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I am interested in exploring how workplaces are actually changing (not the hype). This blog is my place for thinking out loud about what I see happening - or not happening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A quick note for anyone who might be reading this (not that there will be) to say that there will be no more blog posts.

I am closing this blog and starting a new Wordpress blog. Time for a new and much more focused direction.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I took this picture of Novodevihcy Convent at dusk when I was in Moscow two weeks ago.

This blog post is about some random thoughts on the WorkTech North Conference in Manchester yesterday. Although the conference is advertised as "a forum for all those involved in the future of work and the workplace as well as real estate, technology and innovation", many attending were facilities managers, designers and architects concerned predominantly with the built environment.

The fundamental need to understand how people work and socialise, and how their workplace environments help or hinder them, was a constant theme throughout the day.

Joining the Dots

What struck me was the cross-cutting themes and inter-linked observations I am hearing at various conferences, and I was delighted to hear some of my intellectual heroes name-checked (Karl Weick, for example - see my earlier blog posts passim).

Professor Jeremy Myerson from the Royal College of Arts spoke compellingly about workplace design in the innovation economy. He asked what we mean by 'the knowledge economy'. He identified a continuum of knowledge work, which ranged from highly exploratory, tacit and unformulated (my interpretation) through to more explicit, proceduralised knowledge. The more explicit knowledge is that which is being outsourced.

It is the messy, diffuse, unformulated, creative knowledge we are good at in the UK. And workplaces need to be designed to support this type of knowledge work. So what does this imply for workplace design? Professor Myerson addressed the issue of collaboration and saying that although he is a proponent of open plan offices, developments have gone too far in the direction of facilitating socialisation and collaboration. The need for contemplation and isolation has been overlooked.

Richard Florida

Professor Myerson also referred to Richard Florida's book 'Rise of the Creative Class'. I heard Richard Florida speak at the Workplace 2017 Conference at the University of Waterloo near Toronto in October last year. I thought he was spell-binding. If you have 45 minutes to spare, Florida's talk is available, in two parts, here.

Florida emphasises the crucial role of place; human creativity and talent clusters in places where it is nurtured. He says that Thomas Friedman is only party right. The world is not flat, and electronically and economically global. It is at the same time flat and spiky. Economic activity is concentrated in mega-regions around the globe. He says that "we are seeing one of the greatest migrations in human history, as talented, innovative and entrepreneurial people concentrate in perhaps twenty or twenty-five mega-regions worldwide."

Place attracts people. Place matters, both the place where people work and where people live.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It has been a while since my last blog entry, almost three months in fact. It has been a busy, interesting time.

Looking back through my previous sporadic posts, none of my reflections have arisen from what I do - which makes the blog lifeless and gives nobody any sense of what prompts my thinking about the changing workplace. So here goes.

Among the stuff I do, I have been working regularly in Moscow over the past two years with senior, director-level executives. They are taking their businesses in new directions, and my colleagues and myself are working with them to evaluate and implement new business strategies. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with such smart people.

Smart is what you would expect

Smart is what you would expect at that level. What has been refreshing is their willingness to listen respectfully, to spot where our knowledge offering might have value for their organisations, interpreting for their own business and cultural contexts and using it most effectively in strategy development.

Be afraid, be very afraid ...

China and India are phenomenal innovators. We won’t just go down, we’ll go down big time if we don’t watch out. We have to think of the clever new ideas and be ahead of the game while we have the affluence and economic growth to invest in way-out concepts. That includes the way we work. Professor Cary Cooper, Director, Jan 2005

Those phenomenal innovators include Russian executives, who respect business education and learn very, very quickly.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A 'new paradigm'?

The CIPD in the UK (Chartered Institute of Personnal Development) has commissioned Capgemini to produce a research report on Smart Working.

Smart Working: The impact of work organisation and job design, is the outcome of the first phase of an investigation to explore the hypothesis that "a new organsisational paradigm is emerging". The report concludes that the research "gives weight to the hypothesis that a new organisational paradigm is emerging" and that phase two should "assess and validate the existence of a new organisational paradigm of smart working".

Not before time

According to the Future Laboratory's Mobile Work Futures report for Microsoft in January 2007:

"organisational and behavioural structures take longer to change than technological ones. While the UK has unusually high levels of technology take-up, British businesses have shown lower-than-average ability to achieve the managerial innovations that could exploit it to the full."

This echoes a conclusion from the 6-year long ESRC Future of Work programme, which said that:

"the research points to a dramatic increase in the diffusion of new information and communications technologies in a wide range of jobs and occupations, but less dramatic advances in the management of people, which might ultimately hold the key to the performance gains that so many companies wish to achieve."

Slow to change

I helped to facilitate this knowledge exchange workshop last week, on the theme of 'Open Your Mind To Smarter Working'. The workshop was energetic and the content well-received by workshop participants. I was presenting case studies that I had created as part of a research programme I led four years ago, and what I had to say was new for the people who attended.

Establishing the existence, or not, of a new paradigm is of course interesting to consider.

But getting to grips with how we can best go about communicating what we already know, and making it usable and customisable to help businesses adapt to the tsunami of changes that are coming at them (technological, demographic, economic and organisational re-structuring) - now that is urgent and more worthy of the CIPDs efforts than proposing supposed new paradigms.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The months feel like they are zipping past at warp-speed. Scary.

The image for this post is of a shop window in a vintage clothes shop off Carnaby St in London. My other half and I must be a bit odd - we love taking pictures of shop dummies and have quite a collection.

Anyway, to the serious stuff. This blog is intended to take the pulse of how enterprises are adapting to rapid changes in the operating environment. I have not really started on that yet, apart from commenting in earlier posts on mass bannings of access to social networking sites by a large number of UK businesses. I suppose my recent posts have been an attempt to lay some foundations for the analysis that will unfold in future posts.

Linear blog posts do not lend themselves to adeqate descriptions of dynamic, complex, inter-related concepts. I claimed in an earlier post that I was going to create a simple picture to map the core elements that make up and influence organisational dynamics. Here it is - ta-ra! I have a reason for mapping my interpretation of what constitutes Smart Working - more of which in a later post.

The eminent sociologist Manuel Castells says "we are not in the information or knowledge society, at least no more than we have been in in other historical periods." His view is that the emergence of 'a new technological paradigm' is responsible for "a new social structure - powered social networks".

He concludes that "we must let the notion of an information society or of a knowledge society wither, and replace it with the concept of the network society".

Although Castells is talking more generally about wider societal structures, it has always been the case that business enterprises are at core inter-related networks of human relationships. Businesses attempt to mediate, influence and control these networked, relationship dynamics through the imposition of formal systems, which are designed to impose behavioural order and achieve strategic performance objectives.

In my view, the phenomenon of social networking reminds us that organisational entitites are essentially dynamic networks of complex, adaptive systems. Which is why I think Weick provides such strong thought leadership in understanding how organisations work.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A minimalist approach to organisational dynamics

The image today is street sculpture, old tube trains, in the Spitalfields area of London.

I have been threatening to explore Weick's analysis of what happens when nine people work together. Weick recommends adopting a minimalist approach to understanding organisational dynamics. He reckons if you can understand nine, you can understand what can happens when thousands work together.

To me, this sounds useful in helping us better understand collaborative dynamics in enterprises. Part of the rationale for starting this blog is frustration at the sweeping claims made for how digital technologies like social computing, collaboration and mobile technologies, emerging at the same time as fundamental economic, demographic and geographic shifts, are going to lead to a tsunami of organisational transformation. I have said repeatedly in previous posts, who knows what will happen?

W.Edwards Deming is supposed to have said that “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” That's what I think. I also think that existing knowledge provides foundation, 'first principle' guidance on how to understand, anticipate and adapt for business leaders who are able and willing to change.

Weick's Analysis of Nine

Starting at the very beginning, Weick says that the dynamic action of organising is accomplished by processes, and that processes have elements that need to be described. The elements in organising are "individual behaviours interlocked among two or more people". The basic building block of organising is a dyad, that is two people. Behaviour between two people is contingent, that is influenced by and dependent on the behaviour of the other. People change each other's behaviour at the level of the dyad.

Weick calls this unit of analysis an interact. He says, "the unit of analysis in organising is contingent response patterns, patterns in which the actions of an actor, A, evokes a specific response in actor B - which is then responded to by actor A". This further response by actor A completes the sequence and is referred to as a 'double interact'.

The core contention his classic book, The Psychologyof Organising, is that the double interact is the stable component in organisational growth and decay (more about this much later).

Weick sees the crucial transition point in organising dynamics happening from:

one person to two

from two to three

from three to four

from four to seven

and from seven to nine.

We have already seen that two creates interdependence, reciprocal behaviour and accomodation to another person. The next transition from two to three creates the possibility of alliances. As Weick says, this is a key transition point because now there is the possibility for control, co-operation, competition, manipulation and influence. He continues, "these phenomena, formerly suppressed, now become more visible and subject to manipulation and sanction".

Now in my mind, this begins to link with enterprise social networking and collaboration. Social networking technologies present the possibility of making visible previously hidden networked relationships and interactions. Even so, my experience of being a member of online networks has shown me that hidden dynamics still go underneath the apparent openness and and sharing.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. I will continue with the other transitions in the next post. For the moment, I think my diagram (all rights reserved) shows how complex the interactions among just three people can be - one person is complex enough. And then our behaviour is highly dependent on another two complex and constantly changing people. That's even before the moderating influence of the social and physical environment is considered.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Supplementing, not supplanting the old (3)

The image today is a detail from a building in London.

Picking up from where I left off yesterday, I claimed that Weick offers us insight and ways of thinking about what happens when networks of people act together. I then said I would explore what the significance might be for enterprise social networking dynamics. I suppose I should say what I mean by enterprise social networking.

Social Computing

According to Forrester** social computing is:

“a social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions”.

Consumer power is wreaking significant structural change in entire industries (traditional broadcasting and music), and changing how businesses communicate with consumers. User-generated content, increasingly captured and distributed on mobile digital devices at the point of inspiration, is a key way in which communities are created.

People are adopting social computing technologies on their own terms, with no permission or direction and for their own purposes.

Social Networking

Wikipedia has social networking as:

“a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency”.

And again the emphasis is on social structures and interdependency, which I think implies community. Nothing about technology in the Wikipedia definition, and technology features in a supporting enabling role in the service of communities, creating the possibility for networks and communities to acquire power.

Social networks can exist and function independently of technology, in which case they tend to be hidden and function out of sight. Social networking technologies make visible the networks of connections among people that are usually hidden in the real world.

Although the blog discussions about Enterprise 2.0 tend to include the social context of collaborative technologies, it seems to me that the details of what social dynamics typically look like, and what factors might influence these dynamics in the direction of creativity or destruction, are not given much attention.

There are many theorists and existing research studies that can shed light on these issues. Patience, mon ami. I am getting there (slowly, I do admit). It occurs to me that I need a big picture to map all the inter-linked topics underpinnning the arguements I am developing. My other half, John (responsible for all the images on this blog) is already on the case.

Weick says, "... relatively small units become eminently sensible as places to understand the major workings of organisations ... a minimalist approach to understanding organisations is a productive way to start".

Looking forward to the next post, I will try thinking about Weick's analysis of nine in relation to social networking dynamics. I am just thinking this through properly for the first time, so I might confuse and contradict myself. You have been warned :-)).

**Social Computing: How Networks Erode Institutional Power, Forrester Research 2006

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