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Human operating systems in the future of business

Chapter 6 of Weinbergers’ book Too Big to Know was thought provoking for me due a number of reasons.  First that it considered the idea of journalistic detachment and objectivity on the story was somewhat restrictive and fails to take advantage of its true advantage in that the reporter was actually at the scene of an incident whereas the public wasn’t.  In a sense it reminds me of the reason for networking and the unique perspectives each one of us can bring to the discussion.  Secondly, having written a book the idea of writing until all the details were on paper reminded me of the struggling I had when deciding what to included as I was writing it. Certainly, I struggle with the idea of publishing material that can’t be edited or revised once out there.  If there is anything that this ILD program has taught me it’s that as I continue to learn I want to add and subtract material from the book to better reflect my new found knowledge and make the product better. However, with the advent of technology that allows us to produce and revise material online it seems to me that we are now in a position that allows for the expression of individual thought that wasn’t allowed within the industrial era.  In my case the thought of producing something with my name on it that I can’t correct easily or erased limits my voice but in the case of businesses and corporations they ostensibly dehumanized the population who worked for them and controlled their voice.  However, individuals are armed with the same technology to communicate that corporations are, and while social media is natural extension of human communication I don’t think it’s the only means of blasting out a message.  Social media is limited in its ability to get the entire story out and while better platforms may develop we are currently loosing some of the information that allows for synthesis between individual ideas to sound bites and flashy graphics.  At its crux the industrial era was driven by rational, logical arguments and the need for efficiencies, which caused a loss of humanity as the price we paid. However, I am not surprised we have found a way to break free of this era because we are social creatures, now we just have to harness it properly.  Its because of these experiences and perspectives that I’ve jumped into a new tech startup company which hopes to develop new platforms utilizing the information hidden out there in the minds of people such as those reading this blog.  We are certainly not up and running, but we are up to our eyeballs in in SQL code and platform design.
One of the most significant innovations on business enabled by technology is the impact of data and analytics allowing organizations the ability to uncover new understandings and make smarter decisions. In essence the volume of data now accessible enables current business to streamline operations, reshape their structure and change business models. As our society evolves into a new economy, one defined by new flows of knowledge and ways of shaping organizational structures to maximize social and economic value I think we need to realize it’s time to drop the term digital that prefaces new jobs and ideas.  We are past the point of qualifying this kind of work as novel or needing to seemingly excuse yourself for not producing a tangible, physical object.  We have progressed from hunting the woolly mammoth without adding these types of descriptors because it was a natural progression, as is the use of technology in our everyday world.  Putting digital in front of everything suggests we lead two lives, one digital and one analogue and we need to clarify for others where we sit at the moment.  In terms of business, strategy for an organization incorporates digital and analogue into one strategic plan moving forward.  Labeling a digital strategy independently accepts that your plans moving forward are not meant to work together.  Ultimately there is no digital, there is only life and we are living in it (Sammartino, 2014). Technology, whether labeled digital or not, is an endless agitator within the business world and the apparent challenge for the next generation is the ability to monetize the knowledge and data that it creates.  While predictions of the future suggest agile, smaller business is the new norm as we watch the final end put to the industrial era I must admit it seems difficult to envisions a future for any business that doesn’t embrace the transformation that technology can bring about.

It leads me to question whether or not technology has really changed our social behaviors or are we just fabricating new methods and recreating the things we do in a physical world.  A decade ago if you had a problem to solve you might sit down at a meeting and figure out a plan using flipcharts.  Today, we might still have a meeting, but the participants aren’t in the same room or even in the same country.  It means for all the talk of technology changing the way we do business there is still and element of humanity involved.  We connect to people, we share ideas and we form relationships.  It’s the same behavior we displayed before Skype and its competitors, but the tools are new.  Lindzon (2015) discusses in his article that the future of work is about creating easier to use tools that will entice people to buy.  I believe its only half of the equation.  To date I don’t think we can create technology that ignores humanities hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1954) and think the idea will be successful.  The need to interact is a deep seeded human social need and technology that cannot integrate this has a high chance of failure. In some ways this ties into my blog from last week where I advocated that knowledge held by one-person equaled power leading to hierarchal relationships.  In the new economy where it is difficult to restrict access to knowledge thereby reducing individual power, and the pressure of new technology that must incorporate human behavior for success it places burden on us to revisit traditional leadership skills and abilities.  The expansion of companies across geographical boundaries may have already developed a blueprint for us to look at.  Using Hofstedes’ (2011) model of cultural differences we can differentiate between Eastern and Western management practices. Eastern norms traditionally focus on collectivism, yet they often clash with the Western norms that support individualism (Connor, et al 2013).  In a sense this indicates in our immediate future where Web 2.0 intensities an interconnected collective mindset moving forward, our cultural leadership practices will not be appropriate. From a leadership perspective the ability to influence remotely and cross culturally will be vital to overcome the barriers involved in true collective thinking across and manage both their knowledge and human capital effectively.
At the end of the day this places pressure on current business to develop two important aspects for success. First, the ability of its employees to develop capabilities allowing them to work differently than before, and second; improve leadership talent within the ranks of knowledge workers developing skills involving business strategy, the ability to gain experience and provide catalysts for development (McCall, 1997).  The combination of enabled employees and leadership that has the ability to set the vision and execute it are the ones who potentially survive. The competitive advantage of interconnected, knowledge management workplaces of today and tomorrow are their ability of organizations to consider employees as an asset, or investment (Shameem & Khan, 2012) echoing Peter Drucker (2002) observations that in the knowledge economy employees should be considered capital and leaders need to spend time with their followers, getting to know them; mentoring, listening, and encouraging them, much like the Eastern management philosophies we discussed earlier.  So it seems we are standing on the precipice of a big step in our history.  One where the large powerful organizations from finance to manufacturing currently have significant impact on our economy, but are rarely mentioned as technological innovators.  I think what this shows is the current importance of human capital into making an organization successful in this new environment over the short term.  However, over the coming years I suspect the deluge of data when combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will bring about another shift in our economy. If you notice through this blog posting I have tried not to predict too far down the road as I think the potential of AI to radically shift the landscape is almost certain and has some concerning issues to address.  While nobody can predict the future, the ease at which future networks, data and software can be quickly integrated into business might be putting the proverbial hammer and tongs back into the hands of individuals. When we bring the ability to produce value at an individual level we increase the potential for our social behaviors to become the imperative again.  No longer will you be buying from an unfeeling corporate entity, but from your neighbor. I think it implies our experiences will be organized by trust and interaction before we transact. In Too Big To Know Weinberger (2011)advocates authority will be defined by functionality and reputation within our circle of trust.  Giving the tools of trade back to the individual does just this, and takes us back to a time of cottage industries where communities relied upon one another to survive.

Connor, J., Min, Y., & Iyengar, R. (2013). When east meets west. T + D, 67(4), 54-59.
Drucker, P. F. (2002, February). They're not employees, they're people. Harvard Business Review, pp. 70-77.
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
McCall, M. W. (1997). High flyers; developing the next generation of leaders. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Minkov, M., & Hofstede, G. (2011). The evolution of hofstede's doctrine. Cross Cultural Management, 18(1), 10-20.
Sammartino Steve (2014). The Great Fragmentation: Why the future of all business is small. Melbourne: Wiley

Shameem, A., & Khan, B. M. (2012). A study on the emerging dimensions of strategic HRM in different subsectors of IT industry. The IUP Journal of Management Research, XI(2), 65-76.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too Big to Know. New York: Basic Books.

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Human operating systems in the future of business


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