Updated: 29/08/2003; 10:01:20 AM.
What is the power and nature of networks? How do they give the creative their power back?

Friday, August 29, 2003

New movements tend to stall when the "in group" want to keep the movement within the
"in group"

The same may be true for blogging. The number of people that know about what a blog is among my clients is very small.  Intuitively I would say less than 2%. What would put them off? Anything technical. Blogging has to be made really easy.

Why do I mention St Paul? At the outset of Christianity there was a huge debate. The "In Group" as lead by the surviving disciples of Jesus insisted that to be a Christian you had to be a Jew. This meant adult circumcision for the men and backseat behind a screen for the women. Quite a "technical" hurdle!!!. Paul argued that all men and women should be able to become Christians - guess who won? Pride in coping with the technical sides of blogging is a block for take-up.

The real opportunity is when a group of "Ingroup folks" maybe like "socialtext" really engage with organizational life and find the fit. Step 1 has to be"Easy does it" Easy does it demands that anyone who can type can set up a good blog and that there are a number of great templates. We are exploring Typepad to see if we can make it even easier.

Step two has to be finding the immediate felt benefit. This is more challenging and I think demands that we find parts of an organization where building a community will help - maybe in the entire support area. This is where the whole KM issue rears its head. The idea of content management is an exceptionally stupid idea that flies in the face of how we understand knowledge. Only a small fraction of knowledge is explicit - the vast bulk is implicit - ie it is ten times better to talk to someone about an issue than to try and find what he has written about it. Who wants a manual when you can be walked through? BP has been a leader here in seeing that their key system issues is to find a way of connecting people with questions to people with answers. Each employee has a personal website that amongst other things has a lot of info about what they know. The deal at BP is that if you have question you search for the person.

Why should we care anyway? Blogging is our path back to being human at work. Blogging reveals who we are to not only others but more importantly to ourselves. For the first time mankind - the great tool maker - who has used tool making ingenuity to make the world and himself into a tool, or a thing, has created a tool that renews and brings back what it is to be human.

So like Paul - we are faced with an historic choice. We can relegate blogging to geekiness and tool making or we can work to change our relationships back from machine to human.

What do I mean by this bold statement? We can change democracy by making it essential for politicians to be real and to listen to us. We can get the issues that make sense on the table other than spin. We can make management of organizations transparent and give organizations a human Cluetrain voice. We can change how we learn - from each other rather than from institutions. We can change healthcare by empowering fellow sufferers to help each other rather than to rely on the priests of medicine. We so change the world as Paul did.



Blogs for What Business?. Jimmy Guterman's new piece on business blogging (sub. required) is sure to cause a stir. He charges the blogging community as being "self-absorbed and elitist" and says its not essential for business. He cites a Forrester study to back up his claims:

You don't have to believe me on this. Finally, some data asserts that blogs are hardly a popular pursuit. If anything, blogging is more marginal than its critics contend. Forrester Research (FORR) conducted an online survey of 3,673 people and found that 79 percent of its respondents had never heard of blogs, 98 percent had never read one, and 98 percent said they'd never pay to read or write one. Blogs can be wonderful things, but if a mere 2 percent of Internet users read blogs, the pastime is far from mainstream. The Forrester survey notes that the typical blog reader has been using the Web for an average of six years. For the most part, blogs feature the Net elite writing to the Net elite. This continues to be the case only as long as the elite are underemployed.

I believe what Jimmy is saying is that there isn't a consumer market for blogging and that it isn't essential for businesses to address it. The problem is we are at the very beginning of a technology adoption lifecycle. Some serious companies have forecasted this market to grow and made their bets accordingly. Every time a journalist tries to wrap themselves around the existing market, what's visible are early adopters. What stands out are the leaders in using blogs for publishing, who benefit from preferential attachment as the earliest entrants. And if you take the innovator dialogue to seriously it looks like a one ring circus.

The other story folks pick up on is unclueful attempts by businesses and PR firms to market to bloggers as an emerging and influential segment. Any attempt to treat bloggers as a segment will fail. Today the influence of participants who act more as producers than consumers is the attraction. The number of participants is growing at 400% per year, and that's before AOL's entry.

But the real story in the consumer market is how increasing numbers of real people are using blogs , but as a way to communicate an form their own communities. Its that skinny tail of the power-law distribution that's going to wag the market. A way to share with friends, communicate post-by-post and remain open to new people joining your community. Conversational Networks provide the most value to your average Jane.

Rick Bruner does make the case that there are lots of businesses using blogs in the consumer market and points out this is like the web in 1995 and where the weblog as publishing market is headed. And many of them are making money. I agree that more evidence in this area would help, always does, but give it time for these new ventures to tell their story.

There is another story of weblogs and business that is less visible because the real action is behind the firewall. At Socialtext we are adapting weblogs for use within enterprises. Weblogs are one Enterprise Social Software tool, because they are necessary but not sufficient for communication and collaboration.

The enterprise market is entirely different than the consumer market. What is in common is an efficient, and dare I say fun, way of having conversations that contribute to productivity. Maybe its time we start telling more of our customer stories, but the distinction between consumer and enterprise needs to be made. [Corante: Social Software]

8:57:54 AM    comment []

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

A theme of my posting is to examine why so many people today are so deeply unhappy about their work life. Recently I have been looking at our need to have a higher purpose and at our need to have a more collegial relationship in the hierarchy.

I have posted two great articles by Ross Mayfield below because it seems clear to me that we have another basic flaw in how we organize - except for the military who have never forgotten - we are mainly are ignorant of the inherent numbers and structures that facilitate the optimal human relationships.

I bet also a dinner that there is not a text book on HR that talks about natural networks as opposed to formal departments and which then includes the theory of magic numbers for optimal relationships. My bet is that organizational theory today is an artificial construct just like the Ptolemaic view of the Universe. What is really on the table here is another Copernican revolution for organization based, now as then, on observation of reality that we are humans rather than acceptance of a  doctrine based on the hope that we are machines. .

7:41:14 AM    comment []

The Network is the People. So I won the little bet, but there is little reason to gloat.

You will recall that the reason I took the bet was the first point. Power laws exist when ties are weak. Say, with Clay's dinner money. We are all fascinated by the search prospects of weak ties, realizing how loosely connected we all are and that the horizon is not that far away. But what is of value is ties that are strong, real relationships.

Private Referral Networks, like LinkedIn, work because they represent our transactional relationships based on social credit that drives relationships -- with discovery beyond our natural limits. This friction limits what is a tie, what is a "friend," because we put ourselves at risk when we seek reward. Friendster works because communal oversight out perform algorythms like Match.com's. LinkedIn makes social credit part of its process, which begets social capital. Relationships are full of friction, which protects us from overload and disrepute.

Graph distribution is shaped by the friction of information flow. As Duncan Watts observed, "when the requirements for connections increase, connections diminish." By nature we all seek preferential attatchment. What keeps us from directly affiliating with the most connected node is the barriers kingpins errect to protect themselves and their natural limits.

There are natural limits. With blogs as publishing, there is no limit for the amount of readers the writer will accept. Write once, runs everywhere. With blogs as communication, the limit (150) is the amount of conversations you can passively participate in. With blogs as collaboration, well, wikis mostly, the limit (12) is the amount of relationships you can actively manage.

We aren't dolphins. If 1/3 of our network was lost, society would crumble. Power laws are indeed fractal, scale-free reaches small scale -- in absence of friction.

The Network is the People. When we network, we have limits. Networkers within LinkedIn reached that magical upper boundary of 150. Sure, Joi and Reid (the two above 150 ties) may be cetacean delphi among us, but more likely they have allowed declarative ties for reasons beyond conversation. If we gave the bet more time, I am confident the rule of 150 would constrain the upper limit to flatten the curve.

So we shall dine at the venue of your choice. Perhaps the splendor of Fiesta del Mar Too!, with mole poblano, habanero chiles, bottom shelf margaritas and a smattering of social software. Or New Bamboo for shaken beef and Singha.

Im not going to gloat, as this was a close one. And there was another bet that it seems I will loose. [Corante: Social Software] Posted by Ross himself on Corante

I really like the concept of "social friction" forcing limits on our network. When you combine this idea with weak and strong ties a clear picture starts to emerge. Very helpful series of posts. Thanks

7:12:18 AM    comment []

Thursday, July 31, 2003

collaborative learning and institutional culture. There have been a few interesting posts lately about collaborative learning. Many of them spout the relentlessly cheerful “we tried it and it was amazing and I wish more teachers would shift their paradigms because the students love it so much” line. (Hmmm. Perhaps my frustrations are already leaking through, eh?) Happily, Seb Paquet pointed me to Martin Blanche’s post on “Obstacles to collaborative learning.” (Permalinks are broken, alas, so go to his main page for now.) I’ll take the liberty of quoting them here: * Students and lecturers are more familiar with a knowledge-transmission model of education and don’t... [mamamusings]

More good stuff on the shift or not the shift to a more collaborative learning model. One thing I am sure of, try the transmission model on adults who have been away from school for a while. They hate it!

12:56:10 PM    comment []

An excellent article on the need to be open - there are no secrets anymore. Good link to the Military's work in the early weeks in Iraq

How to Win the Information Battle — Lessons from a Modern War

Business leaders can learn a lot from how the military manages the flow of real-time information.

The former British prime minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what made his job most difficult. “Events, dear boy, events,” he replied. In this age of information overload, events befuddle and bewilder leaders more than ever. From battles in foreign countries, to explosions in space, to CEOs’ defense of their honor in court, events are relayed to our television screens and computers in real time. Transmission and production delays in the media once allowed time for editing and perspective. Today, news is unfiltered — and rat-a-tat rapid. There are few guidelines (let alone rules) to help senior executives understand how to manage the outflow of information — or assimilate the avalanche coming in.

The best practices for managing information may lie not in business, but in the military. Long a supplier of metaphors and guidance for grappling with strategy dilemmas, the armed forces are also showing business leaders how to manage real-time information.

8:10:53 AM    comment []

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Thoughts on the Intersections of Social Capital, Virtual Networks, Enterpreneurship and Innovation

I had mentioned a few days ago that I had to write a short essay outlining the main issues to be confronted in any attempt to understand the role of virtual networks in enhancing enterpreneurship and innovation, especially with respect to how social capital accumulates and impacts upon business dynamics.

Here goes then:


For the project to achieve fruition, there is a plethora of issues that need to be clarified. I will shortlist a few basic issues that pervade the work of leading researchers and practitioners and whose significance cannot be overlooked. First and most obviously, how could social capital be measured, especially within the context of virtual networks? Social Network Analysis tools are widely employed for such purposes, however, their effectiveness is limited due to the difficulty inherent in specifying which criteria should be used. Most analyses based on such tools (ie. Inflow) value the connections between disparate nodes of the social network in which they belong. When the social network consists of a relatively small number of nodes, the analysis will definitely unveil how frequently the nodes communicate and will choreograph the information flows among them. What though the analysis cannot tell is whether the relationship between the nodes in built upon strong or weak ties. Put otherwise, we can infer the existence of a relationship between two nodes, but we cannot determine the exact dynamics upon which the specific relationship is premised, and frequency of communication is not the best of criteria since it may denote hierarchy rather than intense team building or project work [1]. This difficulty aside, the Internet is bound to impact upon the process according to which social networks are formed, and hence the way social capital is accumulated, as “social capital is about networks, and the net is the network to end all networks” [2]. 


Secondly, the process of innovation is continuously changing in scope due to the amplifying character of all – pervasive communication networks, and this further hinders an analysis based on conventional metrics. For example, the nature of consumerism online can be radically different from the respective consumption modes observed in the physical world. Unhindered by physical matter constraints, users of file-sharing networks, such as the legendary Napster music file sharing network, redefine consumption as an essentially peer activity, which extends far beyond typical paid-for commercial experiences. In a similar vein, economists have a hard time explaining why people share information online without the requirement of quid-pro-quo relations [3][4]. Or in the case of Linux and collaborative software development on the Internet, the boundaries between producers and users are so blurred that this dichotomy between production and consumption loses its meaning. Some have argued that this is where the innovative potential of the Internet actually lies: networks of users providing help to each other without expecting anything in return, in much the same way that mutuals in the UK operate [5]. This peculiarity of the model has led many to assume the prevalence of a gift economy [6], however, it is a mistake to categorise the Internet as a mosaic of gift economies, despite that it arguably promotes the proliferation of certain kinds of gift economies. We should not neglect to bear in mind that the Internet is primarily a collaboration and communication platform rather than a marketplace aimed at co-ordinating exchanges of goods and services. Hence, it should come as no surprise that B2B e-marketplaces, which are geared toward communication and collaboration and aim at co-ordinating supply chains, are far more successful than B2C/e-tailing ventures that initially dismissed the inherently collaborative character of the Internet.  And this is also reflected in the success of those early pioneers who have managed to stay afloat despite the current economic downturn.


Amazon.com and eBay are probably the most succinct examples as they have both embraced the contribution of end-users and have continuously rethought their strategy in order to morph from e-tailers to platforms where people could do a lot of things [7][8]. eBay still portrays as the most gigantic marketplace in the world, however, its real strength lies in its ability to build a massively decentralised database of member profiles, which constitutes the pragmatic leverage point of the platform. Users of eBay rank other users they have engaged in some sort of transaction through eBay, and this ranking mechanism emerges as the definitive asset of eBay because it enables users to evaluate the credibility of other users and this is the least-hassle route to reputation building in a dematerialised world [9].  Amazon, on the other hand, invites users to submit reviews of books they have read, and in so doing, a conversational effect is evident throughout the Amazon platform with users seemingly carrying out conversations and forming temporary communities of interest [10][11]. The underlying technology or process, called Collaborative Filtering, has drawn quite some attention as it is reckoned to be in the epicentre of a radical shift away from content based e-commerce models toward user and community centric models. What is more important though, particularly with respect to innovation and social capital, is that the very same process of collaborative filtering enables the formation of social networks at a scale the world has never experienced before. Witness the success of community sites such as Slashdot.org, which recycle the web in real-time, and which rely upon their members to create content and generate value. This genre of websites is also known as weblogs, although the genre is as well defined as peer-to-peer to say the least. Semantics aside, the technology that powers weblogs is not really novel, but the impact on innovation and network formation is dramatic. Nowadays, scores of companies like Macromedia, Microsoft, Apple, Demos, Groove Networks and Jupiter Research to mention but a few, have started experimenting with weblogs in an effort to connect with their market and benefit from end-user innovation.


Perhaps, the greatest challenge and promise at the same time of seamless communication networks revolves around work organisation. As knowledge workers no longer need to be physically located in a specific workplace, and they can co-ordinate their creative output regardless of geographical constraints, the role of organisational structure loses its historic role of managing power relations at a distance. In much the same way, organisational boundaries tend to become more elastic and flexible, and it is not rare to confront organisations whose strategy is defined by their structure. Put bluntly, although at first glance conventional structures seem to gradually evaporate, the overall importance of structure is as important as ever. In a sense, structure precedes strategy [12][13]. In fast-pacing industries fraught with technological uncertainty and galvanised by rapidly changing consumer expectations, the only way to compete is by elaborating on a fluid organisational structure that allows for quick adaptation to environmental disturbances. Thus, strategy becomes of secondary importance, and day-to-day management is what matters now. Under such circumstances, a rigid structure is bound to result in managerial lethargy, and to ease this tension, organisation around teams and projects becomes the norm. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the boundaries of the network can be easily defined, as many organisational actors may not be even conscious of those very swiftly adjusting boundaries.


Furthermore, when average job tenure lasts for no more than a couple of years as it is the norm in the Silicon Valley, and the emerging model of organisation is modelled on Hollywood, where individuals form ad-hoc, temporary, project-based business networks and once the film – the project – is completed, the temporary network disbands, then the corporate world is certain to undergo for a major restructuring [14]. Needless to say, this process is further accelerated by cyberspace and the new legion of e-lancers that discover new opportunities through always-on communication technologies [15]. Some speculate that the prevalent organisational entities of the future will not be mega-corporations the size of countries, but small clusters of e-lancers brought together for a single project and continuously reconfiguring their dynamics and components [15]. So far so true, people no longer need to see each other in a face-to-face context in order to work together. But, how can they trust each other if they have never physically seen, touched, and handshaken them? And this is perhaps the greatest obstacle that virtual organisations face: how to establish trust in a exclusively virtual context where relationships and processes are in flux, and the lifespan of the temporary organisation is meant to be so short that most organisational actors will never get to really know everyone involved? The importance of swift trust [16] and weak ties [18] has been proposed as the antitode, however, the Hollywood organisational model, again, offers a glimpse of the future to come: intense team building through a shared goal and trust building through webs of trust. First, there must be no ambiguity as to which purpose the organisation seeks to fulfil, and most importantly, you trust the people whom the people you trust trust. After all, centralised trust systems have always been inherently risky.




[1] Preece, J. Online Communities: Designing usability, designing sociability, John Wiley & Sons, NY, 2000

[2] Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon & Schuster, 2000, p.171.

[3] Richard Barbrook, The high-tech gift economy, First Monday, 1998, at http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_12/barbrook/index.html 

[4] Felix Stalder, Beyond portals and gifts: Towards a bottom-up Net economy, First Monday, Issue 4, No 1, 1999, accessible at


[5] Charles Leadbeater, Up the Down Escalator: why the global pessimists are wrong, Penguin, 2002.

[6] Kollock P. The Economies of online cooperation: gifts and public goods in cyberspace in Smith M and Kollock P (Eds) Communities in Cyberspace, Routledge, 1997.

[7] Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Case study #1: amazon.com - a business history, in E-Commerce Management: Text and Cases, 2002.

[8] Tapscott, D. Digital Capital: Harnessing the power of business webs, McGraw – Hill, 2000.

[9] Boyd, J. In community we trust: online security communication at eBay, Journal for Computer-Mediated Communication, Issue, no 3, April, 2002, accessible at http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol7/issue3/boyd.html

[10] Locke, C.  Gonzo Marketing: Winning through worst practices, Perseus, 2001

[12] Langlois N. Langlois, The Vanishing Hand: the changing dynamics of industrial capitalism, University of Connecticut Working Paper, Version 3.02b, 2001.

[13] The McKinsey Quarterly Reader, “Strategy=Structure”, May 2002.

[14] Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access: how the shift from ownership to access is transforming modern life, Penguin, 2000, pp.24-29.

[15] T.W. Malone and R.J. Laubacher. "The Dawn of the e-lance economy," Harvard Business Review, volume 76, number 5 (September-October), 1998.

[16] Meyerson D., Weick K.E. and Kramer R.M. “Swift Trust and Temporary Groups” in Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research. (Eds) Kramer R.M. and Tayler T.R., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp.166-195.

[18] M. Granovetter. The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1973.  

[George Dafermos' Weblog]

Excellent stuff George

11:30:57 PM    comment []

Matt and Paolo are wondering if they are tired of blogging after a year. I too seem to have hit a one year wall. I want to shrink my blogging world. Why?

Then I remembered my 3 years at University and I wonder if there is predictable pattern here. When I went up to Oxford, I knew about 2 people who had been to school with me and I did not know them very well. My first year was an orgy of networking. There were girls to meet - a novelty for me then - and a host of amazing people. Like blogging, I too had to have something to offer and making one's rep was important in that first year.

Then in year 2, I found that I could not keep pace with all these contacts and I actually had to start to do a bit of work. By year 3 with finals on the horizon where the entire degree depended on three weeks of solid exams, I cut back to about 12 very close friends. These men have been the cornerstone of my life ever since.

Is there a pattern here that is familiar to you? Maybe the DNA of it is as follows:

  • When you enter a new world, you have to develop your "name" and you explore widely all the new social possibilities - This is the investment phase
  • After a while, you move to the discernment phase where your work life and your existing social links exert a restricting force on this new world forcing you to choose from the host of the new, the few that can fit inside your finite capacity for close relationships
  • Finally there is the consolidation phase when you make the selection of the few new who will enter your circle of maybe 35 total relationships that you can handle at a level of some intimacy.
  • If my university model works then these people enter the group who you become linked to both in terms of ideas and values but also in your personal lives.

What is so interesting about this new world is that unlike all others, school, your neighbourhood and work that this group is not bounded by place but solely by the link

9:07:59 AM    comment []

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

How many social networks does it take to change a lightbulb?.

Welcome to Tribe.net.

Very cool new social software app: Tribe.net. If you've been exploring social networking software services like Friendster lately, check out Tribe.net.

I just learned this weekend that an old friend and former colleague, Brian Lawler, is part of the dev team... very nice UI on this thing, and seems to facilitate certain kinds of interaction (read: non-gonad-driven) more elegantly than some of the other services out there right now. They're still in beta, but they say they hope to move into general release pretty soon. So far, I'm liking it a lot. Not ditching my Friendster account anytime soon, though.

Where else online could I schmooze with Satan, Carbohydrates, Mister Roboto, and vast legions of Goth/Burningman/Straightedge twentysomething hotties, all under one roof? Wait, don't answer that. Discuss [Boing Boing Blog]

So Mark Pincus' and Paul Martino's baby finally sees the light of day.  I've been helping out, pushing in a few different directions.  danah boyd is also involved.  Come on over and try it out!

[Marc's Voice]

Ok I have finally reached my limit for joining these things.  I had enough trouble trying to persuade friends to join Ryze, let alone Friendster, LinkedIn, EveryonesConnected,...

I got some benefit out of Ryze but not enough to justify paying for it.  It's hard to see what being yet another member of Tribe.net would yield.  Maybe if these networks worked out how to federate membership (and still make money) but I don't see tangible benefits in being a member.

I'd be interested in hearing stories from people who do.


[Curiouser and curiouser!]

I agree with Matt - I can only sustain a few relationships. The ones I have I want to pay attention to. Once I start to breach the laws of Magic Numbers, it all falls apart.

8:19:10 AM    comment []

Sunday, July 13, 2003

I am doing some OD work for a university. One of the issues confronting all universities today is a quantum increase in organizational complexity. My ingoing sense is that the mechanism's for managing complexity are poorly understood and that as maths changed at the turn of the century to take complexity into account, so we have to look for novel ways of managing complexity at universities.

My thesis is that we manage today as if cause and effect were our universe. Our systems are too complex for this midset and if we remain in cause and effect, conflict will be the only result. Some type of systems tool is required. A start may be some type of council that brings all partiers to the table - but I get ahead of myself.

Let's look at the world of 1969 when I went up to Oxford and then at the world of 2003 for a modern urban university in Canada

When I went to Oxford 35 years ago, my college, Christchurch was mainly an undergraduate college attached to a cathedral. The Dean ran both. He and the Dons ran the college with a handful of secretaries and a lot of servants and he and the Canons ran the Chapter again with a few secretaries and a lot of servants. Christ Church was part of a Coop called the University where a few Dons sat on committees and set policy. That was the University - a few committees.

Our world was really the college. Small and compact. 90% of the teaching was in the college. We all lived in college. Each college had a its own funding. Christ Church was immensely wealthy with large endowments of land that had accrued over hundreds of years. There were few of us. All of us that went paid fees and it cost me then about L1,000 a year in fees and I spent about another L1,000 on having a good time. We were heavily subsidized by the college but it also lived well within its means. Our accommodation, though splendid, was also spartan as only an all male place of the time could have been. In my quad, the only toilet was on the ground-floor, and the building was 6 stories high. We used the sink for most things! The only baths were in the basement in one corner of the quad. When this was pointed out to the dean who built the quad, his reply was that " they are only here for 8 weeks at a time". I think I only had a handful of baths in the 3 years that I was there. I would go home on the weekends for a clean up.

Again my point - a simple set up with not much money flowing either way and almost no government involvement. The world was the college and the faculties. Being small there was little managerial complexity. All who were not faculty were in effect servants or students. There were no money problems and, apart from maintenance, little need for capital investment. The money fit inside the capital envelope of the college. The university ran a few libraries and exams. The simple college was our world where everyone knew everyone perhaps better than they wanted too.

I use Oxford as an example because it was the model for many other universities. But now what is the university world?

Money and social engineering are compelling drivers. The state has entered the game in most countries and has funded a huge increase in enrollment which has driven a huge increase in the capital requirement. Coed is the norm and modern plumbing has entered the male preserve at great cost. Equipping my college with toilets and bathrooms on every floor cost over L20 million! Imagine the plumbing issues in 16 -1 19th century buildings.

So what are the issues in many Canadian Universities today. They have a president whose job is to fund-raise and to deal with governments. His job is mainly a business role. He has to get the budget and make the money work. He has to compete for capital donors and he has to lobby government for more research and operating funds. He is supported by a staff that would not be out of place in any large commercial enterprise. But he has no power to tell the faculty what to do. The Product end of the university has not changed much since I was an undergraduate or indeed since the middle ages. The faculty is divided into separate disciplines who jealously guard their turf. Now usually unionized, my Tutor Charles Stuart must be turning in his grave, they hold back the online world as they know that this will destroy how they work. They do not want to teach because they move up the tenure track and in status by publishing. So they employ armies of servants, TA's to you and I, to teach and mark in their name. In my day all the dons in every discipline met every night over dinner in hall. Today they all go home to their SOS's and children. So the linkages between them are poor. All the fertile research ground has been tilled and new entrants scrap for weeds deep in the mud.of their field. There is little sense of collegiality.

They fear that the president will make their university into a BUSINESS - horror of horrors! They sense that undergraduates already pay too much but that is the President's problem. They sort of know that demography will send fewer young their way - but that is the president's problem. After all they don't want to teach them anyway. . They reject any idea of using technology to teach differently - they fear that their precious IP will be lost if they make what they do accessible. So reducing the cost of teaching is the-President's problem. They have their heads firmly in the sand but will not give an inch of thie power up to help.

Governments want every one to have access to university. They have set up a loan sharking business to facilitate this. The average debt for  BA is about $30,000. The theory is that BA's get high paying jobs and will easily pay this off. Not so. Most are caught and flip hamburgers or some double up and go onto graduate work. Students will find new ways of getting what they want and will turn away from the traditional delivery and costs - they have no choice.

While the students are finding university too expensive. 50% of the faculty will be in the retirement zone in the next 10 years. Already a bidding war for the new talent is happening. In key areas, new hires are earning more than the old guard. resentment is building and costs are going up.A classic squeeze play is emerging. Costs are too high and rising. Each party balmes the other.

Universities have become huge. They now have armies of Administrators and Technicians who are still treated like servants by the faculty. They are unionized as well and have a deep sense of bitterness and entitlement.

So who would want to be a University President?

How can universities reduce this complexity. Maybe they can take a lead from our Provincial Politicians. They are recommending the formation of a council where the premiers meet as a matter of course with the Prime Minister. The underlying idea is that there is no process other than confrontation to meet the complex needs of a diverse set of groups who live under one hat, Canada. So maybe for universities.  Currently each powerful group has to attack the others. The poor President is stuck in the middle.

Maybe this is true for all organizations? Management and the rest was OK for simpler times. The 3 body problem demands a more sophisticated process. It recognizes that once there are more than two parties, then using cause and effect as the metaphor leads to conflict and failure. Most organizations are more complex than two body systems now. Understanding complexity and chaos will become essential tools for managment. More later

3:54:16 PM    comment []

Saturday, July 05, 2003

power law I wrote a high-level spec recently for Social Networking Enablement (my term for the successor to Knowledge Management) and Social Software. The guru of Social Software, Clay Shirky, spoke to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference in April and has just posted his speech. If you're interested in the subject, go read it .

Most important point, for those readers whose attention span is limited to five paragraphs, is Shirky's four critical design elements for Social Software:
  1. Recognize Identity and Reputation -- the group needs to know who its members are
  2. Acknowledge Standing and Provide Recognition -- knowing who knows what is a critical requirement for the group to be able to function, and recognition is essential to their willingness to do so
  3. Provide Barriers to Participation -- manageable, efficient conversation requires different levels of increasingly elite membership, otherwise it's like giving everyone in the audience equal time during a presidential debate; the barriers also convey privilege and demand for others to 'get in', which is healthy for the group's sense of self-value
  4. Spare the Group from Scale -- just as you may have 1000 acquaintences, 150 friends, 30 close friends and 3 intimate friends, social software needs to accommodate great facility for intimates to converse, and more modest facility for conversations with those less close, to be optimal, and to avoid size destroying the elements that make the community what it is
Some other concepts he describes which I find important and appealing:
  • The need to provide for soft overlap (Gladwell's connectors ?) between groups to allow ideas to cross boundaries
  • The importance of clustering mechanisms, the 'pattern recognition' of social software
  • The need for 'conversational artifacts', the critical synopsis of ideas, actions, consensus, decisions and issues that is so often missing from meetings and other social interactions today
  • The delightful advice to business owners and managers that users are there for one another, not for the sponsor/owner/facilitator/manager of the group; in other words, as I've always advised other managers, articulate the goals, roles and processes of the group and its members, and then get out of the way
Clay's thinking is way ahead of the curve, but look to the incorporation of his ideas as an excellent predictor of new social software's success or failure, both in the business and citizen peer-to-peer social realms.

[How to Save the World]

Dave is such a wonderful thinker and amalyst - I love the way he can summarize and draw conculusions

1:26:43 PM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson.
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