Archive for June, 2008

It’s taken a few days for my hippocampus to process and tag all the choice nuggets shared during Interesting2008. And during that short time, stories from the day are already infusing the internet. Russell Davies (Interesting’s instigator) suggested the day would offer ‘guides to interestingness’. It certainly did that – and I’m still revisiting the places the 30-odd speakers guided me to.

Stories were told, not so much for meaning, as for possibility, and providing new perspectives. Like Daniel Raven Ellison‘s illustrations of the world map – moving away from a traditional depiction of landmass to representation of countries based on their ecological footprint. He explained that Salisbury’s ecological footprint is larger than Greater London, and that our present consumption rates mean we are exhausting at least 2.5 planets’ worth of resources. One explanation for this is our emotional and physical distance from the actual consequences of our excesses.

There were echoes of those themes in Matt Webb‘s inglorious tale about the Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia. Apparently, the Patagonian civilisation was moved towards great sophistication due to its science of optics. When vast mirrored spheres were raised over the giant edifice which comprised the legendary Library of Patagonia, people scattered smaller spheres outside windows and inside rooms, so they could view every mirroed piece of text, making the library visible from any point in the country. Effectively, cities and villages were connected through those lenses.

The imagery of this story hooked me, and I found myself wanting it to be true, even if there are some physical impossibilities to do with defraction. Of course, there’s always the reality of the internet and social network theory – not quite so mythical, but a clear metaphorical reflection of the network of spheres! Matt’s thoughts (written up in 2003) dovetail so well with ideas of perspective and distance:

“Can we ever learn to see as others do, and how many alternative ways have we destroyed in our reckless expansion and desire to observe? … We have much to understand. We have much to contemplate.”

Then Steve Hardy introduced the ‘creative generalist’. Someone interested in everything;a connector with eclectic curiosity. These people have a foot in so many different worlds they have the effect of bringing them together. (That sounds very much like the power of weak ties.) Someone with experience and empathy – which brings us back to perspectives and perception – about people, behaviour and motivations. In other words, being genuinely interested in other people’s points of reference.

After so many words, Jim Le Fevre titilated us with these fabulous images of little people doing their ‘things’:

I suppose it’s no coincidence that Penguin was giving away copies of “The Black Swan” during the day. I don’t know if Russell is an ornithologist, but he certainly does know how to bring about a rare event! (Thanks a mill Cybersoc for the ticket!)


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During today’s Web 2.0 Strategies 2008 in London, speakers from a range of industry sectors traversed fairly well-worn, yet nevertheless interesting, issues associated with the adoption of social tools within businesses to improve operations and externally to encourage better connections with customers and understand their market(s). Issues like:

  • Culture, infrastructure and security concerns holding back adoption.
  • Control – over what systems people use at work, the content they create and how it is disseminated.
  • The various social software options and their suitability depending on the circumstances.
  • ROI – apart from identifying bottom line improvements from the use of social tools, a more curly issue is measuring softer consequences – such as the value of strong deep social networks, development of a collaborative environment or motivated empowered employees – if indeed that’s possible or worthwhile at all? (For more on this see Jon Mell’s blog post: Web 2.0 ROI Discussion at Web 2.0 Strategies.)

I felt the conference was pretty light on tangible examples of how companies are actually using, mixing and matching social tools to suit their needs and the translation of this into strategies for others to test. (She says as she makes a mental note to be sure to tell fellow Headshifters to stick to some grassroots presentations drawing on our Case Studies and Use Cases!). There was also lots of ruminating on how companies need to change behaviours and about technology being just an enabler here (not something I wholly agree with).

‘Facebook’ once again proved its ubiquity by making it onto the agenda. Panel and conference members shared their experiences of companies either preventing access behind the firewall, or conversely, opening up and allowing people to use it in ways that help them at work. The main topics of conversation here were about security and trust. Whilst the security issue should give pause for thought (like privacy and information confidentiality), the trust aspect is a no brainer. If companies think Facebook is an instrument for time wasting and don’t trust their people to work autonomously and responsibly, then there’s little surprise that these same companies are struggling to adopt approaches and social tools grounded in openness, sharing and emergence.

Furthermore, simply allowing people to use Facebook at work doesn’t address the deeper issue of trying to make available to people networking and other tools which help them get their jobs done. Facebook may be popular, and have some features like the ‘status update’ that helps keep colleagues informed of where you are, what you’re doing, and your availability, but there are a host of aspects which are perhaps inappropriate for a professional work environment. There are other ways to achieve a ‘Facebook-like’ effect in the organisation, with tools that can be better integrated with existing systems, supportive of work processes and reflective of the organisation’s and the individual’s needs

Another issue related to the above which surfaced during another panel discussion, was that of approvals for externally facing employee blogs. Initially I thought there was some contradiction when the speaker described how companies should seek innovative ways to engage with its customers, shift towards transparency and customer advocacy, whilst simultaneously noting that his company heavily manages employees’ external public engagement with customers (via blogs). But, on reflection, perhaps there’s not – it’s just another form of risk aversion and control. Unlike employees however, the customers can say whatever they want – and it may be easier for the organisation concerned to track and respond to feedback if it is in a forum which is closer to home.

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Another addition to the open-source participation economy is the contest for the creation of new futures contracts. It is being staged on MarketsWiki – an online open source knowledge base for current and historical information about the global exchange traded capital, derivatives, environmental and related OTC markets, with idea and opinion contributions being encouraged from investors and traders alike.

The ‘Great Contract Challenge‘ provides another illustration of the prospective benefits of crowd sourcing. In other words, tapping the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ offers greater innovation potential than traditional approaches which have viewed and relied on exchanges as the source of new/novel financial instrument creation. Prospective customers’ involvement in the design and selection of those instruments which appear most promising, should also constitute a form of natural selection and help ensure only the fittest new products make it to market.

Aside from the shift in mental models, the contest also underlines the departure from traditional approaches to control – of information and processes – and a move towards participation, transparency and democratised decision-making. Admittedly, the contest is being staged in the public domain, where such ideas have already found fertile ground, and social networking and idea-sharing sites, and technologies in support thereof, are now relatively commonplace. Nevertheless, there’s also increasing evidence of this type of change occurring in many professional service organisations, not least of which being their growth in the adoption and adaptation of social tools tailored to suit their business purposes.

Even if those organisations don’t subscribe to an ‘innovate or die’ approach apparent in the derivatives sector, they still need to pay careful attention to the strong steady changes fostering teamwork, dialogue and learning, being nutured by their more adventurous competitors. To that end, we’re now seeing ever increasing interest in the customisation and use of tools such as wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, tagging and RSS to help better connect knowledge workers with current relevant information and expertise to extract value from complexity and commoditisation alike. Those same tools which support MarketsWiki and other collaboration environments.

As noted by Bruce MacEwan in his recent blog about law firms, billing hours and complexity:

“There will always be both [‘expert’ and ‘commoditized service]. That said, I think what constitutes either will evolve. Some of what is viewed as expert now – will devolve into commodity. New areas (unseen before – maybe new types of financings to emerge from the current crisis) may be the new “expert” (i.e., the always-sought-after high value engagements) areas.

To lubricate this information -> knowledge transformation cycle, and for firms extract value from it, they need to make it far easier for their staff to generate, find, share and use information and expertise. One straightforward way to do this is through systems which flex, shape and emerge depending on what people are trying to do. Systems which not only give people a better platform on which to work, but which can also make use of the trails people create as they search, bookmark, rate or view things – all very simply stuff focusing on supporting and gathering intelligence from people’s interaction with the system. And when these individual activities are aggregated, they provide powerful indicators of what is most useful or important to people across the breadth of the organisation. Another example of crowd sourcing – but this time applied internally – to tap the wealth of (informal) sharing which often occurs in casual exchanges, via email or other channels, and can so easily be lost in organisations which fail to innovate, or at least improve, their current information and technology environments.

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