Waiting on the Riverbank: Intent Casting in Practice

by Kristine Dery, informed by interview with Ruben Martin    

Today I decided it was time to buy a new printer. This is not an activity that I want to spend too much time doing and yet it is an important purchase. I largely work from home, or cafes, or bookstores. It is an enviable way to work for the large part but it does require good support technology to maximise the upside without getting the downsides that come with minimal office support. The right printer, I have discovered, is critical. I know exactly what I want: a smallish unit, colour printing, scanning, copying, and wireless to print from any of my mobile devices. All I need is to be matched with the printer that meets my needs. Simple? Not so. Our Business-to-Consumer (B2C) retail model requires me, the customer, to do all the work. You see, the brand decides what to make, the retail network decides how it will be distributed, and the marketers decide what they will tell me about in the way they think that I want to hear it. This leaves me, the customer, to sift through all the messages of all the brands to find a printer that meets the needs that I have already determined. And apparently this is “customer focussed” retailing! Not so.

Doc Searls, alumnus fellow of the Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard, suggests that the capabilities of the new digital landscape will shift the power of the buying process to the consumer…a process he called Intent Casting. Rather than me having to search through the plethora of product to short-list my printer, I would simply lodge my intent to purchase on-line and the appropriate printer would find me. Suppliers of printers that met my set of criteria would compete for my business either by being first or the best matched respondent. The intent casting model suggests a dramatic shift not only for traditional business models in the distribution of products and services, but also for how companies are organised and communicate internally in order to make this shift. The B2C model is flipped on its head to become C2B and with it comes a new way of thinking about customer relationships.

We have already seen shifts in this direction as users engage with digital platforms and new business practices emerge. Two industries that have seen intent casting disruption are recruitment (e.g. Linkedin) and taxis (e.g. Uber). Traditional recruitment processes started with a company posting a job description and waiting to see who applied. Applicants would either be those in the market already for a new role or someone who found the job ad by chance and was persuaded to think about making a change. Linkedin provided a marketplace where those seeking employment could cast their intent by positioning themselves in the market using key words, blog posts, and network connections thereby creating connections that build relationships and job opportunities. Equally those seeking to employ have access to search mechanisms that enable them to cast very targeted propositions. Not only has this disrupted the recruitment industry by significantly reducing the need for many of the traditional recruitment agent’s activities but it has also created a significant shift in the way recruitment practices are constructed and organised. Uber is based on a very similar model that places the customer at the forefront of the process with capabilities to select the type of taxi service based on their pre-constructed cost or service quality parameters and then cast their intent to a community of service providers who then connect with the customer to deliver the product. Delivery is then monitored by the customer and product satisfaction is co-created with both the customer and the driver having the capability to post descriptions of their experience. Uber drivers have a relationship with the customer from the moment they respond to the cast intent until completion of the service.

In addition to changes at the C2B level, we are starting to see organisations such as Quivers disrupting the B2B market by introducing intent casting models to change the relationship between the owners of the brands and the retail network. Traditionally the brand (e.g. Nike, Prada) distributed their product through retailers who then in turn developed the relationship with the customer leaving the brand at arms length. Quivers is a channel disrupter focused on “Conscious Commerce” that enables the customer to determine their product choice from the brand website and cast their intent to buy via Quivers to a predetermined group of retailers giving them all the opportunity to respond and fulfil the order. This preserves the brand’s relationship with their retailers but gives the brand control over the customer experience by collecting purchase data that can then be used to deliver better outcomes for the brand. Rather than retailers being the centre of the buying process and able to offer a range of brands to the customer, the brand takes control of the decision process but then casts the customer’s intent to the retailer who in-turn fulfils the order direct to the customer. Retailers in this B2B intent casting model have to be constantly connected and capable of instant responses to claim the order ahead of competitors, which requires new skills, mobile technologies and new priorities.

So back to my printer. Had I been able to engage with an intent casting platform I would have framed the perfect cast, waited quietly on the riverbank and waited for the fish to bite. Now that sounds like the way to shop.

You’re It! Play the #twitag game at Disrupt.Sydney 2014

by Ella Hafermalz

Are you on twitter? Coming to Disrupt.Sydney? Join in the #twitag game. Enlist someone at Disrupt.Sydney and take a selfie with them – post the photo on twitter with the hashtags #disruptsyd and #twitag and tag your selfie buddy to pass the challenge on to them. Our organisers Kai and Kristine have already started the game, see their example here – it’s Kristine’s turn now. Advanced players should include an interesting fact about their selfie buddy, so we can all get to know each other a little better!

Disrupt the disruption – and take a breath!

bScott Ward 

I recently read an article called “The last true hermit”. It was about a guy who had spent 27 years living in pure solitude
in the forests of Central Maine USA.

For 27 straight years he didn’t speak to a soul
except for a single “hello” when bumping into some bushwalkers one time.

The article related that for all of those years, he’d
spend his beautiful days simply experiencing and contemplating the world around…

As someone who lives and breathes the dynamic connectivity
that comes with working in digital transformation, the story of this man’s
solitary existence stood in stark contrast to my own daily experience.

It made me think of all the ways we now connect
with each other and how subtlety pervasive and convenient technology has become;
I was amused to discover, after reviewing the apps on my mobile phone, that I
have over 38 different channels to connect with people on a single device!

Don’t get me wrong, I love the access our new
world offers. I love that old monopolies and long held bastions of power are
been turned upside down and redistributed along lines more reflective of merit.
I love the potential we now have to tap into, harness and direct the brilliance
that sits across all humanity… we truly are in an age of miracles.

Be it environmental, political, medical or whatever your passion, now is the
time to get amongst it and lead the charge in directions that are meaningful to

However… amongst all this change…. amongst all the
hype that comes with breakthrough discoveries… the experience of the hermit
reminds us that there is an elegant beauty that has been with us throughout all
the ages that sits beyond the complexity of technology.

We need social networks that disrupt!

by Cai Kjaer

Social networks have always existed in one form or another, but the rise of social media platforms has been able to enable the creation and sustainability of these on a massive global scale.

Initially, companies – driven by ROI considerations – seemed reluctant to embrace these tools inside the firewall, but times have changed. This is clearly evidenced by a rapid growth in the adoption of enterprise social network tools as reported by IBM’s Center for Applied Insights in their report Raising the Game that was published in August 2014. Based on a survey with nearly 1,200 decision makers the researchers found that enterprise social platforms in the period from 2012 to 2014 had moved from piloting to adoption.

It appears that executives are realising that ‘social’ is not about goofing around the water cooler, but is ultimately all about organisational performance. The growth of the enterprise social software market is another sign. From about USD$1b in 2010 it is expected to grow to USD$8b in 2019. If it didn’t deliver tangible benefits companies wouldn’t invest.

The increasing importance of networks to deliver business outcomes is now also being addressed by well-known management experts. Harvard Professor John Kotter who made Organisational Change a must-do, outlines in his most recent book XLR8 (pronounced ‘Accelerate’) how organisations need to adopt a ‘Dual Operating System’. According to Kotter, hierarchies are extremely good at doing known things over and over again, but are very poor at implementing new practices. Networks on the other hand play a critical role in getting new practices implemented.

We need these social networks to disrupt hierarchies and structures that are so dominant in our organisations. Whether or not networks can completely eliminate hierarchies is yet to be seen, but Zappos is certainly giving it a go. In the meantime we need to create organisations where hierarchies and networks will co-exist.

Corporate Rationing and the Challenge of Disruption

by Simon Terry

The Russians have absolute proof that the Bible is Wrong. According to the Holy Book originally there was chaos and then there was order. The Russians know from experience that this is not so. First there was planning then there was chaos. – Soviet era joke from Russia. 

In the Soviet era in Eastern Europe jokes about queues and rationing were plentiful. People laughed in an effort to mitigate the real economic damage of central planning. In dealing with disruption, the consequences of rigid corporate planning can have real damage on the ability of the organization to meet the market.

Corporate Rationing

We do not apply the same standards to our companies as we do to our political systems. To achieve their quarterly earnings per share (‘EPS’) expectations, many large corporations resort to central planning processes with a goal of excluding any uncertainty from performance. Budgets are set and allocated in advance to deliver a number. As a result, there is limited flexibility for the organization to respond to changing circumstances or new opportunities.

Budgets are often based on hierarchical silos, further limiting the ability of the systems and processes within the organization to respond. Reallocation of budgets across silos is a major challenge within a plan year, as it has consequences for power and status of leaders, the achievement of silo-based performance and incentive plans and potentially the fate of entire functions.

The consequence of this central planning is that the modern corporation is full of rationing processes and queues. The rationing goes under many names, such as strategic priorities, investment management committees, project pipelines, resource availability, etc. The business impact is that a corporation has many barriers to responding to the market around it. To deliver certainty of the EPS outcome, the organization deliberately constrains its response to improvement opportunities and declines or delays profitable customer opportunities.

Rationing in organisations can be as absurd as that under central planned economies. Resource plans across silos or measures are often mismatched so that a budget may exist for an activity but the ability to hire additional full time employee equivalents or spend the money on vendors does not exist. Growth in sales may not be matched with additional resources to manage onboarding of customers or ongoing support. Frustration of employees inevitably rises.

Rationing also has a consequence for the scale of economic activity that organisations will consider. Given the effort required to manage the way through the rationing queues small projects are often simply abandoned. Many organisations even limit entry to the rationing process to investments of a significant scale. Each of these further constraints creates more areas in which an organistion will not respond and constrains smaller or marginal lines of business.

Consequences for Disruption

If all your competitors ration to achieve comparable metrics of performance this system of corporate rationing is sub-optimal, but rarely fatal. Everyone playing the game plays with an assumption of limited resources. The big players resources will still be bigger than smaller players and dramatic change is less likely.

However, the introduction of disruptive competitors changes the game. Disruptive competitors often deliberately choose different performance metrics to incumbent players as they see the customer opportunity and the business model differently. They are not constrained by the rationing systems that restrict decision-making and action in the larger incumbent players.

Accentuating the difference in approach, many digital disruptors enter markets with an abundance mindset and not a constrained mindset. They embrace risk and experimentation. Many a traditional organization has bemoaned their ability to compete as a large corporate when your new small agile competitor has more fundraising capacity than you, is more willing to deploy capital quickly and disregards the measures of performance that you traditionally demand?

Before an organization can respond to the market in this situation, it needs to tackle the challenge of undoing its traditional model of hierarchical rationing. The organization needs to become more responsive to its market and pursue the economic opportunities in front of it, instead of an arbitrary central plan. Power to act needs to be devolved from central functions and all areas of the organisation need the capacity to respond to demand, threats and opportunities.

These change are easy to say but incredibly difficult. Change on this scale involves the creation of an entirely new system of economic activity. It changes the roles of participants in the system of the corporation from employees, to managers to the shareholders of the organization. That kind of change is complex, hard and takes time that an organization under threat lacks.

Every company that relies on central planning and rationing as part of its management process should consider the implications of this approach and go looking for the hidden consequences. The time to build a more Responsive Organisation is before it is needed to fend off a digital competitor.

At the May Day Parade in Moscow, Leonid Brezhnev and other Russian officials watched as usual as the long parade of Soviet Military power – missiles, tanks, armoured cars and the like. At the end of the parade came a little truck with three middle aged men sitting in it. Comrade Brezhnev turned to the Defence Minister and asked: “Who are they?” The Defence Minister replied “Those are three economists. You would not believe the destructive power that they possess.” – Soviet era joke from Russia 

Management for control or responsiveness – the fault line in gamification

by Simon Terry

Digital disruption is surfacing yet again a long running a battle between two schools of thought. One school of thought is that human beings need extrinsic motivations, centrally planned processes and close management and control to improve efficiency and achieve valuable outcomes. Another school seeks to leverage the inherent motivations, human creativity and maximise the potential of people to create their own future. Any debate on gamification triggers this debate anew.

Gamification involves the use of extrinsic processes to shape human behaviour and motivation. Through use of the processes of games, gamification leverages our natural motivations to compete, to earn status or to solve challenges in the pursuit of goals set by the rules of a game. In its application of a series of external rules to optimise human behaviour, gamification is a descendent of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management with its goal of measuring and optimising human behaviour. Implicit in Taylor’s approach is the belief that smart people with the right data can better design the outcomes of others.

Under the assault of digital disruption, organisations are questioning their ability to centrally plan responses to a changing world. Gamification appears to offer a way of controlling for a better outcome without the burden of planning, detailed process management and constraining policies. If the rules of the game allow for flexibility to use better ways achieve the outcomes desired, then where is the harm? Winning additional effort in pursuit of prescribed goals is a valuable outcome of gamification and it can foster new conversations about performance.

The challenge that gamification must address is that human creativity includes the ability to understand and to change the system in which human activity occurs. Competitors can and will change the game in a situation of digital disruption. Customers can change the game. Even your employees can understand and change the game. What happens if the rules of the game need to change or even the outcomes need to change in a rapidly changing market?

Human beings have a remarkable ability to work out the path of least effort to achieve an outcome in a game. It has been said that if you want to find the flaw in a sales performance system give it to a sales team. We have used the dynamics of games to manage sales teams for years. In too many situations, sales team have ‘gamed the sales performance system’ to achieve outcomes that maximise their personal returns without necessarily meeting the purposes of the organisation or its customers. People can collaborate and change the dynamics of competitive games or can choose to compete in collaborative games. If we rely on extrinsic rules and motivation, there is a danger that the rules that shape behaviour will not adapt quickly enough to these kinds of change. The smart people managing the game aren’t always aware of the behaviours occurring however good the game metrics.

Fostering an alignment of intrinsic motivation with the purposes of an organisation is by no means a clear or easy path. However, it clarifies the role of leadership and offers the advantage of leaving the smart people to work on their own work, not that of others. Mastering the complexity of leveraging intrinsic motivation is the work of Responsive Organisations.

Is Gamification an Insult to our Humanity?

by Scott Ward

A number of inquisitive colleagues and I have been debating the pros and cons of Gamification. Some, like me, see gamification as a valuable toolset to build and direct online-offline behaviors. Other colleagues remain yet to be convinced that the practice has merit – and this surprises me.

For me gamification offers significant advantages that make sense at a fundamental level. One example of this is as a method of providing real-time feedback:

Most people are aware, but few consciously realize (unless prompted) that the world around us contains an infinite amount feedback loops, aimed at simulating behaviors that keep us alive and multiplying.

Feedback loops are everywhere, our brains are hardwired to seek them out and they form the substratum of our learning ie if we touch something sharp, it hurts and we learn to avoid sharp things; that’s a feedback loop. If we use wet wood for a fire, it is hard to burn and smokes excessively, so we learn to choose the dry wood; that’s a feedback loop.

We use them to teach our children to speak, to teach accepted behaviours (i.e. manners) and to teach the methods in which we can successfully interact with each other and the world around us.

So what has this got to do with Gamification?

At its simplest level, gamification is about building the feedback loops that surround us in our physical world, into our virtual worlds.

The natural systems that have surrounded us for hundreds of thousands of years have used feedback loops to guide our behavior, so why not build them into our virtual worlds? Our minds and bodies are hardwired to receive feedback so why not orientate our technology to plug into our deepest physiology? And our learning processes are based on feedback from trial and error, so why not make them virtual?

Gamification is nothing new… it’s a subset of design that uses preexisting principles in a new and different context (admittedly under a crappy name, ie “Gamification”).

For any gamified strategy to be effective it must align to the motivational wiring that sits at our core. Slapping together a leaderboard, or scattering points around like birdseed without anchoring it to a deeper human motivator is naive at best and more than just a little offensive – it is also the reason why most initiatives fail.

Motivators keep us curious, keep us exploring and keep us applied to the task that dominates our thought space; in fact, hardwired human motivators are THE fuel source of gamification.

By stimulating and directing our most basic, hardwired motivators to inspire or avoid, Gamification seeks to stack behaviors one after the other, toward specific outcomes.

There is a lot of great writing into what motivates us, from Maslow’s hierarchy to Daniel Pink’s journey to mastery, all of which have relevance. However one of the most usable models I’ve found is the one Steve Sims of Badgeville uses in his own work.

Steve Sims’s model, like many others, is broken into intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. According to his model we have an intrinsic need to feel smart, successful, socially valued and to be progressing in a way that is structured and purposeful; whilst the extrinsic perspective, its all about physical rewards and “Getting stuff”.

This model is certainly open to debate but stop and think about how it could apply to you… on the whole it’s a pretty good summary.

What’s interesting about intrinsic motivators is that to be successful they must be genuine. If intrinsic rewards fail to connect with our deeper humanity they lack value and are more about lip-service than individual affirmation. Without this connection the initiative will surely fail.

What’s also really interesting is that generally speaking intrinsic motivators are more effective than extrinsic motivators. It turns out that people will do more to feel socially valued than they will for “stuff”, which is ironic as intrinsic motivators are usually free eg being nominated as “Employee of the month”.

That’s not to say that extrinsic motivators should be ignored. They have their place too and are a great boost to motivational levels when intrinsic motivators are inherently lacking in the task at hand i.e. in highly repetitive tasks – Daniel Pink has done some amazing work in terms of when to apply intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators.

From my experience the best motivators are the ones that combine both intrinsic and extrinsic elements. “VIP concert tickets” combine both the sense of being socially valued along with Stuff, and are an infinitely more attractive prospect than just “concert tickets” alone.

Interestingly motivators take on a whole new importance when progress is socialized. There is something about making visible progress amongst a group of peers that inspires heightened accountability and adds a greater sense of importance that keeps people engaged enough to come back.

In corporate environments these motivators play out as the desire for recognition, the need to build a professional profile, and the satisfaction that comes with the affirmation that our work holds value. Have a think about how people compete for that corner office, a car park close to the elevator, a better job title, even a bigger team, newer laptop or to receive an industry awards…

Hardwired motivators are very real indeed, and gamification seeks to reconcile our day-to-day activity with this energetic fuel source.

So if we accept that feedback loops provide value, and that human motivators are able to fuel directed behavior, the question becomes: How do we use this knowledge to incentivize and reinforce preferred behaviors in the virtual space?

It’s a good question, so when we look for examples of where this is done well, gamification becomes relevant.

For years game builders have sought to increase the “stickability” of the products they build. These game builders have spent many years and huge research budgets watching people interact with their products and distilling the techniques to make their games as successful as possible.

They have discovered amazing things: Did you know that game makers aim to make their games as frustrating as possible? (ie as frustrating as possible without loosing people) The reason behind this is that users who are initially frustrated by a task before breaking through to success, release greater amounts dopamine which is the chemical that stimulates the brain’s pleasure centre.

To be effective gamers have had to pick apart exactly how to use virtual triggers to target and stimulate some of our most primitive physical wiring, and these are what are known as “Game Mechanics”.

At their most basic Game mechanics are an intuitive, visual and experiential communication tool that can be understood by children and adults of all ages and across all cultures.

Game mechanics marry human motivators, to progress, over time, and there is an infinite array of game mechanics that people can choose from.

The most common most know about are points, levels, badges and leaderboards, but really those are really only the tip of the iceberg. Other types include status bars, quest queues, reward schedules, advanced user paths, social feedback, gated trails, throttles, unlocks and on it goes.

Generally speaking though game mechanics seek to allocate one of four things:

1. Status
2. Access to resources or knowledge
3. Power of self determination
4. Stuff

Each mechanism provides opportunities to communicate different behaviors and stimulate different motivators depending on the context of its use. They can be used either singularly or combined to communicate a path toward mastery.

Again, what’s really interesting is to look at the world around us and see where game mechanics are already at play.

Leaderboards have long been used in sport, but are also used by sales teams, and employee of the month programs. Company organization charts or hierarchies are leaderboards of sorts that tap into particular motivators. Again this is nothing new as gamification is about taking the existing thoughts and methods that work well elsewhere and applying them to the digital space.

Levels are probably the most endemic, with academics using them to denote levels of education; martial artists using them to denote skill; and loyalty programs using them to train customers to become better customers. Levels generally denote a demonstrated amount of experience or expertise over a defined body of knowledge, and again they’ve been used successfully for thousands of years.

Points or virtual currencies are another common game mechanic. Aside from the money we use every day, we see these mechanics are used in frequent flyer programs, coffee cards and even Facebooks’ ‘like’ button is a form of social currency. Virtual currencies provide a powerful tool to incrementally recognize key behaviors along the engagement path.

There are a myriad of potential game mechanics waiting to be utilized. They are a simplified form of language that can be used to guide and direct people in the digital world.


Gamification has been positioned as something new but it’s not. Its methods tap into some of our deepest wiring as people and offer points of guidance in an often-unintuitive and disorientating digital world.

Most when they jump into this space start and end with game mechanics, under the assumption that peoples motivators will magically align by default or that its all purely about fun… they won’t and its not, this is a deeper practice.

Peoples motivations shift over time, so gamification requires continued effort and analysis to ensure people remain engaged either toward something of value or away from something undesirable.

The exciting part in all this is the opportunity to uncover commonalities in our thought processes. By learning how to tap into these motivators on a larger scale we uncover the parts of us that are similar and the parts that are different, as well as gaining insight into how each contributes value in different ways.

So for me the argument for gamification is quite compelling and conclusive. The fact that my colleagues and I have reached a point of disagreement on anything is rare and truly exciting as it gives us the opportunity to explore and exchange perspectives, to learn more and develop our understanding.

So what do you think? What have I missed? Is gamification a practice that has worth or an insult to our humanity?

This post originally appeared here.

End of the middle – a new opportunity

by Simon Terry

At the DISRUPT.SYDNEY event, in our anti-panel a confronting idea surfaced:

Does disruption mean the end of the middle?

Rapid increases in the connection, usage and mobility of information & people has consequences for intermediaries and others caught in the middle as things change. We have already seen dramatic changes and forecasts of even more dire consequences for the middle as a result of disruption. We have seen changes for:

Middle men: intermediary businesses that relied on their ability to leverage information asymmetry and their ability to scale either customers or suppliers have found that global digital connection undercuts their business model or margins.

Middle class: income inequality continues to expand. Many middle class careers were built on knowledge economy roles that are threatened by disruption. We have already seen global communication impact many middle class manufacturing roles. The rise of the project career creates new sources of volatility in middle class incomes

Middle managers: the traditional role of middle managers as shapers of information in Organisations is undermined as information moves faster and more directly and new models of decision making are born. Organisations are attacking this role with data analytics, social connection, more agile decision making and flatter hierarchies

Mid market anything: we seem to have entered an age where we can aggregate markets and people at massive scale. At the same time communication, technology has supported connection and support for vibrant niches. Businesses increasingly target the top or bottom of the market. There are fewer businesses prospering in the mid market.

Middle age: we are living longer with more career changes, facing more diversity in life stages and a much less static marketplace. What was once the beginning of a slowing into middle age is now a time of peak productivity and change.

The future of the middle

At a recent talk as part of the New Economy Summit, Mark Pesce spoke that connected markets favour direct connections. He highlighted that the connectors who prosper are those who enhance the network to the benefit of all. He is not alone in holding this view.

So how can those in the middle play a sustainable role:

Lead the networked community: the new intermediaries, the new middle managers and the new middle class knowledge workers are those who foster, lead and sustain networked communities. This is not just a role of ensuring the community meets standards & has adequate engagement. Leading purpose building and sense making is critical. Real leadership is required to ensure the network is vibrant, innovative and evoking to sustain itself. That also means balancing the role of the network in the broader ecosystem.

Build Trust and Context: development of trust to facilitate the value creation in networked communities is a high value role for intermediaries or other nodes. This may be through design of features or data sets that enhance the context of transactions and information in the network. It will also be about holding & sharing a broader systems view than transactional participants in the network. Data analytics can play a critical role in supporting trust and context but it usually can only be gained through the nodes or a network systems view.

Disrupt the System: the middle is often the weight of economic and social power in any system. The middle has enough to lose in any change and traditionally this is a force for conservatism – think of the mortgage belt electorates of politics. However, having enough to lose is also a stake in the game & resources to drive change. A stake in the game means benefit from the innovations that come with new and better models. Organisations and individuals in the middle can be the most agile and an engine of economic opportunities in disruption, if they take on that challenge.

In a networked economy, the middle is no longer a place of safety where individuals and organisations escape the pressures of either end. The middle may well be where the greatest risks lie. Individuals and organisations in the middle must think differently about their role in the disrupted system and help lead the system forward.

Re-thinking Connectivity

by Kristine Dery

It is tempting not to read the news at the moment as the pre-election character assassinations turn to post election character assassinations. However, two articles caught my eye last week and it is with some optimism that an important conversation appears to be shifting. The endless hand wringing over being connected 24/7 and the gloomy outlook that we will all become vegetative smartphone addicts, seems to be shifting to recognize that the problem is not connectivity in and of itself. We like to be connected. The problem is that we cannot keep working the same way. We need to refocus how we see and understand work in a more connected world.

Both articles coincidentally appeared on September 12. The first from the Sydney Morning Herald headed “More people are choosing to opt out of working full-time”, and the second from the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Welcome to the 72 Hour Work Week”. Aha, you say….more of the same. We are burning out from work overload due to excessive connectivity through smartphones and other mobile devices. However, while both articles refer to work burnout, interestingly ( and refreshingly) they are not positioning the smartphone as the culprit. Rather they both suggest that we need to use the connectivity afforded by mobile connectivity and disrupt the way we are working.

In the US a survey of executives, managers and professionals (apparently now known as EMP’s) are connected to work on their smartphones an average of 72 hours per week (i.e. 13.5 hours or more on weekdays and about 5 hours on weekends). While this does seem a lot, it is not the connectedness that bothers those EMPs, in fact they really like being connected. Rather it is that companies use the connectivity capability to compensate for inefficiencies and problematic processes.

“The message is clear. EMPs don’t necessarily mind being connected to work for more than 8 hours a day. But they are upset when it happens because leaders don’t respect their time or their official work day is wasted, so they have to make up that time working from their laptops or smartphones at home”

Put that message together with evidence in the Australian workplace that increasing numbers of people are opting out of full-time work and choosing to work casually or part-time in order to avoid the long hours that have become the organizational norm, and we start to see a new conversation emerging. We need to re-think the way we understand work. Work space, work time and how work is done.

The research that I have done, together with colleagues, on connectivity in the Australian financial services industry suggests that being able to be connected is both desirable and relieves work stress. The problem occurs when we cannot control the connectivity. We liken it to the ‘connective tap’. We want to turn the flow of connectivity up when we need to be fully focused and down (but not off) when we just need to keep an eye on things. To do that we need to rethink how we use mobile technology to reshape our work spaces and work time. Rather than simply automating old inefficiencies and doing more of it, we need to disrupt work itself. As Jennifer Deal says in her HBR blog:

“We’ll never be truly disconnected from work again. But smart organizations will make sure their employees appreciate that connectedness.”

Digital Disruption – Blocked or Accelerated by People

by Cai Kjaer

Advancement in technology has really disrupted things, but you only realise how much when you look back at where we were just a few years ago. Last week I found on YouTube a 1990 interview with a very young Steve Jobs (no turtleneck or round glasses, and before he was fired from Apple). He describes three stages of computing as he saw them at the time. The first had been the introduction of spreadsheets, which really transformed the ability for people to do quite complex calculations with no need for programmers. The second stage was desktop publishing that allowed everyone to write and publish documents from their own computers. The third stage Jobs talks about – with his usual intensity and visionary insight – was the ability to start connecting computers via networks, and enable people to communicate electronically.

Hearing it now in 2013 it is hard to imagine life before PCs, and I just can’t stop thinking how far we have come, and just how much our lives have been disrupted by technological advancements. But was it really technology that changed us? I don’t think so. We changed. We chose to adopt those technologies. Inventions need people to promote them, and without people embracing the advancements we’ll get as little value from them as you get from an unused gym membership. We are also the ones who can most effectively prevent disruption. As it is so beautifully put in the July 2013 HBR article ‘The Secret Networks of Great Change Agents’:

“…employees tend instinctively to oppose change initiatives because they disrupt established power structures and ways of getting things done.”

Disruption is not something we yearn for, and as the HBR article says we will do what we can to avoid it. It is very much people rather than the technology that bring about, or prevent, change. Fortunately, many organisations do manage to get things done – but how? For me the most precise and insightful answer comes from Professor Ron Burt in his highly acclaimed book on Social Capital:

“Accountability flows through the formal organisation of authority relations. All else flows through the informal relations – advice, coordination, cooperation, friendship, gossip, knowledge and trust. Formal relations are about who is to blame. Informal relations are about who gets it done.”

Just reflect over that for a few moments, and consider how much we are relying on the formal structure to get things done, when in reality the power lies in the informal networks. Understanding how these informal networks work can provide the key to predict how quickly a ‘digital disruption’ really becomes disruptive. Social Network Analysis (SNA) has helped us by making these otherwise invisible networks visible. Over the last 10 years SNA has started to move from research into main stream business, as demonstrated again by the recent HBR article. It is an exceptionally powerful method to uncover those influencers you need to get on board to fast track any type of change initiative.

With the rise of social media, inside and outside of the enterprise, people are now connecting and collaborating in even greater numbers. The informal, cross-organistional networks are increasing as the formal organisational boundaries are blurring. The the need to understand how organisations are wired through people connections is therefore equally increasing.