First catch your hare.
So wrote Hannah Glasse, in the recipe for Jugged Hare, to be found in her 1747 book The Art of Cookery. [When I first heard the quotation, I was given the impression, mistakenly, that it was a quotation from Mrs Beeton].
In today’s globalised knowledge-worker-dominated world, most enterprises have figured out that the “recipes” for the best companies start with “First get good people”. And even if they haven’t quite figured this out, they’re not going to admit it anyway. If you take the Napoleonic view you would argue that good isn’t good enough, you need to be “lucky” as well. While I have some sympathy for this view, I prefer to take the Gary Player position on it: the harder one practises, the “luckier” one gets. Good people, some luck, a lot of hard work called “practice”, with the right feedback loops to ensure that learning takes place. In an environment where learning can take place, with leadership based on Max Du Pree principles. Is that all we need to make the enterprise truly productive?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? Sometime soon, probably after finishing the series I’m writing on Wikipedia, I may well start one on the Theory of the Firm. But for now I’d like to stop here and return to the main thrust of this post, Facebook and the Enterprise.
I’ve had the privilege of leading good people many times now, and I’m always trying to get better at it. To this end, I’ve regularly pondered on the subject of what precisely I would like to get better at. While this is not a comprehensive list, there are a few areas I know I would love to get better at:
- Identifying role models that would help me coach and mentor those that are new to the enterprise
- Providing simple tools to help them prioritise their time
- Having the right feedback loops in place to help them manage their performance
In all three cases, I tend to feel that something like Facebook has a lot to offer, as and when it is implemented properly in an enterprise.
People use all kinds of signals to communicate. From keeping doors open to shutting them. From answering e-mails promptly and diligently, all the way to “deleting them unread”. From being early for a meeting to not turning up. From giving their attention to not giving their attention. From listening to not-listening. All kinds of signals.
Some of the signals are intentional, some inadvertent. And we tend to be better at certain types of signals and crap at others. How else would you explain what passes for “performance management” in most large enterprises, where 95% of the workforce are “above average”? How else would you explain even the existence of execrable inventions like “forced ranking”?
I’m no social anthropologist, I’m sure there are a zillion people out there who know a lot more about the subject of how people signal to each other and why. What I do know is this: Social software has a role to play in signalling.
Sometimes I’ve read e-mails via preview panes and then deleted them later as part of a housekeeping exercise. And every now and then I’ve received calls from people really upset that I’d deleted their e-mail unread. This, despite the fact that I’d actually read them, and, more to the point, despite the fact that the deleted e-mail was over three months old.
Sometimes I’ve looked into e-mail flow within a firm, trying to understand something from the patterns that emerge. Suppose we imagine the world of enterprise e-mail like we would imagine a country’s economy. Domestic e-mail, that which stays within the enterprise’s boundaries. Exported e-mail, that which goes out. Imported e-mail, that which comes in. What would it be like to be able to model all this sensibly?
When I opened up my mailbox to my management team I spotted some fascinating behaviours. How some of them concentrated on reading my Sent Items rather than focusing on my Inbox. Why would this happen? I think it has something to do, analogously, with what happens with View Source. People love looking inside the hood, trying to see what makes something tick. And in the particular case I cite, they wanted to understand how I thought, and felt that they would learn most by studying my sent mail.
Maybe two years ago, perhaps a little longer, I looked at a company called Seriosity. They were in a fascinating business. They had a simple premise. People valued their time. E-mails stole time. If there was a way to make e-mails pay for that time, then something profound may start happening. Not all e-mails stole time, some preserved time and created new value. If there was a way of paying for this extra value, then something profound may start happening. And so the serio was born, a way of charging someone for taking your e-mail reading time, and for saying thank you if you found the mail helpful.
[Incidentally, there’s at least one Facebook app that tries to mimic the Seriosity concept, using a currency called a ven].
A utility like Facebook can also help enterprises with rating and recommendation systems, connecting peers and providing the facility to collect and share active feedback.
Opinion polls are also easy to organise and execute, as are prediction markets.
Responding to pokes. Accepting things, ignoring things. Changing settings for what appears in a news feed. Choosing the groups to join or leave. Using publish and subscribe models to access information, using tools like Seriosity to encourage and discourage flows on a very granular basis. Watching what people do in order to learn from them, in order to be able to point them out to others as good role models. Using active feedback loops to provide continuous “360 degree” appraisals of performance, using soft signals in order to encourage or discourage specific behaviours.
Please take all this with a very large pinch of salt. All I am doing is wondering about the possibilities, the possibilities of using social software to fix things that are fundamentally broken.
There’s something non-threatening, something non-invasive about the way we can signal to people using social software. When speaking of Instant Messaging, Stu Berwick, an erstwhile colleague of mine, used to say “It’s polite to be silent.” I found that profound.
In similar vein, I see something strange and wonderful happening in environments where there are long bar counters attached to walls. People walk up to such bars, sit down and chat with the people alongside them because it feels comfortable. More comfortable and less threatening, less in-your-face or in-your-space. Even though they’re actually staring at walls!
I think there’s something similar taking place in social software environments. There is an Alongside Feeling.
Flame away. I shall learn.