Transcend and Include the Two Types of IT

May 31, 2008

A couple of synchronous events recently.  First, I was having a chat with one of the senior managers at work the other day about the two different approaches to IT, one that focuses on infrastructure, workflow and standard processes, and the other (which I am more involved with) on self-publishing, wikis and emergent conversations and collaboration.  Then I noticed in one of Andrew McAfee’s recent posts (on a great conference on Inventing the Future of Management) where he talked about exactly those different types of IT, a first one that imposes work structures and then the Web 2.0 technologies that instead, let those structures emerge. 

McAfee prefaces his comments with the view that this newly-available toolkit of corporate IT gives managers two diametrically opposed abilities and that companies and managers that accept this duality are going to stand out over time.   In other words, they need to “transcend and include” those two seemingly opposing approaches.  Contextual analysis like using Cynefin is really handy here to make sure that the best approach is adopted for the applicable environment and not try and cram all issues into the one type of technology.

On a similar tack, I recently read Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything which explores the emergent side of IT.  So it was nice to notice that my last post on coordination, cooperation and collaboration was actually picked up on the Wikinomics blog

No “i” in team but three different c’s in teamwork

May 29, 2008

It’s been about 4 weeks since the last post as I have been in Australia on some R&R including coming down with a dose of pneumonia which left me feeling very flat and delaying my return to Dubai.  But back now in Dubai and committed to lots of posts over the next 4 weeks!

And this first one refers to a recent post over at Anecdote on the difference between collaboration and cooperation.  Shawn asked me for my views and I mentioned that collaboration is a bit deeper than cooperation.  So I felt Ok about that view when looking at a recent post over at Wikinomics referring to differences between coordination, cooperation and collaboration. The figure that they link to from an Economist Intelligence Unit article on the role of trust in business collaboration compares these three items and posits a sort of hierarchy between them with coordination on narrow goals, cooperation on broad but mandated goals and collaboration on shared and common goals where trust is highest, with new value being created that accrues to each party, and with high levels of commitment and specialisation.  This echoes my view of collaboration involving more “shared meaning and purpose with smarts. ”

The original EIU article sponsored by Cisco is quite good, based on a survey, and identifies that collaboration is often used to describe what are really cooperative and coordination level tasks as organisations attempt to cash in on the collaboration buzzword.  But collaboration is a higher order activity, one that is more bottom up and where trust is a key ingredient.  A definitional issue, sort of like the difference between KM and IM (and I won’t go there!).

Knowledge energies, complexity and chaos

May 1, 2008

In yet another long actKM discussion between Joe Firestone and David Snowden, Alan Dyer recently wondered whether an upended box of matchsticks on the floor was complex or chaos.  I wrote back stating that it was just a heap but if someone came along and rearranged them then it would be an artifact. 

Let’s extend the comment from Stephen Bounds that “once the potential energy is dissipated, then as Luke says, they’re just a heap” into the knowledge arena.

Joe Firestone’s blog title is “All life is problem solving”.  A different purpose as quoted by Scott Sampson in a chapter in the book “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” states:

“The purpose of life is to disperse energy.”

My wife and I gave a presentation which took a rather different and somewhat eccentic perspective on KM at the 2006 actKM conference when we talked about knowledge energies and the energy of knowledge.  In summary, we took the view that knowledge has properties that have the potential to unleash energy if tapped and also contain the properties of flow and dynamics that can be observed in well-run knowledge processes in teams.  Energy flows in organisations like meridian channels in bodies (that are used in acupuncture) – unseen, difficult to objectively measure, and that when blocked require some form of appropriate therapy.

This perspective links to chaos and complexity.  If the purpose of a complex or chaotic system is to disperse the energy within it, then it can be surmised that the un-ordered nature of these systems provide significant opportunities for the release of large amounts of energy (for niceness or evil!).  The increasing complexity in modern organisations is from attempts to grab more of the energy in the system and harness its potential.  So within emergence and chaos lie the energy of opportunity and innovation whereas within order lies a far more limited, prescribed and linear energetic channel.  Both are useful and context-sensitive – hence the power of the Cynefin framework as a social sense-making tool to identify those possibilities and engage people in exploring those opportunities.