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  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on October 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Collaborative Environments and Brand Management: All in one 

    Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

    Lately, for work issues, I attend some meetings with multinational companies. I am a witness to how the biggest companies attempt to communicate their strategies and sales pitches to their global brand teams looking for opinion uniformity. I think a great job of internal marketing is when in just a few hours, it is intended that all team members from teams in different countries, become aware of what their company has done differently and its products from the competition.  It is also, I believe, an important storytelling task: It is vital that these employees listen, understand, enjoy themselves and share the story that the brand wants to explain about itself in order to clearly move it and get their clients passionate about it.

    However, management of a worldwide brand is a complex issue that is not resolved in occasional hotel meetings. Looking for all to go to one, and at the same time respecting the specifics of each market, the biggest companies know that it is necessary to create synergies and collective work environments that facilitate the design of global strategies to work in one coordinated way. In this sense, the constant exchange of information and experiences are very important, as is to establish the means to be able to carry out common planning processes. Having an accessible business communication system, interactive and agile is basic: it can function as a global knowledge bank and at the same time as a permanent meeting place which ensures that objectives, positioning, strategy, identity, vision, mission, etc. are shared by the company’s employees.

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  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on July 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Enterprise 2.0: from management to autonomy…With shades in between? 

    Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

    Since June, employees at Yahoo aren’t allowed to work from home. Marissa Mayer, CEO of the company, decided that the era of teleworking was over. The decision was seen as a contradiction, as a “return to a management” foreign to the style of a leading IT company.

    The idea of the social company is closely tied with self-management of employees. One of the major advantages of collaborative tools is they reduce the cost of group action and management, enabling companies to focus on their real mission and extending the profit margins. It has been demonstrated that knowledge workers don’t usually respond to traditional motivation systems, based fundamentally on economic compensation, rather that on its scale of motivational values which rewards issues such as autonomy, the desire for improvement in performance, and working with a clear, significant purpose.

    The social company has the tools necessary to drive collective action based on “scattered” work groups and in turn requires autonomy if it wants to promote the prized engagement with its mission among its employees.

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  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on May 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    The strength of weak ties 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    It may not sound very serious, but in some ways, mass communication was invented thanks to wine. In the 15th century, when Johannes Gutenberg invented modern movable type printing, he did it because he decided to apply the concept of the wine screw press to the world of book printing. That German blacksmith created a link between two different universes and changed the future of human communication forever. Arthur Koestler said that what sets geniuses apart is not the perfection of their work, rather its originality, “the opening of new frontiers”. And Gutenberg knew how to open them.

    Stories like that are used frequently to set an example of how important interdisciplinary contact, the mutual “contamination” of “naturally disconnected” areas or with theoretically “non-essential” relationships, is for innovation. Although we are not trying to be geniuses, the level of circulation and exchange of ideas and knowledge in an organization conditions its creative or innovative potential.

    Sociology has come to support this approach with works such as that of Mark Granovetter, American sociologist at Stanford University, who in 1973 formulated this theory on “the strength of weak ties.” While many systematic models until then had looked at primary, small and well-defined groups (in which solid relationships had prevailed), Granovetter decided to focus his studies on the relationship between subgroups or subcultures with major differences and weak ties. And though that study took place during the 1970s and used urban communities as its research focus, its conclusions continue to be applicable nowadays and are often used to explain the tremendous potential of social networks.

    Granovetter’s theory maintains that the relationships between individuals with weak ties generate more innovation that those held between individuals with a more constant and related relationships. The reason is that they act as a bridge for transmitting information and knowledge among closed communities and add more ingredients to the innovation stock pot, required for the continuous circulation of ideas to produce a good stock.

    The groups that are closely tied and share a value system tend to be more inclined to a consensus without questioning, a rather unfruitful scenario for ideas. “The fewer indirect contacts one has” – says Granovetter – “the more encapsulated he will be in terms of knowledge of the world beyond his own friendship circle.” While, conversely, “those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will then have access to information different from what we receive”. Logically, Granovetter continues, “one can be a liaison between two network sectors only if all his ties into one or both are weak”.

    And there lies the paradox and the value of those ties, which were seen rather differently until that time by sociology. Louis Wirth, American sociologist of the Chicago school who had studied in the 1930s the differences between rural and urban life, reached the conclusion that the relationships between individuals in cities were secondary (pure “weak tie”) and, hence, superficial and “producers of alienation.” Granovetter’s approach added an important nuance to that thinking, trying to explain that those “trivial” relationships can be valuable as they contribute to breaking down profoundly anti-creative structure barriers.

    In the modern business world, cultivating those weak ties becoming vitally important. The permeability between areas and departments is more than just a style in a time where collaboration is prevailing as the antidote to daily difficulties. Emphasis is usually placed on the idea that the employees who are capable of providing innovative solutions are those that share information “beyond their cubicle”, as they act as “bridges” and share that type of weak ties. However, in order for that to happen, the context needs to facilitate it.

    Here several factors come into play, including enterprise social networks. Without a doubt, they represent meeting places for different “subcultures” in a company, which can give rise to innovative convergences. However, in organizations that have been installed with a traditional operating system, there are barriers that cannot be broken down by merely implementing an application or redistributing the space. As Ana Asuero pointed out in a recent post on this blog, Tools won’t dictate whether a company is social or not; that is something defined by the company’s “being”.”

    Weak ties have a major innovative potential and enterprise social networks are here to help them emerge, but promoting them and taking advantage of all of their possibilities is not a question of procedures, but fundamental, a question of corporate culture. Is your company culturally prepared to encourage those weak ties? How are you going about it? Tell us about it in the comments!

    Sources: GRANOVETTER, Mark S. (1973). “The Strength of Weak Ties”, en American Journal of Sociology; vol 78, nº 6. (pp. 1360 – 1380). Johns Hopkins University.

    Manel Alcalde (@manelalcalde) is a creative writer and audiovisual communicator. On his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about the world of creativity and communication.

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on February 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Creating environments for innovation 

    Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

    I don’t know about you, but I have the feeling that when I tune into one of the TV channels specialized in nature documentaries I get at home, 90% of the times I find myself faced with one animal gobbling up another or about to do so. Without a doubt, the aspect of the natural world that sells is the savage fight for survival and (at least when watching TV) what fascinates us about natural selection is the part of competition and not less so, adaptation. I won’t deny that the African savannah is a bloody place and somewhat horrifying, especially if you are a lame or somewhat unfit gazelle, but I’m a bit fed up with inners and corpses and I would prefer to think about the history of the natural world as a history of innovation, in which collaboration has given rise to the adaptive evolution of the species.

    Steven Johnson contemplated this idea a few years ago in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From” focusing on the ecosystem of the coral reefs, examples of what has been called the “Darwin paradox”: despite the reefs settling in nutrient-poor waters, they host an amazing number of species and forms of life. The paradox is due to the fact that these formations are environments in which there is great innovative connection among organisms, enabling reefs to overcome the theoretical sterility of the scenario, generating a rich ecosystem where one would not have thought could exist.

    The fundamental idea following Steven Johnson’s approach is that, like coral reefs, there are climates that stimulate the capacity to generate new ideas and they do so because they comply with a series of patterns that already exist in the natural world. I thought it interesting to draft a short list of tips based on the patterns identified by Steven Johnson. How can we, according to the author, build more innovative environments in our organizations and even in our personal lives?

    • Encouraging exploration. The most innovative environments are those that pose a number of components and encourage us to find ways of recombining them. We need to maximize the number of “doors” within our reach and encourage ourselves to open all of them. The limits of the “adjacent possible” will extend as we explore.
    • Becoming flexible. A good idea is not something isolated, generated by art of magic, rather a network of neurons that connect at a given moment and transform reality. It is important to promote liquid environments, which enable the circulation of ideas, and that, above all, are capable of adopting new forms when these enter into contact.
    • Feeding and connecting hunches. Most good ideas are simple hunches at start, which haven’t yet connected with their “other half”. That “other half” usually can be found in someone else’s head, also in the form of a hunch. Creative spaces with high connectivity are environments with high information density, which facilitates the emergence of those “proto-ideas”, the slow boiling of ideas and the meeting with the “missing part”.
    • Embracing organized chaos. When nature tries to innovate, it favors fortunate accidental connections. In the same way as when we dream, when our brain establishes connections that we would be incapable of performing awake (in “organized” mental state), open work environments with a certain chaos cause individuals to have more possibilities to leave the “immediate task” and find themselves in an associative state more inclined to creativity.
    • Valuing error. As Seth Godin says, “All the creativity books in the world won’t help you if you aren’t willing to have bad, lame and even dangerously bad ideas”. Being right is nice, but it won’t make us move forward. When we aren’t right, we don’t have any option other than to find new paths. Making mistakes is important and an innovative environment must be a free space where we can make fertile errors.
    • Letting others to build on our ideas. Ideas don’t come out of nowhere. We create from what others had created previously and the history of innovations is the history of a collective and progressive contribution to an emerging platform that grows continuously. This only happens when we see ideas not as physically independent or untouchable elements that must be protected, rather as links in a type of group and infinite “work in progress”.

    In short, ideas need to come into contact, mingle, reinvent themselves. To do this, they need a context full of stimulation, governed by free circulation and connectivity. The “secret to business inspiration”, as Johnson says, is to build information networks that allow individual intelligence and collective intelligence to meet, environments fertilized for innovation. Where do you think enterprise social networks fit in all this?

    Manel Alcalde is a creative writer, audiovisual producer and a digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative.

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on January 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: beta, , , ,   

    Living in Beta 

    Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

    In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka opens the doors of his factory to a select group of children, who have the privilege of exploring the insides of the place that produces their favorite candy. Forgive me if I ruin the charm of the story, but it occurred to me that what Wonka did was something similar to an act of business 2.0 transparency on a small scale: a company reveals to a reduced group of customers its production processes and therefore ends the obscurantism of many years (Willy Wonka’s factory had been closed to the public for a long time). And, surprise, surprise, in another fit of unwitting and anachronistic 2.0ism, the peculiar Mr Wonka shows the kids one or two ‘products in beta phase’, such as the 3-course meal gum that Violet Beauregarde, world record holder in chewing gum, can’t resist trying. The problem? Wonka’s factory belongs to a world that doesn’t know about beta culture and where a product isn’t launched on the market until it is ‘perfect’. The moral of the story, in this context, gives a surprising result: After eating the experimental gum, Violet turns into an enormous blueberry.

    Nowadays, the story seems to have changed. Beta culture has expanded and, in the real world, the idea that products are never entirely finished and that talent and ideas aren’t only in the hands of brands is gradually becoming more and better accepted.

    Many companies offer their customers the chance to test experimental models with the aim of improving their prototypes. With regard to the development of products, today, consumers have a lot to say (hopefully without running the risk of becoming giant blueberries!).

    An example of this is the American company TCHO, a case described by journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis in his book Public Parts, as a paradigm of a transparent company dedicated to promoting crowdsourcing, convinced that its value doesn’t lie simply in the product it produces and sells, but also in the quality of its relationship with its customers. Just like Willy Wonka’s factory, TCHO manufactures chocolates, but as a rule this company in San Francisco shares its formulas and manufacturing processes and encourages its customers to be co-creators of its products, providing their opinions and advice about the ‘beta versions’ of each new chocolate. These versions are altered thousands of times before becoming 1.0 versions, in other words, sold, but even then they are considered products with room for improvement.

    When a company like TCHO launches unfinished products it is calling for collaboration and also recognizing something that until recently was unthinkable for many businesses: that its clients’ ideas could be much better than those of its own team. This is an interesting point:

    Transparency in the 2.0 environment means, to a certain extent, naturally sharing our inadequacies, openly asking for collaboration and breaking with what Jeff Jarvis calls ‘the tyranny of perfection’.

    Even though we may find ourselves in a world with more wrinkles to be ironed out, I think that freeing ourselves of the ideal of perfection is healthy and necessary at times like these, when action and innovation are essential, not only for companies but also in the lives of many people. When we take excellence as a sine qua non condition for jumping in to play, we run the risk of ending up at a standstill, watching from the sidelines. Nothing is perfect enough. On the other hand, when we overcome the fear that people will see the stitching, we are laying the foundations for action, learning and continuous improvement.

    I believe this is something that can be applied to both companies and individuals. Living in ‘publicness’, as Jarvis would say, means living constantly in beta. Feeling comfortable in this context means not obsessing with ideals of perfection and learning to enjoy and share our process with all its ‘faults’, trusting that everyone else is there not to judge but to accompany us along the way.

    Manel Alcalde is a creative writer, audiovisual producer and a digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative.


     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on November 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    A question of attitude 

    Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

    Rock n’ roll musicians say that you can be a great or a mediocre player, but what matters essentially is attitude. With the 2.0 world, the same happens: technology gives us tools to encourage and help work on the Internet, but without the right attitude, you’ll have trouble in making your collaborative processes become catalysts of creativity and innovation.

    Some of us grew professionally in companies where the idea of teamwork was similar to that of a chain, an infinite loop designed to ensure minimums in productivity, but not designed at all to stimulate really innovative cooperation. Stagnant departments, complex bureaucratic processes, insurmountable confusing hierarchies… Within context, a collaborative attitude has very clear limits, because it is not within the right environment to develop. In fact, in those structures, many limiting atavistic beliefs perpetuate. Our cultural legacy contains many fears about teamwork, presumptions like “they’re poking their nose where they don’t belong”, “they are going to steal my ideas”, “my weaknesses will be on display to everyone”, “Working together? There’s something fishy going on!”, “We’re never going to agree on anything” or “Such-and-such will end up taking over”, that boycott any possibility of healthy, productive cooperation. It is the fruit of a tradition of independent, distrustful and territorial thinking that seems to have little meaning nowadays.

    According to John Abele, founder of the US technology company Boston Scientific and expert in collective intelligence, to achieve “genuine” cooperation demands more than just the skills to communicate and problem-solve.

    You need to develop a “collaborative mind” or “state” that does away with those cultural prejudices and starts us off on a profitable process.

    What qualities does a “collaborative state” need to have according to Abele?

    Trust, to finish that distrust and believe in others’ contributions.
    Courage, to chase after common goals with diligence and contribute ideas and opinions without fear.
    Creativity, to find new solutions to new problems.
    Confidence, to work in plural, diverse and changing environments.
    Humility, to know how to recognize our own imperfections and the importance of outside contributions.

    Encouraging those qualities lies with each individual. Although our employment history is linked with “old school” companies and our habits in work have been forged in a world where control took precidence over collaboration, I believe with the right “attitude”, we can all find the resources to change our outlook and adapt ourselves to new ways of working. But a collaborative mind will only grow among a collaborative community, in other words, an organization that has defined a shared purpose, that cultivates an ethic of contribution, that develops processes that enable people to work together flexibly and efficiently, that values and rewards the contributions of its members. An organization with leaders based on values who inspire their employees by encouraging their creativity and know how to align everyone’s energy, talent and work towards achieving a common vision and identity.

    Manel Alcalde is creative writer, audiovisual producer and digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative.

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on September 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education, education 2.0, , social learning   

    Education 2.0, but education, please… 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    Much is said nowadays about using information technologies in education and how it is affecting teaching models. We talk a lot about “social learning”, informal, invisible and ubiquitous learning, about “lifelong learning”, connectivism, and even “Edupunk”. Greater emphasis is placed on the new role of the student and how teachers need to understand that their role in a digital world is different to the one they performed traditionally. In some ways, the new 2.0 wave requires teaching professionals who come from the “formal and unidirectional” world of classical education to adapt and I think that’s great: we need to look forward, go with the times, and not deny the evidence or prevent any improvements that information technology and its associated philosophy can bring to education. That being said, I believe we shouldn’t forget that we are still undergoing “transition”, that the “1.0 world” still exists. There are many face-to-face courses, classrooms, and above all, people with their own individual minds, characters, needs, abilities and deficiencies. For that reason, I’d simply like to highlight something I believe to be important: while it is true that many teachers who come from traditional education are not trained or prepared to undertake their work in a digital world, we also have professionals from learning 2.0 who clash loudly in “traditional” educational environments.

    The topic of this article came to me from my own personal experience. Last year I was a student in a learning session associated with the digital world. The course was face-to-face and somewhat general in nature. Students ranged from 25 to 40 years old, more or less. This meant that the students included people who were used to dealing with technology to a greater or lesser extent since they were young and other people who weren’t, and for that reason, they were learning and also had the right to a quality education, or at least understand what the hell was being said.

    Despite it being a very general course as I said, one of the subjects was very technical. It was a short module that largely covered the operation of the Internet at a technological level and contained a very significant section of practical exercises. The topic was complex and unknown for most students, and I think I’m not wrong in saying that some hadn’t a clue about it.

    I also think I’m not wrong in saying that 90% of the students finished the module quite annoyed, and without understanding or learning anything about the subject. The worst thing was, according to the lecturer’s comments, the ones to blame were the students as they couldn’t adapt to the “new teaching model.” Model? It was a “Wise up, it’s all on the net” and period.

    I should say that I’m a champion of continuous and independent learning and the Web 2.0 philosophy: I believe interaction, openness, generosity and cooperation are key in passing on and acquiring knowledge.

    I’m in favor of the so-called informal, collaborative learning based on dialog that hands over the center stage to students and teaches them to be more self-sufficient, respectful, creative, critical and communicative. I think it’s great that teachers stop being a mere instructor and become mentors who help students find their own way, and who when they have the option use practical examples and look at the theory afterwards, by reaching a consensus. Without a doubt, “learning by doing” is the best option, but… it’s not always possible. At times, a basis is needed. Especially when you’re teaching a super-specialized technical module to a group of journalists and publicists who barely know what you are talking about.

    I’m no expert, and this is just an opinion article written from a student’s perspective. But I can say that if the “new educational model” that some social learning champions advocate means absolute chaos and the lack of a teacher, then the new model doesn’t seem the right one to me. A half an hour into the first session of that subject, my colleagues and I were desperately wishing for a “traditional” teacher to through that door. A person who understands that there are some skills that are associated with human nature, with the ability to empathize, to communicate in the present and in short distance, who are more powerful teaching than all the bytes in the cloud together. Someone who knows that at times you need to spark interest, because being a teacher (even in the 21st century) is not just about knowing about a topic, it’s about having the ability to transmit the thrill of education.

    Maybe in a digital world teachers receive less focus, but that doesn’t mean that they have to disappear from the classrooms completely, whether they are physical or virtual. Helping the student to resolve the problem for themselves without losing motivation or the path requires more effort than just lecturing from the top of the class, and of course, more involvement that just leaving the tools on the table and shouting “Wise up…” as you leave.

    Manel Alcalde is creative writer, audiovisual producer and digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative.

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on August 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Creativity, a collective affair 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    As a kid, I always wanted to be an inventor. I guess I hadn’t fallen out with sciences yet (although I now know they are most definitely not my strong point), and my misconceived stereotype of the inventor suited my personality, a more solitary person, or so I thought. For me, creation was a private terrain. I didn’t see the collective side. That was more for those who wanted to be athletes or firemen, and I didn’t like competing, and certainly not putting out fires.

    Like me, many other kids dreamed about being “individual creators”, because we grew up learning that creativity was a personal affair. At school, they taught us that humanity’s great inventions were the work of specific people. When we thought of revolutionary inventions, we’d think of Edison, Morse, Gutenberg and the other members of the “club of great minds.” What’s more, those of us who love reading grew up with a wealth of classical literary works concocted around the figure of the inventor, books by authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Stevenson or Mary Shelly who played with the romantic idea of the obsessed aloof inventor who defied the laws of science in the darkness of their basement laboratory.

    We were also taught to associate creativity exclusively with art. That reductionist view has fed limited beliefs (many people don’t see themselves as being creative due to the mere fact that they don’t perform an artistic activity) and has immortalized that individualistic concept of creation. We admire the works of Picasso, Mozart or Tolstoy, men who we imagine giving form to their works behind the closed doors of their studios with a note “Do not disturb. Genius at work” stuck to the door.

    This cultural prejudice makes us forget that, as technology has advanced and the demand for innovation has become more complex and challenging, creation has transformed into a collective act. Great inventions of the 20th century like the Boeing 747 or the space shuttle were developed by teams, and like them, many other things. The stereotype of the crazy aloof inventor no longer has meaning, and yet we are still anchored to that romantic idea about creativity, maybe because when we think about the creative process, we give too much importance to the initial idea and forget about the development and implementation stages.

    Yet two things are clear: first, ideas don’t mean a thing unless they are put into practice. Their development and implementation are vital and hence, creativity is, to a certain extent, an instinct for production. Secondly, not all of us are as resourceful as Capitan Nemo. Most times, more than just a brilliant mind is needed to crystalize an idea. Sure enough, especially when developing complex products, the creative process is necessarily a group concept and involves people coming together from different backgrounds and disciplines to work effectively so that the idea doesn’t become a forgotten scribble at the back of a drawer.

    Nowadays, now more than ever, innovation goes hand in hand with collaboration.

    In the world of enterprises 2.0, creative processes are open to members from different departments and crowdsourcing is essential. The team is the primordial figure, as opposed to the highly specialized worker of the Tayloristic company. The question of innovation in modern companies is more than just entrusting oneself to the intellectual geniuses of some individual minds, rather it’s about how to take advantage of collective creativity. Along this line, enterprise social networks can help to leverage the potential of co-creation, both by decentralizing power, removing barriers between departments and ensuring the exchange of knowledge.

    The means seem to be there. Now the challenge for modern companies is to maximize the efficiency of its teams. To do this, we need to abandon classic conceptions and think that in collaborative work, the question is not to measure how creative each member of the team is, rather to find out in which part of the process each individual can become more decisive. Group analysis techniques like that of Creative Problem Solving Profiles, which analyze which role each individual plays in collective creation processes and differentiates between five basic profiles in any team (“generator”, “conceptualizers”, “optimizers”, “implementer” and “integrators”) Balancing the presence of each profile, we can create teams with optimum performance and avoid absurd situations like an “excess of generators”, for example, which would open numerous paths of action but none would be carried out. This innovation tool is a widespread method and many enterprises use it with great results, basically resulting in more innovation in less time and with less conflict. I think it is interesting because it makes us see that we all have different aptitudes and weak points, and we all interact in the creative process in a specific way, and we always can be a determining factor in some part of the innovation. In modern organizations, there is no place for solitary geniuses: Creativity is a collective affair and a balancing competences is a requirement for optimizing results.

    Manel Alcalde is creative writer, audiovisual producer and digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative.

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on July 11, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Crowdsourcing for an organizational culture 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    Anyone who has come into contact with Coaching or Neuro-Linguistic Programming has probably found themselves in a position of having to write a personal mission statement or design objectives. They have also most likely discovered how complicated these tasks are. What? I’ve got to think about what my mission is? What my objectives are? And, on top of that formulate them from a positive angle? And specify? And specify EVEN MORE? Ugh! The task is complicated when we’re so used to being carried along by inertia and when we’re not being entirely conscious and responsible for our future. Often, although we believe we’re heading in the right direction, after performing this exercise we discover that in fact this direction is still too vague, and that we are not actually heading towards a real, clear and permissible goal.

    We are not heading towards any sort of tangible objective. We don’t have a ‘manifest’ by which to guide ourselves. We aren’t being responsible nor are we really committed.

    In order for organizations to be effective, they also need a mission statement. Having a defined system of beliefs and objectives, a clear reference framework that is shared by all employees is essential for a company’s good health because it means that some sort of common responsibility pact exists. That’s what the theory says, and I say ‘theory’ because I’m not sure this is a general rule. Nor do I know if another rule is: the one that says that in order to be effective, this statement should, somehow, be created by all of the members of the organization together, because without participation there is no commitment.

    In 1989, when leadership expert Stephen R. Covey posed the question in his book The 7 habits of highly effective people, he used the example of IBM. The American multinational technology and consulting company has, since its beginnings, had a well-established beliefs system among its employees, based on the individual’s dignity, excellence and service. Just over 20 years after this book was published, IBM continues to be the example of a company with absolute confidence in its mission statement and in the commitment of its employees. Now, what’s more, it is an organization that is dedicated to giving its employees a voice and to fostering the exchange of knowledge between them. This is proven by the fact that with a workforce of almost 400,000 employees in 170 companies, IBM has its entire communications policy decentralized in Social Media. The multinational does not have a corporate blog or a dedicated account on Twitter. Instead it leaves corporate communications in the hands of hundreds of IBMers, employees from different areas of the company who have become the brand’s voice. IBM also has a staggering 20,000 internal blogs and 100,000 employees who post on them. Figures on other networks are also impressive: several thousand IBMer tweeters, thousands of other external bloggers, etc. (visit IBM Syndicated feeds on its American website and you’ll be dumbfounded. You almost wish there was only one possible feed…). The best thing about this decentralized approach in Social Media is that IBM doesn’t intervene in the process; the whole system works around guidelines established by a group of employees in 2005. These guidelines basically state that each employee is responsible for his or her publications, that confidential information must not be distributed, that they should try to add value and respect their audience and, finally it adds: ‘Be who you are’. Wow! I suppose this is only something that an adult organization is able to do; one which has a fully established value system among its members, and which trusts that the community, provided with a few basic guidelines, will self-regulate itself.

    I believe that the case of IBM is an example of how, by using crowdsourcing, a solid business culture can be promoted, one to which people are committed. Enterprise Social Networks can, without a doubt, play a crucial role in this topic. I also believe that participative corporate blogs are essential because they fulfill two missions: they make the company’s mission statement come alive, something to which employees contribute on a daily basis and, at the same time, they convey the brand story to all of the stakeholders in the best possible way; through the voice of the people most committed to the company. I recently heard Antonio Núñez, an expert storyteller, say in an interview that real branded content (or the most effective) are the stories of the employees, the customers or the members of an organization.

    To make the mission, vision and values of an organization common property, to which all of the employees are committed depends on encouraging each one of them, during the course of their daily work, to participate in its creation. I believe that, in this 2.0 era, this means establishing technological tools that facilitate exchange and collaboration, both behind closed doors and publicly.

    (As an aside, this study by New York University’s Stern School of Business has shown that blogging during work, even on personal matters, helps build relations among employees and increase productivity).

    Manel Alcalde is a creative writer, audiovisual producer and a digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative. We recommend you check it out!

     

     
  • Manel Alcalde 9:00 am on June 6, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Collaborative networks: overcoming the “PowerPoint thinking” 

    Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

    Editor’s note: Firstly, at Zyncro, we would like to welcome our new blog contributor, Manel Alcalde, creative writer, audiovisual producer and, as he says himself, a wannabe digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative. He himself says that he’s delighted to zyncronize with our readers and we’re sure you’ll enjoy many of his articles. Thanks, Manel, and welcome to Zyncro Blog 😉

    I had never thought about it: PowerPoint arose as the first digital tool for collaborative work in companies. I read it in the book by Franck Frommer, “How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data and Seductive Showmanship that Have Taken Over Our Thinking”, which beyond criticizing the communicative style created by one of the most used IT programs in the world, I believe questions a certain work and cooperation model in the corporate world. Frommer’s vision perhaps may seem a little exaggerated to more than a few, or even antiquated (PowerPoint is clearly a 1.0 product), but I think reading this book can remind us of some of the aspects of business collaboration dynamics that new technology solutions and the 2.0 culture can and should help us to improve.

    What can we do to end the “PowerPoint thinking”?

    1. Promote continuous exchange of information and productive discussions

    According to Franck Frommer, the Power Point age was the era of meeting-shows, in which communication between employees was given essentially done against a sales-style presentation backdrop, in which it demanded getting to the point, highlighting key concepts (those “bullet lists”), and encouraging action without losing too much time in discussion. “The idea of collective work, with thinking based on debate and the exchange of views, became difficult, because it was less efficient, not fast enough therefore not profitable, and in the end, old-fashioned. PowerPoint definitively transformed the work meeting into a spectacle”. In the age of enterprise social networks, where interaction between employees is virtualized and made easier and where exchange and discussion no longer have to take place within the framework of the “meeting”, it seems that this black spot has been overcome. The fact that collaboration is a process integrated in daily life and not an “event” seems to allow us to work with more detailed information and less simplified points, while encouraging a rich, authentic discussion in a more flexible environment.

    2. Encourage honest and healthy collaboration

    Frommer talks about a paradox, collaboration based on narcissism and control. The communicative proactivity that arrived in the business world with the rise in the multidisciplinary approach and the birth of PowerPoint was adopted by employees, according to the author, in a sort of exhibitionism, designed to achieve that their activity was visible and valued. In “presentation” companies, PowerPoint worked as a test and justification of the work done. Each employee became both controlled and the controller of others in the de-hierarchized company. Or as Frommer says, for “an autonomous and creative ‘collaborator’ who likes to work in a team and knows how to communicate, but is constantly subject to the gaze and the judgment of others in the context of meetings and presentations that operate as so many trial scenes and sites for evaluation”. What is “collaboration” based on in an organization 2.0? Is it a philosophy that seeks to achieve common goals or is it essentially an instrument used for business control and personal promotion?

    I think that, without a doubt, collaborative work in our era should be based on honest participation in a corporate project, and not just on a culture of “monitoring” or the narcissistic exposition of talents and individual achievements.

    3. Find more quality in content and form

    In creative worker companies, says Frommer, the need to generate contents continuously encourages the copy-paste culture and provokes a dynamic wheregenerating noise” is more commonplace than producing useful content. This question, inherited from the “PowerPoint age”, not only concerns enterprise networks nowadays, but social networks in general. What volume of valuable contribution and of noise is there in our activity 2.0? I believe it’s a good question to ask ourselves, as collaboration needs to be focused on the common goal and stimulate the contribution of value above and beyond the frequency, priming quality above quantity. On the other hand, if the birth of PowerPoint involves an increase in the linguistic dimension of work, in the Web 2.0 world, this has doubled. As employees, we all become content generators, through multiple platforms and formats, but…what happens to our communicative abilities? PowerPoint, according to Frommer, transforms language into “an institutional, bureaucratic and administrative idiom in which ready-made formulas and all-purpose expressions flourish”, and in a form of “infantile communication”. We may disagree with this point of view, but perhaps we should ask ourselves how we should look at the issue of communicative abilities in the employee in an age of maximum expressive democracy. In a business world that starts to encourage its employees to participate by co-creating contents that the company shares through the web, I think a certain pedagogic gap needs to be overcome on the issue of redaction inherited from the “PowerPoint age”.

    4. Abandon “the infinitive”

    “PowerPoint implies an idea of exchange and debate, interactivity, whereas all its language, fragmented and elliptical, encourages only slogans, commands, and authority. The software is also supposed to enable the individual to express creativity and affirm autonomy, but this goal is hindered by an extremely formalized framework in which the effacement of the speaker is manifest and the neutrality of the statements transforms personal expression into all-purpose language that has always already been legitimated”. In other words, although PowerPoint started in the middle 80s to serve the new ideology regarding creativity in the company, for Frommer, it is a unidirectional and poor framework and way of communicating and organizing thinking. It is not an authentic tool for exchange and collective creation, rather an instrument for the transmission of knowledge, in which knowledge is simply presented and staged in an almost propagandistic way, without giving option to participate. One of the typical traits of the program, according to the author, is it “imposes under the appearance of freeing”. In this sense, Frommer’s arguments remind me of those of Jaron Lanier in his book “You Are Not A Gadget”, in which he talks about social networks as tools that claim to stimulate but in reality limit the creativity of the individual by imposing closed environments with pre-established rules. Obviously, Lanier’s argument can be used to question the point to which enterprise social networks give the employee creative freedom, but in any case, it seems to me that “the infinitive” of PowerPoint thinking is more than overcome in the Web 2.0 world that, as we said before, it ends the dynamic of the “presentation” and becomes definitively something collaborative in a process and a space for participation.

    In short, I believe what is important is not finding the flaws in the software (whether it’s PowerPoint or “X” social network), rather to continue questioning the issues in depth. If we promote a “real” collaborative culture, in which apart from implementing “environments” the habit of discussion, exchange and co-creation are encouraged and employees are trained to improve their communicative skills, we can work beyond the limitations that the tools, imperfect, are always going to impose on us.

    Related article on ZyncroBlog: The Challenges of Collaborative Environments

     

     
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