Archive for the ‘Transformation’ category

Creative Capitalism for a Crisis Time

December 18, 2008

One of my doctoral committee members, Alex Pattakos, blogs for HuffingtonPost and wrote Meaningful Capitalism: Change We Can Believe In

In response to the article and some of the comments, I said:

Organizations pursuing meaningful entrepreneurship are not in strong evidence by the media. We ourselves should become the new news media that changes the emphasis on what gets reported. People learn from success stories, and the meaning of success itself is and will be changing. People’s values will slowly change as their society shows these shifts in many tangible and subtle ways.

We knew this collapse was coming at some point. Capitalism was already being referred to as “late” by many writers and thinkers, over the last decade or so. Most of us just did not know what to expect our how it would appear on our national and global scene. The Crisis time we’re in now nearly exactly matches the historical theory of Strauss and Howe’s 1996 book The Fourth Turning.  And because we are now in a Fourth Turning, a Crisis era, the times are compatible with Alex’s recommendation.

The crisis of capitalism should not be framed in the “greed” dynamic – there have been greedy exploiters since before the time of Draco. Certainly Kim Jong-Il can be seen as greedy. The corporate form is merely a modern organizational framework, and is a structure developed in response to laws and conventions. It can be changed. People bring their values to work and their organizations, and as Americans facing a new crisis and a new era, we need to take responsibility for the redesign of these institutions.

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Making a Difference by Design

May 3, 2008

Like the onerously overused “innovation,” transformation may be getting a bad rap. Both are broad, overstated terms that mean very different things to people, depending on background, experience, industry. Both must be defined in their contexts of use before we can have any serious discussion. The wide range of meanings and uses of transformation should give us pause before going too far with the term in mixed company. But transformation (as in organizational) has been merging closer to design (as in envisioned, creative, structured changemaking and sensemaking).

Time magazine may have just eased our quandary by making Humantific, and its transformation practice, a sort-of household term. People may know what we mean now.  In Different by Design, Time reports on New York’s Humantific, and the West Coast’s IDEO and Jump Associates. While we’ve seen tons of press on IDEO in recent years, the 3 paragraph exposure of Humantific (with a nice shot of GK and Elizabeth) was refreshing. The brief piece keeps it light, there was nothing mentioned about their practice areas or methods (Strategic Co-creation, Visual Sensemaking, Complexity Navigation, Innovation research).

Also see:

NextD.org (Transforming that Sustainability Thing)

Jump Associates

IDEO Transformation by Design

The Hub

Designs of the Time

No post would be complete without advocating my perspective on transformation. in a paper presented at the 2007 INCOSE Symposium I suggested:

The general thrust of transformation efforts aims toward significant organizational changes that institutionalize desired behaviors necessary for long-term business success. While some management thinkers may place the responsibility solely on management to accomplish transformation, in our view successful transformation depends on the collaboration of all stakeholders in the enterprise, at a minimum by adopting the new practices as full participants. This view is supported by Kotter (1995), whose findings show transformation efforts fail to the extent that organizational communication and collaboration fails.

Indeed, that seems to be a suitably complex, interesting design problem.

Socializing Business Decisions

January 6, 2008

What are the most effective ways to coordinate organizational transformation? Theories and experiences differ widely. Nearly all schools of strategic transformation assume a top-down decisionmaking style that wreaks “transformation” like a plague of new process changes across the organization. When the dust settles, it’s often the case that it was just another re-org, and now the very notion of transformation is relegated to a management fad. You cannot do “transformation” twice in the same organization.

Complexity scientists and strategic thinkers both speak of the  dynamics of emergence in change processes. Emergent strategies are powerful for smaller firms, that can prepare for contingencies with strategic options that can be selected over time. Emergent strategy leverages a bias toward environmental scanning and opportunism in the marketplace. Not bad, but not transformative. In the same way, transformation that’s emergent seems a misnomer, the very notion of transformative change implies bold design.

How else can true organizational transformation occur? How about laterally, through locally designed interventions guided by strategy, and energized by the socialization of agreement?

Socialization is a type of organizational routine applicable to any business practice where there’s a need to develop a model routine or new set of skills before rolling it out enterprise-wide. Rather like a real-world scale simulation of the social interaction, tacit rules, and division of roles for a new knowledge practice, a new process, or even simulating the impact of major decisions such a new product or business strategies. Richard Anderson recently cited U of Toronto’s Dean Roger Martin from Connecting, which led me to a 2005 article I wish I had seen 2 years ago: Why Decisions Need Design (which Dean Martin extended in an IIT interview in 2006, Designing Decisions.) He poses some interesting questions, which may not have been answered anywhere since:

These are all manifestations of badly designed decisions. What’s the root cause? The fundamentally flawed design of the decision factory.

Typical decision design demonstrates few of the features of great design, which starts with deep user understanding. The designer dives well below the surface to fathom exactly how someone will use the artifact to be designed. The designer goes beyond understanding the user’s physical and functional needs to determine the user’s deeper emotional and psychological needs.

Do decisions even have “users” who need to be deeply understood? Indeed they do: Anyone whose subsequent decisions and actions are shaped and constrained by a given decision is a “user.” So if corporation decides that all divisions will cut costs by 10%, or deploy Six Sigma, or adopt a shared-services model for info tech, many divisional managers will be users of these decisions.

Socialization provides a testbed for social prototyping, allowing new routines to be simulated before they become operational. If they succeed in the dynamic prototype of a product team, we can circulate that successful practice laterally to other projects, teams, or cross-functional groups. Its a decentralized way to accomplish the goals of institutionalizing, without the high-profile risks and communication management necessary in the top-down approach.

Socialization provides a way for organizations to adopt and diffuse reliable, resilient capacities for new knowledge-based practices, such as the high-knowledge value skills of User Experience. I thought the familiarity of “socializing,” which the literature references as an HR onboarding process, would inspire its adoption in large product companies, where new management approaches may be perceived as threatening established orders or as fads. Socialization is based on research and practical consulting, and it passed both tests – making it a stronger Some of these ideas were published in a recent business research volume (Jones, 2007, Socializing a Knowledge Strategy), and an upcoming Boxes and Arrows article, We Tried to Warn You, based on last year’s IA Summit panel on Learning from Failure.

From Socializing a Knowledge Strategy, just published in Abou Zeid: Knowledge Management and Business Strategies: Theoretical Frameworks and Empirical Research:

Socialization presents a meaningful alternative to formal management and institutionalization of user experience and IA practices, to either establish or improve a core competency. Socialization developed from two different directions and drivers, and its satisfaction of both shows its reliability. One driver was for organizations to rapidly create a new business function or process requiring unique, often rare knowledge-based skills that require significant development time and investment. Socialization allows organizations to leverage their current capacities by supporting a bottom-up formation of skills and practices optimally suited for the organizational setting. We have found that when externally developed processes are “imported” into established organizations, they are often likely to fail. However, functionally similar practices can be organically co-designed and accelerated within the course of state-of-the-art consulting support within the context of a significant project.

All that is to say, those closest to the practices should develop and own the practice, sharing its value both laterally andks.jpg

vertically. Minimal, but loyal, executive support is necessary to legitimate the practices as they interfere with established practices and traditions, thus allowing the new process to take hold and become sustainable over time.

If you’re interested in the theoretical foundations, see support from Ciborra, Orlikowski, Christensen, Raynor, Boland, Zack, and Penrose,

As Facebook scales up, can it handle identity conflict?

December 1, 2007

The killer business notion behind Facebook, MySpace, and other massively scaled social networking services is based on the assumption that millions of users make for a better experience. That may be true for business, but its arguable on behalf of the users themselves. The Times reports the failure of Beacon, its perverse “collaborative consumption” push service that reveals your buying habits to your friends.

York University’s Sam Ladner posts an insightful interpretation of the roots of this failure as a conflict of identities, the clash of fronts. She cites fellow Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of the front, the individual’s persona expressed in the presentation of self in everyday life. Goffman posits a front stage, back stage, and – he suggests we like to think – a core self. These get mixed together in Facebook, resulting in embarrassing relationship management issues as cited by the Times article. Samantha says designers should pay attention to these issues:

Facebook has done the same thing by forcing its users to expose their selves to different fronts simultaneously. It is embarrassing, even shameful.

What Designers Can Learn From Facebook’s Beacon

  • Discover your users’ fronts: If you are designing a product or a virtual place, ask your potential users what they consider the character of this “place” to be. Is is a formal place? Is it a casual atmosphere? What kinds of “props” are expected here? What would be an embarrassing topic of conversation or incident?
  • Design using the theatre metaphor: Make the product consistent with that place, as if you were writing a play. Ensure that what you design is part of a script that users understand or expect.
  • Pay attention to embarrassment: If your users mention shame or embarrassment in any way, gently press them about it. Discover the character of the “collision of fronts” that is the source of that embarrassment, and, above all, avoid forcing users to feel embarrassment.

Sam’s brief take is a wonderfuly concise, cogent piece of design analysis and a lovely application of classical, cultural theory. It stands up. And it inspired me to post as well, something I’ve been sitting on. When I read about Facebook’s very public debacles, my smarty-pants “core self” snickers knowingly at my avoidance  of Facebook altogether. Like Sam’s analysis suggests, I have many fronts to juggle, and across multiple communities. But for me there’s an overriding issue that also has a theoretical basis.

There’s no activity system in the Facebook ecology for me. There’s nothing for me to DO there. At least with LinkedIn (as Avi responding to Sam;s post also says) there’s a proscribed purpose, a well-defined kind of resume-exchanging business-oriented community. An activity theory perspective shows LinkedIn as a complete system: It mediates my interaction with many others toward business-oriented objectives, following a certain rule base, community values, and fits within an organizational schema of sorts. Faceboo, for me, is a random system that would be useful for invitations, spying on my friends, and keeping up with social drama. But as someone with a life to live, I don’t have that extra time to devote to maintaining such a profile.

“Keeping up with classmates” was its original purpose, and then it grew. It seems to me more feature and tech-driven, making a cool testbed for new ideas. But ultimately a waste of time for someone like me to actually invest in and use with intention.

I’m an established researcher and business person, anyone who wants to find me can without Facebook. My everyday lifeworld social networks are rich, diverse, and within my capacity to be with. When a surprise encounter mixes up my social fronts in the real world, as happens often, I can press my social skills into service and enjoy the impudence of, say, my art world friends bumping into my clients at a club. But in Facebook, the activity is based on exchanging information without your control. I can do without that mashup, and I can do without their ambiguous Terms of Service.

So, there may not be a core self, as the Goffman exchange suggests. Our identities are largely socially-constructed, and therefore remain vulnerable, can be socially deconstructed, in unexpected conflicts. But as a word to designers, what is the core activity system in Facebook? Is it too large to contain a well-defined activity and purpose anymore? I prefer and recommend the creation of activity ecologies using DIY, invitational social networks such as Ning, CrowdVine, GoingOn, or wikis such as Wetpaint. Everyone knows what to do, and why you’re there. And Google’s OpenSocial has only just started to diffuse – I think the purposeful community is the more inviting future of social networking.

Dialogue as Participatory Design

November 3, 2007

(Insert standard excuses for blog slipping here).

Torch Partner Robin Uchida hosted the second year of Juice Dialogues at Ontario College of Art and Design, October 25-27. Wit the theme of Making the Invisible Visible, I kicked off the Friday night session, followed by Gary Gray, founder of Carder Gray agency. I was delighted to accept an invitation to present, as well as participate in the open dialogues with faculty, students, and design community professionals like myself. This is the kind of exploratory educational venue all universities should hold regularly, and the type of informal program design schools in particular need. Provocative presentations with Q&A, followed by a circle of dialogue for everyone who stayed on, hosted by insightful, caring facilitators that easily generated the space for listening and understanding to emerge. Each night’s dialogue lasted well over an hour, and afterward, I physically felt energized, inspired, and buzzed, like I had been at a great party.

My talk was on Dialogue as Participatory Design (see on Slideshare), which is my first attempt at integrating the concepts of structured dialogue as participatory design for social systems and public domain issues. While I”m sure we could use which have many stakeholders and where no single “answer” is possible. a way of facilitated design thinking with stakeholder groups holding a complex problem in common. While we at the Agoras Institute and at the Blogora wiki have written books and pages about SDD as a model of participatory design and decision making, we have not shared these ideas with designers who practice Participatory Design as a school of design. I have not seen similar tools employed in transformation design practices yet either, but perhaps unstructured dialogue is preferred for front end conceptualization of problems. I would like to know what the experiences are of other design teams that have employed facilitate dialogic methods in problematizing, conceptual design, scenario planning, or even in visual sensemaking and generative ideation.

Here’s a brief summary of the concepts from the talk:

A participatory design approach based on structured dialogic design is presented. Dialogic design represents a developing perspective toward design for complex or techno-social systems where stakeholders must own the design planning, solutions, and take responsibility for action. Where participatory design methods engage “users” in design play and process as a generative design approach for creating the right products, dialogic design requires participants’ deep contribution to the outcome of the designed solution or service itself. Think of the significant need to involve community stakeholders in transformative solutions for public policy, transportation, urban planning, or infrastructure. Consider the need to involve medical practitioners and even patients in healthcare delivery or service solutions. Consider dialogic design a means of radically democratic design, guided by principles such as requisite variety, requisite learning, and requisite authenticity.