Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are transparency and security incompatible?

Security is often used as the greatest argument against increasing openness and transparency because it might lead to sensitive information might end up in the wrong hands. But is it a viable argument, or is just that our existing solutions are insufficient?

Security as a Middle Age castle
The approach many organization take towards information security is similar to the defense strategies use for Middle Age castles (and almost as outdated too). A Middle Age castle typically had high curtain walls, a surrounding moat and a drawbridge that are to keep unwanted visitors from entering the castle. If anyone would need to leave the castle, they would have to pass through a castle gate where guards could make sure they wouldn’t bring something from the castle. The people inside the castle were safe as long as the outer defenses held, but if someone managed to break through the outer defenses, the inhabitants of the castle were very vulnerable to an attack - except for the family of the lord of the castle and his valuables who could seek protection in the central tower or keep.

This is how many organizations have chosen to protect their information, building high curtain walls that make it hard for anyone from the outside to access and steal information, but also for people to bring any information with them to the outside. To do that, they need to pass through the tollgates and ask the gatekeepers for permission to leave the castle. There are also internal curtain walls between different organizational silos, making it hard to exchange information between those silos.

Security is about enabling value creation

"…the security department must become adept at identifying the real threats to ensure that security becomes an enabler for business innovation, rather than an inhibitor. Security should be seen as a tool that can be used to accept risks so that the business can take advantage of market opportunities it was never able to before."

Eric Ouellet, VP Research, Gartner

As humans are risk averse we underestimate the benefits of open systems, focusing on the risk and neglect the value that can be created on the other end of the scale. Realizing this, organizations need to look at security as a tool to take opportunities while minimizing risk. Many organizations have forgotten the most important part - to make it as easy as possible for people to do their jobs in a secure way. At the end of the day, that is what most people want to do. They want get their jobs done as good as possible. This usually implies fast and with good quality. Sometimes their work will require them to exchange information with people in other organizational silos. Sometimes it will require them to bring information outside the castle, because they need to work somewhere else or share it with some trusted party that doesn’t come from the same castle. When they do, the great number of gates and gatekeepers that are there to protect their information from falling into the wrong hands hinder them to do their jobs. Sometimes the only pragmatic way to work seems to buy a ladder so they can climb the curtail walls. There is always a tradeoff between security and usability, and system that is entirely secure is also entirely useless. When the usability of a system is bad, people will find workarounds.

Security is "a people problem" 
Organizations often put all their trust into the systems they have designed to secure their information. But let’s not forget that security is ultimately “a people problem”. Hence safeguards and education can avoid inadvertent information leaks. People need to be educated in how to deal with sensitive information and there must policies and guidelines in place that are usable, that people actually can follow and get their jobs done at the same time. We must all become better at judging which information could be shared and which should not. Systems that restrict or even prevent us from sharing make us act without thinking. Many people have become used to these rigid systems and when they sometimes use more freeform tools, they might use the freeform tools to share information without thinking – because they’re used to not thinking. With email, that happens every day already. Even though there are more complex security and privacy concerns related to email than to most social software, hardly anyone ever questions the value of email today.

Balancing transparency and security
If everything is becoming open and transparent one might ask how one gains competitive advantages in markets that are classically based on information asymmetry. The answer to that is that twofold. First of all, everything won’t become transparent. The level of transparency can, and should, be much greater within an organization than towards the outside. Only a fraction of the information that is created and used inside organizations are relevant to the outside world. Secondly, in this increasingly interconnected and digital world, we are deceiving ourselves if we think that having unique access to certain pieces of information is what will create competitive advantages. Talented people who are able to find relevant information and turn it into actionable knowledge and create value together create real comparative advantage. The challenge is to find, attract and retain these people and create an environment where this talent can be used to its full extent. Enabling high levels of openness, transparency, participation, conversation, and recognition is a prerequisite for success in such an environment.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thinking digital - it's a generational thing

I’m going to stick my neck out and argue that there is a generational gap when it comes to our ability to think digital. I don’t care if some people in my own and previous generations will feel insulted.

It’s perfectly natural that such a generational gap exists. If someone grows up in a certain paradigm, that person will have a hard time adjusting to a new paradigm. It’s not just about learning new behaviors. It’s also about unlearning behaviors that have turned into habits. What is even more difficult is shifting to a new way of thinking. From thinking physical to thinking digital. Those of us who aren’t digital natives have already been wired for the thinking physical paradigm.

Growing up in a digital world is similar to growing up with a culture and language: you are fluent in the language because you think in that language, and since the culture and language are intertwined it helps you connect with other people who share the same culture and language.

I’m not saying you can’t be older than 20 years old and think digital. I’m just saying that you really have to speak and read a language every day for many years before you reach the point that you actually think in that language. Furthermore, you won’t start thinking digitally just because you use computers and other devices on a daily basis. You also have to unlearn existing behaviors and enter a new and different mindset, and that doesn’t happen without a lot of effort.

Altimeter Group deļ¬nes digital transformation as ”the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”Not having digital natives -  people who have learned to think digital – involved in and influencing the digital transformation of your organization can turn out to be fatal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did Nokia fall victim to silo mentality?

At the turn of the millennium, the Finnish company Nokia had become the largest mobile phones manufacturer in the world. Four years later, the company was divided into four divisions: Mobile Phones, Multimedia, Networks and Enterprise Solutions. The Mobile Phones division produced the successful feature phones for the consumer market. The Enterprise Solutions division served business clients so they could get mobile access to corporate networks while traveling, which primarily meant accessing email, "the number one mission critical business application” according to Nokia. The world’s first commercial smartphone, Nokia Communicator, was key in this strategy. It was a smartphone intended for business users, but not for regular consumers. The Mobile Phones division was taking care of the needs of consumers.

In 2007, when Nokia’s revenue and turnover was at all time high, Apple launched the iPhone, a cool-looking smartphone with a touch interface that consumers, unlike any smartphone before it, actually found attractive and easy to use. Ironically, this happened at a point in time when Nokia had just shifted its focus from smartphones back to basic phones. Nokia’s strategy was to make smartphones for businesses, and feature phones for consumers, each being the responsibility of separate divisions that didn’t collaborate with each other. Instead, they competed with each other.

When discussed in future management textbooks the demise of Nokia will probably primarily be blamed on collaboration failure. Imagine if the two divisions had collaborated and pursued a shared goal instead of competing and pursuing their own goals. Chances are Nokia would still be the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world. Instead they had to sell their bleeding mobile phone businesses to Microsoft to avoid shutting it down completely.  

It is feasible to assume that Nokia fell victim of silo mentality that led to collaboration failure. Silo mentality is a typical phenomenon in large organizations. Teams tend to focus on the part they are responsible for and specialize in. As a consequence, they sub-optimize and focus on their own goals. The silos become organizational barriers that limit communication and thus impeding knowledge exchange, collaboration, and innovation within the enterprise. With so many people involved in an enterprise, and with so many barriers that make communication hard and result in lack of communication between different groups, it also becomes hard for any group to paint the complete picture and thus also hard to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole. I am pretty sure this is what happened at Nokia.

Sources

  1. Nokia reorganizes into four divisions”, Nokia press release, 2003
  2. "Nokia's New Coke moment? The Communicator software debacle”, Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 2007
  3. Nokia's Bad Call on Smartphones”, Anton Troianovski and Sven Grundberg, The Wall Street Journal, 2012


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Focus on the hole, not the drill

As humans we have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas. Even if an idea isn’t our own to start with, the more we get involved in it, the more it will begin to feel like it is actually ours. We will fight for it. Make sure others buy into it. We are dedicated to making it happen, to turn the brilliant idea into an elegant solution. During such a journey it isn’t unlikely that we will begin to lose sight of the problem or need that the idea was meant to address. The more we invest in the solution, the more we focus on it, the more blind we will be to new information that doesn’t align with the solution. We begin to take the solution for the truth, and when the problem changes, we still see it through the same lens and try to apply the same solution to fix it. We might even try to apply it to new problems. Hell, it worked for this other problem so why can’t it work for other problems as well?

Take intranets as an example. When intranets were first introduced during the 1990's, the original problem they were to solve was to make corporate information such as process descriptions, instructions, organizational information, and corporate news available and more accessible to employees. Before information was digitalized, it used to be put in binders and on bulletin boards. It had to be physically copied and placed at every location where it was to be used, and the people who needed it had to go to that location. The intranet helped to make this information much more available and accessible, less redundant, as well as easier to update and distribute for those whose task it was to produce and distribute the information.

Since then the problems that intranets were to solve has changed. More and more employees are doing non-routine cognitive work that requires access to information that is typically provided via an intranet. This means that only a fraction of their everyday information needs can be served by the information that is on the intranet. Most of the information they need comes from other coworkers and from the world outside the organization, and much of their information needs cannot be anticipated. The sheer volume of information that needs to be accessible to them cannot be centrally managed by a few resources, or even delegated to a few select people within each team. In addition to this, more and more information is created and exchanged by the employees themselves, often the products of collaborative work. It would be too cumbersome, take to much time, and risk getting stuck in the process if all this information would be exchanged via the intranet. Besides, fitting it all into one centrally governed organization scheme would be an impossible task.

The logical approach is to approach this problem is try to build an understanding the characteristics of knowledge work, how it gets done and how it can be done in a better way, and then go back to back to the drawing board and work out a new solution. But how does most organizations suggest to solve this problem? You guessed right – they throw their Intranet at it. They invest in a new platform, some new features, and a shiny new design, only to later see low adoption and usage rates, but most importantly no real change to ways of working, and no positive effects on knowledge worker productivity.

Instead of jumping to solutions, organizations should start to iteratively explore how technology can be designed to make their employees work smarter as individuals and together in a constantly changing and unpredictable environment, how they can get more things done faster while at the same time being able to improvise and innovate. To do so they need to focus on the hole, not the drill.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Moving on to a new adventure


Dear friends and colleagues, there are exciting times ahead! I have decided to move on to a new adventure that I’m really excited about. Let me tell you a bit about it! ☺

Envisioning the future of work

First of all, I will continue to think, speak, write and visualize what the future of work might look like in an increasingly digital and connected world. As a part of this I will offer standard and custom-designed seminars and workshops as well as strategic advisory within The Digital Workplace and Enterprise Collaboration on a freelance basis.

Shaping the future of work – humanizing technology

I will also work as Digital Strategist at Tactel, a leading and award-winning Swedish mobile technology company. Together with my talented colleagues at Tactel we will shape the future of work with innovative digital experiences and services, humanizing technology.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to know more.

Yours truly,
Oscar

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Collaboration Pyramid revisited

There has been a lot of buzz on Twitter recently about The Collaboration Pyramid model that I developed a few years ago. It started when Helen Bevan shared a redrawn version by Jim Farrell.




The model has received a lot of praise, but it has also been met with criticism. An image can be worth a thousand words, but an image such as this allows a lot of interpretation. It is hard to understand exactly what the model is intended for and how to interpret it just by looking at it. For example, model has compared the model to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”, likely because Maslow’s model is also illustrated as a pyramid. It lead to the conclusion that the activities in the lower layers are more basic and thus easier/less complex than the activities in the layers further up in the pyramid. But I didn’t use the pyramid shape to indicate a scale of activities from basic to advanced. The model doesn't say that the lower levels are simpler or less complex that the upper ones. Rather, it's the other way around. What the model does is highlighting the very complex social interaction and relationship building activities that are needed for collaboration to happen. Many of these activities are so complex that we have a hard time understanding them and how they connect to simpler activities such as forming a team or coordinating clearly defined activities within a team. Hence organizations don’t do a good job at supporting and encouraging these activities, especially not across teams and locations.

So, to make it easier to interpret the model in the way I intended, I will try to add some flesh to the bones in this post.

The Collaboration Pyramid Explained

The Collaboration Pyramid is intended as a tool that will help organizations to understand what they need to do to make collaboration happen naturally across groups and locations, as well as to increase the effectiveness of collaboration efforts. The model consists of 8 layers, building on each other from the bottom and up. The top 3 layers represent activities that we typically think of as parts of structured team-based collaboration, such as forming the team, coordinating activities, and carrying out the actual activities. These are often formalized, visible, measured and evaluated, just as the result that the team produces. The activities in the 5 lower layers are activities of more social nature, and activities not bound to a particular collaboration effort, such as people introducing themselves to each other, having informal conversations, connecting, creating and sharing information with each other, and so forth. Things that happen on a daily basis, embedded in the daily work.

The activities in these layers happen naturally when people are in close proximity. When people are close, it is easy to be introduced to each other, and to spontaneously meet or go and talk to each other. And what begins an informal and spontaneous conversation might then evolve into a collaboration effort. But as soon as people are located more than 50 feet away from each other, the likelihood that they will meet and have an informal and spontaneous conversation drops dramatically. And so does the likelihood that collaboration will happen naturally.

What is more, these activities, in the lower 5 layers, happen “below the surface”, so to say. Management rarely put any attention to these activities, at least not beyond their own teams, and some even regard them as waste, not work. The activities are usually not visible, recognized, or valued by organizations. Yet, these activities are fundamental both for collaboration to happen, and for a lot of other value-creation to take place. Below the surface you typically find:

  • The activities that allow people to get to know each other, build relationships, and understand what others can contribute.
  • The direct and indirect contributions from people outside the team – by the extended team, stakeholders, and external contributors.
  • The ongoing community building that makes people build trust in each other and commit themselves to a shared purpose.
  • The efforts of gaining the workspace awareness that is necessary for making the right decisions in any collaborative effort

The collaboration pyramid illustrates a problem within large and distributed organizations, namely that the activities in the 5 lower layers are hard to scale beyond organizational groups and geographic locations, something that contributes to the creation of organizational silos and groupthink. It is more likely that you will communicate and collaborate more frequently and spontaneously with other members of your group and people in your close proximity than you will with people in other groups and at other locations. If your network stretches further and you have ties to people in other groups, then some communication and collaboration might happen spontaneously across groups.

The problem is that in a large and dispersed organization, most people don't get the chance to develop relationships to people outside their own groups, and hence their social networks are often limited to people that belong to the same organizational group and to people in their close proximity. Those who perform really well in the lower levels are those who have visibility in the hierarchical organization and who have the resources and mandate to invest in these activities. These people are usually not the ones who have the skills and expertise to solve the wicked, complex problems organizations are facing, or who have the ideas that might result in new innovations that might get or keep the organization ahead of the competition. These people are usually to be found in the lowest levels of the organization, on the grassroots level.

I'll end this post with some of the praise that the model has received :-)

“This image by Oscar Berg…helped me recognize the role of collaboration supported by social media tools as the core message in my 30 second elevator pitch.”

“The pyramid produced by Oscar Berg is an interesting view of the visibility and value of collaboration. It works well in the context of Enterprise Social Networks demonstrating that they can be used to develop great foundations for visible collaboration.”

“Oscar Berg's collaboration pyramid captures very well the distinctions between formal and informal collaboration.  And central to what this model is about is the idea that to be able to collaborate with each other we need to shift our thinking away from a subservience for what the boss wants or thinks towards taking seriously our experience, our ideas and our interests.”  

”Communication culture is all about enabling your teams – including external stakeholders such as partners, vendors, and clients – to engage in an open environment and share their best thinking. Oscar Berg, a consultant working in Sweden, does a good job of explaining his concept of the “Collaboration Pyramid” in this article. Berg’s concept is consistent with our own academic findings around best practices for effective collaboration.” 

“Oscar Berg is writing about the conditions needed in an enterprise for value-creation through collaboration, and suggesting that the traditional model of structured teams is the tip of the iceberg…The layers below the surface involve a wide range of ad hoc connection, development of relationships, and development of trust.”

“I love this image by Oscar Berg as it explores the increasing value and visibility of collaboration.”

“Berg’s Collaboration Pyramid is an astute piece of thinking built on some high level social norms that we might all claim to live up to – being open, truthful and attentive. The sorts of behaviours that when consistently practiced generate trust.”

“The Collaboration Pyramid displays a broader platform to support a different context for collaboration that may eventually lead to more authentic and meaningful personal investment in the team process.”


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sharing is our competitive advantage

The key to a successful enterprise is to activate people’s innate drive and ability to share what they know with each other. That drive and ability is also why we are only human species walking the earth today.

Let’s rewind the tape a bit.

In the beginning Homo sapiens coexisted with Neanderthals, the Denisovans, Homo erectus, and the diminutive “hobbit” species Homo floresiensis. It was only quite recently did we become the sole human species to wander the earth. Homo erectus became extinct 143,00 years ago, but the Neanderthals became extinct about 28,000 years ago. Since then we have been alone.



So, for some reason all other human species that we have shared the earth with have become extinct. One can only speculate about how that happened. It is very likely that we, Homo sapiens, made it happen. But how? If we take the Neanderthals as an example, they were superior to us in strength. And we weren’t necessarily smarter than them, at least not on an individual level.

What made Homo sapiens different from the Neanderthals was most likely our social abilities and behaviors, how we behave as a collective. As a human species we have always been very focused on communicating and transferring knowledge. Not only from one person to another, but also parent to child. This way, the next generation can build further on the collective knowledge of the previous generation.

During the 400 000 years that the Neanderthals lived on the earth, they didn’t develop their tools very much. In fact, the tools they used at the end of their time were similar to the ones they used in the early years. If we compare that to Homo sapiens, the tools we used in the early years cannot be compared with the tools and technologies we have developed since. From creating simple stone tools we have created spaceships that can send people into space and digital communication technology that has the potential to connect all human beings on the earth. What made this possible is our innate drive and ability to share what we know with each other.

The Neanderthals and other human species that we co-existed with are most likely more than other primates in this respect, such as chimpanzees. A baby chimpanzee can sit next to his mother trying to crack a nut a 100 times without his mother trying to show him how to do it. He will learn by observing others how to crack the nut, but no one will teach him how to do it taught. Not even his mother or father. One can only speculate, but had the Neanderthals shared our social abilities and behaviors, then perhaps space race would have take place between the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens instead of between the Soviet Union and the US. ☺

This leads me to the rather obvious conclusion that what has made us, the Homo sapiens, competitive and successful as a human species, are exactly the same things that make an enterprise competitive and successful. It is our ability to communicate and share knowledge to other members of the social groups that we belong to.


Image from “Leap Factor Executive Presentation

This ability has also enabled us to developed new and advanced technologies, and most importantly we have developed communication technology that makes it even easier to communicate and share knowledge. Today we can do it on a global scale, sharing anything with anyone and any number of people. And anyone can access the collective knowledge of the human species that we have encoded in books and other forms and now make available in digital format via the Internet. Our ability to share what we know with each other has never been stronger or more powerful. There are practically no limits to what we can achieve in the future, as long as we don’t use the technology against ourselves as a human species and make ourselves extinct.
“...we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature”  
Metalogicon, John of Salisbury, 1159