Tag Archives: Harvard Business Review

Trust-based Collaboration and Cultural Differences

Being silent isn't being strong. A wall sign I saw in a pub in Liverpool earlier this year.

This is a summary post of the topics I have been writing about during 2011. This has been an amazing year of social networks for me. I have learned a lot from hundreds of people around the globe. I highly value the network of the brilliant, talented, and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to collaborate with.

Thank you all for 2011, you know who you are!  

As more social business environment and the new ways of working are changing the organizations and reforming the entire business landscape  I’ll find it important and very interesting to study how we create and innovate, make decisions, and further how better mutual understanding can be created. We all know that the existing organizational structures needs a refresh, and that we, knowledge workers, should be passionate about helping our organizations to be more open, learning organizations.

One among many answers to this challenge is to focus on recognizing the value of ‘discovering’ people in your global network and further interacting and connecting with them on new levels. Naturally, different cultures and communication styles can then collide, softly or sometimes violently. Let me share a story about the Finnish way.

The Finnish Habit of Positive Silence

We Finns can easily be silent in company with other people. It’s natural to us. Before the social media we used to love text messages, a Finnish innovation by the way, as you could express yourself shortly and efficiently. Foreigners find our momentarily silence odd – or fascinating. Professor of Communication Donal Carbaugh, from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have written an excellent paper about this – Silence and Quietude as a Finnish“Natural Way of Being” [pdf], with the following description:

“A Finnish communication code that structures some cultural scenes as occasions for positive silence, exhibiting a social model of personhood for which this is a valued, respected, and natural practice.”

Another expression on this topic is this short article of the Helsinki Times – No small talk please, we’re Finnish, in which freelance journalist Susan Fourtané describes her experiences:

“I particularly enjoyed the thoughtfulness and the moments of silence in between, giving space for observing our own thoughts before speaking. Yes, you have heard it right. Finns don’t do small talk. They don’t think a moment of shared silence is awkward. On the contrary, it is part of the conversation. A direct question gets a direct answer. There is no nonsense talk about nothing. There is no asking “How are you?” ten times until someone says something else, or stating the obvious. Finns are more interested in how you think, how you perceive Finland or what keeps you in this small and cold country, as they refer to beautiful and peaceful Finland.”

We Finns definitely do have lots to learn about the more social and collaborative way of work, but I think we also have something valuable to share with our fellow citizens from other cultures and nations. The habit of small talk is a part of Anglo-American cultural sphere, and please note that I am not saying that there is something wrong with it. Our different habit, the positive silence, is as strange for foreigners as the excessive small talk is to many of us. All in all, what is needed is openness and curiosity in front of the different communication habits.

My interpretation of Professor Carbaugh’s great notion of positive silence is: we are taking time for thinking and reflecting. It is basically about respect towards your discussion partner. I do believe that occasionally ‘shutting up our mouths’ enables better listening, which in the best case this can lead to better understanding. Naturally, being too silent (also typical here) or silent in the wrong situations is nothing to recommend.

The Wrong Kind of Silence

Nilofer Merchant has marvelously described the wrong kind of silence. She tells a story when she was working at Apple: when she saw the problem clearly and others didn’t, she didn’t think she had the right or the capabilities to speak out – she was too worried about being wrong. This kind of ‘wrong’ silence is hurting the outcome, she continues, and emphasizes the importance of thinking together:

“…minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.”

She calls after courage to speak and to take risks. “Enthusiasm, naïveté, fear of repercussions, conformity to the group norms, and even wisdom are all things that can influence whether someone speaks up or not.”

Her thinking inspires me to researching this topic of encouragement, listening, and mutual respect for better outcome and understanding.

The Culture of Curiosity, Listening and Respect

As an entrepreneur I highly value discussions where there are no pre-set ‘rights and wrongs’, where openness and curiosity are self-evident, and where mutual respect gives room for different kinds of thinking and thoughts. If ever now we need this kind of approach. And if in any organization it is in a startup or growth company that this is vital. There must be a place for expressing our ideas freely and also to take the time for reflection.

I truly believe that creativity, innovation, and better decision-making, both in startups and in established organizations, require at least some investments in these three capabilities:

  1. Applying so-called Systems Intelligence,
  2. Recognition of the value and importance of Serendipity (the weak links and the edges),
  3. Recognition of the value and importance Listening.

Luckily many of these are a natural part of the startup DNA. A startup company benefits from an open and cooperative style; we need use both sides of our brains and become better listeners. Let me explain.

Firstly, the Systems Intelligence Theory by Finnish Philosopher and Professor Esa Saarinen and his fellow researchers describe the two ‘thinking systems’ we all have: 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 – and for innovation, decision-making, and shared understanding. Being strictly rational in your work role is not working anymore. We need to utilize our full potential.

Secondly, it is important to realize the value of serendipity and of being active ‘on the edges’, as John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown describe in the Power of Pull model. I agree with them that the cloud-enabled new platforms for serendipitous encounters lead to new kind of innovation, decision-making and leadership. We can now easily meet companies and people we did not know existed, curious expedition is needed. We gather around ‘social objects’ and connect, and build relationships for mutual learning and helping.

The third capability is about the value and importance of listening. I serendipitously bumped into a beautiful TED Talk by Julian Treasure. In his talk Julian presents the filters that we use when listening and through which the reality is created for us: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions. He also shares his five tips for better listening. I found the fifth one, his RASA model, beautiful and absolutely something every one of us should apply in our daily life and the decision-making situations. Acronym RASA comes from Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask these four verbs should be part of our personal decision-making, learning processes, and leadership. Julian says aptly: Conscious listening creates understanding. This is not too far away from the positive silence thinking.

The discussion around topic of listening is not a new one; see this excellent old article published in Harvard Business Review in 1957: Listening to People. The article states that “the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.” There are several gold grains in it, as for example “when people talk, they want listeners to understand their ideas.“ Touche!

Trust-based Collaboration

What it is I mean with all this talk about Finnish traits and the social business? Let me sum it up with three examples, all originated from Finland; Linus Torvalds of Linux Foundation, Mårten Mickos of MySQL/Eucalyptus Cloud, and the newcomer Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio/Angry Birds. I personally experience all three fellow entrepreneurs as great examples of appliers of the communication style and culture that have deep origins in the ‘Finnish way’. All of them are successful in their businesses and more or less global citizens, but none of them have entirely thrown away their Finnish roots and foundation.

It’s not only about the substance, their wide knowledge, experience, and creativity, but also about their specific networking and collaboration skills which could be described as trust-based collaboration (and I am pretty sure that some positive silence is included). The fruitful network of relationships can be based on acknowledging, helping, and appreciation of the people you meet and work with which in turn create trust between individuals. Linus, Mårten and Peter are mastering is this. And they are passionately curious.

On top of all this we have now the various social communities which are the true leverage points of the cultural transformation, both inside and outside of the organization, between the organizations, individuals, and nationalities.  Trust and successes can be built on this.

Happy New Year 2012! Let your year be filled with happiness, health, serendipity, and love!

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Social Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, ready for the Social Business?

Supertramp album from 1975 - Photo by me

I recently found my old thesis, and yes, some of its topics and content are (still) relevant, as this one: the evolution of organization and work structures. The very same topic Esko Kilpi is researching. The discussion in my old thesis and Esko’s blog posts inspire me to learn more about this topic.

One chapter in my thesis starts with a quote by Michael Porter:

“Industries are profitable not because they are sexy or high tech; they are profitable only if their structures are attractive.”

Well put. Many industries and organizations are trying to score right under the constant change requiring new type of more adaptable structures. The development has been very rapid and raises increased demand for choice, chance, change and flexibility.

A number of concepts have been proposed and developed over the years. Earlier we spoke about Virtual Organizations, and now about Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business.

The evolution of organization and the work structures has been fascinating. More and more of our core business processes are cross-functional; and cutting company borders. And we all have seen that it can open up for aggressiveness and resistance to change.

If you put fences around people you get sheep

This quote above by William L. McKnight suits well for many organizations. Are we social wolfs in sheep’s clothing? The silo-like organization cannot act any better than a flock of sheep, and the genuine value creation requires a larger ecosystem. Esko Kilpi writes beautifully about this in his post “From systems to ecosystems”:

“Minimal hierarchy, organizational diversity and responsiveness characterize ecosystems. Ecosystems are a response to the increasing complexity of strategic horizons and short half-life of designs. To cope with the uncertainties firms see themselves and the world around them as ecosystems, where every unit, every node in the network, should engage with learning. Instead of centralized design and planning, the activities of exploration are the responsibility of the whole network. Because of greater complexity, coordination and communication cannot be planned in advance, controlled or managed hierarchically.

Authority needs to be distributed; it is no longer delegated vertically but emerges horizontally in the networked ecosystem. Under distributed authority work teams and knowledge workers need to be accountable to other work teams and other knowledge workers instead of a single boss. You need to have many “bosses”. Success at ecosystems depends on learning by mutual accountability and responsiveness. This is much more than matrix organizations or internal markets.”

He ends his post with wise words:  “Value creation cannot be understood as industrial systems any more, but as continuously developing, complex, responsive ecosystems of connected people.” I warmly recommend you read the entire post.

This discussion also reminds me of old article of Normann and Ramírez (From Value Chain to Value Constellation: Designing Interactive Strategy, Harvard Business Review, 1993). They stated that organizations that are going to survive in the changing environment are:

“[…] those looking beyond their immediate boundaries to the social and business systems in which they are enmeshed and discover new ways to reconfigure those systems in order to reinvent value for their customers.”

And this article is 18 years old.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Yes, it is a name of an excellent album by progressive rock band Supertramp, but also a question Larry E. Greiner raises up. Related to the issues described above I’ll find Greiner’s model of organizational growth and development very interesting. The model describes the way organizations change over time and how these changes can shape not only organizational structures but also management practices.

His model consists of five development phases, which are made of two stages; evolution and revolution. What he means is that each evolution stage causes its own revolution (crisis). The original phases and the following crisis are:

  1. Phase of evolutionary creativity followed by leadership crisis;
  2. Phase of directed evolutionary growth followed by an autonomy crisis;
  3. Phase of evolutionary growth through delegation followed by a control crisis;
  4. Phase of evolutionary growth through coordination followed by a crisis in bureaucracy; and
  5. Phase of evolutionary growth through collaboration followed by another crisis of unknown origin.

In 1998 Greiner added a 6th phase into his model: growth through extra-organizational solutions. It suggests that outsourcing, mergers, networks and other solutions involving other companies come into the picture.

However, the Greiner model emphasizes the age and size of the organization and the growth rate of the industry – but now we have a special addition to that, the paradigm change in the way we communicate.

Do you have the personality structure for the social business?

Associated with the fifth phase of collaboration Greiner speculated that the following crisis could be around the psychological saturation of the employees. He says:

“Intensive teamwork can dissipate employee efforts on the other hand, while on the other some may find the new behavioral concepts and techniques incompatible with their personality structure”.

What an interesting point of view! Think about the development and the challenges many Enterprise 2.0/Social Business initiatives are facing. Indeed, evolution and revolution on-going: on the system, ecosystem, and the personal level. Could we apply Greiner’s phases to the adoption of the Enterprise 2.0/Social Business?

Ha, I think my personality structure is made for social business. How about yours?

PS. For my Finnish readers, another natural association from Greiner’s model & Supertramp is, of course, Ismo Alanko’s song “Kriisistä kriisiin” (a Finnish song called From crisis to crisis).



Are You Systems Intelligent?

My friends have patiently tolerated my numerous stories about Professor Esa Saarinen’s Paphos Classic seminar I attended in September this year. Indeed, it was the most amazing and surprising week, a true celebration of creativity and humanity. However impossible it is to describe it, I’ll try every now then. Anyways, this post is about a related connection I observed.

I often admire John Hagel’s articles in Harvard Business Review, via Twitter I happened to find a presentation “The Big Shift: Challenge and Opportunity for Women” that he gave at the TEDx Bay Area Woman conference in December 8th, 2010.

His message took me right back to Paphos topics. Before going further I shortly describe which part of Esa Saarinen’s work he reminded me of. In the first seminar morning Esa started the day by saying something like this:

We may have a surprisingly narrow sense of ourselves.

With this sentence Esa Saarinen paved the way to his theory of Systems Intelligence which he defines as follows: “Systems Intelligence (SI) involves the ability to use the human sensibilities of systems and reasoning about systems in order to adaptively carry out productive actions within and with respect to systems.”

All of us have two thinking systems, so-called System 1 and System 2. System 1 thinking can be described as automatic, associative, and intuitive. System 2 thinking is dominating in the work places: you better be strictly rational and always take the various rules into account in your thinking. It’s all about being analytical and systematical, that’s very much appreciated! We can’t afford emotions at the work place, and so on.

It is easy and very tempting to see the opposite, systems stupidity. 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. Indeed, very often we are having a surprisingly narrow sense of ourselves! When both systems are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions which in turn nourish and create the trust-based relationships. At its best this opens an Ocean of Opportunities!

Sticking to System 2 thinking doesn’t kill you yet, but it does not strengthen you either.

So, my humble observation is that John Hagel and Esa Saarinen are sharing the same idea; looking it from different perspectives, using different notions. John Hagel describes the on-going powerful change of how we in the business world must focus on knowledge flows, instead of knowledge stocks. A bit paradoxically, in these times when we have huge amount of data available, the most value comes from the tacit knowledge flows.

Sharing of the tacit knowledge requires trust-based relationships. In absence of trust, there is often no access to tacit knowledge. The winner is the one who manages to build rich flows of tacit knowledge and scale it.

Hagel draws a picture of the two opposites: Masculine & Feminine Archetypes. When challenged the approach a masculine archetype chooses is: emotions aside, never show your vulnerability, be strictly analytical. It’s all about transactions. The feminine archetype is defined as having: a strong intuition, associativity, emotions and showing vulnerability. The relationships are the most essential core.

John Hagel ends his excellent presentation (13 minutes of pure gold) with these words:

“Deep tacit knowledge flow relies on massive scale of trust-based relationships. And the future belongs to the “feminine archetype”; because it’s about trusted relationships for tacit knowledge sharing.”

There’s not much to add to that. I’m all in.

I feel very passionate about this: two of my favorite thinkers around the same topic. I am looking forward to see how organizations manage to develop in this area. When and how will “The Hagel-Saarinen Approach”  (my own, totally unofficial notion!) flow into organizations around the world?

Are You Systems Intelligent?


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