Category Archives: Enterprise 2.0

Will social business get all sticky?

A couple of posts caught my eye this week, both on the consumer web, specifically Facebook and each all about business performance and the bottom line. From Forbes we had Here’s Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years and from WSJ The Big Doubt Over Facebook.

The latter article went over some old ground namely, does Facebook actually deliver its bang for bucks or as WPP’s* Sir Martin Sorrell put it:

“..clients, for the very first time, are starting to question the measurement issue” [on social media.] “The area is a very sexy area, and clients have gone in almost willy-nilly, because it’s fashionable to do so,” But now that such ad spending has ramped up, he said finance departments “are increasingly starting to look at the value of those investments.”

Time on this will tell. Which takes me neatly to the Forbes piece. In sum, given the pace of change, it asks if the giants of Google and Facebook be around in five years time, or will they be gone in the sense of MySpace gone?

Anyone who has read In Search of Stupidity knows that this isn’t a stupid question to ask. The Road to Hell is filmed with a Kodak.

But then, what of the Enterprise Social Market? Or put another way, which of them is currently selling the equivalent of dBase? Or perhaps more pertinently, what would a newcomer need to completely disrupt and dominate this market? If we look at the Forbes piece, the argument there is that there have been 3 generations of consumer web tech

  • Web 1.0 (companies founded from 1994 – 2001, including Netscape, Yahoo! (YHOO), AOL (AOL), Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY)),
  • Web 2.0 or Social (companies founded from 2002 – 2009, including Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LNKD), and Groupon(GRPN)),
  • and now Mobile (from 2010 – present, including Instagram).

And here’s the punch line:

With each succeeding generation in tech, it seems the prior generation can’t quite wrap its head around the subtle changes that the next generation brings.

Thus there’s no ‘Web 3.0’ the web is no more and as example, Instagram simply side-stepped the web and went directly to the mobile app. Now if, and I grant it’s an if, the enterprise social world follows the wake of the consumer ‘web’ does this mean that the next generation of Enterprise 2.0/Social Business vendors should do the same and jump right into mobile and ignore the intranet? My answer is not necessarily, but I think Forbes puts the finger on the salient point, in order to win in these changing markets, new paradigms need to be invented, not old ones re-made. But while consumerland tech might be a fresh new ‘greenfield’ in which fortunes are to be made for those who reinvent it, is this the same for it’s industrial buddy, that of E2.0?

To my mind the market is still wide open, but the starting stakes are much much higher. There are no E2.0 Instagrams, though there’s plenty of wannabees. Jive Software, the leaders at least in terms of waves and magic quadrants has an IPO that is far more modest than those mouth watering offerings of Consumer. To sell in the industrial market takes clout, real clout not spelled with a K. The old caveat about no one ever losing their job for buying IBM still holds in social business – IBM’s Connections works and they have massive industrial back-up to support it.

And yet and yet, the market is still wide open. It’s wide open to those who can simultaneously re-invent the paradigm ‘E2.0’, support it, their customers (and at an industrial level) and themselves and their employees. No easy task and I’ve no idea what sums are needed here, logistically or financially. Added to that the innate conservatism of many businesses (the cause of many a downfall in itself) – the traditional intranet and Internet Explorer are not going to be replaced that quickly for example.

Or will they? Maybe the paradigm shift we’re going to see in how we work is the end of the Office, it’s structures, nineteenth century politics and its desks. Those lines of desks – in Victorian rows or postmodern chaos, are still an old paradigm.

Or maybe something very different, the black swan. My gut feels is tech around flows, streams and activities that are sticky to both the activities and where a person is. So Mobile yes, most likely, but mobile in the sense of mobile devices, mobile work flows and mobile people. What this means are flows of activities that move with the worker. Streams that can be stuck onto specific activities and that move when the work, people or flows change.

Flows, streams, exchange – liquid collaboration.

‘sticky streams’. You heard it here 1st.

* Disclaimer – I’m contracting at one of their companies, all thoughts my own.

The intranet that’s social…

The Intranet that’s Social

Of late I’ve been spending far too much time than is healthy in some of the nitty gritty issues of a tactical deep dive with no less than 5 separate Jive Software installs and how they all connect with Active Directory, LDAP, synchronisation, permission structures, and the like. Added to this are topical projections on how to bridge them, create walled gardens, secure shared extranets and to connect to SharePoint, 2007 and 2010. And running along side this are mobile devices – iPhone, Blackberries, iPads and the like, integrating Outlook into the social layer and with these mobile gadgets, and synching it all with the Office suite.

Coming back up for air some thoughts come to mind.

1) The social intranet isn’t so much a social intranet, it’s an intranet that’s social. By this I mean the each of the data structures connecting to each other represent a sociality of things to which people engage at certain points.

2) An enterprise social network is aint nothing but a database with a nice GUI on top, with which people engage – they they engage with each other via the sociality of the things – Jive, AD, Outlook etc.

3) The mobile devices both fragment and unify the system

4) Microsoft holds it all together in the form of Active Directory (and that’s a lot of enterprises)

5) Rick is inherent and the only way of dealing with this is a flexible yet resolute approach

6) We live in interesting times…

All told though – what we’re creating, using, evolving and evolving with is a fluid layered and yet structured aggregation. And of course what I’m describing here is a mere technical layer, a schemata. What’s really interesting is not how this connects together, nor even how people connect together and with it. What’s really important is what they produce because of it, the physical, practical outputs it enables and engenders.

And what’s fun is this, we don’t know what that outcome might finally be…

The strange death of the liberal intranet

I keep on seeing e-mails, they’re nearly always e-mails though one was a DM on a central Jive site, for a ‘space’. We need a space, can we have a space, we need some where…In all of these instances the desire is for a geography, a terrain, a sense of place. ‘My team needs somewhere to live’, they seem to say, can you make us a clearing in which we can build a site?

It reminds me somewhat of a vague memory of Martin Heidegger’s clearing in the forest where the density without needs an opening and thus an abundance of light. I think Heidegger may have been harping on about meaning. But then there was also the paths in the forest. Perhaps we call these streams, streams of activities.

And it’s these activities that are more important. Rarely do I see requests for an activity, ‘we want some activities’, ‘we want some action’, ‘we want to act’. These of course are the most important.

At the top of one of the 5 Jive sites I’m working on at the moment someone, the community manager no doubt though I haven’t checked who, has posted an announcement. This says simply: ‘This is not a document store’. This encapsulates entirely what is changing here.

There’s a shift, tectonic maybe, from working with a store of documents, to people engaging together with each other and these documents. Most people when they encounter these new forms don’t realise this, they want spaces, and sub spaces and even more subspaces. They then get so lost in the resultant labyrinth that no one bothers to find them, there is no activity.

If on the other hand, the focus is on the activity and not on the store, this simply does not happen. The need therefore is to start not with structure, architecture and taxonomy but with a structural folksonomy created by users’ actions. This of course marks the end of what to now has been known as the intranet.


The Strange Death of Liberal England,

George Dangerfield, 1935.

 

Social Business Success Factors

One of the things I’m quite often asked for is the answer to ‘what makes a social business / Enterprise 2.0 project a success?’ What the questioner is after, is often at heart what they need to do to make their project a success. In many ways there’s no definitive answer here as each social project needs to be approached, managed, evangelised and generally nurtured into being in different ways. I’m seeing this in no small way on my current engagement where I’m helping do all the above to no less than five fully-loaded Jive sites.

The diversity of this engagement is stimulating and it has also gotten me thinking about what the success factors might be to really make things rock. Or put another way: what do you really need in place and what do you need to do, to make a social business project a success?

What follows is an outline of some of these elements. One caveat: I’ve worked on too many projects where one or more of the fundamentals are not in place and so while such an absence doesn’t preclude success, it does make it that more harder to achieve. So the motto here is, don’t lose heart if you don’t have all of the below, they’re not all essential. And excuse the overlaps…

Infrastructure

1)  Use the right social platform. This will vary from environment to environment but select the one that works best for your existing architecture and processes, but also one that can help reinvent both. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and Forrester’s Wave are good enough places to start to review the options. And don’t just go along with what Comms/IT/Marketing (delete as applicable) say is best – do your homework.

2) Pray for a good network. If your employees aren’t all online, with decent PCs and good connections then your work is going to be harder. Not necessarily a bad thing, so long as you’ve innovative minds on your side.

3) Fully Funded. Most projects I’ve worked on have been strapped for cash. Having the budgets in place to support the project is very helpful.

4) Fully Supported. It’s a lot easier when IT support the project and buy into the social idea. (See below too).

Culture

1) Leadership. Get your leaders on board – get visible support, get them seen using it and spelling out where Social fits into the scheme of things.

2) Middle Managers. Get your middle managers on board. This is vital – they can and will spanner the entire project!

3) Ducks in a row. If Comms don’t already own it, make sure they’re fully synched in. Ditto with HR and Marketing. Get the 4 ducks of Comms, IT, HR and Marketing in a row.

4) Digital People. A digitally savvy, socially aware workforce is a big plus – even if they’re currently disengaged and fed up with the company as a whole.

Engagement

1) Engagement Strategy. Decide on how to engage with people. Map it out.

2) Dialogue. Always aim for conversation – this is 2-way

3) Business. Align the social engagement strategy to the business strategy – focus on the what matters most targets & aims.

4) Pleasure Principle. Doing business doesn’t have to be painful, leverage the fun side of social.

Planning

1) Share the ideas. Have a clear & shared plan.

2) Plan for Success. Decide what success looks like up front.

3) Measure it! Decide on how to measure success up front.

4) Milestones. Create aims and milestones.

5) Monitor it. Review at regular intervals, listen to what people are saying, ask them what they think.

Leaders, Champions & Users

1) Tell your leaders. Get your leadership team on board

2) Find your friends. Identify champions, get them promoting social

3) Create a Champions Group. Create a social Group to support your champions

4) Create a Comms Plan for your Users: who, where, when & with what channels

5) Training. Decide on how your audience will be trained & supported

Activities

1) Activities. Decide on a series of engaging events, projects & initiatives.

2) Gamification. Make the activities game-based, for example, blogger of the month, best video, most creative Group.

3) Challenge. Think of ways to challenge the users to channel their creativity.

4) Timeline. Create a roadmap of the activities with a supporting comms plan.

Make it Personal

1) People. Feature people at al times – a picture of one person is worth a 1000 docs.

2) Video. Moving pictures is what makes social, really social, bringing it to life – people like videos, use them often and widely.

3) Success. Celebrate success, show people what people & teams are doing.

Make it Practical

1) Day work. Provide practical examples of how social can be used in everyday work

2) Crowd Source. Show how other people are using social tools in their daily work

3) Structure. If there’s a best practice, make a structure or template that others can use

4) Create User Cases. For example, Projects, Meetings & Conferences, Pitches, Multi-Location Teams etc

Make it Aspirational

Think Big!

If you don’t think big, don’t worry – you teams may do it for you…

Pulling it all together

As I think pictorially, this is how it all looks as a diagram. Get the foundations in place. Work from that. Always think outside the structure by thinking beyond what’s really possible…

Social Business Pyramid: Think Big!

Anti-patterns & Cargo Cult Enterprise 2.0

Anti-patterns

Last week I was introduced to a new concept by @stevecrowder namely anti-patterns. I say new, but as will be apparent, the patterns themselves will be familiar to anyone who has worked in either a corporation or small firm where the spirit of Dilbert is left to haunt business practices unhindered by any sense of propriety or common sense.

As can be learned from that venerable organ of veracity Wikipedia, the term was developed to describe software development, but it has applicability in wider business practices. What interests me, as ever, is the specific applicability to enterprise social. A quick Google on E2.0 and anti-patterns revealed some interesting presentations from Aaron Kim at IBM on web 2.0, but what intrigues me about anti-patterns is more how it relates to business process and social technology adoption.
A quick skim of the Wikipedia piece reveals a litany of Dilbertian business practices, ones that many of us, myself included, are unfortunately only too familiar with. The ones that chimed the most with my experiences were silos, authoritarian management styles, escalation of commitment, smoke and mirrors, boat anchor, the silver bullet and the golden hammer (never to be used at the same time, well not often).
For me, social technologies are about undoing these duff processes and practices. And this is where I perhaps veer away from the orthodox definition of the anti-pattern. I concur with “Some repeated pattern of action, process or structure that initially appears to be beneficial, but ultimately produces more bad consequences than beneficial results” but wonder about the applicability of  the “refactored solution”, namely a solution that already exists that is clearly documented, proven in actual practice and repeatable. I don’t think we’re at this stage with social yet, maybe we never will be for the following reason.
Social technologies have the potential to not only reinvent and recreate, they also have the capacity to create new unthought of solutions. They innovate. They create black swans by the gaggle and even the googol.
It’s for this reason that I’m suspicious of approaches that take an existing process and try and ‘make it social’. This I believe seriously misses the point. Whilst social might destabilise a ‘sub-optimal’ business practice forcing its reconstruction as something more efficient, or rather more humanly efficient; it is more likely to simply reinforce the anti-pattern. The pattern remains the same, it might be refactored with social technologies but the same duff processes still click on.
But more than this, slapping on social tools with the hope of a magical change is magical thinking. It’s cargo cult logic too – a key type of programming anti-pattern, but one that a social enterprise project can all too easily fall into. This is when all the social tools are assembled and with magic chants of engagement and collaboration are cried forth, but no one thinks to really put these into the practice of busting anti-patterns. But is that an anti-pattern itself?

Jive Software’s secret new release

This week saw the unlrelease of iPhone 5, the sad demise of Steve Jobs and JiveWorld 11 in Vegas. Many of course were hoping to see the iPhone 5 debut and were disappointed. No one really expected a Jive 6 to be released so soon after 5 and many companies I know of are still on 4.5, waiting for the right time to upgrade. I think there’s all the more reason now to make that upgrade – Jive 5 now pushes the limits of enterprise social business software.

A lot of the people I know who are running Jive projects were at JiveWorld – (one year I will get there!) I have been following it from afar and especially via Twitter #JW11. What I’ve seen so far at the event points to more than an upgrade – what was released was the extension and evolution of the ecosystem. This was mainly apparent in a series of press releases either just before or during the event.

It’s worth listing these out:
Spigit and Jive Partner on Next Generation Social Enterprise App

“By integrating Spigit’s engaging game mechanics, goal orientation, idea graduation and idea trading with Jive’s social collaboration platform, customers are able to capitalize on the collective intelligence within their internal and external communities.”

Jive and Bunchball Team Up to Bring Gamification to Jive

“Bunchball’s Nitro gamification engine encourages Jive users to explore and master the wealth of functionality available in the platform. Nitro for Jive uses reward, status, achievement, competition, and real-time feedback as motivation for users of the platform.”

Goshido + Jive: Making Project Management Social

“A great idea in a Jive discussion could become a complex project for an entire team, executed in Goshido.  With Goshido, anyone can connect actions together into projects that can evolve and grow.”

Wrike: Simple Social Project Management

Polycom and Jive Announce Strategic Relationship to Bring HD Video Collaboration to Social Business

“…strategic relationship to integrate Polycom HD video into Jive’s social business platform. The new solution will transform how businesses engage and collaborate with customers, employees, and partners. The solution will allow Jive customers to conduct live video chats, including group video calls, as well as record video meetings or messages for archiving, training, and ongoing collaboration.”

No doubt there are other releases and updates that I’ve missed – I did note Alfresco’s presence at JiveWorld and a Tweet from fellow Social Business Council member Brice Jewell on an update to the Jive / SharePoint Connector caught my eye.

Taken together these releases point to quite a leap forward. Jive is synching up with HD Video collaboration, enhancing ways to collaborate and plan by using social project management tools and doing the deep dive on gamification and innovation/ideation with the news from Spigit and Bunchball. Collectively, these are effectively a new release of Jive…

It’s for these sorts of reasons that after an engagement supporting the successful launch of global IBM Connections project in Banking, I’m really looking forward to working with the Jive application again. That should be applications – Darwin willing (I’ve a long drive south from Edinburgh ahead), I’ll be working on no less than four, fully loaded (Video, Ideation, Analytics, etc)  Jive 5 installations in one of the world’s largest media/advertising houses.

As a footnote – I’ve now worked hands on with all 3 of Gartner’s leading enterprise social applications – Jive, Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections. Might have to write up a practitioner’s comparison one day soon.

Google Calendar as an Internal Comms Scheduling Tool

A post on Tech Republic caught me eye this morning: New features in Google Apps are designed for collaborative teams. Like many people I’ve been using Google + and started to look at some business opportunities for one of my clients. This post made me think of more mainstream options, especially in relation to internal comms.

The scenario is this, in a complex matrix environment that defines most multinational corporate environments there tends to be a lot of noise as various teams and departments compete to get their audience’s attention. This can also feature the ‘red bus syndrome’ whereby nothing happens for ages and then all of a sudden everyone is sending messages at once. The solution to all this is of course planning and governance. This is not always easy in the matrix multinational, for unless you have a central team defining who says what to whom and when, and with what channel, you are going to get noise, randomness and repetition, not to mention anger and frustration. And even if you have near totalitarian control from the centre, you’re still going to need to plan and cohere a lot of different messages.

One way of managing all of this is via Synopsis Communication Planning and Coordination Tools. Bill Quirke of Synopsis demoed this a while back and I thought it an excellent way of planning and scheduling internal comms campaigns. The tool uses the metaphor of flight plans to schedule the messaging campaigns providing a means to avoid all the chaos and noise. Reading the Tech Republic piece, I realised you could make a rough and ready but pretty workable internal comms scheduling tool using Google Calendar, and here’s how.

Tech Republic explains that:

Teams don’t only rely on email for communication, but also on calendars to schedule meetings and events. Google Calendar allows user to overlay coworkers’ calendars on top of their own to find shared open appointment slots.

They provide a screenshot as so:

To use this as a comms scheduling tool, what you need to do is swap people for audiences and channels. This would be easy to do, all you’d need do is simply to create Google Calendar accounts for all these types of entities. What you’d need to do then would be to have a simple light weight governance that said anyone creating a new campaign, would need to create a Google account for that Campaign and to use the calendar to match that up against the target audience, the channel used and other campaigns. The governance might state that there should be no overlap, or that only an agreed number could feature in a given time/target.

It might take some time to bed such a scheduler in but it could be a quick cheap and easy way of scheduling the comms campaigns and managing the noise. unlike say using Outlook calendaring, it would be easy to set up and delete accounts as needed. In addition, going to Month View could provide a graphic overview of planned campaigns – ideal for a screen shot to post out to other stakeholders. A final gain is that the tool could do some of the tricky work in finding the best time to launch a comms campaign, i.e., that perfect moment when no one else is launching theirs. Google Calendar has “The Smart Reschedulerwhich is designed to sift through diaries to find the empty slot and could be used to do exactly the same for a comms campaign.

I’m going to return to Google shortly and look at Google+ . I think Google are already offering a disruptive technologies as this little instance shows. They’re providing quick and easy ways of doing things that are free at the point of entry. Joining these up with Google + changes the game. Their quiet beauty is that they’re all social from the start…

Dunbar’s Number and the Social Business

Dunbar’s Number
Most people working with social technologies will be familiar with Dunbar’s Number: the number of people we can comfortably maintain stable social relationships with. Apparently it varies from 100 to 230, with 150 being the norm. This we each typically connect up with and socialise with on average 150 people. This applies both to our friends in the ‘real’ as in the virtual – our own core social network will adhere to Dunbar’s principle.

Evolutionary Anthropology and our neocortex
Dunbar reckons that the reason for this is all to be found in our neocortex, so at heart it is an evolutionary anthropology argument and implies that we are working around biological limits. Whether this is the case or not is moot and indeed questions have been raised as to whether technology in the form of social networks can increase the number, so that American politicians for example, might have 300 friends.

Does E 2.0 = multiple 150s?
Rather than toy with this concept, I’d like instead to turn it on its head and ask this – how does Dunbar’s number relate to the efficiency gained to using social business software in an enterprise? Or put another way, what’s the biting point for e-mail – how big can a company get before the inefficiencies of using e-mail get so much, that using social software is a no-brainer? Or another, can we have multiple 150s around social projects when using Enterprise 2.0 collaborative technology?

E-mail overload, Jive and SharePoint
The backdrop to this are some recent conversations, a couple were with people senior in large organisations, who were overwhelmed with e-mail. What I’ve been wondering is this – is e-mail overload the inability to surpass the 150 limit? In other words, we can only process the interactions of 150 friends but e-mail can dump those of several 1,000s into our inbox every week. How do we manage this when the organisation is 100,000 + people? Social of course, but are we then, and I’m thinking of a recent Jive Software project I worked on, creating lots of manageable Groups and Spaces where information gets packaged up into bite sized 230 max pieces? On a note here, one of Jive’s big strengths is the ability to split of content and create discussion threads or to port over discussions, blogs and documents into a new Jive Group or Space. Jive manages this with aplomb, not something I can say for SharePoint 2010, but that can itself package up information if used correctly.

Why do I need a social intranet?
A second related conversation was with one of my own ‘150 people’ at the local wine bar. My friend works for an international company with global clients, who themselves will have a multi-national presence. One of these clients presented a business issue and my friend was able to e-mail his internal network and get an answer within a very short time. Thus the question put to me was “Tell me what one of your social intranet things can do that I can’t already do with e-mail?”

What’s the e-mail limit?
The examples I gave were the ability to manage that information and the like, the fact that the answer could be shared and socialised much more easily. I gave quite a few others but didn’t really convince my pal. The conversation did make me wonder this though: is there a business size at which you can get away with e-mail? The business in this discussion was around 1,000 employees. My gut feel is this: the e-mail traffic of 1,000 people communicating falls into a Dunbar’s Number sized package. That is 1,000 people’s e-mails in a group such as a business on average create an information pool equivalent to on average 150 people.

Benefits of of social business software
Now I wonder, at what point, on average does employee size it surpass this? My guess is 1,500 people – if you have 1,500 people using e-mail as their primary communication tool then you’re at the limit of what that technology can do without it having a negative impact. 1,500 people sending e-mail overloads the 150 social limit – you need a better way of managing that information, the business needs the benefits of social business software.

 

Geoffrey Moore on Systems of Engagement

Hard-hitting analysis and recommendations from Geoffrey Moore on the transformations taking place in IT and the move toward systems of engagement. I remember seeing a video he did for Cisco a while back where he described the whoosh sound heard in the early days of the internet when the mass of business people realised how important the technology was and how the internet was not about to disappear, but was actually vital for their business. He then described the send whoosh when the same realisation happens with all things 2.0 and social. I think we’re at the start of that whoosh here in the UK. A nation of laggards maybe…

Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT: A Sea Change in Enterprise IT AIIM (PDF)

Employee Engagement & the Passionate Worker

A Tweet by John Hagel caught my eye last week:

 

John was referring to one of the findings of The Shift Index, as published by John and his team at Deloitte. What caught my eye in contrasting passion to that of engagement, is that engagement is such a buzzword and is often heralded as the key endeavour in so many different contemporary realms. For example, in both the consumer and business to business marketplace, customer engagement increasingly the aspiration of much social relationship management and the topic of many a social media marketing book and website.

However the engagement John was referring to here was not that of engaging in the social marketplace, but that of employee engagement and the need for what he defines as a new level of engagement, that of passion and thus, the passionate worker.

“Worker Passion, different from employee satisfaction, denotes an intrinsic drive to do more and excel at every aspect of one’s profession.”

The Flow Index

The passionate worker is a nuanced entity in the Index and stands also as a metric for monitoring aspects of long-standing and systemic change taking place in the US economy. Alongside social media use, the passionate worker stands as a metric for what the Index calls a ‘Flow Amplifier‘. This amplifier forms part of what the Index dubs a Flow Index, which is a broad measure of the changes brought about by a shift from Knowledge Stocks to Knowledge Flows. The other two drivers, Virtual Flows and Physical Flows define movements in connectivity and virtualisation, and the movement of capital and people.

Only 18% have passion

But measuring passion is more than just a metric, it also ups the ante in terms of the whole issue of employee engagement and opens up questions on just how engaged workers really are. Thus, while most American employees are, to use one measure of engagement, satisfied with their current company, only 18% are passionately engaged with their current employment:

“The bottom line is that nearly 80 percent of workers lack passion regarding their jobs.”

This is important for the Index, as only the passionate worker is fully engaged with their job – the satisfied worker may like and contribute to their work, but this is ultimately not enough.

Cognitive Dissonance

There is a problem here however as the Index argues that companies find it increasing difficult to keep hold of the very people vital to their long-term success. A cognitive dissonance is created between what they desire and what they experience and the passionate worker can leave to pursue other often more individualistic endeavours such as forming their own smaller company, contracting and consulting.

This, the Shift Index argues, is a big loss and of paramount importance: the stakes are not just about engagement and employee satisfaction, passionate workers the Index argues are of vital importance for the long-term well being of the American economy.

The Performance Paradox

To understand this role of the passionate worker, we need to look at the the macro-economic backdrop. The picture painted by the Index is counter-intuitive to much mainstream thinking. Most people would argue that the increases in productivity brought about the arrival of a knowledge based economy have been translated into an increase in value generated. However, in what Index dubs the ‘Performance Paradox‘ companies find it difficult to hold on to this created value, even when they’re more productive.

“…productivity is not translating into profit for companies. The old assumption that improvements in productivity lead to higher returns turns out to be flawed.”

And this it turns out, hold so even in those sectors with the biggest use of new technology:  the Technology sector itself, plus Media, Telecommunications, and Automotive.

A picture of decline

The Index depicts this in graphic fashion in terms of the Return on Assets and on the Return on Invested Capital over the last 4 decades:

Return on Assets

 

The real importance of the Passionate Worker

It’s against this picture of decline that the role of the passionate worker becomes so important:

“In a world driven by the twin forces of technology infrastructure and public policy shifts, the primary source of value creation for companies is moving from accumulating and exploiting “stocks” to participating in “flows” of knowledge. This activity takes place primarily through talented workers, who monetize the intangible assets that now account for the lion’s share of profits at big companies in the developed world. Since passionate workers have a greater propensity to participate in knowledge flows, it makes sense for companies to find ways to increase the amount of passion workers find in and bring to their jobs.”

The passionate worker can help achieve this turnaround this via two propensities: they have questioning and connecting dispositions. The questioning disposition means that the passionate worker sees challenges as opportunities for new ways to do things; while they will connect up with relevant others to achieve these gains. The important thing to stress here is that in an economy defined by Knowledge Flows that it’s via these traits that the passionately engaged worker brings value, new value.

“Passionate workers drive sustained extreme performance improvement. Without passionate workers, at all levels of the organization, companies will find it increasingly difficult to turn around the continued deterioration in financial performance which has thus far been a key marker of the Big Shift.”

Conclusion

I’ve only touched the surface of the Shift Index and focused on those aspects that interested me the most. It’s rich and complex with a lot of detail and well worth reading in full. A couple of closing remarks. Firstly the Index is about America, as a European I would have liked the scope to be increased – does what holds for America hold for Europe for example?

Perhaps more importantly, I would have liked to have seen a more global comparison of profitability. The real and massive shift we seeing is that of productive power and wealth and ultimately most likely political power from West to East, the symptoms of which we see played out in the form of recession. Do we therefore see the same declining rates in China as seen in the US? I think probably not. And as for the UK…well at least there’s still a substantial industrial economic base elsewhere, here, all we seem to be left with are those knowledge flows…Is this enough?

Finally, the declining rates did remind me of a tendency discovered by an obscure old German philosopher once dubbed ‘The Declining Rate of Profit‘. Is there a difference?