly as powerful as the social networking tools I now use all day, every day. One of the very greatest benefits these new tools have afforded me is to be able to connect with a vastly greater number of people who think like me, do work like me, like the same things I like, than I ever could before. The thing is now, that group I connect to – that I used to have to attend a monthly meeting of eight or a dozen of the same people every time and ultimately get bored by… That group is now spread over the entire planet. Despite that geographic dispersion, I get the distinct privilege (and frankly, enjoyment) of working, collaborating and just gossiping with them every day of the week using social networking tools like Twitter.

Humans, ever since the earliest of us could communicate with each other, have banded together in social networks. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means. But now we have, literally at our fingertips, a network that truly makes our village global. With no more difficulty than stepping next door to my neighbor’s house, I can connect with people that share interests with me – professional or personal – no matter where they are in the world. And I do.

Now, with a lot of those people, my connection is pretty loose. This type of connection is known as a weak tie and was initially described way back before the Internet, in 1973, by Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter. What Granovetter was describing is a loosely connected network, bridged by two or more people who know each other mostly in passing, rather than intimately. At first blush, this doesn’t look like something that can induce an “a-ha” moment. But if you look a little deeper at weak ties, you discover something a little earth shattering. And it’s something we should all be paying attention to, particularly in the context of the businesses we work in.

Weak ties have a special superpower, you see. Because what happens when people that come together based on weak ties – a project team from across a company, for example – is pretty special. Those weakly tied individuals act as bridges between the various strongly tied networks each individual represents. These bridges perform a number of functions – they import new ideas, they foster innovation through diverse opinion, they solve problems. Much more so than strongly tied networks, which tend to homogeneity – a death knell for innovation.

The thing about weak ties, as opposed to strong ties, is they take very little effort to maintain. Consequently, there’s no reason to not make a lot of weakly tied connections with people. Social networks make this weak tied connection incredibly easy to do. The cognitive hurdle imposed by the Dunbar Number that limits your ability to maintain strong ties is mediated by your ability in a social network to maintain weak, but easily accessible ties to potentially hundreds, or even thousands of people that might be able to help you solve a problem (or you solve theirs) at any moment.

What you’re doing at a time like this, is engaging in what’s termed participatory culture. Participatory culture is a break from the Taylorist Industrial Age model many of us have become used to in our complacency – a culture where value is derived from what you’ve already produced, endlessly re-produce like a factory widget and are carefully protecting, hiding and resting upon in the vainglorious hope that others will continue to perceive your value based on your past.

This is not participatory culture.

What participatory culture is – whether at work or in our social, non-work lives – is based upon not only what we have established our reputations on given our ability to produce, and more importantly openly share in the past, but what our reputation in this new economy builds expectation for us as yet to produce. The economy of participatory culture is based on sharing, on distribution of expertise and knowledge and on social capital, traded amongst the geographically and informationally dispersed members of our communities as we exploit the power of our weak ties to solve problems, innovate and drive quantum leaps in knowledge.

Tick Tick

It’s a fact that the past few years have seen a marked drop off in the number of hours each week people are listening to the radio and watching television. Just a few weeks ago, NYU professor, Clay Shirky, described the past 50 years of Western humanity’s passive consumption of media as an enormous “cognitive heatsink“. I couldn’t agree more.

While TV certainly has its place – and I’m no stranger to vegging out on the couch – there’s probably no argument that passive consumption of media – TV, radio, newspapers – is pretty unproductive.

Shirky’s prime example was Wikipedia. Recent research has established Wikipedia to be as or more accurate than the previous gold standard, the Encyclopedia Britannica. And, for the English language version, it’s estimated that around 100 million hours of human effort have gone into its production. While that seems like a lot, it’s actually equivalent to just the number of hours Americans spend each weekend watching ads.

Does that make you feel a little ill? Because it does me. Think about it for a moment… Humanity in North America alone, could be producing work of the value of Wikipedia every weekend, if people just participated on subject matter in their area of expertise during the ads!

Our kids get this. They expect to be able to participate. To interact. They don’t respond to pushed messages. They produce their own media and post it to YouTube for their friends to enjoy. They watch measurably fewer hours of television than many of us did at their age.

It doesn’t much matter if today your 15-year-old is playing a few hours of Grand Theft Auto a week, because he’s also probably contributing to and sharing in a vast pool of player knowledge about it that others also share and contribute to. In a few short years he and his classmates of both sexes will be in the workforce – and the kids ahead of them already are – and they’ll expect to share, to participate and contribute and to build social capital and recognition through their ability to do this.

If your organisation isn’t geared up to let this happen, sadly, you’ll be well behind the 8-ball. You need to make it happen now – break down silos, encourage open participation, treat staff like grown ups and stop using the firewall as a stick to block access to social networking tools. The fact is, if you don’t encourage participatory behaviours at work, you stifle innovation, reduce employee engagement and risk huge value in tacit knowledge walking out the door as valuable employees leave in search of clued up employers who do encourage participatory culture within and across their organisational walls.

Boom!

So, I’ve been rattling on about participatory culture, and social networking and how much value I think there is in all of this, but where’s the real world story? Well, it’s here.

Just last week, I attended a major conference on Enterprise 2.0 in Boston, Massachusetts. The conference covered issues, success stories and tools that can be used in business to forge the types of communication and knowledge sharing that many of us are already doing in our personal lives by using social networking tools. The 1500 delegates shared four fairly intense days together – hearing stories, seeing demonstrations and doing face-to-face social networking.

One of the major benefits to me was the chance to meet in person over 50 people I’ve been collaborating and communicating with online for as much as the past two years. These people came from as far away as the Canary Islands, Germany, the UK and across the USA. I didn’t need to meet them in person to be able to continue to collaborate with them, but the chance to do so was too good to pass up. It really was an opportunity to crank the dial to 11.

So, how did I meet these people in the first place? The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, is social networking and participatory culture. There’s a constant pulse of conversation, collaboration and participation with the people I consider, in some cases, my extended family – as I’ve forged relationships with them as strong as any I have in my local circle of friends.

When I get up in the morning, the Aussies are all rising with me – I get to talk to Ali, Jodie, Jed, Mark and a bunch of others here on the east coast. But at the same time, I get to talk to the Americans who are close to the end of their day – Tara in San Francisco, Laura and Chris in Boston, Paull in New York and others and, as the day progresses, I begin to encounter the Europeans – Luis in the Canary Islands, Mark in Germany, Justin in London. And every day is like this! It’s almost a privilege to be involved with all these smart, engaged and engaging people.

We heard a bunch of amazing, real success stories from organisations as different as the CIA (I met two real life CIA analysts), Lockheed Martin, Goodwin Procter (a 1500 person full service legal firm) and others. All of these organisations are realising tangible benefits by encouraging an open, engaged corporate culture where use of social networking tools is encouraged – sometimes completely inside the wall, sometimes across corporate boundaries.

And in your personal and professional lives, too, there are great stories to be told. Stories of experiences, knowledge, adventure, relationships.

You all have the power to return tomorrow to your organisations and communities and encourage people to start working this way. To build relationships, to establish weak ties, to share and participate and to build your reputations based upon the next big thing you’re going to come up with, rather than that which you’re resting on today.

For our society to take the next big step, the power of participatory culture; a culture where everything is intertwingled, needs to be exploited. It’s not 2020 Summits that are going to fling us forward, it’s the power in the network of opportunity we immerse ourselves in.

Go forth and participate.

Conversation. Collaboration. Community.

Here you go… My talk from Interesting South 2008.
Unusually, I was incredibly nervous before and during this talk. I’m dreading seeing the video, as I don’t think it’ll be at all flattering or indicative of my usual style. I guess it was a combination of factors – really wanting to present at this event, being late in the schedule (which ran well over time), there being so many great talks on the night with me being third last and having so many people in the audience that I respect highly and whose opinions I value (thanks for being there – Jodie, James, Mick, Mark, Brad, Annalie, Jed, Kate, Gavin, Hans, Alan, Seth – you made the night for me, despite possibly adding to my terror).

By now, many of you will have seen Clay Shirky’s great Web 2.0 Expo keynote, Gin, Television and Social Surplus. The link is in the slides. If you’ve not seen it, you need to; it’s inspiring, transformative stuff. I’m actually a little cross at Clay. He obviously sent aliens to steal my ideas for this talk.

When Clay speaks about the collective societal bender we’ve been on, he’s talking about us failing to make adequate use of the cognitive surplus we all have and are wasting by failing to participate actively. That said, it’s my view that some of the structure business has imposed upon society’s activities since it took the form it currently has during the Industrial Revolution actively work to make it difficult for groups of people throughout society to come together in a meaningful, productive way.

Bastard children of the Industrial Revolution

As humans, we’re social creatures. Beyond core physical and safety requirements, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is largely about integration into society; love, esteem and self-actualisation. We crave association; a community of some form, with others through family, work, school, sport or other interests. Yet the structures that we’ve built into society post-Industrial Revolution belittle those needs. At work in particular and in groups of all sorts, the needs of people have been bastardised into a corrupt form that meets the supposed needs of the of group at the expense of individuals.

We’re dumped into cube farms, or onto factory lines and told to work as a team. Yet it’s often the case that in working this way, our ability to converse and collaborate effectively with our fellow beings is removed from us. They’re removed through the imposition of bureaucracy, through command-and-control structures we’re forced to navigate and through being given work that fails to engage us.

Often, too, the tools we’re furnished with work as if some Infernal power gleefully watches as we’re forced to work against logic and against the way humans are naturally inclined to function. The storyteller in all of us is subjugated in favor of the need for us to be “productive” and our community stops being smart and becomes another dysfunctional cog in some dark satanic mill. In this situation, getting anything done becomes an issue. Our ability to collaborate and have a useful conversation goes the way of the committee. We get wrapped up in the Hell of email and Word documents as track changes and minutia rule and we suffer the pain of never being able to know which version is the latest, or which decision the group has made. We become massively inefficient. We’ve had it hammered into us by our archaic, Industrial Revolution functional model that the org chart rules and bureaucracy is king.

I am not a number — I am a free man!

Communities, by their very nature, engage in conversation constantly. But community by committee is a death by a thousand cuts. Under this model, your community becomes Desperate Housewives; the cognitive heat-sink where conversation and collaboration go to die. Where innovation is consumed by the Cthulhu that is bureaucracy.

It need not be this way. Your community conversations can be amazingly fruitful if the DNA of your community is lightweight. By introducing a culture that facilitates communication, that flattens hierarchy and breaks down organisational silos so that anyone, anywhere in your organisation or business can easily work with anyone else you can route around the damage inefficient tools and process impose.

By rocking the boat a little culturally, engaging in a little organisational entrepreneurship and using the tools of participatory culture; social networks like Twitter, wikis and blogs for example, you can introduce an environment where individuals can converse, groups can collaborate and an engaged, active and productive community can flourish.

Making the leap

Here’s a really simple example of how this approach can work.

I’ve driven this change this year at my daughter’s school. I was elected to the school board at the end of last year and went through a minor level of Hell as I was inundated with emails and processes that were almost gleeful in their inefficiency. At the first meeting I attended, as the new Secretary, I simply declared my opposition to the inefficient, bureaucratic processes being used and noted I was going to show everyone a new way – using a wiki for documents and communication and using Google calendar for keeping track of school events.

I got a few knowing nods, a few “so show me’s” and three or four “what’s a wiki”. I asked for a week to show everyone and got agreement. In two days, they had full meeting notes – every member of the board had logged on, most had added comments or notes and in subsequent months, we’re down from 20 to two emails a month – a “thanks for coming to the meeting last night” from Mark, the Chairman and another from him the day before the next meeting reminding us to turn up.

By changing the tools and focus of the group, we’ve now got near-instant conversation. Much easier collaboration and a stronger community. The staff and board members are so excited by the opportunities this simple change has wrought that they are now seriously talking about expanding wiki use into the classroom and between teacher groups for professional development. This from a group of people who previously largely used computers for email, document writing and web browsing. Now, everyone’s involved and participating.

The Desperate Housewives heat-sink is being militated against by the introduction of a tool set that makes it easy for people to have a conversation; even though we all work in different places we can access it from the Internet. We can collaborate on action items and ideas and we have a stronger community as a result. And were making a difference for the school.

It’s just as easy to do this for the communities you’re involved in; whether they’re at work or somewhere else. Imagine the gains in productivity and engagement, in knowledge sharing and distribution and in the ability to work together effectively without bureaucracy if you did this.

The sooner you do it, the better off you’ll be.