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Snippets of an Incomplete Mind

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Do we really like you?

From the beginning in 1999, when we started our own little business, we wanted to have a website. In those days, there was no Wordpress, no Drupal, no whatever, so we did it the hard way: writing HTML and CSS code.

Given our background in IT, it wasn?t that difficult and somehow, we even enjoyed it and we continue doing so today. The result of our work will never win us a web design award, but that?s not our ambition. It is sufficient for our needs.

Still, we want to maintain a reasonable level of quality, of respect of standards and of usability. Therefore, we read some blogs and we follow some companies on Twitter that write about this stuff, allowing us to stay current with the latest evolutions and trends.

So today, we stumbled upon this tweet, announcing the availability of a free checklist for your website. We didn?t expect to find much new information in it, but we gave it a try.

Curiously, you could not simply download the PDF-file from their website, but you had to do it via an app on their Facebook page. And then we understood. In order to continue, you first had to like them. Did we?

It?s just one of the too many examples of the failure of ?social? in a business context. As long as we use the Internet for our own, private purposes, just for fun, things are reasonably OK although, of course, quality often sucks.

However, as soon as we start using it in a business context, gaming and deceiving become the default behaviour. So, whatever great value we hope to find on the web, most likely it has been compromised and manipulated.

Same as in the industrial age, but now faster, more ubiquitous and more efficient.

The best place to store knowledge

Yesterday, this tweet by @hjarche popped up in our twitter stream:

"In a network, the best place to store knowledge is in other people." - @johnkellden

It is one of those strong, inspiring one-liners that catch the attention and raise the enthusiasm of the social business addicts.

However, what does it really mean? Does it mean that we have to share all our knowledge with other people so that, in case we forget it, we still can ask them?

While the idea is enticing, it doesn?t work that way. It is the IT view on knowledge management whereby it is assumed that knowledge is stored in (digital) bits of information that are stored in containers, in this case, called humans.

A clear and straightforward concept. However, that is not how networks function. In reality, a network has nothing to do with the distributed storage of information or knowledge. Networks are dynamic, self-organising constructs that create paths to information and knowledge, taking into account the specific relationships that exist between the different actors in the network.

Therefore, sharing is not about the duplication of content within the network, but rather an open invitation to evaluate that content and then, if wanted, to wire the necessary links into your network that will make this content part of the findable knowledge.

Of course, a logical consequence of this is that most people will only find the knowledge they want to find.

Social business should not be owned or driven, it is enabled

Today, we came across this question on Quora: ?In a large organization, consisting of over 10,000 people, what department is most appropriate to own/drive social business strategy and implementation? Why?? http://www.quora.com/Business-Strategy/In-a-large-organization-consisting-of-over-10-000-people-what-department-is-most-appropriate-to-own-drive-social-business-strategy-and-implementation-Why

We fear that this is not the right question. Social business is not about the implementation of some ?social? tools or the assignment of a number of community managers. Social business is about fundamentally rethinking the mission, organisation and structure of the company and that, by definition, is a task for top management.

This, of course, is an unlikely scenario in most 10,000 people companies today. Unfortunately, there is no other option. Any other initiative, driven by whatever department, is heading for failure.

On the other hand, in the unlikely scenario that top management really wants to engage in this, then the choice of the right department is irrelevant. Social business will grow organically without driver or owner.

Building the future is not about improving today

Today, we came across this question on Quora: ?What typical problems employees encounter today at their workplace?? http://www.quora.com/Future-of-Work/What-typical-problems-employees-encounter-today-at-their-workplace. The question was posted in the category ?Future of Work?.

It is of course a valid question. However, we should not think about our future of work in terms of ?solving the problems that exist today?.

For various reasons, what we perceive as problems in the workplace today are only the logical outcomes of the structures and the systems that were chosen in the past to build the enterprise. You cannot create a future of work without questioning and then replacing these structures and systems and then, the rest will follow.

As we have written so many times in the past: ?Evolution is not an interconnected network that allows you to choose paths as you wish. Evolution is a tree and you climb the branches?. Turning back is not really an option since we cannot go back in time. So, whenever we have to find out that we?re stuck on the wrong branch, our only option is to jump.

There hides failure in every improvement

Last week, while commuting by train, we couldn?t avoid overhearing a discussion between two women. The discussion was about working conditions. For one of them, there had been new arrangements that allowed her now to work two days per week from home.

Well, that was a nice improvement, we thought. But it wasn?t. It was a big problem. Because two days working from home meant two days that she was unable to ?make hours?.

And then, we understood.

OK, this might be somewhat specific for Belgium or for Europe, so we?ll explain. Over here, we have an official working week of 36 hours. In most organisations, there are no fixed working hours. Usually, there is some time window, e.g. between 9am and 4pm that you are supposed to be in the office, but for the rest you can choose your arrival and departure times.

In some organisations (especially in government), this is controlled via a time registration system. You check in when you arrive and check out when you leave. The system calculates how long you worked.

Whatever, the advantages or the disadvantages of such system, it has one major advantage for the employees. If, for whatever reason, you build up so much extra working time that it exceeds a day, you are allowed to compensate this by an extra day off.

Now, that is of course interesting. Working some extra time during a couple of days and getting an extra day off? Yes, indeed! And often, it?s even more convenient to do so. For instance, for someone who is commuting by train, it might be more convenient to wait an extra 15 minutes in the office because otherwise he/she doesn?t have a connection anyway. Better spending that time in the office instead of in the waiting hall of the train station and 15 minutes a day easily give you 7 extra days off a year.

And so it became a culture and we called it ?making hours?.

Therefore, working from home is indeed a big problem, because making hours is the real essence of work.

How do you know that your organization is ready for an Enterprise 2.0 initiative?

Quora question:

Well, the unfortunate answer to this question is: you can?t.

This might seem weird, but it isn?t. The same reasons that make that your E2.0 initiative is likely to fail are the reasons that make that your ?readiness assessment? will be incorrect.

The promise of E2.0 is to improve find-ability of information and experts, to improve knowledge sharing and learning, etc. And, oh yes, a bit of serendipity. Now, the fundamental question an organisation should ask -and answer- is: why don?t we have (enough of) these capabilities today?

And, apart from a few exceptions, the answer to this question is not that they don?t have the right tools. Globalisation, hierarchies and silo mentality are most often the real culprits. No E2.0 solution will be able to address this. However, even worse, such organisations will also be unable to detect/accept their own weaknesses. Hence, they will be unable to assess their ?E2.0 readiness? correctly and frankly, nobody else can do that for them.

On the other hand, a company that is really able to make such assessment in a correct way and comes to the conclusion that they don?t really need E2.0 because everything already runs fine, such company will reap the greatest benefits from it. Opportunities always grow in the right environment, even if you don?t expect anything special to happen.

What would it be like to be COO of Santa's workshop?

Quora question:

Our answer:

Well, not too fantastic, I fear. Likely in search of another job.

Given the fact that Apple products are representing an increasingly larger share of the volume of presents shipped, rumors are that in 2013 workshop operations will be outsourced to Foxconn in Shenzhen.

In addition, it will be extremely difficult to find a suitable job alternative. The only one that comes close is the COO position at Saint Nicholas, a smaller European competitor, who has his workshop operations in Spain. However, given the ongoing financial crisis over there, economic conditions are extremely poor and salaries have plunged.

It will be a gloomy Christmas for the COO this year.

Most facts only create perceptions

Ever since the human race has started using numbers, they have been used to quantify things. Numbers don?t carry emotion, they are factual. However, in reality, most numbers are not really facts but merely create perceptions.

Yesterday, we read this post by Robert H. Schaffer on the HBR blog: ?To Change the Culture, Stop Trying to Change the Culture?

In his post, Schaffer argues that far too many consulting companies have a lucrative business by defining and implementing various kinds of programs that aim at changing the ?organisational culture? of companies.

And in order to underscore his statements, he writes that ?A Google search on the term “organizational culture change programs” yields 273,000,000 entries?.

OK, numbers like these are no exact figures, they can vary each time you do the query. When we did the test today, we only got 95M. However, what is important to understand js that you only get such large numbers when you enter above search term -without- the double quotes. In such case, you get the count of all pages in Google?s index that somewhere contain these four words, irrespective of their place and order in the text.

That implies that many of these pages have nothing to do with ?organizational culture? or with ? change programs?, as you will clearly see when you do the following query (this time including the quotes): “organizational culture? ?change programs”, which searches for all pages that contain these two exact strings of two words.

For us, the count dropped to 14.800. Still a lot of pages, but nowhere near the millions of Schaffer?s search.

And when you search for the exact string “organizational culture change programs” (again with the quotes), we got down to 32, one of them Schafer?s own post and another one mentioning parts of his post.

Reality is that none of these numbers has any real meaning in the context of his post. They tell you something about what is stored in Google?s index, but they don?t give you any idea of the number of consulting companies that are doing this work, or the number of programs that have been done or the number of companies that ask for this. Depending upon the type of query you do, your perception of this ?market potential? will be that it is huge or almost non-existing.

Numbers are always a great basis for decision-making.

The fallacy of the case study

In management literature there is this very popular thing, called the case study. The concept is simple. Solution ?X? is a current hype, so you look how successful company ?Y? is using it, a so-called ?best practice?. A variant of this is where you examine a number of successful companies and you look for what they have in common, a so-called ?driver for success?.

The problem with approaches like these is that they look at the relationship between business success and a single dimension of the business activity. In addition, such approach also suggests that there is a causal link between that single dimension and the business success.

That can be so in the context of that specific company, but it is not guaranteed to be so in your own company?s context.

Reality is that successful companies never are successful just because they are excellent in just this single aspect of their business. They are successful because they are excellent in nearly every aspects of their business activity.

Therefore, on average, adopting a best practice can indeed be a ?good practice? for your company. However, you have to understand the dependencies that make that such best practice indeed is workable and delivers results in these other companies that were the basis for the definition of it. If some of these dependencies are in conflict with the reality of your own organisation, then you might be on the road to trouble.

Customers don?t want customer service

Customers don?t want customer service

Recently, the following question was posted on Quora: Why can?t customers think of one best company for customer service? http://www.quora.com/Customer-Service/Why-can%E2%80%99t-customers-think-of-one-best-company-for-customer-service

The question was triggered by a post on the CEB blog ?The Best Company for Service? The Answer will Surprise You? that discussed the results of a study that asked customers for their opinion about the company with the best customer service.
And the surprising outcome was that most of them couldn?t really give a soecific name.

However, is this really a surprise?

Well, we don?t think so. The reason for that is that ?customer service? is essentially a business concern and not something that is on the customer?s mind.

Now, most likely, this requires some clarification. So, let us take the example of Amazon. Amazon has indeed an excellent ordering and order fulfilment process. However, for the customer, this is not ?customer service?; it is just Amazon?s product, their deliverable, that?s what they do. You don?t buy a book at Amazon; you buy a book-ordering-and-delivery service.

For customers, ?customer service? is the thing that starts when things go wrong, when you have to call because the product does not work, the item doesn?t arrive as scheduled or your bill is incorrect. Now, even when this is handled perfectly by the company, there still is little reason for the customer to experience this as ?great?. After all, the thing didn?t work in the first place, so why be enthusiastic about their ?customer service??

The thinking that we need great customer service is flawed. We simply need to deliver great products in the first place (in the sense as we described for Amazon). For the customer, customer service is always the thing that should not have happened.

Can "bad" service be good business?

Our answer to this question onQuora http://www.quora.com/Customer-Service/Can-Bad-Service-Be-Good-Business

Well, the answer to this depends upon your interpretation of the expression ?bad service?.

If you view this as ?an inferior level of service compared to the offerings of competitors?, then such approach can definitely make sense. Typical examples are the low-budget airline carriers, such as Ryanair, here in Europe. Their business model is based upon this ?delivering the basic product/service at the lowest possible cost?. And it works.

In their case, the basic product/service is moving you from one place to another via air transportation. And that?s about it. If everything goes well, you get to your destination at an extremely low cost, but don?t expect much more and, if things go wrong, bad luck.

A second category of cases where ?bad service? is perfectly possible is where you want to differentiate products/services within your own portfolio of offerings. Bertil Hatt already gave here an example of such case.

And a third category of cases are the situations where the service level provided by the company itself is lower than the accepted business practice, yet this is replaced/compensated for by various forms of self-service.

Important in all these scenarios is that the service level must always be as (or higher than) expected. If, in the case of Ryanair, the service is very basic, it must not be lower than very basic. And in the category of self-service, acceptance of this or engagement for this will only come after the service really was OK previously. Unfortunately, it does not work the other way around.

About meaningful work

Today, we accidentally stumbled upon this older TED talk by Jason Fried: ?Why work doesn’t happen at work? http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html

As you will see, it is a very inspiring speech and we assume that most of you will fully agree with Fried?s argumentation, especially when he talks about the ?M&M? or ?Managers and Meetings? syndrome. However, there is also something else in this speech that we should think about.

As Fried says, there is nothing wrong with the use of social networks such as Twitter or Facebook at work. They can be substitutes for the traditional cigarette or coffee breaks.

Still, as he says, in order to do some really meaningful work, you really need ?long stretches of uninterrupted time?.

OK, nobody can do really meaningful work eight hours in a row, so yes, we need the coffee or cigarette breaks or the modern social networks substitutes. However, where does this need for ?long stretches of uninterrupted time to do meaningful work? fit with today?s frenzy for everything mobile, always on, everywhere and anytime, live tweeting, instagrams and other nonsense?

Apparently, today, ?M&M? no longer stands for ?Managers and Meetings?, but rather for ?Me and Myself? and, as before, the work doesn’t happen at work, but neither everywhere and anytime.

What makes distributed work teams work?

We recently participated in a little discussion on Google+ with Dave Gray who posted ?Some questions about distributed work teams? https://plus.google.com/117373186752666867801/posts/Xoo1xBqoK9f

As Dave rightfully writes, we now have an increasing number of communication tools, such as Skype and Google Hangouts that can facilitate and support distributed work teams. Still, many of them fail to deliver the results that are expected.

Well, personally we don?t really think that the success of distributed teams is strongly linked to the quality of the communication tools and even not to ?better practices, as Dave suggests. The main issue remains that these communication tools remain a poor substitute for meeting in real life.

Granted, not all distributed teams face the same challenges. For simple cooperation, modern tools can be sufficient. However, for most of the more complex knowledge work, we are talking about the need for real collaboration.

Now; we can can endlessly discuss what this really means but, as we have written before, for us it implies that the participants ?have to leave their comfort zone?.

Indeed, for most complex knowledge work, there is no perfect plan at the start. Getting to the wanted result will require that all participants adjust their default behaviour versus the other participants, giving and taking, making small adjustments? all taking into account each other?s personality.

Understanding each other?s personality is something that you build up while meeting face-to-face and working together. This gradually creates a layer of understanding, conventions, shared principles and tacit agreements that will facilitate future collaboration, either distributed or not.

Unfortunately, all our modern communication solutions still are poor substitutes for this. We like to compare it with having a meeting with 30-40 participants. Likely, the quality of the audio and the visuals will be fine. However, even when every participant really has had the ability to participate in the discussion, how much understanding will you have built up of each individual at the end of the meeting? You will need many meetings like this if you want to reach the level of understanding that is required for good distributed collaboration.

Most likely, our communication tools will further improve in the future, but so will also further increase the complexity of the knowledge work that needs to be done. There will never be a tool or approach that finally and completely will solve this problem. They will only make that we become aware of the next problem.

As it should be.

'Digital maturity' is an outcome, not a means

We just received this message in our Twitter stream via @ralph_ohr: ‘Digitally Mature’ Companies Significantly Outperform Everyone Else http://www.businessinsider.com/digitally-mature-companies-outperform-novices-2012-11.


Most likely, the findings of this Capgemeni Consulting report, based on joint research with the MIT Center for Digital Business, are indeed correct. However, what does it tell us?

In essence, it tells us that market leaders make excellent use of digital technology. What a surprise! The opposite would have been a real eye-opener!

The problem with publications like this, not accidentally sponsored by a company with ?related interests?, is that it looks at the relationship between business success and a single dimension of the business activity, in this case the ?digital maturity?.

That can be interesting. However, such approach also suggests that there is a causal link between digital maturity and business success and that, at least, is only part of the story.

In the present knowledge economy, not achieving digital maturity is likely a serious roadblock for real success. However, it is not the only thing that matters. These successful companies weren?t complete donuts until they finally saw the digital light. Most likely, they already were, and still are, excellent in every aspect of their business: strategy development, market understanding, operational excellence, etc. and indeed, digital technology can then further leverage these capabilities, further extending your competitive advantage.

So, let?s face it. You first need ?business maturity? and then, you might reach ?digital maturity?. But please do not try reversing this sequence.

The difference between a community and an ecosystem


Our answer:

The main difference between the two is ?context?. A community exists within a given context: an ecosystem creates its own context.

In an enterprise setting, communities can deliver substantial value supporting certain business goals, e.g. fostering innovation or sharing best practices.

However, an ecosystem is an oxymoron within the enterprise. In essence, an ecosystem is a grouping of independent actors whose decisions are guided by their own desire for survival or progress. Consequently, it is a form of working together where the ?outcome? is largely unknown. Whatever the social business pundits might claim, an ecosystem is something that really doesn?t fit with the needs and the wants of the enterprise and its stakeholders.

Therefore, in an enterprise setting, ecosystems can only exist in a multi-company context, where each company is an independent actor, sharing some common infrastructure, system or approach with the others, but all making their decisions based upon their own objectives and desires.

?Organizing for social business? - Why didn?t it happen before?

We just read this post by Dion Hinchcliffe, ?How Smart Businesses Reorganize For Social? http://www.informationweek.com/thebrainyard/commentary/strategy/240006107/how-smart-businesses-reorganize-for-social about how social business progress and success in many organisations is hampered by a departmental deployment of the initiatives, instead of having a company-wide approach and associated (re-)organisation across all departments.

It is not a new message. We have repeatedly seen similar argumentation by various authors and, of course, it makes completely sense.

Organising for social business. The right thing to do. Only, why wasn?t it done before?

And sorry to interrupt you, before you answer, the correct answer to this question is NOT that we did lack the suitable tools.

Already long before the Enterprise 2.0 and social business era, it would have made completely sense to (re-)organise in order to facilitate social-business-like approaches. Most likely, the tools weren?t perfect in those days, but same as today, it was the right thing to do.

But it didn?t happen for whatever reasons and it will not happen today for the same reasons. And if we ever want social business to succeed, it would be better to have less technology-focused people driving the discussion than we have today. Tools are never the solution. They are only the enablers, but the intention has to come first.

It is not about the conversation

In numerous posts and publications we read about this need that companies engage in the conversation with their customers. Lots of good things will happen then.

We don?t think that this is so. It does not harm, but it is not needed. In general, apart from a desire to fulfil some kind of narcissistic need, customers are not interested in the ?conversation? or the ?relationship? with their sellers/suppliers. In most cases, especially in the context of large organisations that sell commodity products and services, it simply is rather pointless.

So, many of the discourses that talk about customer centricity, customer focus, conversation management, social CRM, etc. often focus on the wrong constructs and processes. Too often, they focus on building some form of ?human? relationship between the company and the customer, but in reality, there is no need to.

In reality, it isn?t about centricity or focus or conversations, but simply about trust. Companies have to act in a way that we trust them to step in to become a customer, and that we can trust them that once we are a customer their products and services will indeed be as promised, and that in the unavoidable situation where they will not be able to deliver as expected, that we can trust them that they will take care of this in an appropriate way. Whether any or all of this is done in a transactional or a conversational way is completely irrelevant.

Technology-driven change

There is a problem with our thinking about technology-driven change.

As the history clearly shows, we often have difficulty understanding the potential impact new technology can have (but not always has). This is a natural consequence of the inability most of us have to envision a future that is not linked in a ?logical? way to the things and the rules we already know and that we (think to) understand. The viral success of Web 2.0 and the iPad are just two examples. Most of us saw little potential for these technologies, but as we all know by now?

That is unfortunate. Still, that is only a matter of missed opportunities.

More serious is the fact that, despite this evidence, we still feel very confident about our understanding of new technologies and their potential impact, thereby also largely overestimating our ability to give direction to the change. The net results are countless projects and initiatives that carry the promise of transformational change, but in reality deliver very little apart from giving us headaches.

Worrying signs of addiction

?Late for breakfast this morning, meeting is in few minutes only, and still need to fit in quick phone call to Europe?

This message popped up in our Twitter stream a couple of days ago. A bit weird message though. Apparently, this individual was facing quite a bit of time pressure, but his reaction was to first tweet about it. Twitter, the modern antidote for any problem. Share your problem and it will only be half as big.

Well, we are not really sure whether it really works that way. However, most likely, we do not really ?get? social media. We?re part of the older generation that still beliefs that our decisions should be based upon rationality, weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of the various alternatives.

Not so anymore! In social media, our moves are driven by things such as emotion, and enthusiasm, and passion, and a lot of ?ME?. Especially, a lot of ?ME?.

Wasted time is irrelevant then.

Weak signals and the next big thing

How do you identify the weak signals that lead to the next big thing?

That was the question posted on Quora in the ?Innovation? stream. http://www.quora.com/Innovation/How-do-you-identify-the-weak-signals-that-lead-to-the-next-big-thing

As some already replied, there is no magic answer to this question. Weak signals are just what the name suggests: ?weak signals?. In general, there is a multitude of reasons why they won?t become the next big thing. And in reality, most of them indeed never do.

However, in this apparent ?designed to fail? state also hides their potential. As we wrote in the past: ?real solutions and progress emerge when we are able to unify apparently conflicting views on the same reality?.

In general, all weak signals carry some form of promise that is completely conflicting with the predominant common sense (think about the iPad). You can list a multitude of arguments that explain why this will never become a success. Find the reasons that make that all these apparently conflicting characteristics are no real deal breakers after all and perhaps, you?re up for your next big thing.

Unfortunately, there is no app that you can download to do this thinking exercise.

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