Musing lazily about work and play

A decade ago, soon after becoming Global CIO at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, I started looking into how I could embed what we now call “social software” into the everyday operations of that institution. By that time we were already pioneers in the use of wikis, we were already well established in our use of instant messaging, we had begun quite serious experiments in the use of smart mobile devices at work, so what we were trying to do was to add blogging to our portfolio and bring all the tools together into a more harmonious whole. It was a real privilege to lead that department, we had an amazing array of truly world class talent there. [If you used to work there and you’re reading this, you have no idea how grateful I am for having had that privilege. A fabulous team. And I’m still grateful.]

Andrew McAfee, then at Harvard, chanced upon our work, spent time with us and helped us understand the formal context of what we were discovering. You can read about it in his seminal book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools For Your Organisation’s Toughest Challenges; or if you prefer to test the water first, you can read the original article he wrote for the MIT Sloan Management Review, Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.

During those years, I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about these emergent tools: friends and colleagues, industry participants, observers, consultants, academics, in fact anyone and everyone who had an opinion. And there were many opinions. [Strange that. You don’t tend to find that everyone has an opinion as to how to treat something on a balance sheet. You don’t tend to find that everyone has an opinion on the meaning of a clause in a contract. But when it comes to IT ….. My name is Legion, for we are Many.]

Anyway, amongst all these varied opinions, one set stood out. That we would fail in our quest to implement social software at the bank because the very names of the tools we used were so “silly”. Proponents of this particular set of opinions felt that life was hard enough when companies had “stupid” made-up names like Google, and that I would face a real uphill battle because I was proposing using trivial-sounding things like “blogs” and “wikis”. After all, this was “work”, not “play”, and people at work had more important things to do than to play.

At that time, I was getting to the point where I was working on a move to a “four-pillar” architecture for enterprise software, something I spoke about in this video of a closed architects meeting in December 2005, and  as reported here by old friend Phil Wainewright who was present. We were already committed to publish-subscribe models within the bank, had a sensible bus architecture, and so I was keen to improve the subscribe capability, thinking at the time it would be something along the lines of what Netvibes offered then. Facebook was just emerging, and Twitter hadn’t yet begun. But the principles of back-end publishers and RSS and pub-sub and corporate “social” networks had already been established, Bloomberg Chat had been around for a while, ICQ had been mutated into various forms, we’d been learning off Groove and Jabber, Parlano MindAlign had shown us the art of the possible (before Microsoft trampled all over them). We were ready for bringing all this together.

Part of my energy was being used on something possibly more ambitious, moving the bank away from Microsoft and on to Apple. Project Jobsworth. The reason I have the mail id (used to be The reason I call myself @jobsworth on Twitter and in many other digital places. You can read about that project here.

Al-Noor Ramji, my predecessor at the bank, had set many things in train that I could use and extend: a commitment to open source, not just as consumer, but as producer, as contributor: under his leadership, we were early on to Java, committed wholeheartedly to a publish-subscribe mindset and developed what later became OpenAdaptor. The environment was fertile, the talent pool amazing. And the time was right, we needed to innovate to help reduce costs and drive up speed and quality.

None of this was being done because we thought it was fashionable or cool or different. At the time, my influences included John Seely Brown’s Social Life of Information, Steven Johnson’s Emergence, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, Brian Arthur on Increasing-Returns models, Howard Rheingold on Virtual Communities, (and later Amy-Jo Kim as well) pretty much everything written by Esther Dyson and the editorial team at Release 1.0; and of course The Cluetrain Manifesto. Chris Locke even came and spoke to us in 2000 and in 2001, first in Bangalore and later in London. Later influences include Tom Malone and The Future of Work, Kathy Sierra on everything to do with Creating Passionate Users and Carlota Perez on Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital.

So you can see where our heads were at the time. We believed that we were in a new paradigm, one where digital infrastructure was writing new rules, where the customer was central, where information was social, where activity was emergent, communal and collaborative, where community mattered, where tools were becoming mobile, where software was about patterns, where identity and intellectual property were being redefined  by the internet. And based on those beliefs, we thought that work was changing, that the people at work were changing, that the tools of work needed to change.

And those are the kind of reasons why I’m at today, where I’m chief scientist. [And why I’m a trustee of the Web Science Trust, and why I’m a venture partner at].

Those are the reasons why I’m looking forward to Cloudforce Social Enterprise Tour London 2012 on May 22nd, which is showing all the signs of becoming the largest single one-day tech event ever.

As with open source, as with information becoming social, as with smart mobile devices, as with the Facebooks and Twitters of this world, the Social Enterprise is no fad.

The Social Enterprise is a consequence. A consequence of customers becoming empowered and discovering how to use their voice. A consequence of Moore’s Law meeting Metcalfe’s Law, and then evolving a further forty years or so. If you want to know about the connected customer, read about it here in the Telegraph or here on CloudBlog.

In a similar context, the blurring of lines between work and play is nothing new. As I found out the hard way using terms like blogs and wikis, people push back on the terms because work is meant to be “serious”. Meant to be. Not is.

Work and play are not mutually exclusive. If you want to get into this, a good place to start is Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow. You should also read Pat Kane’s The Play Ethic. And maybe riffle through Michael Schrage’s Serious Play. But it will only scratch the surface.

Which brings me on to today. Today, where the changing work landscape has meant that we need new ways of looking at work, new tools, new processes. Tools and processes that relate to collective and collaborative activity in “real time”, that deal with nonlinear and lumpy processes, that recognise the importance of patterns. Work environments that are distributed and geographically dispersed, with people needing to “shift time and place”. Engaging with empowered, always-on, mobile customers and partners and staff.

I started looking closely at a number of communities to try and learn from them: traders who used to operate in open outcry markets and later shifted to trading floors; traffic and flow controllers, particularly air traffic controllers; network operators (which is why I moved from Dresdner Kleinwort to BT); and gamers.

Yes, gamers.

I thought they had a lot to teach me. And they do.

So I will continue to observe them and learn from them. And see how to apply that learning at work. Which is what I was doing when the term “gamification” intruded on to my radar. I have spoken on the subject a few times, explaining why the lipstick of gamification cannot solve the pig of work, explaining why this sea-change at work is something far more than just the transposition of some game mechanics.

Which makes this Pew Internet report intriguing reading. If you have the time to read this, then I strongly recommend you read this critique by Sebastian Deterding as well. He makes some crucial points, particularly on competition, on generations, and on work/play. I have had the opportunity to meet and to spend time conversing with Sebastian, and would urge those interested in this space to follow him.

3 thoughts on “Musing lazily about work and play”

  1. Agree. For a sea change we need connectivity to be ubiquitous and ICT to be easy. You remain ahead of your time JP…
    Work is meant to be serious, but it has to be fun too. If we can make it fun we can get more out of it, and more from it. There is no need for everything to be so complicated. Bring on the fibre, bring on ubiquity, and set the people free. The future is coming. It just isn’t here yet.

  2. Mixing Work and Play seems to remove “lumpiness” by always-on “streamification”. But does it improve relative productivity or just increase burnout?

Let me know what you think