“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“The problem today is not lack of proper resources, but lack of proper distribution.”
We gussy up organizational discussions with teams, networks, communities, but, at the core of every business organization is “distribution” — distribution of people, resources, ideas, skills, talent, energy, time, etc.
Unfortunately, hierarchy isn’t particularly conducive to effective, let alone efficient, distribution of any of these things. Most organizations don’t ‘distribute’ these things, they allocate them. The organic distribution of anything is an anathema to a business.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
Can technology, specifically algorithms, instead of forcing team collaboration (or ‘network teams’) extract skills/talents so friction is decreased and potential (company and individual) be optimized?
First. Extracting is a derivative of cross functional.
Cross functional teams is not a new idea. Toffler called it “poly malleable” organizations in 1970.
The issue is the idea is excellent in concept, a bitch in practice. Business has become contortion artists in applying “collaboration” in organizations (kind of their answer to cross functional and malleable).
Personally, when individuals interact in groups, I do not believe long-term commitment is necessary to build a real team, therefore, extracting talents can be situational and be quite effective.
“Collaboration is a cultural construct, but also a coordinative one.”
However. Just as collaboration needs to be consciously coordinated, so would extracting talents & skills. My thought is rather than have some person (who may, or may not be, effective at assessing submerged, non obvious, skills & talents) coordinate, why not have algorithms monitor activity & behavior and pluck out submerged potential as needed?
Second. Technology as a force for positive ‘human’ progress.
The pace of technological progress is accelerating, bringing significant opportunities to create value providing opportunities to reinvent the way we live, work, and organize.
Far too often, when speaking of people, we speak of this acceleration in bad terms – loss of focus, distraction, non productivity – while, with organizations/business we tend to speak of it in glowing terms – faster revenue growth, improve profit margins & innovation. There is no reason technology cannot accelerate people potential if not optimize an organization by having technology augment people.
Harnessing algorithmic capabilities, computing capacity and data should enable human competencies (beyond their obvious role) and a new generation of system level innovation & productivity.
Third. People are not wholes, but rather a sum of parts.
Sum of parts? Let’s call it ‘the potential within Fragmentary interests’. I was tempted to discuss this as “distribution revolution of interest and knowledge.” It’s a deeper dimension to Drucker’s knowledge worker in that each knowledge worker contains fragments of knowledge – some fragments bigger, and more well developed than others, but fragments. Therefore potential doesn’t reside in optimizing one skill or fragment of knowledge but rather optimizing the fragmented interests residing in each individual.
“The key to individual parts coming together to create an emergent whole is coordination, and that means a sharing of information between parts in the system.”
Now. interestingly the technology exists (in some form) and it called ‘Digital twin’.
Therefore we would be seeking to optimize our digital twin. I will note this thought may also be a derivative of ‘semantic web’ but I am focused on algorithms with this idea.
fourth. Meaningfulness distribution
I hesitate to suggest distributing meaningfulness (it sounds to productivity purposeful) but at the core of this thought is what I stated in Distribution Revolution that all transactions are dependent upon distribution. And while it may sound harsh a business makes transactions with its employees – one of which is quite possibly “I will give you opportunities to optimize your potential & you will find meaningfulness in the process.”
Regardless. Transaction aside, is there a way to better enable meaning in traditional organizations – which tends to distance people from any meaning in work.
Meaning. No one defines meaning better than Alain de Botton (The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work): “meaning is simply ‘making someone or something better.’” it is all about contributing to helping in some way (in small, grande or venti dimension).
I would argue that when humans are at the center of the molecule of all business activity, all connections gain value (even with digital & work) and the person gains intrinsic self-value because, well, everything augments them & their potential. That is scaling potential & meaningfulness.
“Your business is only as strong as your least scalable component.”
(part 1). I say that because we often say powerful forces are changing the business world but we rarely speak about how the powerful forces of people within an organization can radically change the business itself. Because of connectedness the loci of productivity and dynamism resides in movements in people, information and idea within a company. This is like a value chain which evolves based on the context of the need which reshapes to amplify the potential & knowledge of the team. Using algorithms thru the entire organization focuses skills, talents and people based on the situation at hand. These forces may morph in some unexpected ways and combining ideas & skills to create even greater impacts than we expected. And while we may discuss ‘greater impact’ in terms of productivity & return, the largest impact will be found in meaningfulness.
Think about it this way – company value chains become more knowledge-intensive and reliant on multi-skill labor.
(part 2). I think we are all beginning to realize we are all contributing to the blurring of life and work. Realizing that distractions and attention isn’t what is around us about what is within us.
At the same time realizing that festina lente matters. Not suggesting this is easy and we will not get it right but the more we practice it, the more an algorithm does it, the better we will all get at it.
But do we quit at the first failure?
People are rediscovering they matter in a business system that has talked about how people matter, but has actually done everything it can to squeeze out natural untidiness and compel conformity under the guise of efficiency. Yeah. people have always grumbled about this but hierarchy has naturally sucked the life out of believing real change, and empowerment, can occur. Now. as a recent article just stated “hierarchy is just a shape.” In general, I agree. But it does ignore that organization, construct, in and of itself, encourages stasis. But what if algorithms stimulated activity from within and discouraged stasis? That is my question.
With the concept outlined, let me highlight would I would see as four potential positive consequences:
Consequence 1: individual potential
Individual potential is always a tricky thing. Many times it is trial & error in an environment in which ‘stepping out of your specific responsibility zone’ is rarely encouraged and often high risk. This is unfortunate because if a system existed in which secondary, tertiary and even quaternary talent could be not only utilized but even exercised to become stronger, all individual skills improve.
Introverts tend to be hesitant to offer and extroverts tend to offer on the wrong things.
If an algorithm could tap into the potential mines of talent that exited on an ad hoc basis then every individual’s potential gets tapped. If that happens their productivity (mental or output) gets maximized.
Consequence 2: individual meaning
Here is the weird thing. Even though I am speaking of algorithms I am also speaking of community. Introverts or extroverts. Wallflowers or the bombastic. Getting everyone engaged is tricky. Yet. Everyone wants to be part of a community and everyone finds happiness part of a tribe/community. It is the getting in and getting engaged which is a very individual type decision. Work is no different. In fact. I could argue that work is not defined by some milestone attained or some project completion but rather “community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions.” Within those small interactions will be found that larger individual meaning.
Everyone wants to contribute. Everyone wants to do something to benefit others (“what I do has value to others”). Everyone wants to do both using whatever (all) skills available. Simplistically, if a business can trigger individual contribution it will enhance individual meaning.
Consequence 3: organizational potential
Strip away culture, shareholder value or whatever metric you want to discuss, business is dependent upon maximizing its resources. Think about it from a health perspective. If employees show up every day (no sick days), healthy and happy (health & happiness or linked), you maximize productivity on 2 dimensions – time productivity and individual responsibility productivity. Therefore, if you expand productivity beyond an individual’s responsibility and seek to tap into additional skills/abilities beyond their own specific responsibility you have the opportunity to expand organizational productivity in another dimension. Its possibly a different version of collaborative productivity. This one is collaboration not of people but of talent/ability fragments (via people). Its coalescing type collaboration. If you look at ability as resources it is possible an algorithm maximizes all organizational resources.
Consequence 4: organizational hiring
Assume consequence 1 thru 3 is true. You would no longer hire off a specific role but rather with an eye toward what combination of primary, secondary, tertiary & quaternary skills the leaving person has subtracted or, conversely, gaps the organization needs to fill if a role opens up.
Hire not for an individual role but rather organizational contribution made up of multiple roles.
Oddly, my greatest defense of using algorithms to enhance organization potential may be found in the objective, the desired outcome, rather than in its more dubious companion – the algorithm itself.
As Don Cornelius said, ‘It is always a pleasure to find something that matters.’
What if algorithms helped find out what matters to people (skills) and optimized them?
What if all people were optimized (or, simply more & better utilized)?
What if all people skills were activated in a business?
The answers are obvious. More productivity. More individual meaning. And, arguably, more happy people and business.
Here is what I know.
Creativity is always what gives business, & brands, traction in the marketplace and is what insures businesses progress. If a business can maximize its creativity, it will always progress. Progress, rather than growth, should always be the objective a business.
Notice that nowhere in that paragraph did I mention meaningfulness, productivity, technology or purpose. I didn’t have to because if algorithms can tap into submerged skills people, and the organization, will inevitably be more creative in thinking & in solutions – which equals progress. And, bottom line, any algorithm that can do that is worth its weight in gold.