What we can learn from a conference changing its name: a lot

The rise of digital transformation, and the decline of social business and enterprise 2.0

I am honored to be in the speaker’s roster for the upcoming Enterprise Digital Summit, scheduled for 21-22 October 2015 in London. My keynote is safely entitled Building Blocks of the Organization in the Digital Age, which gives me a great deal of leeway to talk about the future of the organization. But I am not going to dig into my talk, here. I have months to do that. (Although let me say that I will have to explode the premise of the title — that organizations can be ‘designed’ and ‘built’ like buildings or machines — and offer up more biological or sociological metaphors, instead.) Instead, I’d rather discuss the recent name change of the conference itself, and what that says about shifts in the global discourse around new ways of work.
The newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit was formerly known as the Enterprise 2.0 Summit. As the conference producer, Bjoern Negelmann, recently wrote,

We have been thinking about the scope of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit for quite some time. For a while now our beloved expert community has been telling us that “Social” has moved on, the “Enterprise 2.0” term is “dead” and that our conference heading doesn’t match the general “zeitgeist” of the current business landscape. We have argued against change, both because of the name recognition our event has in the community and because not every organisation is at the leading edge of change. However, in today’s disruptive business climate, every organisation’s business model is under threat and we are no different. It’s time to re-adjust. It’s time to change our name!
The question is where are we heading to? What is the best way of explaining the projects and programs of today and tomorrow?

Negelmann goes on to make a concise and partly convincing case that the rise in interest around digital transformation of the business is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and subordinating activities that formerly might have been called enterprise 2.0 (when focused on technology first, and culture/organization/people second) or social business (when vice-versa). His colleague David Terrar added this,

During 2014 we started to shift our terminology again to digital disruption and digital transformation. The topic we are discussing is about much more than the tools and technology that organisations use to collaborate more effectively, to empower employees, to innovate and to connect with their customers, partners, employees and stakeholders in new and better ways.
It is about those things, but it is also about rethinking the world of work, adopting emergent strategy, and recognising the management shift required, along with new business models, that we must use to react and compete in the 21st century.

In a recent survey, 98% reported they are undergoing digital transformation, while only 25% could say they had a clear understanding of what that means. It’s clear we are grappling with the digital imperative, like it or not.
I define digital transformation this way:

A new operating model of business based on continuous innovation through the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

This is both a customer-centric and technology centric perspective, and one in which workers and their work are subsumed in the efforts for innovation and operational effectiveness. In essence, the last decade of initiatives that were called social business or enterprise 2.0 (or, generically, social collaboration) are decreasing as a priority, or being completely dropped from the future agenda. Why? Why is it that digital transformation seems to be picking up where social business and enterprise 2.0 left off?
A few observations might make this clear.
First, social business is a web 2.0 era trend. The architecture of ‘social collaboration/enterprise 2.0’ tools is principally for office-bound knowledge workers with desktop computers, and based on fairly dated architectural motifs. Part of this new digital transformation is reaching all workers — on the manufacturing floor, building houses in the field, or in retail outlets — not just office workers, not just employees, not just knowledge workers.
Second, We’re now in a ‘mobile 1st, cloud 1st, people 1st’ era. Mobility is causing us to rethink nearly everything about work and business, which is invalidating many of the premises of social collaboration. We are truly working everywhere with everyone.
Third, the promise of higher productivity hasn’t materialized. I written a great deal about the failure of social collaboration, so I won’t elaborate here, except to assert that the productivity gains from this generation of social collaboration tools have been less than anticipated, to be generous.
I believe that the hard part of moving to a new way of work is not selecting tools to communicate with team members, or making old web 2.0 solutions work in a mobile world. On the contrary, the real barriers to a new way of work are cultural barriers. Or turned around, to get to a new way of work — one that is based on increased agility, resilience, and autonomy — requires a deepening of culture. And it may be that deep culture is what social business was always intended to mean, or at least what I thought it should mean.
The Boston Consulting Group makes a case for two chapters in digital transformation, where the first chapter is dedicated to operational turnaround based on the adoption of new technologies and practices.
bcg chapter 2
The second chapter is where the proof of the transformation lies, and it requires a transition to what the authors call adaptive innovation. That second chapter requires deepening culture, so that the organization is oriented toward new ways of working that align with both of — at the same time — the requirements of the new business model and the aspirations and motivations of the new workforce, those who are living on the other side of the transformation’s technological and sociological changes.
In a second post in this series of posts, I will explore the sense of urgency needed for deep cultural change to happen, and why the lack of a true sense of urgency can block deep change. Suffice it to say that adaptive innovation requires deep cultural change, and a sense of urgency to make those changes.
So, in the final analysis, as we entered chapter two in the realm of social business/enterprise 2.0, we hit the downward arc. Of course, there is a great deal of innovation in the broader area of work tech and the future of work, and we are entering chapter 1 of the digital transformation story. In that chapter, social business and enterprise 2.0 become historical antecedents. But the need for deep cultural change — yet again — will play the pivotal role in the coming second chapter of digital transformation.
That’s probably what I will talk about in October at the newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit event in London.

IBM is a sponsor of the Enterprise Digital Summit event.

This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.

New app Timeline brings explainer journalism to mobile

It’s the era of explainer journalism and we have a new entrant to the list. Mobile app Timeline seeks to give you historical, on-the-go context about breaking news, current events, and random stuff. It’s like Wikipedia meets Circa meets Vox meets The History Channel, and it’s addictive.

Timeline launched a few weeks ago. In the way that Circa built a new, on-the-go format for a news story with its bite-sized cards feature, Timeline is creating a fresh form of explainer journalism, one that’s mobile first.

Here’s how it works. The home feed of Timeline shows you a list of potential stories to scroll through. The topics range from fairly evergreen, like “The surprisingly tumultuous history of socks,” to newsy, like “California’s vaccination problem,” to pop culture-y, like “Super Bowl ads reveal U.S. psyche.” They leave a curiosity gap, one that’s not too clickbaity, prompting readers to click for more.

Screenshots from the homescreen of the Timeline app, where readers can scroll through the day's stories

Screenshots from the home screen of the Timeline app, where readers can scroll through the day’s stories

On its individual story pages, Timeline presents a quick “in brief” summary of the news or the topic at hand. Then readers can choose to skim the content in the overview timeline format or click to read each section more in depth. Videos, imagery, and pull quotes lend a stylish, magazine-like air to the design and break up the chunks of text. Depending on the topic, the timeline can extend months, decades or even hundreds of years into history.

For now, Timeline has hired professional writers to write the posts, so the historical context is easier to understand and more enlightening than the jumbled, jargon-filled text of a Wikipedia post.

For example, the timeline on the history of Super Bowl ads considered the larger so-what of why these ads matter to America: “When viewed with a discerning eye, these commercials reveal the American zeitgeist at the time: What is valued, what is feared and what is accepted as common knowledge.”

Timeline taps into what makes Wikipedia addictive — this swirling vortex of information about random things you never thought about before — and makes it mobile-friendly. Instead of perusing Instagram while you wait in line, perhaps you’ll be tempted to tap on Timeline.

Screenshots from an individual story page in Timeline. Left: The brief topic summary; Middle: The timeline view; Right: The in-depth view

Screenshots from an individual story page in Timeline. Left: The brief topic summary; Middle: The timeline view; Right: The in-depth view

Is Timeline taking on Circa or Wikipedia?

At first glance, the app’s nearest rival might seem to be mobile news app Circa, but that’s not really the case. Circa focuses on breaking news. People encountering the news for the first time can peruse previous updates on the issue, but the timeline isn’t historical in scope. “Ultimately, I don’t consider us a news organization, I consider us an information organization,” CEO Tamer Hassanein told me. “I would compare us more to Wikipedia than the New York Times or Quartz.”

The Timeline app frequently tackles evergreen or feature topics and doesn’t aim to cover breaking news unless its historical back story is compelling to one of the curators.

Of course, that limits the amount of information the app can offer. Hassanein hopes to eventually scale up to a user-generated content system, but that will come with a host of fact-checking and accountability dilemmas. The app is deliberately avoiding controversial topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict until it solidifies its editorial strategy.

newspaper fact check factcheck

Does anyone want explainer journalism on the go?

Sites like Vox, FiveThirtyEight, and the New York Times’ The Upshot were all created that under the premise that in the noisy digital journalism age, we needed more background on breaking news. But it’s proven difficult to explain context accurately while under the time crunch of the rapid fire Internet era. Since Timeline isn’t focused on breaking news, it might be able to avoid that problem.

Timeline’s real struggle may come in the form of app store noise. Despite the addictive nature of the app, its initial premise is a tough sell to the procrastination masses. Surf history instead of Kim Kardashian selfies during your down time? Not a sexy pitch.

Check out Nextdoor’s crowdsourced map for holiday lights

If you wanted to know where all the best holiday spots are in town, this might be your year. Social networking application Nextdoor has reached out to its users in 47,000 neighborhoods to map their cities’ best lights and attractions.

Nextdoor is an application where neighbors can connect to each other, share safety warnings, plan local events, and sell items ala Craigslist. It has grown in popularity in the United States, and using census data, the company estimates that one in four neighborhoods are on it.

The holiday map is a feature of the app. Little icons tell you where to find the best Christmas tree lots, best light displays, charity locations, Santa sightings, and holiday events. Find your neighborhood here.

Neighborhoods join the Nextdoor network when someone applies to draw their neighborhood boundary (and gets a handful of people to sign up with them). Some areas are far more active on Nextdoor than others, so the strength of your holiday cheer map might vary. Here’s a snapshot of San Francisco’s:

San Francisco's holiday cheer map on Nextdoor

San Francisco’s holiday cheer map on Nextdoor

What I did on Thursday: an IBM thinktank

I spent yesterday at an IBM ‘thinktank’ with a collection of IBMers, analysts, futurists, authors, and practitioners. We were ostensibly talking about cloud technologies, but more generally about the changing landscape of business — starting with small and medium, but finally moving in a non-segmented way across all business — as computing scale explodes. We focused on the computing scale in the background — in the cloud — but also touched on computing scale in the foreground — mobile devices — because they are both happening at once and in connection with each other.

It was very interesting for me to take a deep dive into the benthic depths of the cloud, since I don’t generally spend much time down there, so far under the hood of the applications that I spend most of my time analyzing.

When the talk turned to the application of this computing scale in the human condition, I was able to make some contributions. Below you see the rendering of part of a comment I made, which led to something I had never experienced before: spontaneous applause for a comment offered up as support — or refinement — of the topic that the session leaders were discussing.


I attempted to recapture that comment in Not Only Broken, But Dangerous, if you’d like to read the longer statement.

One of the interesting takeaways was that IBM has had to reorganize the way that they deliver value to clients because of the way that cloud technologies and services line up, which is so different that the pre-cloud architectures.

The meeting was held in New York’s Science House, which has raised the bar to a new gold level for such events. Rita J. King of Science House interviewed me, and I expect that will be available at some point for viewing.

I was interviewed about the future of work for an upcoming workshop

I was interviewed by my friend Teresa di Cairano on some of the topics we are developing for the upcoming Future Of Work workshop, scheduled for November 19-20 in Toronto. Those who read my writing here might be interested in some of the points I made:

What are some of the key forces impacting the future of work?

I think there are three forces transforming the world of work today:

The tempo of competition and complexity has risen to a new ‘beyond chaotic’ pace, and it is increasing, pushing the economy over a threshold into a new economic era, the post normal, in which the primary response of business will be the adoption of a fast-and-loose style of business operations. Fast-and-loose is not meant to suggest shadiness or sloppiness, but instead agility, resilience, and a predisposition toward experimentation, innovation, and action, as well as a seemingly paradoxical loosening and increase of the social connections between people.

Governments around the world have also felt the impact of the financial meltdown, aging population, rising health care costs and other social challenges. As a result this is forcing the public sector to rethink its workplace in order to create one that is more flexible, creative and innovative. People are connected by both open and enterprise social tools to an unprecedented degree, leading to the paradox of a connected ‘workspace’ — the sanctioned and unsanctioned social tools and other workplace affordances – supporting a decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed workforce.

Organizations are being accelerated and destabilized by the adoption of companion devices (aka ‘mobile’ devices), and the explosion of cloud computing. The new role of IT is to bridge the two ends of this shift toward ubiquitous computing, and get out of the way.

What is the emerging role of social business in work?

Social business has become a mainstream concept, with a large number of senior executives expecting to gain new productivity from these technologies. However, it appears that there are considerable organizational and cultural issues still to be worked out before that promise can be met.


What are some of the leadership implications for the future of work?

In the executive suite, leaders need to adapt to a rapidly changing business context, one that makes new levels of agility, innovation, and resilience more critical than ever before. So business leaders are actively seeking a way forward to new productivity gains, all the while aware that the techniques used in the recent past can’t be applied again. Something new must be found, perhaps distilled from the latent energy in social connection and frictionless communication, and it must be tapped even if the workforce is harder to lead than ever before.

I’m really looking forward to the event, because it is forcing me to clarify and collate a lot of my writings about the future of work into a coherent form.

Time to join the Work Revolution

Last week I happened upon a mention of an upcoming event in New York City, called the Work Revolution Summit. I browsed the site and immediately realized that these were my kind of people, some of whom I know, like Seth Godin, Simon Mainwaring, Dina Kaplan, Dan Pontefract, and Jessica Lawrence, but all of whom seem very, very smart and close the edge:

From the site:


The Work Revolution Summit is an invitation-only conference which aims to fundamentally re-design the “operating software” of business.
Why would we do this? Well, sadly, most workplaces suck — literally. Our organizations are actually designed to be life-sucking entities. Despite the fact that the majority of our lives are spent doing this thing called “work,” the vast majority of people hate it.
This is tragic, but it’s not terminal.
If enough of us wanted to, we could completely re-design the way we work.
In fact, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

I find the metaphor of the business operating system to be powerful and evocative, and one with hope built in. When struggling with the concepts around business culture or organizational change we can get mired in all the reasons why not. But when considered as a designed object, like a few millions lines of source code in an operating system, even though making significant changes can be difficult and may take serious time, it feels more open to human agency, and less of an uneditable set of deeply wired in biases.
I am now one of the participants highlighted on the site, having applied and been accepted for the invitation only event, 20-21 September in New York City. I also browsed over to the workrevolution.org website, and joined the revolution. I added some additional gloss to the profile they have of me on the site — characterized as a thought leader — in a Socialogy post on my blog.
The organization has an about page, which is a manifesto:
I can easily support this: it aligns with my beliefs about our basic motivations, and the current mismatch between today’s business operating system and the new form factor of work.
(This has motivated me to consider boiling down the thoughts I have been developing here and at stoweboyd.com into a similar manifesto, each point of which will be a chapter in the book I am at work on. I have drafted several chapters, but recently I have rethought the book’s basic arc to better reflect my core interest — the future of work — rather than smaller, less forward-looking topics, like social business.)
I suggest that anyone with interest in these topics visit the Work Revolution site and try to attend the Summit. They are only charging a nominal fee to cover costs, like $100. If you are serious about the future of work, take a look, and join us.

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