Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.

Twitter Gets Down to Business: Unlocking 1:n Collaboration for the Enterprise

Companies seeking to innovate want to spark collaboration, but the path is often elusive. Twitter is positioned to help change this.  It’s founders have recently started talking about opening up microblogging in the commercial space, per a recent interview w/ Biz Stone.

But first, there’s a hurdle.  Companies must start to trust employees to communicate openly on shared topics inside the firewall. In theory, that shouldn’t be so hard. It simply means employees must exercise judgment, as has always been required, deciding when email, phone or (heaven forbid) face to face meetings would be more appropriate means to share something. But because the new mode of communication is out in the open, the bar is raised. Judgment will be even more important.

Point made. I believe employees will see the value of 1:n collaboration and will step up to the plate.

When execs and IT realize the water is safe? That’s when Twitter (or micro-blogging tools like it) will start unlocking doors.

What is 1:n (or “one to many”) communication? We’ve all been buried by emails and convoluted distribution lists that would have been far better served as an “open wire” dialog or chat.  It’s the input that creates your opportunistic “oh, I didn’t know that was happening” response.  Today only Twitter can efficiently spark that electronically in real-time.

I believe Twitter and solutions like it will have an evolutionary impact on communications when they begin to take hold.

Given the chance, most want to help drive an innovative idea or solution. They seek to get their ideas in circulation. 1:n communication is the better mousetrap.

Not to sound impatient, but why wait?  Security in the corporate setting was solved long ago.  Granted, when information is going outside and across the firewall, who uses Twitter and definitions of “safe ground” for tweet content is a bit more complicated.   There have been some great posts on the ‘spectrum’ of corporate views on how to interact with the public using Twitter including Marketing, PR & Customer Service guidance.  This aspect is evolving.

But let’s not sacrifice the internal work group benefit to wait for the external Marketing & PR side to catch-up.

It’s time to get down to the business of effective 1:n corporate communication. Twitter represents a powerful new medium for more effective enterprise collaboration.

Become an advocate for change in your organization.  Help take the “social” out of Social Media by putting it to work on important business conversations.  That leg-up will give Twitter the chance to work it’s collaboration magic in the enterprise.

Start brainstorming with your colleagues, how could you leverage “1:n” communication to solve business problems?

(Thanks to a blog post by George M. Tomko with a comment by Nigel Legg, where portions of this post first appeared as a comment; you guys got me thinking on an important topic !! CJ)

KM Evolution: Prusak & Snowden Video

Thanks to Helen Nicol for surfacing a good video interview about the transition of KM from management fad to an integral part of Social Computing (aka Social Media). 

Posted with the original title “Is KM Dead?” the interview examines aspects where ‘KM as fad’ has expired but that many of its practices and core practitioners live on.  The video interview is a year old (July 2008, interviewer: Patrick Lambe)  but still timely –

Snowden is particularly insightful re: forces at work moving from highly structured, pre-codified taxonomies to the more ‘organic aspects of knowledge that model human interaction.’  KM has long struggled as a practice area, for many reasons outlined in the interview, but also for a key reason outlined in my earlier wiki post: fundamentally, the culture for collaboration has been lacking. Where that culture has been updated or transformed, KM will have the opportunity to add value.

I agree with Prusak & Snowden, the core KM concepts remain important, and are showing up frequently (even moreso, one year later) in interactions where collaboration and business problems require it.

Yes, the fad days are over.  KM promises were sometimes oversold by vendors and consultants alike. 

But KM practices are NOT dead, as the space is transforming to something broader and more dynamic. It will serve processes that are more integral to collaborative practices in a knowledge economy, what Snowden calls ‘a flex period of social and natural science’ or ‘renaissance’.

I call it ‘collaborative innovation’ – a new social media practice that we brainstorm often at #smchat.

In a fundamental way, KM advances processes and concepts that are intended to facilitate  communities of practice.  In our knowledge economy, demands for innovation and collaboration are pushing these requirements to the top.  As long as KM practioners are flexible, that is, able to operate in a dynamic mode and willing to new learn technologies, there will be a place for KM at the table. Social media is a powerful force, and KM may not get center stage.  But there are important engagement synergies in SM and KM that we can’t afford to neglect.

As always, would love to get your thoughts.

Twitter: A New Communications Paradigm

Lot’s of interesting data and buzz about the growth of Twitter, in spite of the apparent indifference among teens and the more predictable roller coaster of Hollywood opinion.

see Blog by Paul Dunay (where following comment was 1st posted)

For me, it’s refreshing, at long last, to see a technology like Twitter achieve massive adoption without ‘fad’ status. I find it reminiscent of the internet ca. 1996, it just appeared in the mass market one day and we never looked back.

Twitter is an evolution in global communications. Where else can you message the world and get answers?

It is a paradigm shift.

It is changing PR. It is clearly impacting news media, marketing & customer service.

And perhaps most important – it’s a brand new playing field for global collaboration & innovation.

We’re all early adopters, and need to keep that in mind. Folks are still learning how to tag & search (the magic sauce is effective use of the ‘hashtag’), and the word needs to keep getting around. I’m amazed that Twitter can grow like it has and still be stable .. well, most of the time. As long as Twitter can keep up with growth, I see good things ahead.

No one ever said change would be easy, especially on this scale.

Expect more bumps.

But I don’t think the habits of Hollywood stars will be the drivers on this one –