More on management and messiness – video interview from FASTforward’09

Joshua-Mich le Ross did an excellent set of interviews at last week’s FASTforward’09 conference. We talked some more about the challenges of managing innovation. Here’s the video for those of you who might be interested.

FASTforward 09: Jim McGee, Managing Director of New Shoreham Consulting

by Joshua-Mich le Ross

February 11, 2009 at 11:15 am Filed under FASTforward’09, FFC09 Interviews

Jim s comments focused on two basic themes. On the plus side is the notion that the heavy lifting of search is being hidden from end users who can t/won t learn to do sophisticated search queries on their own. On the mildly troubling side is something that he posted to the blog about this afternoon. As Jim explained, that post addresses the following notion: one of the management challenges being glossed over in the marketing focus of the conference is that managing search implementations and enterprise 2.0 implementations runs counter to the sense of order that makes most managers comfortable.

To manage these changes requires managers to become much more comfortable dealing with a messy environment. More importantly, perhaps, they need be careful lest they cripple innovation and experimentation by imposing an inappropriate level of management overhead and structure on these efforts. Technology management has become gunshy in too many organizations about technology project failure. They need to be careful to not take those lessons over into Enterprise 2.0 or they will kill the necessary degree of innovation we need to see.

BIO: Jim McGee: For over 30 years, I ve helped executives and organizations become more effective by making better use of information and communications technology. I ve attacked these problems as an entrepreneur, senior executive, professor, author, blogger, speaker, systems developer, designer, and consultant. Today, I work with senior executives in organizations to formulate, structure, and solve problems in the effective use of information technology in complex knowledge work settings. I am adept at working with organizations to recognize patterns and make sense of complex situations. My clients and I then collaborate to design and build new business patterns and practices to take advantage of these situations and opportunities.

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Management and messiness

Clay Shirky

Image via Wikipedia

[Cross posted at FASTforward blog]

I’ve been mulling over Clay Shirky‘s remarks yesterday at FASTforward09. The bookends to his talk hint at some key challenges to managers contemplating their entry into the world of social media and Enterprise 2.0. Clay’s opening five word summary of Enterprise 2.0 is simply “group action just got easier.” While he shared a number of excellent stories and lessons, it was his closing discussion of how Amazon added social elements to its existing pages that I want to focus on.

By Clay’s count there are some 16 different social elements that are today part of the typical product page on Amazon. Each of these elements became part of the page as the outcome of an individual experiment. Amazon’s approach is to make it easy, and organizationally safe, to run experiments quickly and cheaply. While there is a technological component to making this experimentation cost-effective, it is the management and cultural aspects that are critical to success.

What Clay is calling attention to is the value to be found in encouraging the fundamental messiness and disorder of invention and discovery. Unfortunately, managers generally don’t become managers because they are fond of disorder. Even managers who have long ago abandoned the caricatures of command and control models are likely to find guiding this kind of innovation a source of discomfort. But it is discomfort that is essential to encouraging the sort of retail level innovation made possible in the technology environment that is emerging.

Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling once observed that “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” That’s the mechanism at work at Amazon and with Enterprise 2.0 innovation in general. What Clay skipped over in his remarks was a look at the number of ideas that were tried and never made the cut at Amazon. This is unfortunate because it can encourage executives to ignore the “lots of ideas” prerequisite to “good ideas.” Amazon’s approach is sometimes portrayed as lowering the cost of failure. More appropriately, it is about lowering the costs of all experiments. While the technology environment is one factor in lowering the cost of experimenting, there are also managerial and cultural costs to manage. For example, if you insist on wrapping too much methodology and project management overhead around experimenting that will discourage ideas and fewer ideas implies fewer good ideas.

This is not a suggestion that there is nothing to manage. Instead, it’s about seeking just enough control. It’s also about becoming comfortable with trusting your people and the process of experimentation and learning.


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C-words of knowledge

I’m working on a report for a client about knowledge management and knowledge sharing and I am deliberately avoiding the question of defining “knowledge.” I’ve learned that it’s a rat hole of interesting coffee shop conversation that ultimately produces little of value. On the other hand, I started playing with the idea of words that you might use during the conversation. Combine that with Twitter, constrain the problem, and see what results. I posted the following Tweet yesterday to start things off:


So far that’s led to contributions from @shifted, @hjarche, @hylton, @coyenator, and @rsukumar. Here’s the list as of this morning, which I’ve split between verbs and nouns (we seem to be a bit short on the noun side):


What would you like to add to the list?