Work and the Web are Converging

Since seeing the first website (Tim Berners-Lee’s site at CERN) in the early 1990s, I’ve been ecstatic about the web. Having spent the previous 14 years in the corporate training business, it was only natural for me to speculate about its potential for learning. With the web, information was available everywhere. I could share a single copy of a document, eliminating the hassle of distributing updates. The system could keep track of goals and progress. FAQs and mentors were a click away. What’s more, you didn’t have to be in IT to create and post your own content. A cyber campus I could access from my home office. I was in heaven.

Fifteen years on the web have made me less starry-eyed and more reflective. I’m still excited, because we’ve only scratched the surface of what the web will become in the next 15 years, but I’m able to realize that the web is doing a lot more than making communication instantaneous and information available to all. The web is changing culture.

Aided by the web, school children work with one another to complete assignments. Confined to the indoors because of random craziness and violence outside, kids maintain continual contact with friends through Instant Messenger. They get to know one another by sharing photos and thoughts on communities like MySpace. They are accustomed to learning by assembling snips of knowledge on the web into coherent papers and presentations. They work in the now, and they are starting to enter the workforce.

Culture shift

First we shape the web; then the web shapes us. E-learning has shown me that it is easy—and often okay—to skip subjects or presentations that don’t seem to be taking me anywhere. Click. Good-bye. My online behavior now shapes how I act in real life. For example, when listening to a presentation at a conference, despite the fact that I usually sit in the front row, if the presenter is not delivering the goods, I leave. I think of it as clicking on a fresh link.

The ways of the web are changing corporate behavior, too. People expect organizations we deal with to have a website, to explain how to use their products, to give us an email address or two for getting in touch, and to provide fresh information. The web is spreading values and expectations that we’ll call “Internet culture.” Here a few examples:

Customers expect a response to a query within a day or two, and sometimes immediately. However, when snail mail was the vehicle, a week was an excellent response time.

Many managers assume that workers are aware of what is going on in their organizations, which was not the case when information was always sent via memo.

The old notion of “us” and “them” no longer applies. Haughty companies will be called on it. We are all nodes on the net.

Nothing is set in stone. It’s tough to recall a book, but easy to edit a webpage.

Many presume that keeping something secret is probably a cover-up.

Unfortunately, the typical corporate manager is unfamiliar with Internet culture. They consider the web as “a marketplace for mass speech, a jungle where children are prey, a mall or concert hall, a safari for surf, a commercial space much in need of zoning,” writes Wesley Cooper in “ Information Technology and Internet Culture.

Corporations must embrace the web, however. Organizations cannot only reap the tangible benefits of connectedness, they must also internalize the memes of Internet culture. It is internet culture that can reinforce the values of collaboration, sharing, rapid response, innovation through prototyping, openness, authenticity, and agility.

The role of learning

Corporate learning can be an ideal place to initiate this Internet acculturation. In addition to providing a framework for learning the metaphors of the web, organizations can receive a large and quick payback in cost savings and improved performance.

Today’s work is knowledge work. Try to imagine working in this environment without Internet culture.

Workers are challenged to make their own decisions, on the fly. The boss is spread too thin to answer questions. No one has time for workshops and courses. Real-time learning is replacing learn-in-advance courses. Networks glue teams together and promote two-way relationships with customers and suppliers. Increasingly, people acquire the skills they use at work informally—observing others, trial-and-error, Goggling, and checking the Net so see what people have done in the past.

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Classifications

Classifications? We don’t need no stinking classifications.

Integration is the goal. Classifications invite disintegration.

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Beta is beautiful

All hail the early adopters

The first people to try a new product or new idea are enthusiasts, visionaries, tinkerers, and experimenters. They are the crazy ones. They live on the bleeding edge. They put up with half-baked, pre-release products for the opportunity of reaping early rewards, bragging rights for beating others to the punch, and having vendors pay them respect.
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Waste of time or productivity enhancer?

GigaOm reports that

Content security firm Clearswift recently tried to quantify the magnitude of the problem with a survey of 827 employees in organizations of 1,000 people and up. Among their findings:

  • 43% of office workers access social media sites from their work computers several times a day
  • 51% spend an hour or more a week on the sites; 13% spend five hours or more
  • 46% have discussed work-related issues on social media sites
  • 46% regularly access Wikipedia during work hours

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  • 50% believe they have a right to use work computers for personal internet access”
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    Both sides now



    I was reading the collaboration section of a magazine geared to IT professionals when I came upon an article titled Cat-Herding Nightmare.

    The first paragraph echoes the Web 2.0-is-good-for-you party line I’ve heard again and again this week:

    Web 2.0 collaboration tools are irresistible to end users: They’re easy to set up and use and can be accessed from anywhere. Employees can upload or create documents, spreadsheets, wikis, and blogs, then invite co-workers and partners to access, edit, and download content. These apps often include productivity enhancers such as search and tagging. And not surprisingly, vendors are encouraging the trend–Microsoft and IBM have added wikis and blogging capabilities to enterprise apps including SharePoint and Lotus Quickr, while Google and upstarts like Socialtext, PBwiki, and Jive Software are luring corporate users with freebie accounts and dead-simple deployment. provision users in minutes, pay with discretionary funds–and never make a single call to IT.

    Warning to IT folks: Mayday! Mayday! Turf is being threatened. Put up the shields. Ready the cannon. Mayday! Mayday1

    All these wonderful benefits. Too bad there’s a dark side.

    Sadly, all IT gets out of the deal is a big fur ball as it struggles to organize corporate content run amok. The potential for exposure of sensitive information or theft of intellectual property runs high, as do concerns about noncompliance with corporate or third-party requirements as end users scatter sensitive information around the Internet. If the company gets tangled in litigation, data relevant to discovery requests may be lurking unknown on third-party servers, exposing the organization to financial or legal sanctions.

    Implication: IT can’t trust those pesky users. Possible solution: Get the knock-off versions of web tools provided by IBM, EMC, BEA, and Microsoft. That lets IT continue its battle to maintain control, even if it means dumping all those great benefits. The article notes that the products from the big boys…

    …also come with the downsides of enterprise software–longer and more costly deployment than software as a service, and longer lag between upgrades. Enterprises are unlikely to dip their toes into collaboration through a six-figure software deployment. It’s not uncommon to find companies using SharePoint and third-party SaaS products.

    The article concludes that IT needs to keep ahead of technologies and provide services before users demand them. That would be great but I am skeptical. Since IT has rarely come down from its me-first perch, why stop now? Isn’t it easier to focus on the damage workers might do rather than the benefits an open business gives its stakeholders. Should we really let IT make the tradeoff between the hair-ball messiness of web 2.0 and staying in business? Nah, we won’t get fooled again.

    I’ve look at this from both sides now, it’s up and down and still somehow, I don’t think we should be picking sides at all. IT should support the business, not the other way around.

    Related:
    How it’s going to be

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    Clay Shirky

    Group action just got easier. Ridiculously easy group forming.
    Social impact takes place when the technology gets boring.

    Sharing, conversation, collaboration, collective action
    In order of increasing coordination Continue Reading »

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    Push and pull

    Telemarketers from the vendor with a push strategy call to sell you insurance as you sit down to dinner. The Hard Rock Café displays Bo Diddley’s guitar pick and plays throbbing music to pull you in. The itinerant Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman pushes; the Gilroy Garlic Festival is pull. Push is generally someone else’s idea; pull is what you think you want.

    The Industrial Age was pushy. Owners predicted what would people would buy, built the factory, made large quantities to take advantage of economies of scale, and then tried to convince people to buy. Today change is so rampant and the future so unpredictable that Dell doesn’t build your computer until you order it. You cannot set up in advance when you don’t know what the future holds.

     

    PUSH PULL
    Assumes you can predict demand Assumes world is unpredictable
    Anticipate Respond
    Rigid, static Flexible, dynamic
    Conform, core Innovate, edge
    Monoliths, components glued together Small pieces, loosely joined
    Program Platform
    Get better at what you are currently doing Get better at whatever comes along
    Standard content Standard interfaces

    New management disciplines for the pull world all involve how organizations relate to one another (outsourcing, orchestration, productive friction). This, in turn, makes one think about where strategic advantage comes from. China is rapidly becoming the center for business management innovation, and this is the source of continuing advantage; copycats won’t catch you if you’re always ahead of them.

    All of this is nurtured by networks stitched together with responsive, modular IT. 

    Value, i.e. what it takes to stay ahead, used to reside in killer products or shrewd finance. In the pull world, value results from talent. Talent, in turn, is the result of maintaining relationships. The leading organizations of the future will be those with the ability to create and retain talent. Developing talent will become the role of the firm – and the way people choose who they want to work for.

     

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    Digital Ethnography

    The videos of Michael Wesch

    Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist exploring the impacts of new media on human interaction. The Digital Ethnography Working Group is a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Released on YouTube on January 31st 2007, it quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere and has now been viewed over 3 million times. You must watch this vide

    For me, cultural anthropology is a continuous exercise in expanding my mind and my empathy, building primarily from one simple principle: everything is connected. This is true on many levels. First, everything including the environment, technology, economy, social structure, politics, religion, art and more are all interconnected. As I tried to illustrate in the video, this means that a change in one area (such as the way we communicate) can have a profound effect on everything else, including family, love, and our sense of being itself. Second, everything is connected throughout all time, and so as anthropologists we take a very broad view of human history, looking thousands or even millions of years into the past and into the future as well. And finally, all people on the planet are connected. This has always been true environmentally because we share the same planet. Today it is even more true with increasing economic and media globalization.”

    Digital ethnography

    Information R/evolution

    A Vision of Students Today

    Digital Ethnography YouTube Project

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    Art Kleiner

    You may not have heard of the guy, but Art Kleiner, has made a major impact on my thinking.

    Art Kleiner is a writer, lecturer and editorial consultant with a
    background in management, interactive media, corporate
    environmentalism, scenario planning, and organizational learning.
    His column, “Culture and Change,” appears in Strategy & Business,
    the business quarterly for general readers published by Booz Allen
    Hamilton. He is a co-author (with Peter Senge et al) of the bestselling
    Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (1994), The Dance of Change
    (1999), and Schools That Learn (2000) — a multiple-author trilogy
    published by Doubleday, focusing, respectively, on organizational
    learning, sustaining change in business, and the education system.
    Kleiner’s book The Age of Heretics (1996, Doubleday/Currency), is a
    history of the thinkers and practitioners who sparked the modern
    organizational change movement; it was a finalist for the Edgar G.
    Booz award for most innovative business book of 1996. His
    forthcoming book Who Really Matters is an exploration of the hidden
    purposes of organizations in action.

    The Next Wave of Format

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    Illuminating the Blind Spot of Leadership

    Design principles for evolving high-velocity business environments

    Immersion—becoming fully engaged in the contexts at issue. In the words of Brian Arthur:
    observe, observe, observe. All profound innovations occur in an atmosphere of
    immersion. In that atmosphere, or sphere, one fully observes all that is happening and is
    also open to ideas from outside its boundaries.
    Interpretation—becoming conscious of one’s own and other people’s views and moving across all of them
    with ease. Nonaka’s principle of multi-discipline and multi-viewpoint dialogue supports the
    development of new interpretations. McKinsey’s Richard Foster brings artists into
    corporate strategy conversations to inspire new interpretations.
    Imagination—a quality of observation that involves seeing and sensing: seeing objects and sensing
    emerging patterns that suggest future possibilities. The imagination, says Henri Bortoft, is
    an “organ of perception.” To imagine is to “redirect one’s attention,” as Varela puts it,
    from objects to sources and patterns.


    Inspiration and Intuition
    —the senses that allow one to recognize and strive for the highest possibilities.
    This is the level of primary knowing that Eleanor Rosch talks about, the level of
    presencing one’s highest possibility. And it is the level Kahane was speaking of when he
    talked about the turning point of stillness in his Guatemala story.
    Intention—the alignment of one’s will with what is trying to emerge as the larger whole.79 One of the
    best leverages for changing the structure of organizational fields lies in the conscious use
    of one’s intention. “Intention is not the most powerful force” says Brian Arthur, “it is the
    only force.”
    Instant execution—rapid experimentation and prototyping in order to capitalize on
    emerging opportunities. At this stage, a laser focus on instant execution and fast-cycle
    experimentation and learning are paramount. Execution also means terminating
    experiments and options that do not work.
    Implementation—embedding and embodying the seeds of innovation in appropriate structures. These
    structures facilitate the next phase of evolution, emergence, and flow.

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    School’s out

    In a world of Gustavo Esteva was an IBM executive and adviser to the president of Mexico before joining the guerrilla freedom fighters in Chiapas. Several years ago he had to bow out of a meeting with a group of us because the rebel leader Subcommandante Marcos was in town and needed Gustavo’s advice.

    Reclaiming our freedom to learn

    “We learn better when nobody is teaching us. We can observe this in every baby and in our own experience. Our vital competence comes from learning by doing, without any kind of teaching.”

    The people in the villages know very well that school prevents their children from learning what they need to know to continue living in their communities, contributing to the common well-being and that of their soils, their places. And school does not prepare them for life or work outside the community.

    After the exercise, a very practical question came to the table. We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world. That is exactly what the Zapatistas are doing in the south of Mexico. How can we create our own new world, at our own, small, human scale, in our little corner in Oaxaca? How can we deschool our lives and those of our children in this real world, where the school still dominates minds, hearts and institutions?

    The most dramatic lesson we derived from the exercise was to discover what we were really missing in the urban setting: conditions for apprenticeship. When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents—just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade. Everybody is busy, going from one place to another. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture. Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community.

    In Unitierra we have been fruitfully following a suggestion of Paul Goodman, a friend of, and source of inspiration for, Ivan Illich. Goodman once said: “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now! Whatever you would do then, do it now. When you run up against obstacles, people, or things that won’t let you live that way, then begin to think about how to get over or around or under that obstacle, or how to push it out of the way, and your politics will be concrete and practical.”

    cf John Taylor Gatto

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