Monthly Archives: April 2011

Embracing Chaos with a Little Help from My Friends

In a recent blog post Harold Jarche – a great knowledge source for smart work and learning – described his view on how real value creation happens at the edge of organizations and requires different management and communications practices.

Here below Harold’s wonderful visualization of how and where value is being created: the chaotic edge, complex and complicated, and the automated parts of the business ecosystem. He states:

“I think the edge will be where almost all high value work gets done in organizations. Core activities will be increasingly automated or outsourced. Most of the people in an organization will be on the edge. The core will be managed by very few internal staff.”

Emergent Value by Harold Jarche (see licensing at http://www.jarche.com)

The aspects he has included into his picture are very much like how I see the changing environment for the most businesses. However this wasn’t the case few years back. Ten years ago I did some research on the same topic, in an entirely different business environment.

Harold’s visualization reminded me of my 10-years old Analyzing Framework for Value Creation. It was a part of my Master’s thesis (anno 2001) in which I researched how organizations (at that time) tried to create value by enhancing their supply chain processes, and finding new ways for cooperation within their business network.

The leading discussion topic was process automation; it all was very transaction-oriented. And instead of the notion social, it was all about virtual. Yes, it was the golden time of ERP’s and Business Process Management.

My idea and approach was to study how value was created in our common business processes, and how those could be developed towards more collaborative and ‘virtual’ ones, and especially what aspects have an effect on the value-creation in these processes. Here below my framework from 2001.

Analyzing Framework for Value Creation from my thesis "Value Creation in Integrated and Collaborative Business Processes".

On the outer circle a blend of soft and hard elements: Culture, Commitment, Leadership, and Strategy. The middle circle represents the two main tasks associated with managing business processes: Coordination and Integration. On the inner circle I’ve chosen three set of pairs: Infrastructure & Architecture, Relations & Processes, and Information & Knowledge. All these further having an effect on the ultimate target in the middle – Value innovation and Creation.

Kind of Social Business 1.0, or Enterprise 1.0 or what do you say; some of the aspects are quite close to the today’s key topics social and social business?

All the elements are still valid but clearly my framework needs re-structuring and refreshing. When I now look at Harold Jarche’s model and my old framework, I see clearly three things:

  1. Firstly, business development people at that time were stuck at the process automation hype, in the name of cost and time savings. Both good targets, however people and innovation (other than process innovation) were neglected. The same applies to organizational learning. These were not in the core focus for most organizations.
  2. Secondly (ok, this is obvious); the speed by which the level complexity has grown is huge. Change and complexity are becoming a norm. As Harold Jarche says: “Any work where complexity is not the norm will be of diminishing value.” In my model, I see it all too simplified.
  3. Thirdly, I was on the right track but missing some adjectives – especially the social. And I was stuck to the processes too much; the physical process (distribution of goods) and the related information processes.

Summarized it can be said that from the people and innovation perspective, my model is indeed missing some width and depth.

When value creation and innovation is discussed, a notion of the ‘edges’ Harold referred to, is an interesting one. The idea of ‘edges’ was presented by two of my favorite thinkers John HagelJohn Seely Brown, and can be associated into this discussion. Here’s a snippet from HBR article few years back:

“Edges within firms represent early stage business initiatives with high growth potential, whether new market-oriented initiatives or new work practices, often generated by the born-digital generation entering the workforce. Edges at the individual level represent the weak ties in our social networks that quicken personal growth by connecting us with experiences and resources we might not have otherwise encountered.”

The book of the above-mentioned talent duo – Power of Pull – presents The Pull approach which enables organizations to learn faster and translate what we’ve learned into improved performance and customer value. Warmly recommended book, it gives many valuable ideas of how to succeed in the world where value is created in a very complex environment; on the edge, in the interactions, in the trust-based relationships. Within and outside the organization.

Yes, I’ll very much agree with Harold’s wise words:

“Social networks, collaboration and cooperation must be the norm when dealing with complex or chaotic situations.”

Changes in the organizational culture, more open attitudes and behavior, together with social media tools and services, are altering the landscape of human connectedness and the ways of value creation.

I’ll end this post by quoting The Beatles: With a Little Help from My Friends!

Welcome, Renaissance of Relationships!

PS. Check out the recent video by John Seely Brown: Collaborative Innovation and a Pull Economy
PS2. If somebody would like to refresh my old framework, feel free to do so : )


Mental Bodybuilding for Knowledge Workers

These two beauties live with me: the one on the left have managed to develop quite good muscles, the one on the right side have a style of her own, a bit Picasso-like shape. She's a creation by my talented ex-father-in-law Georg Korolkoff.

I stumbled upon a beautiful video about Michael Wolff, an acknowledged British graphic designer. I am not a part of the design professionals’ clan, but his message touched me. I think his way of thinking is applicable to all of us knowledge workers who are trying to cope with the changing work environment.

In this lovely video (see below) Michael Wolff shortly describes the three muscles he needs in his design work. These are very much needed in the knowledge work too:

  1. The Muscle of Curiosity
  2. The Muscle of Appreciation
  3. The Muscle of Imagination

According to Wolff the first muscle, the Muscle of Curiosity, enables him to notice things in an active way and to ask the key question ‘why’ more often. He sees ‘seeing’ things as a muscular exercise, a way being open. He claims:

You walk around head full of preoccupations; you’re not going to notice anything, in your visual life.

As a busy entrepreneur I find this interesting. During a work day, full of meetings and tasks, this muscle can easily weaken. However I think I’ve managed to strengthen this muscle via social media, especially via Twitter. The people I follow in Twitter are amazing; they share the most interesting thoughts and articles, and write wonderful blog posts. These active, wise and open-minded persons form my “Serendipity Heaven” in Twitter, and elsewhere in the social media communities, help me to notice things and pick up ideas I’d never found without them. They exercise my muscle of curiosity. Thank you, you know who you are!

The second muscle, the Muscle of Appreciation, is the one that interests me most. I do agree with Michael Wolff, it is the attitude that is crucial: our attitude and the level of interest towards other people – and further to learn from them.

To support innovation and creativity, it is also important to not only notice the obvious (things) around you, but to take it further. Look around, ask, listen, and take all the wonderful opportunities to learn more. You will be able to understand a bit better, and nourish your imagination.

I’ve always been interested in people – their stories and experiences, their hopes and fears, their values – and can’t get enough of that. However in my work life this skill hasn’t always been considered as strength. Sadly enough, way too many bosses, even in the personnel departments, still see people as ‘resources’, like movable parts of a machine. With no interest of their thoughts. Luckily the signs for the change are here.

Out of these three muscles the third one, the Muscle of Imagination, is enabled by the two other muscles: curiosity and appreciation. I think that something else is required here too; read further and I’ll explain what I mean.

Now enjoy the video, I find it beautiful both visually and verbally:

What can I learn from Michael Wolff?

Michael Wolff encourages me to compare his profession to mine: what can I, as an entrepreneur and a knowledge worker, learn from this legendary graphics designer and brand guru?  Probably a lot, but I chose two aspects that I wish to look at with fresh eyes. Neither of these two aspects is new, but I try to see a new facet in these:

Firstly, he speaks about the power of the parts for the success of the whole.

From his video we learned that not only knowledge workers in the technology industry but also the different kinds of designers are working in the silos. And hindering the best results to come out.

Michael Wolff uses a meal as a simple metaphor. He says “it’s only through the parts that the dinner gets delivered”, and “you never cook the same meal twice”. I think in my industry – software & service business – we do this often, time and time again, totally unnecessary. Is it out of laziness or due to a lack of perception? I don’t know. But I do agree with Michael that the role of the details is important, of a single tiny part of the equation has to be seen. And for that we need to develop our ‘seeing’ muscles and attitudes.

I’ve earlier written about the on-going change and the silos in the work places, silos that lead to idea poverty and ineffectiveness. As a remedy for this our existing organizational structures needs a refresh, and we knowledge workers, should become more passionate about helping our organizations to be open, learning organizations. Mr. Wolff’s thinking helps us in this as both the acknowledgment and appreciation are the key ingredients in this.

Secondly, Michael Wolff states the kind of obvious but easily ignored idea: Emotion is most important component in graphics design.

In line with Michael I do believe that active observations combined with having our emotions ‘open’, is an essential fuel for our creativity, for better thinking and for the innovation.

I find here a clear connection to Esa Saarinen’s theory of Systems Intelligence about which I’ve blogged earlier:

We all have two different thinking systems, so-called System 1 and 2: System 1 thinking as automatic, associative, and intuitive. System 2 thinking is dominating in the work places: you better be strictly rational. In every day work situations the System 2 thinking is active and often unintentionally blocking System 1 thinking – and therefore narrowing the possibilities at hands. When both systems are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions.

An interesting connection between the System 1 thinking and the Muscles of Curiosity and Appreciation. Genuine two-way engagement with other people enables us to better co-create and develop ideas.

Systems Intelligence & the Three Muscles Combined

The unpredictable, more global, mobile and social business environment brings tough challenges for the areas of communication, coordination, learning, and leadership.

I believe that acknowledging the role of Esa Saarinen’s Systems Intelligence theory in the knowledge work and combining it with Michael Wolff’s idea of exercising these three muscles – Curiosity, Appreciation, Imagination – takes us a step closer to a more creative, productive and human working environment.

Do you think there is a need for a mental bodybuilding for us knowledge workers?

Related reading:

PS. My long-time motto is “Always in Beta. And passionately so”. I think I’ll modify it with Michael’s wonderful motto, which is: Obsessively Interested in Everything.


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