Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Inefficient Technology and its Impacts

One of the things that annoys me more than anything is inefficiency. Both human and mechanical, inefficiencies at any stage along a process can prove devasting, restricting the ability of others to successfully complete their own tasks either partially or entirely. As competition for business becomes increasingly demanding, minor inefficiencies can represent the difference between success and failure; hardly encouraging given the current state of the economy. Admittedly, both human and mechanical inefficiencies will on occasions present themselves along the production line. This is undeniable. The issue becomes more problematic though when our dependency upon technologies increases; and let's face it, increase our dependency we have.

A Fatal Error has Occurred...
As society becomes increasingly interconnected, our reliance upon technology increases disproportionately. With every passing day, more and more of us come to depend upon these technologies; both socially and as tools of our trade. As such, the potential impact of technology induced downtime becomes a terrifying prospect. Efficiency quickly becomes a corollary of whether or not these tools decide to behave. Unfortunately, many of us are only too aware of the frequent limitations imposed by technologies in the workplace. 'Unexpected' and even 'Fatal' errors are becoming seemingly more common, and whilst these, often minor issues, are easily resolved by those of us with a degree of technical knowledge, for others, such errors can present a far more damaging threat. Time is quickly eroded, either through diminished technological performance or failed attempts to resolve the issue, and the repercussions to the team's subsequent performance is often dramatically affected. Somewhat disconcerting given the importance of maintaining a high level of performance.

Winning back Efficiency
As humans, we are fallible enough. I fear that as our focus turns increasingly towards technology, the inevitable outcome is ever diminishing levels of efficiency. Sure, many of these technologies are directly responsible for gains in efficiency made in recent years, but as our reliance upon technology causes manufacturers to automate an ever greater proportion of the business process, our ability to remain efficient in the event of system errors is dramatically affected.

What are the implications for the social media? Debatable. Clearly though, as these tools become ever more ingrained into our society, possible repercussions become potentially more devastating; as it stands, downtime on platforms such as Twitter is widely reported. Whilst the negative impacts of Twitter downtime are arguably less damaging than those resulting from downtime to productivity based tools, our dependence upon many social media tools as network facilitators raises an interesting concern. If we lose our access to these instruments, even for a brief time, we effectively become detached from our contacts. Arguably, the impact of such an occurence will depend upon the strength of your social network, but again, as technology advances to cater ever more involving demands, the level of risk will inevitably rise similarly.

What's your take on technology induced inefficiencies? We all love technology, but are we becoming overly reliant upon these tools? Have you ever been affected by social media related downtime, either in a social or professional context? As always, I would love to get your take on the above.


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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Media; It's just a Conversation!

Conversation has been a staple of society since the dawn of civilization. Whilst the manner in which conversations have been conducted within this time has been both diverse and varied; from hieroglyphics and smoke signals, to text messages and emails, the purpose remains constant; to advance the interaction between the sender and the recipient of the information. Through both verbal and written engagements, the conversation is the result of thousands of years of human interaction; a skill which some of us have become all too efficient at in recent years! Social media is simply the latest iteration of the conversation; there's nothing more to it.

Remembering the Revolution
Whilst we marketers and social media enthusiasts are quick to give deep and meaningful reasons for these engagements, the real logic for many a presence within the social media is simply to enhance the reach of the traditional conversation. This is hardly surprising, particularly when we consider that the term 'Web 2.0' is more often associated with a social revolution than it is with a technological one. Although the technologies which have been developed as a result of this revolution have the capacity to facilitate communications, it is important to remember that these developments are a result of societal demands, and not vice versa. Sure, these tools have enabled users to converse with a far wider audience, but at the end of the day, the power of the conversation rules. The social media just happens to move with it.

Joining the Conversation
So, if the social media is a conversation, then why are so many organisations still so reluctant to participate therein? Imagine how the customer would react if she entered a store looking for information, only to be turned away as a result of company policy preventing staff to customer interaction. This is a good way to quickly alienate the customer. Fortunately, such a situation is absurd, and hopefully these occurences are rare in the real world. It does surprise me though that many organisations are still determined to detach themselves from the online conversation. When conversations concerning brands and services will almost certainly exist online, absence from the online sphere will merely ensure that these organisations lack the capacity to engage therein. Such a strategy will not simply prevent the organisation from interacting with the cutomer; it will potential allow the competition to define the brand as they see fit. This is clearly a potentially damaging prospect.

So, to all those people who say that the social media is some complex organisational tool demonstrative of a firm's capacity to operate in a technology driven market, it's not. The truth is that it's actually a lot more simple than that. The social media is a conversation, and that's why, whether you are a business or an individual, you need to be involved. Thanks for reading.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Collaboration is Good! Right...?!

Collaboration is good, right? Absolutely. Developments in Internet technologies instigated by shifting demands at the societal level, have facilitated the sharing of knowledge and resources. 'Peer production'; a corollary of said explosion of participation, has quickly led to a notable power shift; one in which the incumbent organisation is quickly losing ground to the more nimble 'Every Man'. With an enhanced capacity to innovate and to create value, the consumer has gradually become a source of potential threat. Indeed, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams advise that these market fluctuations have quickly rewritten the laws of business. The new rules of engagement? Quite simple really; organisations need to harness the new collaborative capabilities of the Web 2.0 era; or face ruin as a result of their ignorance.

Sorry, We are Closed
As discussed in Wednesday's post, most organisations are closed in nature. As such, they are often reluctant to share the information which they believe allows them to remain competitive. Often, the benefits of encouraging an open culture are not immediate obvious; on the contrary, such a stance is more likely to be perceived as detrimental. This is a naive attitude given the enabling capacities afforded by the Internet. As the Internet is increasingly adopted as a mechanism for the realisation of creative output, the opportunity for organisations to benefit from the collective intelligence pool is oft overlooked.

This attitude is almost certainly a corollary of overreliance upon outdated organisational structures. Stagnant heirarchies, a staple of traditional business, have been found time and again to reduce organisational efficiency. Power increases from rung to rung, with members of the hierarchy often reluctant to bestow the resultant authority onto others. Unfortunately, the knowledge base from which a solution can be crafted under such a system is minimal in comparison to that which would otherwise be available were the obstacle under consideration opened up to the online community. This is a classic limitation of the hierarchical structure.

Power to the Masses
Collaboration facilitating tools available online have given rise to a potentially more appropriate organisational structure; that of 'peering'. Realised in a manner similar to that in which average Internet users currently share knowledge and resources, peering has the capacity to facilitate business development through the creation of fluid collaboration networks. With Internet usage growing exponentially through the emergence of new consumer bases in countries such as China and India, the talent pool from which expertise can be drawn is expanding. Solutions devised through the engagement of such groups are far more likely to adequately resolve an issue than that provided by a small team of product developers limited by time and resource constraints established by the organisation.

Radical thinking? Hardly. In fact several organisations are already employing such tactics; the first of which that springs to mind being Dell's Ideastorm project. Why are people willing to contribute to projects such as these? For fun or perceived personal value perhaps. Reasons invariably differ. One thing is for certain though; the capacity for the organisation to benefit from these vast knowledge pools is very real. They just need to realise that small internal teams are perhaps unlikely to match the collective intelligence of billions... It's a case of simple maths.

By simply opening up projects to group participation, the pool from which additional knowledge can be drawn increases exponentially. Sure, this often means the sharing of proprietary data within the network and a minimal loss of power, but in an era of interconnectivity where a transparent approach to business is somewhat of a competitive advantage, is that really such an issue? As with Wednesday article, this post has drawn heavily on knowledge gleaned from my reading of Don Tapscott and Anthony William's fantastic book 'Wikinomics'. I would most definitely recommend this book to all fans of the enabling capacities of the Internet Thanks for reading.


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Sharing Your Secrets; Is That So Wrong?

So, last month I posed the suggestion that despite ever increasing levels of societal transparency, many organisations will understandably show a reluctance to divulge those trade secrets that make them competitive. Whilst this assertion may seem obvious, even as I was writing this I began to recall the fantastic 'Wikinomics' by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. Tapscott and Williams' insightful book encourages the sharing of knowledge, suggesting that instead of debilitating competition, collaborative efforts actually facilitate the advancement of the industry as a whole. Is the idea really that far fetched? As 'Weapons of Mass Collaboration' increasingly enhance our ability to create content collectively, I would suggest that, on the contrary, the idea begins to sound increasingly feasible.

Pssst; Wanna Hear a Secret?
Whilst the sharing of information that was traditionally kept secret is a dramatic shift from historical business practices, we are living in an era of significant business innovation. Collaboration is fast becoming the norm. The social media, itself often meaningless without the content produced by the communities contained therein, is perhaps the most obvious example of our collaborative culture. Whilst these vast repositories of information are quickly gaining the attention of organisations keen to target us ever more selectively, the question of where the power really lies is quickly raised. Is it within the platforms themselves, hollow without the contributions of members, or is it those communities that come together on a daily basis to build these ever more voluminous databases, that control the situation? The answer seems obvious. Ironically enough, it is perhaps least obvious to those comprising the community, for whilst this power shift is well under well at a societal level, it has yet to truly catch on at the organisational level. Fortunately for us, the community is becoming ever more intelligent. It's only a matter of time before organisations are forced to collaborate.

Bringing Innovation to the Table
Many a post has been written on the absolute necessity for organisations to act transparently in today's era of interconnectivity. This is unlikely to change. Instead of fearing demands for honesty and transparency though, organisations should embrace the possibilities afforded thereby. Were information sharing between organisations to become increasingly commonplace, then success would quickly become a corollary of something other than secrecy; it would become the product of true innovation. Loosely coupled networks, similar to those exemplified by social platforms such as Twitter, would be able to come together as necessary for the purpose of value creation, drifting apart once the task is complete. Recognising this goal is the challenge though, and despite the recognizable benefits highlighted by the authors of Wikinomics, the concept will invariably prove a challenging sell; for now at least.

Tomorrow, I will be looking more closely at how both collaboration and transparency can actually lead to increased levels of competition. Wikinomics, from which I have drawn the inspiration for these posts, is a fantastic book, and I would recommend it to anyone keen to explore the collaborative opportunities afforded by the Internet.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Power to Enable

The enabling capacity of the social media; good or bad thing? This might sound like a ridiculous question, but as with any good conversation, there are invariably opinions from both sides to consider. As we are all well aware, the social media has afforded each and every one of us an electronic voice of our very own. Whilst the early days of the Internet prevented the majority of users from actively engaging in content creation and distribution, the advent of 'Web 2.0' and the technologies associated there with have enabled each of us to convey our innermost thoughts on pretty much everything; from the tools and technologies themselves, to politics and personal reflections. The ease with which platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Blogger allow us to convey ourselves online is incredible; no wonder there are in excess of 175,000 new blogs created on a near daily basis. The question is though, does this mountain of information benefit the society into which it is received, or is it simply impeding our ability to develop our understanding?

Amateur vs. Expert
One of the most vocal opponents of the present era of expression is one Andrew Keen. Keen's book 'The Cult of the Amateur' highlights his concern that expert opinion is slowly being overwhelmed by the ever more voluminous content produced by the 'noble amateur'. As our capacity to locate and consume professionally produced information is increasingly 'undermined' by ever larger mountains of amateur content, there is invariably a threat posed against our ability to adequately and accurately understand a subject; a concern mirrored by Google's own Eric Schmidt back in 2008. Can 1000 passionate amateurs really offer a level of subject insight equal to or even greater than that offered by a single seasoned expert? Debatable, however I can see the point which Keen is attempting to convey.

A Time of Empowerment
The ease with which such content can be produced does indeed mean that the amount of information available to us will increase. The volume of 'misinformation' contained therein will similarly rise. The importance of approaching this information with an objective mindset is, however, nothing new. Whilst the accuracy of the content will at times be questionable, it is our responsibility as intelligent beings to gauge the reliability thereof and to draw our own conclusions appropriately. Can a near universal capacity to create content ever be perceived negatively? I think that's a matter of personal opinion. What is undeniable though is that an ability to express one self to a broad audience is no longer exclusively the domain of the rich.

What do you think? Should Internet users ever be restricted from creating content to prevent the spread of misinformation, or is any such discussion a breach of our human right to freely express ourselves? As always, thoughts, criciticms and complaints are welcome!


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You Statue Worthy?

In his latest book 'Tribes', Seth Godin asks the question 'are you statue worthy'? Let me explain. In describing leaders, Godin emphasises that these individuals should be so empassioned for and driven by their movement that they become almost symbolic thereof; their focus firmly set upon the value which they deliver to their tribe. As Godin suggests, statues are built for those who get out front, make a point, challenge conventions, and speak up. This message resonates strongly with contemporary discussion concerning the development of personal communities.

Creation a Community
It has never been easier to create our own personal 'tribe' of sorts. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed all actively encourage the creation of personal communities through the friending and following of those with similar interests to our own. Unfortunately, as the importance of community increases, the proliferation of 'auto follow' tools designed to quickly and effortlessly expand one's following has risen dramatically. Naturally, the use of such tools has instigated significant discussion about whether or not automating the conversation detracts from the experience. Although I have my own strong views on the subject, that is a post for another day. The point that I am trying to raise here though is that despite the empowering capacities of the social media enabling each and every one of us to create tribes of our own, the creation of a tribe and the appearance of a leader are not synonymous.

Leading your way to Success
Whatever your opinion on auto follow software, the importance of 'leading' your tribe is paramount. In building a community, you have the opportunity to create something remarkable; a movement. This is simply a case of ensuring that you too are 'statue worthy'; stand out, challenge conventions, bring something to the table; trust me, the community will thank you for it. If on the other hand your community is established simply with the intention of broadcasting a message to a broader audience, then it is highly unlikely that your community will be building you a statue any time soon...

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