In a complex economy, the way to think about the future is this:
- We can’t predict the future.
- But we can learn about the patterns from which the future will emerge.
- In fact, while we can’t control the future, we can influence it.
- The best way to influence the future is by innovating through experiments.
The innovative work structures required for complex economies need to be supported by skilled workers with the right tools. We know that sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships, with shared values, concepts, and mutual trust. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes via loose personal ties and diverse networks. Knowledge intensive organizations need to be structured for both. Effective knowledge-sharing drives business value in a complex economy and this requires a workforce that is adept at sense-making.
In what is often called a ‘social business’, capabilities need to be aligned with tools. A core requirement for both knowledge workers, and enterprise tools, is to share what we are learning and doing. Making work more explicit enables the organization to learn. Sharing user-generated content (knowledge artifacts) is how everyone can make tacit knowledge more explicit. Work is learning and learning is the work, when everyone shares. Of course this is more difficult if communications systems do not allow the easy creation and sharing of this content. Tools have to support the work.
Most organizations have tools that support working together for a common objective. Coordinating tasks, conducting meetings that don’t waste time, and finding expertise are common collaborative tasks. Letting workers pick their own collaboration tools can go a long way in getting work done. Having an array of tools is also helpful. Modelling collaboration skills throughout the enterprise is even better.
When people share openly, without any direct gain, knowledge networks thrive and the organization benefits. Cooperative skills include sharing openly with colleagues, communicating effectively, and networking to improve business performance. In addition, social media require new skills, beyond traditional face to face interchanges. Setting sharing as a default behaviour is a good start, but providing tools to enable sharing is also needed. As with collaboration, cooperative behaviours need to modeled and encouraged.
Structures + Skills + Tools
A combination of organizational structure changes, skills development and modeling, plus a suite of tools, can help to create a social business. All three are needed. Focusing on only one or two areas will likely not yield much success. This has been a problem with many social business initiatives which are too focused on the tools, like enterprise social networks (ESN). While an ESN may cover all the facets shown in the image below, workers still need those matching skills. In addition, the structure must support these behaviours on an ongoing basis. It takes all three components.