Archive for September 23rd, 2010
Seems like there’s a big wave ‘o people talking about PLEs in some pretty major terms.
Stephen, for example, says this:
It’s just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers – if there are any – are your peers. It is, I believe, the future – and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark
Derek interviews Oleg Liber who provides a fascinating insight and should be a definite read / listen (although I *strongly* disagree about the efficacy of a desktop based environment, but that’s another story).
The PLE is a unique interface into the owners digital environment. It integrates their personal and professional interests (including their formal and informal learning), connecting these via a series of syndicated and distributed feeds…
Complexity: the Experience of Organizing is a sequel to the highly successful series Complexity and Emergence in Organizations also edited by the editors of this series. The first series has attracted international attention for its development of the theory of complex responsive processes and its implications for those working in organizations. The perspective of complex responsive processes draws on analogies from the complexity sciences. This brings in the essential characteristics of human agents namely consciousness and self-consciousness, understood to emerge in social processes of communicative interaction, power relating and evaluative choice. The result is a way of thinking about life in organizations that focuses attention on how organizational members cope with the unknown as they perpetually create organizational futures together. This second series aims to develop that work by taking seriously the experience of organizational practitioners, showing how taking the perspective of complex responsive processes yields deeper insight into practice and so develops that practice.
So often we think of change as a journey and it is natural to think about the speed at which we move. However, unlike most of the real journeys we take in a car or on a plane, many times we do not really know the destination and our maps do not bear much resemblance to the real world.
As a leader of change, you have to think of the experience of change, and concentrate on what is going on around you, who is interacting with whom, what is going on your organisation, and how are you going to respond to these events, given your intention of implementing change.
Without answering these questions immediately, I’d like to look at some real world examples where I think that empowerment is taking place. These places have some things in common. These places generally have a leader that leads the company quite different that the common leadership practices. They are not alone and unattainable at the top of the pyramid, they make sure that employees are involved not only in their own tasks and responsibilities, they know what their clients want and make sure that their employees know as well. These and some other characteristics are practices by only a few leaders, leaders that dare to make extraordinary decisions, that give control to their employees. Companies that have some similarities with these characteristics are Zappos and Semco, for example. These are companies that make quite ordinary products, have great results, but run their companies not like their competitors do. I’d like to call these companies examples of the real empowering companies. You just feel that you would like to work for them. That makes a company a great company, if you ask me.
Again, we have to stop predicting, and start nurturing the current situation in a way that good outcomes will flourish, independent of what that outcome can be. It’s not the outcome that matters most, it’s the road to it. The road to it (where ever it will lead) is an emergent path. So many influences are on the lurk, so many that no one knows how many and what they are, that they should be dealt with along the way. They both can be positive or negative, both will have influence on the emergence.
Coming back to the title of the post, maybe it is somewhat exaggerated at the moment, maybe it is more realistic to speak of a change from long-term goals to short-term goals. Dealing with short-term goals combined with iterative processes is a good first step towards completely letting go of control and accepting that everything is emergent. We are humans with brains that can think ahead in time, let’s not forget that important aspect of us.
To me, complexity is not about systems. It’s about social phenomena. We can talk about the ‘problems’ of complexity and complex behavior, rather I’d talk about the opportunities. Dave Snowden understands this very well. Like I’ve said before regarding emergence, I’d like to say the same about complexity. It’s time to accept and embrace complexity, and to develop methods to get the most out of complex social phenomena or behavior. To be able to develop these methods it is important to understand complexity, however, I think we should not try to understand complexity fully. Our understanding will become better sooner or later, but we have to deal with it now. That’s inevitable.
If we take a look at Wikipedia, we see the following definition:
Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (but not always) display emergent properties.
The above is a pretty complex definition, not useful for this quest. The context that is important for me is an organization, hence the part how to support self-organization in organizations in the problem statement, and I’m also interested in how to empower employees for self-organization. Therefore I have to construct a workable definition. The most important elements that are important in this context are people. After reading some scientific material, I think the definition of Francis Heylighen is better:
Self-organization is a process where the organization (constraint, redundancy) of a system spontaneously increases, i.e. without this increase being controlled by the environment or an encompassing or otherwise external system.
The concept of self-organisation is a very misunderstood topic when it comes to applying it to organisations.
Bas Reus is exploring what it means to say that humans are self-organising, over at http://basreus.nl/2009/07/27/self-organization-defined/#comment-51. His post outlines the development of his thinking in attempting to define self-orgnisation.
Arising from the study of complexity, the important thing about self-organisation is that the ordering of society (or people in organisations) occurs through local interaction in the absence of an overall blueprint or plan. As any top manager will tell you, you can’t just make a plan, tell others and then confidently expect that the plan will be followed. Instead, all sorts of unexpected things happen – people interpret things differently, they react to things in surprising ways and there are unintended consequences. This is what is meant by saying there is no overall blueprint or plan.
Self-organisation is in no way a bottom up process. All humans are involved in interaction, and the results that emerge are the results of self-organising processes, whether you are a top manager or lower in the hierarchical ranks.
It is not very accurate to call self-organising a “bottom up” approach or process. To me, a bottom up process is where there is activity amongst those lower in the hierarchy or closer to the front line who feed ideas or a new process up through the hierarchy. A bottom up process can happen because it’s been designed by the top managers e.g. a series of facilitated focus groups, or it can happen more informally e.g. where a problem is solved or a new process is established at one site and then the results are seen by those higher in the hierarchy and the new process is implemented at other sites.