Ray Ozzie, the visionary behind Lotus notes and the departing Chief Software Architect at Microsoft posted an open memo this week. I highly recommend reading the whole thing. There are two quotes that I found of particular interest and I will dedicate a post to each one separately to keep things focused.
In this first section he reflects on the past 5-years of disruption that has remade much of the world we live in and some of the challenges he sees coming.
…in the past five years so much has happened that we’ve grown already to take many of these changes for granted: Ubiquitous internet access over wired, WiFi and 3G/4G networks; many now even take for granted that LTE and ‘whitespace’ will be broadly delivered.
We’ve seen our boxy devices based on ‘system boards’ morph into sleek elegantly-designed devices based on transformational ‘systems on a chip’. We’ve seen bulky CRT monitors replaced by impossibly thin touch screens.
We’ve seen business processes and entire organizations transformed by the zero-friction nature of the internet; the walls between producer and consumer having now vanished. Substantial business ecosystems have collapsed as many classic aggregation & distribution mechanisms no longer make sense.Organizations worldwide, in every industry, are now stepping back and re-thinking the basics; questioning their most fundamental structural tenets. Doing so is necessary for their long-term growth and survival.
As end-consumers of these changes it is easy to remain inconsiderate of how transformational these developments are. However in business, emerging technologies and the customer expectations that they have created represent tectonic shifts in how business must respond and reorganize.
And as the pace of connectivity and access points (mobile, tablets, connected devices) increase so will the rate of change. In this environment the only ones who will thrive are those capable of rapid, continuous adaptation at an organizational level. This is not a strategy – but a cultural trait. The adaptive organization is one with a workforce capable of (1) surfacing leadership from all levels of as inputs to decision-making, (2) amplifying weak signals from the points at which the organization meets the outside world (sales, customer service and even further beyond into customer led innovation etc.). (3) matching the pace of information flow inside the organization with what is occurring outside and (4) developing rapid feedback mechanisms with which to assess the impact of (5) making a distributed set of bets. In this way, optimization of small strategies will often win over the “big bet.”
Technology is the superstructure upon which all business is now reliant – Every business process and every function is mediated through electronic technology: from communications (telephone, email, electronic documents) to finance, resource planning and supply chain.
In this regard business must coevolve at the rate of technological change in order to remain competitive. This is not the same as saying successful organizations must maintain cutting edge technology – but that they must foster cultures that are capable of shifting and changing with the requirements of the business environments they find themselves in. As Technology comes to resemble organic processes and evolve at a quickening rate so must our own organizations.
I have been in three countries and four cities within the last 6 days. Nearly every moment has been spoken for – whether preparing for meetings or attending meetings, in client dinners, waiting for taxis, planes or sitting in taxis and planes, packing, unpacking, shaving, flossing, brushing… waking up and beginning all over again.
The supply of our time remains fixed, so when demand soars you are left with but two options; cut back on the demands or reduce wasted time anywhere you can find it. If you opt for the latter – as I have – then your life becomes centered on a kind of ruthless efficiency; reducing any friction that wastes time or saps energy. You fly business class, you outsource any routine that you can – expense reports, travel arrangements… eating out instead of cooking, a single line email response instead of a more thoughtful, courteous one.
This approach works and, by and large, is the one taken by everyone I know who is in similar circumstances. And yet, for me, there are enormous long-term consequences of such a reordering of one’s relationship to time.
The pace of work becomes consuming, often to the exception of family, friends and the good things at hand. Present living is sacrificed for an ill-defined future (that’s the only kind of future there is). Paradoxically, the more money you make the more pressure there is on your time and the more you generally need to reduce friction – which in turn costs money. Thus you can find yourself in a strange loop where you value and seek more of the very things that are both cause and consequence of this way of life.
What’s more, it makes you eminently susceptible to annoyance – the taxi driver who doesn’t yet know the city, the coworker who replies-all to a staff email just to say “LOL” is wasting your time (as are all staff emails by the way!) and on and on. Your inbox moves from discreet, incoming messages to be processed, to a river flowing past that you selectively address based on a hierarchy of personal importance.
Modern life in the way I am describing it is probably best summarized by this relentless demand on our attention. How we manage that demand is not just a mark of our character – it marks our character. Like being deprived of oxygen, I am not sure how long anyone can live in such an environment before these side-effects become more or less permanent. I have observed myself with some alarm over the past weeks as I have internalized these external pressures with less grace than I would like.
Time will tell how I continue to manage.
This was written last month during a particularly hectic few weeks. I held off posting it until now. I am feeling a bit better now but still thought the general observations were worth sharing.
Twitter, on occasions, delivers something poetic; extremely brief yet worthy of deep consideration.
Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast
There, summarized in a jaunty, single sentence is a sentiment I have lived by for the past five years.
Culture is the sina qua non of executing strategy. Without a ready and aligned culture any strategy will languish. This is even more pronounced in digital where the shift in customer expectations and technological platforms carry an inherent call for organizations to behave differently in order to get it right.
Digital business – whether ecommerce, marketing, communications, HR, innovation or customer service – privileges that which is open, collaborative and connected.
Why? Because this is the way of networks where connections and sharing create abundance – the more open the network, the more connections, the more value is created. Think of Amazon’s open platform to empower thousands of merchants, Google’s connecting of every user click to enhance the search experience of the next user, Wikipedia’s open (but structured) means of enabling anyone to serve as an editor. These are all old examples but they are still canonical and relevant.
As we humans progress towards having every communication (voice, TV, video, images, text and so on…) intermediated through the Internet those that abide by the rules of the network will thrive disproportionate to those that don’t. That was one of the big (and still unlearned among large corporates) lessons of Web 2.0.
Yet the critical insight in all of this is that “Digital” is not an economic reconfiguration as much as it is a social reconfiguration. And the characteristics of networks are also cultural traits – open, connected, always-on and so on. Each one carries a challenge to organizations that first they must address their value systems and beliefs before getting on the bus and winning in the digital economy.
Strategy is hard stuff – but people are the harder stuff and Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.
Note: I am not clear if @Hasse_Ericksson coined this phrase or is attributing it to @martenmickos in the above citation.
I am always struck by how powerful it can be to be driven by a single, counterintuitive question.
Consider this one: In early 2007 the Spanish bank BBVA asked IDEO to re-think their self-service channel – the automated teller machine (ATM) from scratch. The question was not how to further automate the teller, but rather how to humanize the machine.
In simply inverting this line of inquiry (let’s focus on humanizing the machine) you find entirely new possibilities for innovation.
Focusing on self-service as a means to lower transaction costs will give you automation. Focusing on simplicity and human needs will give you something remarkable.
This video walks through the process of how a team from IDEO went about rethinking the ATM experience and is worth watching not for the future of the ATM – but for how a company can simply invert their normal question – or objective – and begin striving for something remarkable.
So many of us are driven by an ambition that informs our everyday choices. Choices that, when summed, have a defining effect on every aspect of our lives; our sense of self, the character of our relationships and the very pattern of our everyday life.
Yet if asked “what is success for you? What is the desired product of your ambition?” I imagine many of us would have a hard time giving an adequate or well-considered answer. You would probably hear the standard external markers of money or title. Just as likely you would get the long pause that told you this was the first time the question had been pondered.
And yet it is a critical question. Because ambition is generally mindless - it is rarely connected to any deeper consideration of what will bring you fulfillment. You arrive at each new destination with a sense of wonder and disappointment – how did I get here?
I came across this in an HBR Blog by Bill Taylor and thought it elegantly stated a more complete, rich (no pun intended) definition of success. One worth sharing and considering:
“I think back often to an interview we published in an early issue of Fast Company with the philosopher Jacob Needleman, a professor at San Francisco State University, who wrote a great book called Money and the Meaning of Life.
“What’s your definition of success?” we asked Needleman. His answer: “To be totally engaged with all my functions, all my faculties, all my capacities in life. To me that would be success. I grew up around the Yiddish language, and in Yiddish there are about 1,000 words that mean ‘fool.’ There’s only one word that means an authentic human being: mensch. My grandmother would say, ‘You’ve got to be a mensch,’ and that has to do with what we used to call character. To be successful means to have developed character.”
The title of this post is a quote from Kevin Kelly. I was reminded of it when I read this brief entry in Boing Boing, titled, “Winds howl over the deserted moonscape behind Rupert Murdoch’s UK Newspaper Paywalls”
Newser’s Michael Wolff has a report from behind Rupert Murdoch’s notorious UK paywalls which went up this month around The Times and Sunday Time’s sites, which are apparently ghost-towns, unpeopled even by the print subscribers who get free access but can’t be arsed to log in (and never follow links to Times stories, since chances are anyone in a position to make such a link doesn’t have an account for the site).
Does the idea of charging for a perishable good (news) that exists in overwhelming abundance, can be copied and redistributed at zero cost and only has value for one-time use make sense to any economist on planet earth?
I’ve come to the conclusion that meetings are good. And we need more of them – not less.
Most executives have a knee-jerk reaction against meetings; they are a waste of time. Employees couldn’t agree more; let us get work done.
And yet if you are a manager, a major portion of your job is dedicated to communication… your time is spent either in meetings or preparing for meetings. Most meetings are a mashed-up bag of confusion that leaves people with the mistaken impression that meetings are the problem. They aren’t. It is the way we have meetings that is a problem. The failure of meetings is an indictment of process and leadership… not of the concept.
A well organized meeting in which people are prepared, the process has structure and the desired outcomes are clear (we need to decide X) is second to none in terms of efficiency. Our businesses are the sum product of decision-making; “this is our business”, “this is our customer”, “this is how we reach them”, “this is how we measure value creation” and so on. These decisions are constantly being reassessed and are rarely made alone, they are made in meetings.
I cannot count the number of times in which I have realized after the fact (why do you think I am writing this today?) that a two-week back and forth over email could have been resolved in an hour during a structured meeting. Just as often I am aware that (as a consultant) I have tried to go extremely light on the meetings due the fact that my client(s) hate meetings.
Finally, despite my full embrace of social technologies, we still do not have a surrogate for face to face contact. It contains a density of actionable information that can’t be rivaled. In that regard the most successful technology yet developed for collaboration is the table and chair.
“Video Killed the Radio Star” – The Buggles, Sept 7, 1979
The rise of MTV and the age of video heralded the end of the line for the ugly rock star. Why? Media places selection pressures upon the content that flows through them and a visual medium had no use for the likes of Foghat.
Media is Darwinian. Which is to say the medium of communication inherently enables or inhibits certain traits. Consider the rise of literacy which promoted abstract thinking done in solitude versus orality, which favors skills of memorization and shared experience.
In similar fashion, Social media is placing selection pressures on business (along with every aspect of society). As more and more of our friends, customers and business colleagues begin participating on the web (as opposed to just reading on it) it has become a fundamentally social medium; its operating principles now follow social norms more than they do traditional business norms.
What’s the difference?
Social contracts are founded upon trust, authenticity, reputation and reciprocity to name a substantive few. While these traits have always governed our personal relationships, until the rise of social media most of business that was transacted was remarkably impersonal and asocial.
This leads to an obvious assertion that has huge implications: Over time businesses that “get” social and adhere to a social contract will thrive – while those that do not, will wither.
In 2008 I delivered a keynote at a conference on law and journalism. The mood among the journalists present was one of palpable contempt for blogging and “citizen journalism.” You would think we were witnessing the undermining of Western civilization at the hands of a rabble of pajama-wearing, due diligence-ignoring amateur (God forbid!) know-nothing ideologues. During the post-talk Q&A I felt compelled to tell the audience that I was quite happy with my news choices and I sought online alternatives in large part because I had lost faith in traditional media’s role as the fourth estate. This new study from several Harvard students at the Kennedy School puts a fine point on that loss of faith. You can read it here (pdf) but the abstract is devastating:
“The current debate over waterboarding has spawned hundreds of newspaper articles in the last two years alone. However, waterboarding has been the subject of press attention for over a century. Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture. In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.”
While there is plenty of need to discuss the business models under which proper journalism can thrive (that was the purpose of my keynote two years ago) it would be good for those in the journalism business to be thinking about how to maintain public credibility by focusing on the purpose of journalism rather than just the business of it…
I am a digital strategist focused on how technology opens new possibilities for social transformation and innovation within business. I am a Partner and Director of Digital, EMEA for Fleishman Hillard. I blog here, on O’Reilly Radar, and am a contributor for Forbes.com.