Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Intersection of Business and Technology

At the intersection of business and technology, people often get very excited or tense, optimistic or worried, challenged (in a good way) or frustrated. Frans Johansson in The Medici Effect talks about intersection innovation - a place where two fields collide and divert along a new innovative path. The collision between business and technology has been a slow moving one over a very long period of time, but companies, are starting to realize, what many or most entrepreneurs already know - the endless number of new paths that can be taken when you start looking at these two areas together instead of separately. We are now at a point where one field can rarely exist for any length of time without the other.

John Hagel has now joined Deloitte & Touche USA LLP and will be heading up a new research center to focus on the business issues created at this intersection.

He poses a number of intriguing questions around this topic of business/technology interesection here with some thought provoking commentary that is worth a look by any reader interested in the topic of this blog.


  • What if there is no equilibrium?
  • Can the firm survive as the action flows to the edges?
  • Are all ecosystems created equal?
  • If the world is so flat, why are spikes becoming more prominent?
  • Is adaptation all there is?
  • Can we escape the Red Queen effect?
  • As “L curves” replace “Bell curves”, what are the most promising routes to the head?
  • We have a growing realization that stocks of knowledge are diminishing in value relative to flows of knowledge, but what is required for effective participation in the highest value flows of knowledge?
  • What are the opportunities for the bottom of the pyramid to attack the top?
  • How do we measure success when so many of the rules are changing?
  • When is self-organizing not enough?
  • How are pull platforms likely to evolve?
  • What is the next generation of IT architecture?
Being at this intersection is to me what makes these two fields interesting and exciting for some while scary and daunting to others. It is the combined knowledge of these two areas that is driving much of the disruptive innovation we see today in the new economy. Knowledge and innovating down one side without considering the other will not produced viable results that will be able to compete in the current and future marketplace.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Economy Problems

In 1973 H. J. Rittel and M. M. Webber came up with the idea of the 'Wicked Problem' as it related to social planning. The original definition of a wicked problem included 10 components, however Jeff Conklin later proposed 4 defining elements to wicked problems in 2003:

  1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
  2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
  3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.
  4. The problem is never solved.
Although the concept started with social planning, and now more and more applies to computer science problems, I think it is now expanding well into other part of business. As business becomes more complex, there are more wicked problems. As business and technology become more intertwined, there are more wicked problems. At Balihoo we are in the vertical search business. Search is a perfect example of a business-technology wicked problem.

How do these types of problems impact conventional thinking?

- Defining goals & expectations becomes a problem
- Defining tests or methods to validate results becomes a problem
- Decision by consensus becomes difficult
- Results are no longer correct or incorrect, but better or worse
- Project time-lines are difficult to define

In addition to driving your traditional project managers crazy, it generally disrupts the framework around how business's determine progress. However, it is something that everyone in the new economy will have to adjust to. What wicked problems do you have, and what is your approach to solving them?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Work Life Balance

This weekend I headed up after work on friday to the Sawtooth Mountains north of where I live with 3 others to climb a great route called the Chockstone couloir on a peak called Grand Mogul. It was a short trip, tiring but extremely satisfying, creating great memories. I get out as often as is feasible, but with a busy job, and a growing family its important to make your free time count.

Recently we have been having a lot of discussions about what our company values are and should be. Values are important no matter how big or small you are. Values create the guardrails by which you work, and make decisions, just like your personal values guide life decisions.

One of the values that many companies speak to and try to have is 'Work Life Balance'. I never really liked this term because of its ambiguity. It seems straight forward, but it isn't. Its the term balance that bothers me. Balance is in the eye of the beholder. What is balance to one person is imbalance to another. Balance implies evenness, but we all know that is never the case with any business in the new economy. Work effort volumes eb and flow like tides of the ocean, and just like weather patterns there are periods of calm as well as hurricanes. In my experience, I find that this term of 'Work Life Balance' is often a buzzword thrown in for appearances, with little thought to what it means, nor how different employees will perceive it. In the end most people are unhappy, because their perceptions of what it means is different from everyone else's.

We wanted something in the same vein as WLB inside our company, battering around terminology such as work life control, and others. We eventually settled on 'Work Life Passion'. Not a huge departure, but subtle enough. The term passion might almost be considered more ambiguous than balance, but to us it says better what the culture of our company is and what we want it to be as it grows. People need to be passionate about their work inside the office and their pursuits outside the office, and strike a balance that makes sense for the company as well as for them. It in no way implies a perfect 50/50 split, and thats ok.

Stowe Boyd often talks about the concept of flow, and your time being a shared space. In the new economy that is often the case. The line between work and home blurs for most, but for most that is better, allowing for a more full life (ie - going to your daughters school play mid day) Also with his definition of flow, time is not constance - it moves faster or slower based on situation. Think about when people talk about being in the zone with sports and time almost slows down as the ball approaches. This flow time is what passion is all about.

Time across work and life is never balanced, but with passion and good use of the time you have allows you to create the balance that is right for you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0 derives from Web 2.0, and refers to social software application that sit behind or are used behind the corporate firewall. Wikipedia has a good entry on the topic, and I just came across this slide deck about Enterprise 2.0 by Scott Gavin. It is very well done and told as a story, that may help you convey the concept in a more understandable way to peers in your organization. Have a look.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More True Than Ever Before

Flipping through some old notes came across this quote. Even with all of our technology, I feel this is more true than ever before. Probably even more so because of technology.

"A business is best considered as a network of conversations"

- Gregory Bateson
Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mapping Participation

A while back I saw a post on Forester about a new article on a topic they called Social Technographics. It peaked my interest and they were offering copies to bloggers, who wanted to review, so I sent in a request. Never heard anything so I went through another source and got the paper anyway, and here is my summary of the key concepts:)

I always find it funny how the think-tanks come up with new terms, register them and then tell everyone how they were the first to come up with the idea. This time its 'Social Technographics' which essentially means describing a population based on their level of participation. Companies are starting to realize that demographics don't mean what they used to especially when it comes to online usage and especially social software. You can no longer equate race, sex or age to social software engagement. Forester suggests that you need to create a social strategy based on how your users map into a set of profiles. They have identified 6 increasing levels of participation. (note - participation levels are not mutually exclusive)

1. Creators: online consumers who publish blogs, maintain web pages, or upload videos at least once a month.
2. Critics: participate by either commenting on blogs, or posting ratings and reviews. Their participation is not near as intense as creators. Critics pick and choose where they offer their thoughts, and often use blogs or other items as a launch pad for their participation.
3. Collectors: save URL's, use social bookmarking, tagging, and RSS. They create meta data that shared with the entire community and add to the self organization of web content.
4. Joiners: one defining behavior - use of social networking sites. Highly likely to engage in other social software activities.
5. Spectators: read blogs, view videos, and listen to podcasts. The audience for the social content created by users in the other groups.
6. Inactives: do not participate in social computing activities. They site this as 52 percent which jives well with this study.

These profiles of course do vary by age. For example teenagers generate more content than any other generation, and joiners are dominated by Gen-Y. However age is not the only way to slice the data. User motivation (entertainment, career, family etc) as well as site features, and brand appeal can all drive different participation profiles.

The key with this is to think about these it terms of your users/customers to define the right strategy with respect to deploying social software. Make sure you deploy what will best fit the participation levels of your audience. Once you understand your audience, Forester continues that you should:

  • Map out how users will participate today and in the future
  • Create multiple participation points (don't just give your audience one option to participate)
  • Find lightweight ways for first time creators to contribute
  • Make it easy for spectators to find user generated content
  • Prepare your organization for participation (and criticism)
Overall, a decent article, I wouldn't say its worth the $280 for 12 pages of content, but if your organization has a contract with Forester its worth a read.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Look To The Inexeperience Curve

With business audio books an important point needs to really stand out and catch you, because before you know it the reader is on to the next segment. This concept stood out for me the other day while listening to Maverics at Work.

As a leader probably one of the most important things you can do is to walk in stupid every day. You need to keep challenging the organization and yourself to seek out unexpected ideas, outside influences, and new perspectives on old problems. Every day something changes. Look to the inexperience curve. The more you know about something, the more important it is to challenge assumptions and habits that built your success in that area. This will help you think in a new light and drive innovation in your organization.

(By the way - don't confuse leader with manager - they are not related. You don't have to manage people to be a leader in your organization.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Self Organizing Content

I started looking into details of the Semantic Web about a year ago for a startup idea I was working on with a couple of friends. The concept on SW and the potential of it fascinates me. It is the web where data is stored in ways that machines can understand - not just humans. From Wikipedia:

Humans are capable of using the Web to carry out tasks such as finding the Finnish word for "car", to reserve a library book, or to search for the cheapest DVD and buy it. However, a computer cannot accomplish the same tasks without human direction because web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines. The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedium involved in finding, sharing and combining information on the web.

From a business perspective this offers massive potential for new waves of development and data analysis in new creative ways. (A good article by Business week on the topic) The interesting thing is that content on the web is already starting to self organize itself through tagging. Tagging doesn't just describe 'what' but many other aspects of the tagged object. This includes human associations that are key to understanding.

For example a take a picture of a cup on flickr which may be tagged with coffee, tea, both etc depending on different perspectives. The association between coffee and cup would not be obvious (especially to a machine!), but you can start to see with a world wide community of users tagging and creating associations, it starts to form the basis for content self-organization and association. This alone, does not create the semantic web, but begins to form the kernels in which to create one.

Tom Haskins refers to this concept in a different light, calling it reflection:

Those of us who search for, link to and tag digital content are practicing reflection...We are externalizing meaning. We are connecting our dots for others to consider how to connect their dots...We call it like we see it and that differs from everyone else. There are many right answers. There are thousands of ways to see it, frame it and use it. We have final say over our idiosyncratic consideration.

The next step beyond creating associations is to begin unearthing unknown or unlikely associations between concepts both inside and outside the walls of the organization. With the startup I was working on last year, part of what we were trying to do was have software help drive innovation, by 'understanding' disparate ideas created by people. By having software understand an idea, and then begin to draw associations between disparate ideas to create new streams of innovation.

Exciting times ahead, and we are all helping the web organize itself and realize the next evolution.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Do You Strive for Thought Leadership?

I am currently listening to Maverics at Work by William Taylor and Polly LaBarre. This morning, just before getting out of the truck, they summed up the first section with 5 questions that I thought would be useful to pass on. They are centered around the concept of thought leadership, and propose that the only true form of market leadership is thought leadership.

5 questions to ask yourself today:

  1. Do you have a distinctive and disruptive sense of purpose?
  2. Do you have a vocabulary of competition that is unique to your industry and compelling to both employees and customers? (an 'only spoken here' vocabulary)
  3. Are you prepared to reject opportunities that offer short term benefits but distract from the long term goal?
  4. Can you be provocative without creating a backlash? (within your own organization or from competition)
  5. If your company went out of business tomorrow who would really miss you and why?
Take some time to think about these questions in your business, and you might rethink some of your current business practices to put yourself in a thought leader position.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Your Business as a Tribe

I have become much more interested in the social, cultural and behavioral impacts and changes deriving from web 2.0 and social software, much more than the technology itself. All those tools and features without any business model are reshaping our culture and the economy.

Stowe Boyd, one of the lead thinkers in this space gave a presentation at Reboot, about his concept on Flow. His presentation is available here. The clip is about 35 minutes long so take some time at your lunch and watch it.

Some of my key takeaways. This isn't by any means a summary of the talk but concepts that jumped out at me...

- First in first out processing works well at a supermarket, but not in an emergency room. We are now living in a world that is much more like an emergency room.
- We are actually moving to more of a pre-industrial/agricultural consciousness. More like that of a tribe.
- Today your time is a shared space, which conflicts with current business norms. Is what you are doing of greater benefit to you (or your boss) or does it benefit the tribe?
- The buddy list is the center of the universe. I am made greater by the sum of my connections & so are my connections.
- Productivity is second to connectivity. Network productivity trumps personal productivity

This type of thinking goes well beyond how, and what tool you should let in or look to utilize in your business to satisfy your customers, employees or give a boost to your search results or marketing campaign. Its about understanding how cultural norms are shifting and how you as a business will need to react. I like Stowe concept of the tribe, and although he used it in the context of your social network, I feel like this concept can be brought into an organizations, and supported by the right tools, will help support the productivity of the organizational tribe. The majority of companies are no longer living in a supermarket world (even if their business is supermarkets!). Business is now an emergency room.