Build trust, embrace networks, manage complexity


A new model for work is required. Hierarchies, simple branching networks, are obsolete. They work well when information flows mostly in one direction: down. Hierarchies are good for command and control. They are handy to get things done in small groups. But hierarchies are rather useless to create, innovate, or change.

We have known for quite a while that hierarchies are ineffective when things get complex. For example, matrix management was an attempt to address the weakness of organizational silos resulting from simple, branching hierarchies. In matrix management people have more than one reporting line and often work across business units. However, the performance management system and job structure usually remain intact so that it adds more complication, rather than increased effectiveness.

Any hierarchy, even one wrapped in matrices, becomes an immovable beast as soon as it is created. The only way to change a hierarchical organization is to create a new hierarchy. This is why reorganization is so popular; and so ineffective. Most organizations still deal with complexity through reorganization. Just think of the last time a new CEO came in to “fix” a large corporation. A connected enterprise starts by building a foundation of trust, embracing networks, and then managing complexity. (more…)

Preparing your workforce for tomorrow

I created a performance improvement toolbox when I started this blog in 2004, and have kept adding to it over the years. I often look at workplace performance first from the perspective of whether the situation we are trying to address is complicated or complex. Training works well for complicated problems, when you have clear and measurable objectives. Training looks backwards, at what worked in the past (good & best practices), and creates a controlled environment to develop knowledge and skills. Training can be good to develop ways to reduce errors, which is only one part of improving organizational performance. (more…)

My Top Tools 2014

toolsJane Hart compiles a list every year of the Top 10 Tools for learning. Voting closes on 21 September.

Here are my top tools this year, with last year’s position shown in brackets. I have also annotated these tools as to what part of my PKM practice they connect with: SEEK > SENSE > SHARE (more…)

If you want to foster change, stay out of training

In the mid 1990’s I served as a Training Development Officer working with tactical aviation (helicopters that support the Army).  We had just purchased 100 helicopters plus a full motion combat simulator and my office was next to the simulator, which I watched as it was installed, tested, and used. My work also involved writing papers to justify the use of other simulators, such as cockpit procedure trainers and maintenance trainers. One of the papers I wrote examined how we needed to develop an integrated approach to specifying what type of simulation, or emulation, was most suitable for the training task. For example, teaching start-up and shut-down sequences does not require a full-motion simulator, as the actual task occurs while the aircraft is on the ground. It does require switches, gauges, and dials that act like the real things though. I suggested creating a decision support tool that looked at both physical and functional fidelity, and integrating this into the training system documentation. Without such a documented process, decisions to purchase +$25 million simulators would continue to made on a best-guess basis. (more…)

Not all innovation is disruptive

Given all the talk about disruptive innovation lately, I thought I’d dust off several posts I have written on the subject and update them.

In the book McLuhan for Managers, the authors provide a lens for managers and owners to make business decisions primarily using McLuhan’s laws of media to understand the changes that are possible with any medium. According to co-author Derrick de Kerckhove, the tetradic laws of media state that every medium (or technology in the broader sense of the word) has four major effects:

  1. extends a human property (the car extends the foot);
  2. obsolesces the previous medium by turning it into a sport or an form of art (the automobile turns horses and carriages into sports);
  3. retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before (the automobile brings back the shining armour of the chevalier);
  4. flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits (the automobile, when there are too many of them, create traffic jams, that is total paralysis)


Four Basic Skills for 2020

In 2011, The Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix published a report that looked at Future Work Skills 2020 (PDF). The report identified six drivers of change. I’ve added links to examples of each, three years later.

  1. Longevity, in terms of the age of the workforce and customers – Retiring Later
  2. Smart machines, to augment and extend human abilities – Workplace Automation
  3. A computational world, as computer networks connect – Internet of Everything
  4. New media, that pervade every aspect of life – Online Privacy
  5. Superstructed organizations, that scale below or beyond what was previously possible – AirBNB
  6. A globally connected world, with a multitude of local cultures and competition from all directions- Geek Nation


Thoughts on measurement

Here are some observations and insights that were shared on social media this past fortnight. I call these Friday’s Finds.

@weissblatt – “Sharing is becoming a life skill. Knowledge is power only if shared.”

Thomas Edison – “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” – via @BrunoGebarski

@SteveKLabnik – “We used to think Open Source was enough to save us, but it’s control of the network that really matters.” (more…)

Wirearchy to scale successfully

A recent email from Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid connected immediately in my mind with Jon Husband’s wirearchy framework. This is how organizations in the network era can scale successfully. As Hugh writes, “Scaling your business is all about having more people solve more problems for you.”

See image below: (more…)

Seeking feedback on PKM

We are just finishing the second PKM in 40 Days online workshop this year. So far we have have had over 75 participants in the new format of 40 days online, 6 themes, 18 activities, and 14 days for reflection and catch-up. Each workshop is different but it is always great to get serious feedback on what PKM means for those who have undertaken the workshop.

I am realising the benefits of practicing what the PKM concept preaches…

1. SEEKING is a good start, but it isn’t enough.

We must make SENSE of everything we find, and that includes prioritising–recognising what is useful now, what will be useful later, and what may not be useful. The trick is to learn how to store the ‘useful later’ stuff so that I can get back to it, and this has been a key ‘take away’ for me. I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about this … Learning about how to organise information was a key reason I signed up for this program, so I’m a happy customer.

3. And finally, I have become more mindful that we must SHARE insights we’ve formed so that we can give back to the ‘universe’, as much as we get. What stood out for me was the fact that just ‘forwarding’ isn’t always helpful sharing. This is my reason for this post. I’m definitely thinking out loud here, so forgive me, but I’m trying to articulate the key insights I’ve taken away, hoping that it will help you frame this program with future participants.

Therefore, if I were to comment on this program, Harold, I’d have to say it’s brilliant: it offers something for all of us. But it’s up to each of us to take what you offer; make SENSE of it and filter it to identify information that is immediately useful vs useful later vs less useful, then SHARE key insights formed as a result of having gone through this process. – Chemene Sinson


Owning our data

With the internet of everything (IoE), once everything is connected, where will our data reside? Who will own it and who will control it?

“In real life, things go wrong. With such a large network encompassing so many devices and objects (Cisco says there will be 50 billion by 2020) there’s a lot of complexity, and plenty of opportunity for errors and malfeasance. “We will live in a world where many things won’t work, and nobody will know how to fix them,” says Howard Rheingold, an Internet sociologist. Our successes in integrating many things successfully may lead to overreach and hubris, the report’s respondents say.” – Fast Coexist