Smarter Innovation: Road Map to the Future

Last spring, we were approached by the Academic Director of Columbia University’s Graduate Information and Strategy program, Katrina Pugh.  She had received word about the innovative way our Change Agents work out loud in the cloud.  We were asked to contribute to a management book published recently by ARK Group, “Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results.”

The goal of the book is to shed light on insights that have been growing in our knowledge space – tacit knowledge sharing, conversations, collective intelligence, applied analytics – but which have never been wrapped together in a coherent way to address such as pressing problem. As our global economy steps out of its long slumber, it will be the innovators who expand opportunity and prosperity for their employees, customers and societies.  – Kate Pugh

smarterOur chapter in the book resides within the topic focusing on social and operational integration.  We go into great detail about how we work, our values, our innovative business practices, and the strength of our network-based decision-making when it comes to modern organizational design and methods.  Authored primarily by three of our Change Agents, but collaborated on by our whole team, the chapter defines how Change Agents Worldwide “works.”  And, of course, the way we work is a reflection of how our network wants to work.  Every change agent in our network believes in the principles we espouse, so it should come as no surprise that we actually work this way.

The book is fascinating. It’s available today on the ARK Group web site.  Contributions by leading consultants and thought leaders who hail from Columbia, Deloitte, Emory University, 3M, Motorola, Pfizer, Intel, and many others have presented cutting-edge examples of how large and small companies are innovating with customer service, supplier intelligence, sales, knowledge retention and discovery, inventory, and open patent alternatives.

If you just want to read our chapter, Innovation by Design, you can download it today from our web site.  For all of those who’ve pre-ordered the chapter on our web site, you will be receiving a notification shortly that it’s available for download.

Feel free to download our first e-book as well, Changing the World of Work.  One Human at a Time.  We are currently working on new book ideas, so make sure to subscribe to our newsletter list to keep up with our new products and services.  Lots of good stuff coming from our worldwide team of Change Agents.

The Insurgent Communicator


The future of communications is already here, but most corporate communications – specifically internal communications – are proof that William Gibson was correct. The way we communicate in society, from publishing to consuming information, has been reshaped dramatically over the past decade. But inside a corporate environment, you’d barely notice it.

The new communications covenant

In our personal lives we scroll through streams of updates and tweets at lightning speed, digesting news and information from the serious to the mundane. We gorge on videos in the hope that a one-minute video can communicate more to us in less time than reading. We slow down just long enough to interact with the content by liking, sharing, or adding a comment. These habits have become so ingrained that when we come across content that cannot be acted upon we almost feel betrayed, as if the covenant of the new media age has been broken.

Most of all, the content sources we view are customized to us – not by an entity that thinks it knows what we should receive, but by ourselves, either handpicked or based on our preferences, profile data, and personal network. While some may say this creates an echo chamber, the more one expands their network (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn) the greater the chance for serendipitous encounters with news/information beyond one’s usual horizon — more so than via any editorial driven publication.

Most internal communication professionals know this of course. So why do most corporations communicate to their staff using “web 1.0” methods or worse? Sure, some companies have implemented internal social networks where employees can customize their activity feeds, but when it comes to publishing and accessing “the official” news they often have simply recreated the old publishing model on a social platform, rather than re-imagine how the news can be created, published, and consumed. There are cultural and leadership factors in play here, but I want to focus on the less obvious reason, the communications staff.

Fear of change vs. opportunity

In story after story of companies implementing ESNs (Enterprise Social Networks) I’ve heard similar refrains: “Our comms people don’t want to use it” or “The communications team is actively resisting adoption efforts.” So even though they are well aware of the communication trends around them, which they’ve probably adopted in their personal lives, and even though they likely know that the future is here and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches them, they are resistant to the change. They only see the threat to the status quo and not the opportunity that comes with it.

They fear losing the control that comes with being THE source for their area of news in the company. They fear what might happen if (gulp!) their news isn’t as visible as before in a new social model or if the decision to receive their news is (double gulp!) left up to the employee! They fear the change that will come as the role of a professional communicator evolves, as it certainly will. They also fear possibly losing their job, seeing a diminished role for communicators in this future. But what they should fear most is being left behind.

Communications is the new front for organizational change

The opening quote also pertains to the larger world of business too. Companies are changing – or will be forced to change in the near future, some radically. The very idea of “the company” as we know it and the nature of what it means “to work” is being called into question by futurists, thought leaders, and enterprise change agents (some of whom are communicators), many of whom exist at the fringes of mainstream business but whose influence is slowly bleeding into the center. Radical change always starts from the edges in.

There is an opportunity here for communicators. Author and futurist Clay Shirky said, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” Apply this to your organization. The influence that communications – as a group, process, and medium – wields is immense.  The communications department should be on the vanguard of your organization’s evolution.

We know though that many won’t sign up for this path, even if the opportunities for the individual and the profession as a whole are spelled out in blinking lights. Such is the nature of change. This means however, more opportunities for those few communicators that do want to be change agents for their organization. It can be risky of course. The old command and control culture will fight back and if you ride too high in the saddle you will be picked off before you’ve had a chance to influence real change.

The insurgent advantage

That’s why a subtle approach will have a more lasting impact. Start by building a purposeful network in your company – you will need allies. If there is an ESN start “working out loud” to demonstrate the power of social communications, even on an individual level. Work with your internal stakeholders on new ways to publish their news – start small, but think big. If you can re-imagine the communications process for one small group, it could have implications companywide. Influence your allies to introduce the same changes in their groups.

Share your ideas with communications leadership, but don’t present them as some revolutionary way to change the face of communications at your company – that will expose you as an insurgent and the machine will fight back. Instead, find ways to couch them as enhancements to the current model, such as additional means to broaden the visibility of messages and increase readership. They will probably still reject them, but you’ll be planting the seeds of change, and as your network and influence grow through your underground efforts those ideas may resurface again from a different person in a different part of the organization, possibly from a place they can’t afford to ignore. Being a constant gardener for the future of the workplace is no less rebellious, but will pay off more than the efforts of someone whose overzealous passion for change can be misunderstood, thus marginalizing them.

It will take patience and drive but you’ll still be working against the system, from the inside, as a trusted colleague and employee looking to make your workplace better. Do you have what it takes to be an insurgent communicator?

How Digital Disrupts “Business as Usual”

Compressing Processes

In November 2012, we delivered a presentation at Ovum Analysts’ Business Process Management event: ‘Compressing processes – How productivity is going social and mobile’. It was a short keynote using case studies to show how the big four digital trends – social media, mobile devices, big data, and cloud computing – are disrupting ‘business as usual’ by speeding up decisions and actions. To be effective in this environment, businesses need to compress their processes to match their customers / competitors / alternatives…

A version of the presentation is embedded below. It’s been formatted for Slideshare (in the original, each example was an animated build to help with telling the story). And is followed by some additional notes.

Additional notes

The four trends should not be a surprise: social media, Internet-connected mobile devices, massive amounts of data being updated in real-time and cloud computing hosting the content and communications on a global basis. Combined, they enable conversations, analysis, decisions and actions at a speed and scale that simply did not happen before.

Example #1: September 11th changed intelligence procedures

September 11th, 2001 was possibly the first major event that felt the impact of the Internet and mobile devices. Studies later found that as many as 2,500 lives were saved by people ignoring expert advice. With landlines disconnected, many stuck in the towers were able to gather information via mobile phones, chose to ignore official procedures (stay put, don’t use the lifts) and managed to get out in time.

But there was another lesson to be learned. The 2005 paper: The Wiki and the Blog, published by the CIA noted that all the necessary intelligence of such an attack was known independently, but not connected. Confidentiality protocols prevented departments from sharing information – information was accessed on a ‘need to know’ basis, and decision hierarchies meant the journey from gathering intelligence, interpreting and analysing, making a decision and then acting on it was taking far too long. Research highlighted the trends that are impacting many industries.

The circumstances to which we respond develop more quickly. These rapidly changing circumstances take on lives of their own, which are difficult or impossible to anticipate or predict.

The solution: flatten hierarchies, open up information stores and communication channels, make more connections between different sources of data. Use tools, such as wikis and blogs, that make it easier to quickly share, discuss and update information. Shorten the cycle of receiving intelligence, deciding what to do, and acting on that decision

Example #2: A/B testing enables real-time decisions based on feedback

A somewhat less dramatic example but reinforcing the message. A/B testing is simply putting up two versions of the same web page and analysing behaviours (time spent on the page, what elements are clicked or interacted with) and then choosing the most successful version. Rinse and repeat. In short – it uses feedback to decide the design rather than expert opinions.

Sounds easy but sometimes it can be hard to accept when the feedback doesn’t align with expectations. People are great at ignoring or dismissing data that doesn’t fit our own viewpoint. IGN gaming network discovered that crisp clear prose was outperforming hyped-up buzzwords on certain parts of their home page. Previously, the opposite had been true. Why the change? After much ‘head scratching’ they finally realised it simply didn’t matter. Just make the change. If the results shift, make the change again…

[The latest trend] in A/B testing is to automate the whole process… so that the software, when it finds statistical significance, simply diverts all traffic to the better performing option.

Example #3: Given the opportunity, people will learn and mentor

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, headed by Nicholas Negroponte, handed out tablet devices to children in a remote village in Africa. The children had no formal education, no access to the Internet or digital technologies and had never heard English. The tablets were running the Android operating system, pre-loaded with over 1,000 apps – a mix of audio books, sub-titled cartoons, and number games.

The original expectation was that there would be more interest in the cardboard boxes than the tablets inside. There were no instructions given, no guidance or help. Just regular observation and analysis of log files recording all interactions.


It took 4 minutes to power up the first tablet. Within 5 days they were averaging 47 apps per child per day. Within 2 weeks they were singing ABC songs in the village. Within 3 months they had mastered the basic sounds of the English alphabet. At 5 months they had managed to activate the built-in camera and were taking pictures (the camera had been accidentally disabled during set-up).

Whilst many will debate the ethics of the study, the results are fascinating. A group consisting of mixed ages and abilities working and learning together without any formal rules or instructions. The older and faster learners helping the others. Lessons that can be applied to business – perhaps be a little less prescriptive with activities, let people self-organise and discover possibilities, encourage mentoring.

Example #4: The Internet of Things means now everything is connected

Another quite recent example. The CIO at Toyota North America has been outsourcing all standard IT services such as email, file storage and device management. Re-focusing the IT department on supporting the business purpose and investing more roles in R&D activities. Great to see the IT role shifting back to being an enabler. I don’t know whether it’s an automotive industry trend, but the European CIO at BMW shared a very similar philosophy during a keynote at another analyst event in 2012 – Gartner’s annual CIO symposium. At BMW, 45% of the IT budget is spent on ‘keeping the lights on’ activities. The average is 60%. BMW is also focusing IT on R&D activities to help the business innovate.

And the automotive industry is demonstrating another big trend – sensors integrated into devices, automatically sending real-time updates over the Internet. A/B testing is about tracking what people do. Sensors do the same for machines – the ‘Internet of things’.

sensory adjustments

In this example, we have car. And a driver. The steering wheel monitors the driver’s vital signs – heart beat, blood pressure, sugar levels. That data can be automatically updated to online services for analysis. Yikes, the outlook is not good! Alert the driver to pullover and wait for the ambulance. Or… when the self-driving car goes fully into production, sit back and let the car take you straight to the hospital.

Example #5: Those with a stake in the outcome want to be involved

The fifth trend – less about technology, more about sociology. I’m not a fan of the word ‘Gamification’ but it describes a simple concept: applying game dynamics in non-gaming environments to motivate a change in behaviour. The simplest form that has appeared thanks to other technology trends is the use of badges and scoreboards. They can be great for getting people to complete tasks they otherwise wouldn’t bother to do. But the uses are limited – they are essentially about manipulation and benefits may only last in the short term.

Another side to game dynamics is role-playing and simulations. Arguably, games have been part of certain industries for decades – such as flight simulators used to train pilots without risking expensive airplanes or human lives. Massive multi-player online games such as World of Warcraft have demonstrated how engaged people become when immersed in something they want to do. The quests that are central to the game require team work, planning, regular communications, adapting in real-time when conditions change and ongoing skills development to face quests with increasing difficulty. Most organisations would benefit from enhancing those abilities in the modern office…

So how does a disengaged office worker suddenly become such an engaged and active participant in a virtual quest? First, they have a stake in the outcome. They are in control of their destiny. They aren’t being told to do something ‘just because…’ Second, they enjoy the activity. Who said work can’t be fun? Of course, much of work has to be taken seriously. But create an environment that fosters a sense of fun and you’re likely increase participation. Third, everyone is involved and has a role to play. There is no resentment that some people aren’t pulling their weight. The guild survives and thrives as a team. And that includes sharing the rewards… everybody gains from winning a quest.

Self-organising, highly engaged, working as a team, adapting in real-time to unpredictable circumstances – the definition of a modern business process, occurring in a game…

Role-playing games tap into essential human desires – to be in control and to be appreciated – that formal processes too often fail to take into account. Has the workplace become inhuman?

Closing summary

This was a short story-telling talk using real examples to highlight how digital, social and economic trends are impacting processes. It doesn’t mean the end of traditional process management and improvement but rather recognising that different approaches suit different environments. Standardised routines are all about managed, controlled, predictable outcomes – concentrating on stability, consistency and efficiency.  Predictable outcomes do not guarantee good results, particularly if facing uncertainty and change. Many industries are beginning to see the need for and benefits of more personalised and agile processes – more open access to data, more connected people, shorter decision cycles, being able to adapt in real-time and making continuous incremental adjustments based on feedback.


Employee Engagement: Beyond Workplace Psychosis 2.0

I always have been an ardent supporter of true qualitative research. Yet, data IS interesting, specially when, considered under the right angle, it helps shedding a light on otherwise unnoticed facts and behaviors.

A number is a number is a number
Emanuele Quintarelli, when presenting the results of the Social Collaboration Survey he recently conducted among 300 Italian companies, exposed such numbers, which curiously were barely commented, during the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit (you can have a look to his presentation here). He, and his colleague Stefano Besana, found out that middle management is not the problem we all thought it was. On average, it represents a problem for less than 20 percent of companies having undergone a social business initiative. Wow… A fast and dirty interpretation of this finding would be to correlate it with the now (in)famous prediction from the Gartner Group saying that 80 percent of social business efforts will fail, and to assert that old thinking — introducing social with a project mindset, something easily understandable and actionable at middle management level — fails in reshaping businesses to adapt to our new hyper connected reality.

While intellectually flattering, as it nurtures our believing in the necessity for a cultural and behavioral change, making such a correlation would be a fraud. 80 percent of middle managers seing value in social means that part of them are adopting new leadership traits in their behavior (Emanuele’s survey in fact shows that half of companies, on average, think that their culture fits social initiatives). If so, how may we interpret the dreadful level of disengagement (63 per cent worldwide) among employees reported by Gallup?

When structure trumps culture

More than culture, organizational structure imposes constraints on our behaviors. Going even further, organizational culture might be defined as the set of behaviors which develop over time along the interplay of these constraints. As John Wenger insightfully pointed out:

“I’m often fascinated by how people, when they walk through the door of their workplaces, adopt behaviors akin to the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. Despite knowing in our hearts and in our guts that much of how workplaces operate is nonsensical and even anti-human, we maintain the charade that it’s the best way of doing things. As Alan Moore points out in No Straight Lines, industrial systems were not designed with human needs at their heart, yet we still organise workplaces along such lines. We go along with the deceit that doing things in a mechanistic, command-and-control way is the right way to do things.”

In many cases, the “victimization” of unengaged employees isn’t caused by, or targeted toward colleagues and managers, but toward the system itself, which structure embodies a deterministic set of constraints. Restoring goodwill requires much more than changing management’s mindset, it calls for a reweaving of the formal structure of organizations. Structure and culture are intimately linked, and at the end of the day, they all relate to relationships between people. As Dan Pontefract wrote in Flat Army:

“… organizational culture is defined by one criterion, and one only: an organization’s culture is defined by the manner in which employees are treated by their direct leader.”

I won’t discuss here the superiority of networks over industrial era hierarchies as organizational model, many others have brilliantly discussed it, you can for example read these recent posts by Jon Husband or Oskar Berg. Yet, a crucial question remains: does a networked organizational structure intrinsically trigger employee engagement?

Sadly, the answer seems negative. There are still few plausible case studies of companies exhibiting —and living— this kind of structure: GoreValveAutomatic, and some others, but they all share a common attitude toward employee engagement: they hire individuals who fit their internal culture, and are particularly cautious about the personality and mindset of new hires. When setting up the right structure, they tend more to protect the corresponding culture than to assimilate dissent elements. Indirectly, they all prove that, if a network-based structure enables engagement and collaboration by leveraging trusted relationships, it doesn’t help that much in restoring motivation from disengaged employees.

Workplace psychosis 2.0

Companies’ culture is evolving; in some cases, their structure is beginning — albeit slowly — to change, but the level of disengagement keeps on increasing. To counter this inexorable trend, some companies are beginning to adopt new behaviors: ROWE human resources approach, BYOD policies, better work-life balance,… but is there any tangible evidence that those are really enhancing engagement?

In a parallel to the rise of industrialization, in our Western societies, the XIXth century has seen our lives being more and more tightly structured and partitioned: work, family, religion, leisure, have grown into social and behavioral “boxes” which, for many people, were largely disconnected one from another. This social, moral, and ontological evolution even reflected itself in the thinking of the time. For example, in Ancient SocietyLewis Henry Morgan, one of the founders of anthropology, described social evolution as a set of patterns belonging different domains: technology, subsistence, marriage, family and political organization.

Today, all, but one, of these personal, social and political boxes which prevailed in the XIXth century have disappeared, in a global transformative movement, accelerated by the internet and the rise of networks. Technology is now pervasive, and affordable to anyone. Family is no more the infrangible nucleus it was hundred years ago, and marriage is no more the reference point of human lives. Political minorities take now their own voice, whichever it is, and the class struggle is merely memories in hedonistic and individualistic societies. Work, instead, has remained the last “reserved” domain, in which people still think and behave differently than in any other situation of a life characterized by social and cultural continuous hybridation. This fracture is less physical, as telework and freelance contracting develops, than psychological, as work codes greatly differ from the ones from our private life, as the nature of work moves away from its outcomes, and gets more and more abstract.

This situation sheds a new light on the lack of engagement, in organizations attempting to adopt more flexible internal rules and to entice employees to bring more of their personality and creativity into the workplace. Being a more complete self in a disconnected, self-contained, workplace, while living a more and more demanding and connected life externally, exhibits all the traits of a split personality disorder. In other words, organizations trying to socialize processes tailored (Taylored) to an industrial-era operational mentality, or to add a social layer to an otherwise closed system, are, slowly but steadily, growing workplace psychosis 2.0.

The nature of the firm, redux

Isn’t there any hope left, beside a radical erase-and-redesign move? Yes, there is. Beside culture and structure, and even beyond them, organizations have to rethink about their nature. I have previously written that the dominant transactional purpose of organizations, famously explained by Ronald Coase, is becoming an economic nonsense. For more than a century, they have grown on top of our society, draining tangible and intangible resources for their own sake, up to the point they have become totally closed systems, subject to growing entropy.

Instead of fighting for a shrinking piece of profit, organizations have to learn how to be useful again to the society which nurtures them, beyond shareholders’ interests, and to become the thriving engines of a global circular economy. To regain sustainability in the new world we see emerging, companies must rethink their own purpose, and will have to switch from an onward, quasi parasitic, to an outward, symbiotic, attitude. The schizophrenia route is definitely a no go. Instead of requiring even more from employees, they are urged to open the doors, and to show them that they care about the world, the society, the city, the life in which they operate.

For sure, most people want to get their work done the best they can, but this only if this work gives sense to their life, and if they are able to feel that this sense is shared among coworkers. Instead of trying to weave socializing behaviors with obsolete business mechanisms, let your employees know you care about your customers, and give them tools to support this. Let them know you care about broader, deeper issues, and help them getting involved in resolving the problems they tackle in their real, external, life. This was the lesson that my friend and colleague from Change Agents Worldwide Céline Schillinger brilliantly gave us during the Enterprise 2.0 Summit: her “Women in Sanofi Pasteur” internal movement grew on the premise of helping to solve the gender balance issue at work, a problem which isn’t limited to the internal corporate world, and the initiative flourished through external recognition. Her success shows that, in order to get more from their employees and contractors, in order to re-engage them, organizations must, simply, give them more. Not as employees, but as human beings. Not in the workplace, but in their life. Let us open the doors of the confined world of work, it needs fresh air. Right now.

Here’s How Change Agents Of The World Unite

As we begin 2014, let’s start at the end.

Change Agents navigate the choppy waters and uneven terrain toward the future of work. They invite you along for the journey – as guides, as co-conspirators, and treasure seekers.

They are in the vanguard. This puts them ahead of the pack. It means they are ready. It also makes them vulnerable. There are bruises, and battles, yet Change Agents still ask:

How can I help?

The currency of social business is a deep understanding of emergent themes and practices in culture, technology, organization design, and the impacts on, and motivations of, individuals. Change Agents are rich in life and learning.

Change Agents are in the flow. They believe in networks and net work. They trust. But flow without hustle is mere meandering. Hustle is a willingness to connect with others and (co)create a vision of a better tomorrow. Change Agents say

“I am part of the solution. I can help. Let’s talk / work.”

Change Agents work out loud. They do not have all the answers. They believe ‘share’ is the new ‘save.’

Mostly, Change Agents are curious. Curiosity is the kick-start, the prerequisite. It is the muscle that helps us manage deep, continuous, uneven change.

Curious? Welcome to Change Agents Worldwide. [Oh, you are already here! Excellent.]

This post was originally posted on the ←This Much We Know→ blog.