Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OccupyWallStreet and the social/business revolution

Ten days ago, as I had the opportunity to share some time with people at Liberty Square and assist to one GA, I was inspired by some conversations that defended the following general idea; "we are not here to be violent, we are here to collaborate, to participate in building something different. If the guys leading our banks and financial institutions do not want to participate, fine, we'll change them". As well as by these ideas, I was also struck by the collaborative, participative, shouted model, that has been developed in the GAs. Coming out of the Web2.0Expo, and participating to all these conversations about social media, I found the real life aspect of OccupyWallStreet amazing (videos). And I also found their professionalism, so to speak, very impressive, whether it is in the websites that have been developed and that show quite a mastery of social technologies or the "Direct Democracy & Facilitation Trainings" that are being developed by OccupyTogether.

In Europe, Occupy Wall Street is not getting the attention it deserves. Elsewhere, there has been some analysis of this movement, most of what I have read, by the way, pointing at its shortcomings (here is some perspective by James Marshall Crotty).

From my perspective, this movement is new in the level of internal and external collaboration it shows, and it obviously links to the Jasmine Revolution and the ones that followed. My perspective is that its success or failure will not rest with the protesters ability to make a long stand; this stand needs to be taken into account by leaders, giving way to change in mindsets, and eventually to a transformation of leadership. A leader: someone that leads ... Today, the where and the how are just not clear enough

Occupy Wall Street is a major business, social and political reinvention opportunity. Why is that ? 1. The economy is not providing the kind of prosperity people aspire to and seem ready to build. There is opportunity for a new kind of leadership. 2. The social or web2.0 technologies now deploying across the economy bring with them a mindset that allows fresh economic and business thinking and therefore the achievement of that new prosperity. There is an opportunity for this new leadership to reach its goals.

Optimistic view? Let me explain.

1. The economy, it can be argued, at least in the Western world, seems poised to grow slowly, at best, in the next two to five years. Jobs have been lost, and if you follow W Brian Arthur in this McKinsey Quaterly article, they will not come back. There might be some assets in savings, yes, but where there are savings (like in Europe), it seems that people are not willing to spend what's needed to generate growth.

As for businesses, most of them are unable to provide the products or services that would spur a new surge in growth. That's understandable, at least in the BtoC arena: consumers, hard hit by the debt tornado, do not have a real need for the stuff that's available. I would argue they are waiting for what could be called a new prosperity:  improved public services, health care, education, environmental savvy products, people-development activities, ...

Where are the leaders ? How are they responding to these aspirations ? It really surprises me that few business leaders, so far, have started answering the yarn for a new kind of prosperity by offering new services, new products that are in line with what people are voicing (yes, there are real demands, appart from "let the bankers go"). Offering jobs and offering value.

In one of the conversations at the Web2.0Expo, moderated by Cindy Gallop, we stressed how leaders were, in short, lost and frightened. Lost for lack of understanding of what is happening (and you have to admit it is a complex movement, that can only be understood as arising from a perfect storm made of social aspirations, technological progress, democracy progress, ...). Frightened at letting other people take the lead, whether it is for selfish reasons (those exist) or from very legitimate reasons (as a leader, it is difficult to let go when you are not sure that your are making the right decision).

And yet, opportunities are waiting for leaders to discover them. Let me underline some of them that I know well :

  • There is a need to transform transportation, to cope with a growing complexity of cities and a threatening environmental risk.
  • There is a a need to transform insurance, to take into account new risks coming from the new fabrics of society (anyone said subprimes ?). The same could be said about banking.
  • There is a need to make government and public services more agile, so that they provide real value in real time. 
  • There is a huge need to rethink education, and transform it, leveraging the assets of existing systems but also using new ways and technologies.
  • ...

All those, and many others, are opportunities for growth ! Demand is there, whether it is explicit or not. Financing is definitely there, just waiting for a real opportunity. Talent is there ! There are real expectations for meaning, for a sense of self-esteem that would come from the work we do, that could become something more than just "what I do for a living".

Leaders should take these opportunities. It would help navigate and going out of the coming recession; it would engage talent. It would allow them to gain legitimacy and honor in the eyes of society.

The good news is, almost all assets and skills needed to reach goals that were not imaginable yesterday are there to be used. Or read Carlota Perez, if you do not trust me.

2. I mentioned in my last post that social technology was ready to help in changing the world. Technology is important, but most important still is the new mindset that is deploying with it. Just as it took some years for most business leaders to understand the benefits of mass production, it might take some years for this new mindset to reach a tipping point.

This is where I think some work needs to be done by those today operating in the social business / E2.0 / Web2.0 / ... arena. I have been reading these past few months how social technologies were going to help in improving existing processes by "social enabling them". And, behold, we found the ROI that we had been looking for so long ! Right and true. But that is certainly not enough and it is terribly short-sighted !

If used within the current optimization mindset, these technologies will help business at the expense of the individual and therefore society. It is important to remember that corporations are still widely viewed as vehicles for value creation through efficiency. Innovation, in most of them, is just appearing as an alternative for this value creation.

Efficiency is tightly linked, in an established management mindset, to a taylorist view of the world. Do more with less. And, believe me, social technologies have the potential to push us (managers, employees, leaders) where we do not want to go. To the point where every activity in our life can be linked to our work activity, to the point where there is always something else for me to do. CRM ? Not good enough, now we can link salespeople every single minute of the day, so they can "leverage" the "collective intelligence" to make yet another sale ... even though this "collective intelligence member" might be having dinner with her kids ! This probably rings a bell, right ? What I say for sales departments stands true for any other dimension of the corporation, if social technologies are used within existing processes, mindsets, organizations.

It is my belief, that we need to push for corporate transformation. And therefore, yes, as I said in my introduction "the social or web2.0 technologies now deploying across the economy bring with them a mindset that allows fresh economic and business thinking and therefore the achievement of that new prosperity. There is an opportunity for this new leadership to reach its goals. " There is an opportunity for growth ! But, and it is a huge but, it will need thinking twice about growth and the value growth creates, probably going in the direction pointed by Michael Porter or Umair Haque. And once some ideas about value evolve, there is a need to think about how to share the value that is created, probably using existing models such as Wikipedia, the open web, or so many others. Then, we just might need to reinvent strategy, so that the environment, society, people at large, are not considered as externalities. That thinking made strategy much too easy. It's time to grow up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

About W2e : the technology to change the world ?

The Web2.0Expo is a wrap. And as I start to look back on the speakers, start-ups and attendees I met, it strikes me that, for all the great announcements, innovations and ideas, technology is taking back-stage. 

Do not get me wrong: technology was impressive all along, but the real focus was on using it to change the world. 

Changing corporations
The IBM survey of CMOs and Melissa Parrish from Forrester pointed out that corporations are not ready for these new social technologies. CMOs (and leaders at large, it would seem) are yet to develop their awareness of the changes that have taken place and understand what the new technological (and social) environment, and mainly social technologies and data imply for their corporation. And let me be specific : what it implies for their organization, for their value chains and for their strategies. 
That view, though, is only the higher, hierarchy-focused view. Because in listening to the speakers and practicioners, you get the notion that social technology is mainstream now as are the practices to adopt it and make the most of it. It was interesting to hear Peter Kim present what he calls social media mythbusters : 
  • Consumers in control ? No ! Consumers are not in control, you, as a company, set the stage for their experience of your company’s services, and you should take responsibility for it. This idea of responsibility kept coming back during the conference. I loved the way in which Siobhann Quinn closed her speach about the five Laws of Engagement: "with those laws come responsibility, do not cheat on us, try to make us better people, better consumers, better contributors".
  • Social Media as obvious ? No ! Social media is not straightforward, you do need a strategy and even an advanced social media architecture as Joshua Ross defended. Seen from my prospective as a practitioner, indeed there is such a thing as a social media architecture, and I would argue that each corporation needs to design its own , adapted social media architecture. Indeed, your social media architecture won’t reach its potential if you haven't developed you own internal Collaborative Way. And you should know that, in developing your collaborative way and then building your social media architecture, the focus should not be on conceiving a great system but on engaging your managers and your employees to iteratively build it with you. Or, in the way Phin Barnes elegantly puts it, you need to design your organization for design

Face your responsibility, develop your collaborative way and your social media architecture ... but also, of course, learn and keep learning about each platform inner workings. There were great presentations about Facebook from Michael Lazerow and Ruben Quinones, and about Google+ from Adria Richards. It was even more interesting to listen about other platforms such as YouTube or from Dina Kaplan and their potential impact on internal communications.

Last of these speakers about the impact of social technologies and evolving mindsets on the corporations, Christina Gagner gave an overview of where the regulation is going. Self-regulation was the key word, as regulators are still playing catch-up and not necessarely from the most adapted viewpoint. Europe, a regulatory leader, would have some lessons for America.

Summary about the corporations then: the technology, the strategy, the managerial practices that are needed by our corporations have already been developed. The race is on to adopt them, and, believe me, no one will talk about a mere nice to have new social media.

Changing the Economy & Society
Social technology is also making its way towards changing society. One of the showcased start-ups,, aims at helping Newyorkers learn to eat again ! So it’s technology, yes, but used to diminish waste, to save time, and to learn old and forgotten key social and family traditions like the family dinner. 

Great presentation also from Nora Abousteit about how technology can change fashion and community, but also, most interestingly, about how all the achievements in technology should bring us reconsider the educational power of making.

Shelley Bernstein talked about how technology helped her engage the Brooklyn Museum visitors, and, as a result, collectively transform their experience of the Museum.

It was Carlota Perez that helped us make sense of these social ventures. We are in the fifth industrial revolution (after the first one, the second with the steam engine, the third with heavy industry and the fourth with mass production) and we are entering the deployment phase of this information revolution. Today, "what's good for IT is good for the world, and what's good for the world is good for IT". A very interesting perspective on why leaders are lost as they look on the existing conditions with their common sense (read what Duncan Watts has to say about the myth of common sense) and a call to action for all those that, as the examples above show, having understood technology are out and using it to change the world.

Changing democracy ?
But my ah-ha moment came during the Start-up showcase, when the founders of ElectNext introduced me to their beta version. ElectNext later became one of the two choices of the Expo for most interesting start-ups. How these choices were made says a lot about the organizers own sense of responsibility. It was not about winners and loosers, it was about starting the most meaningful conversations. And their two choices were start-ups that are transformational to society and to democracy.
But let me come back to ElectNext: using basic social technology and business model (online dating) to improve the voting experience. When I think about it, is it not a great way to educate voters, that usually have no time to delve into how the candidates voted (and not only what they have to say) and most often rely on their common sense when participating to political choices ?

I have been arguing these past few years that social technologies were an opportunity for corporations to reinvent their social value, their role in society. Would you not say that mastering these three dimensions are key milestones on a roadmap to renewed leadership ?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What leadership programs will not achieve - thoughts about Steve Jobs

I was trying to put together a few ideas about the future of training and leadership in this connected world, when I learned about the death of Steve Jobs.  So I thought I would pay a tribute to someone that co-created and built a company I started understanding and admire only ten years ago.

Even though I started working with a Mac, I was really converted to using Apple products by Claude, one of my good friends and partners. Convincing me would take time as I was all about building Talent Club into a software company at that time, and managing costs (I thought) was key. So Claude did convince me on the "cost" side - yes, Apple products are really cheaper than you would know, but you need to understand some things like value in a different way. Following, he started a slow (maybe painful for him) process of giving me some insights into Apple ways. And his main lesson, that I have made mine in my consulting activity today was : "Well, if that's what you need, why don't you just do it ?". Apple products are built so that you can easily do everything that they promise - no more, no less.

There are two other things I remember about learning the Apple ways. First, the importance of being true to its own principles. If I understand correctly, most of the success of Apple today rests on it having built a community of developpers on this very foundation (software development principles in this case, but you could argue the same about design principles and industrial principles).

Second, the ability that Apple has (or Steve Jobs had) of inventing the product you could not even dream about but, deep inside, unconsciously, you were ready for. It is how I translate my experience each time I discover a new product or a new evolution : I would certainly not have thought about it, but I was actually waiting for it to push my own professional practice further. I have really had these experiences each time I change my Mac or upgrade OSX.

All will be said about Steve Jobs these days, by people who knew him, so I had better stop here. I would just add that the the impact of people like Steve Jobs would not be predicted nor made possible by any educational, leadership or management program. And that is a very humbling thought for someone who has tried understanding how improving individual and collective ways of working can help advance our corporations

I've had the intuition for a long way that leadership practices we so carefully develop are only a way for corporations to face the shortage of truly exceptional people.

At the high end of the ladder, it's all about believing in yourself (“You know, I’ve got a plan that could rescue Apple. I can’t say any more than that it’s the perfect product and the perfect strategy for Apple. But nobody there will listen to me.”) and showing strong character (“My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”) - quotes from Macstories