Archives for posts with tag: Technology is not the answer


Image: Courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith

I took this journey of 13 blog posts to better define the model of Human Business Design. It was necessary to walk through the ideas of systemic thinking, introduce various systems, introduce the idea of interactive management, planning for the apocalypse, pie in the sky models, gap and assets, how to develop a community enterprise based on market principles, design a multidimensional organization, stay away from quick fixes and develop leadership for organizational evolution.

The model of Human Business Design is based on above foundation and rooted in the belief that all human interactions inside and outside of your organization matter now. They way human beings are motivated to connect and realize value has fundamentally changed. We’re seeing a fundamental reset in the nature of work due to drastic changes all of us are experiencing in how people communicate, coordinate and collaborate. And the Enterprise 2.0 “movement” tries to capture this changed behavior by applying Web 2.0 principles to the “command-and-control” needs of the enterprise. In addition, we see a mere obsession with tools for tools sake without much understanding of the socio-business context. The old problem of throwing software solutions at organizational problems is just being re-invented in the social networking arena.

Instead, we need to focus our attention on the shifting nature of work itself and how enterprises need to evolve in a rapidly changing world, Organizations need to dig deeper, define new principles around which work itself can be reworked. Forward thinking companies will develop their own constitution, a bill of rights and a social contract for all stakeholders to have a common purpose everybody involved can rally around. In short: enterprises need to socialize their business.

Technology is the critical enable to implement Human Business Design within your organization but technology is not a sufficient agent for change. We have to focus our work on humans, the limitations of extrinsic motivators (external reward or punishment) and the need for intrinsic motivators (finding meaning in work):

– Developing a foundation of trust
– Motivating and educating the stakeholders to become more active participants
– Providing access to stakeholder knowledge and skills
– Facilitating individual freedom and control
– Encouraging emotional/aspirational co-creativity and participation.

    Successful evolution of the organization to a Human Business Design Enterprise requires them to find the appropriate locus of learning, between both market and non-market sources of ideas and knowledge. Most established firms are still trying to access these autonomous idea pools using industrial age logic and rational economic arguments, and, in most cases, tired and outdated marketing efforts where the emphasis is on surface-level tinkering of the customer engagement model, not a complete realignment and reorientation.

    Enterprises have to understand that each business, with money and investment in structures, is no more than its people within and its people outside (all stakeholders). Enterprises need to rely more on people and bridge their left-brain thinking demands with the desires of people to focus more on their right-brain capabilities.

    More than 10 years ago, the Cluetrain Manifesto exclaimed “Business is fundamentally human”. We need to stop treating stakeholders as “resources” and regard each stakeholders as clients with their own interests, desires and drivers.

    If you want to learn more about Human Business Design and how we can help you implementing these principles into your organization, feel free to contact me at

    And, all previous installments for this series, can be found here:

    Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12

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    The World Cup is upon us and as a lifelong soccer fan and player, I reflected on a few insights that the soccer game taught me that can be applied to small and large businesses.

    1. Embrace and live your culture

    I started playing soccer when I was 5. We practiced twice a week and played each Saturday. Raised in Germany, our practice consisted of 90 minutes running and 30 minute playing time. Fairly insane when you think about it: forcing 5-year-olds to run for 90 minutes through the forest or doing laps after laps. But that’s the German culture for you. We were no masters on the ball but my team could outrun anyone. We won 90% of our games in the last 10 minutes because we never tired. (I hope there’s more balance in today’s practices in Germany, though)

    Each country has a specific soccer culture: the playfulness of Brazil, the physical intimidation of England, the defensive discipline of Italy, the exuberance of African teams. While you need to embrace and live your culture to be successful, you shouldn’t fall in love with it and be always open to change. Brazil wasn’t a dominant force in the 70’s and 80’s because they focused too much on playfulness and not enough on execution. Once they added execution into the mix, matches and World Cup’s were won again.

    2.) Hire entrepreneurs

    Most soccer coaches last only for a few years. It’s a tough job to gather all your players from clubs all over the world, fight internal bureaucracies and deal with the press. Coaches, just like players, are superstars. They have to take huge risks in order to succeed and most of them fail. Just to rise on some other bench to try it again.

    Soccer is a team sport but individual decisions make or break a team. The collective approach to soccer will always fail. Both coach and player are entrepreneurs, and the more creativity they display, the more leeway they are given. Coach and players have two different tools of influence to impact the outcome of the game.

    The coach can create a cohesive, yet competitive culture that rewards creativity and innovation, build team spirit and nurture team culture. He has strategic tools at his hand (formations, substitutions, etc.) but his input won’t lead to innovation or moving the game to a new level.

    This is done by 22 feet of 11 individual players. Players innovate on a daily basis to get a small but significant competitive advantage. They need to surprise other players with new ways of dribbling, moving, passing and reacting. The coach is there to create the right environment for players to innovate. Daily. With every move.

    3.) Dramatic innovation is rare. Daily innovation a must.

    As a soccer aficionado, it’s very interesting to watch games from the past and compare them to today’s sport. The game was much slower, formations not as fluid as they are today and positions have been redefined over the years. But, what’s even more intriguing is that these changes take years to really come to life. Franz Beckenbauer perfected the position of “Libero”, the “sweeper” before the goal-keeper, freeing him from marking a direct opponent. (Rather revolutionary, if you think about it: Instead of marking a person, you’re defending a zone.) He played his first World Cup in 1966, not really filling the position of Libero yet. In 1970, he showed massive improvements on this new style of play but it took him until 1974, when he crowned his career with a World Cup win and a performance that showcased his evolution from support player to innovator.

    Innovation didn’t happen in one game. It happened over more than a decade. And influenced generations to come.

    4.) Don’t blame technology. Don’t worship technology. Just use it.

    Each time the World Cup comes around, there’s a lot of talk about the new ball. Some people fear it, some embrace it. Most players don’t care. The ball is just a tool they use to accomplish a task. Because it’s new, players will have to find the challenges/dead spots when handling or shooting it. Introducing a new ball right ahead of the biggest sporting event seems wrong. But it is a great way to determine the best playing team and the team that answered this challenge with a strong creative approach. There’s nothing to fear. And a lot to explore.

    5.) Play. Hard.

    I could write about the beauty of soccer, get all poetic and philosophical. But the real beauty of this sport is that’s it’s still a game. When players have a creative thought, they can implement this idea immediately. And fail. Or succeed. At the heart of American Football is strategy. Creativity is not rewarded. At the heart of soccer is creativity. (Based on a foundation of technical excellence, supreme conditioning and mental toughness.)

    Tomorrow the World Cup begins. A clean slate. For all we know, North Korea might win it this time. Or South Africa. History exists only in the books and in our heads. On the grass, there’s no history. Just opportunity. Possibilities. The best playing team will win the tournament.

    And, that’s the most important lesson soccer can teach business: Business is a game that reinvents itself each and every day. The basic rules remain the same, your team defines how to play with these rules creatively. As an executive, it’s your responsibility to assemble the best players, to lay down the rules and develop plans. At the end of the day, the players have to play to move your business. Let them play. And enjoy each moment of it.


    Three years ago, an online conversation between Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton resulted in a collaborative writing effort by more than 100 bloggers from nine countries, titled The Age of Conversation. Today, 171 writers (I’m one of them) are proudly announcing the release of The Age of Conversation 3 – It’s time to get busy.

    Age of Conversation 3 embodies the dramatic shift from Social Media as a hypothesis to its current state as an integral marketing tactic and the trickling-down into boardrooms, enterprises and governments. The 10 sections of the book speak to the pervasiveness of social into our daily work and life: At the Coalface; Identities; Friends and Trusted Strangers; Conversational Branding; Measurement; Corporate Conversations (my chapter talks about this topic); In the Boardroom; Innovation and Execution; Influence; Getting to Work; and Pitching Social Media.

    As always, all proceeds of the third edition will be donated to a charity. Which should make it even easier for you to consider the purchase as a Kindle e-Book, Hardcover or Paperback.

    You can meet all 171 authors here. And consider following them on Twitter.

    Congrats to everyone for their hard work. And a big THANK YOU! to Drew and Gavin.

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    Consumer Reports just released their State of the Net survey and it underscores the privacy hazards associated with Social Networking:

    • 40% had posted their full birth date, exposing them to identity theft
    • Around 25% of users are not aware of or choose not to use the privacy controls

    Compare that to the increased chatter about Facebook’s eroding privacy policy, people deleting their Facebook account, trying to find alternatives. (Reading about Mark Zuckerberg’s pranks doesn’t help their case either.)

    Facebook has slowly removed the protective walls that made all of us trust them in the first place. It’s not inherently negative that people share their lives in public. There are other sites out there that are much more revealing and by default share more with the public Web. Facebook comes across as evil because they started on the other side of the privacy spectrum, just to move users slowly to the other side where all their data becomes publicly accessible. Reminds me of the movie “The Hangover”: It starts out as a nice, communal event and ends up with tigers in your bathroom. Or a cyber-predator in your credit report.

    Social Plugins and Instant Personalizer, two new features just introduced by Facebook, could provide a more personal web experience. But, in their typical, sneaky way, Facebook didn’t explain the implications, people don’t really understand how it works and the majority still don’t understand how to turn the features off. Facebook’s opt-out norm is the ultimate insult to their users and clearly communicates: We don’t care about you. We care about monetizing your data.

    Nothing wrong with making money. But it’s in Facebook’s best interest to provide context to aid the user’s decision: Visually represent how many other users (or types of users) might be able to access your birth date or see your kid’s photos. Do you think anyone would post their full birth date if they knew 1,453,432 other users have access to that data? Educate everybody what these users can do with your information. Give people access to their own data and let them decide what they want to do with it. Offer me an insight into the magnitude of data I created in my account and that is being shared.

    I’m very certain that Facebook will implement these changes at one point. But, given their track record, it will be too late. As of May 2010, Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla. Their selfish, self-absorbed thinking will put them on a diet very soon and shrink Facebook in size to fit into the doghouse of Social Networking. At least, they have good company with the likes of Friendster, MySpace, etc.


    Image: Courtesy of

    A NY Times article about the art of listening and the constant battle against noise caught my eye last weekend. One paragraph resonated with me:

    “We have become insensitive to listening,” he said. “The most important thing you can do to become a better listener is to simply go to a naturally quiet place and allow your senses to open up again. When you become a better listener to nature, you become a better listener to your community, your children, the people you work with.”

    I believed for a while that marketers get overpaid for talking and barely reimbursed for listening. It’s time to switch that model around.And, yes, many  companies are talking about listening or Social Listening. Am I the only one that feels this is just another excuse for brands to talk more?

    Does anybody ever really listen anymore? Just look around at conferences, especially Social Media conferences. Is there one person really listening? Or are we all too busy talking, creating snarky tweets? How can we as an industry recommend listening as a #1 tactic for all brands to dive into Social Media while we are busy sharing our lunch place on Foursquare? Most often than not, instead of listening to what is being said to us, we are already listening to what we’re going say in response.

    I think it’s time for us take a break from all the noise and signals and explore silence again. If you’ve experienced complete silence, you know it has the loudest voice. A voice we need to hear again.

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    This is my daughter. Look at her. There’s this aura of infinite possibilities – she’s ready to take on the world. Nothing will stand in her way to explore this world that’s hers. We all used to be like that. We all had this fire in our eyes. Each morning we couldn’t wait to get out of bed, ready to make this world our world. We were curious. Eager. Had so many questions. Tried things out. Fell down. Tried them again.

    And then life happened to us. Or better, institutions stood in our way. Pre-school. Kindergarden. Norms. Criticism. Homework. Schedules. School. Cruel teachers. Critical teachers. Grades. Norms. The system integrated us. We integrated the system into our lives. Into our thinking. And being. We graduated. When we were lucky, we traveled for a while. Found that joyful life experience again. But now it was time to join the workforce. To fit in. To accept mediocrity. Suddenly, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. Weekends and vacations are the only remaining highlights. We are slowly killing off everything that made us happy and curious in the first place.

    Hold on, we just got a second chance.

    The Great Recession is the biggest opportunity we will encounter in our lives. The Great Recession equals major hardship for many people but it also marks the end of the corporate era. If you’re corporate drone, your job will be eliminated very soon. If you try to fit in to make it in this world, you will struggle for the rest of your life. In order to succeed, you have to become an artist.

    That’s the premise of Seth Godin’s newest book “Linchpin – Are you indispensable?” We have to become more human, creative and generous to be seen as unique and irreplaceable. And, most importantly, we have to ship. Meaning, we have to produce. Not spending hours on email trafficking, Twitter scanning, blog commenting. No, shipping. Producing. Doing. We can either give in to the lizard brain, the little part of your brain that is concerned with survival and is the reason for your procrastination and all your irrational fears. Or we can create our own destiny. Our own reality. And, at the same time, change the world.

    Seth Godin’s Linchpin might be the most important book you’ve read in a long time. Hopefully, it will change you and your thinking. We’ve been working with major Fortune 100 corporations for years, even decades. We understand how tough it is to implement cultural change. But, it’s necessary. Actually, it’s imperative. Would you rather help your company change or see it vanish?

    Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Hugh McLeod’s Evil plans (he illustrated Linchpin because he’s one) will give you the motivation and desire to change the world. We started our company with the goal to help transform businesses and change the way we work and live. Seth Godin distilled our thoughts in a neat and exciting package. Now it’s your turn to take the ball and change the world. We hope you’re ready.


    Image courtesy of ‘While you weren’t listening’

    My daughter is obsessed with quantity: “How long? 5 minutes? Oh, that’s such a long time.”

    “How many days until I go back to school? 2 days? That’s such a long time.”

    My favorite:

    Me: “You can only have one.” Daughter: “But I want 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 19!”

    She’s not much different than the rest of us. If you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t exist. We get trained early on focusing on grades, sizes, personal records – give me any quantity, people will flock to it. And so they do, at their own peril. Just ask the math wizards on Wall Street who almost brought the economy to its knees with their models, derivatives and CDO’s.

    Data linked with analysis doesn’t tell you the truth. It provides an assumption of the truth. Nothing more. Any Black Swan will destroy this assumption in an instant.

    We see this pervasiveness and blind belief in data everywhere: Employees are resources that need to be utilized. Brands consider people targets that need to be tracked and hunted down by more and more ads.

    It’s time to grow up, my daughter will one day, and learn that quality is often more important than quantity. You can’t compare 5 minutes at the dentist with a 5 minute hug of your loved one. Employees have non-quantitative strengths that are not measurable. We just know they have them. Just like products and services have non-quantitative strengths that transforms a product from a commodity into an object of desire.

    Sales people are often measured by the quantity of their calls, not the quality of their interactions. Customer Service agents are being judged by the number of calls they handled, not the value they provided to customers. The list is endless.

    Sure, we need to constantly improve our data sets and optimize them. But, the altar of data is not worth praying at. Leaving non-quantitative factors out is a road to nowhere. Integrating measurement into a more holistic, dare I say, human perspective should be the goal. Let’s use data and technology as a tool to better understand, innovate and change the world. Time to grow up. Who wants to be stuck in the “2,3,4,5,6,19” rut forever?


    Another year, another attempt to blow up innocent people . Years ago it was the shoebomber, now it’s the undie bomber. Tomorrow it might be the armpit bomber or the denture bomber, how about the stomach bomber?

    And what is the answer? Let’s take our shoes off, let’s focus on the lists with 500k+ possible suspects and, most importantly, let’s deploy more technology: Body Scanners are the new black even though some people have doubts this new technology even works as promised.

    While Dennis Howlett focuses on the combination of internal conflicts and gaps in processes designed to red flag individuals that contributed to failure, I would like to focus on the human factor.

    Eons ago, I worked as a Station Manager for United Airlines in London. Right after the Lockerbie disaster, we were tasked to implement profiling into our check-in processes. I was tasked to integrate an Israeli mindset (ICTS, an Israeli company, responsible for the security of all United flights from LHR) with the mindset of US travelers in the early 90’s. What I liked about ICTS was that they didn’t rely on technology when checking passengers/cargo. They relied on the human factor. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose any of their suspicious signs but all of them made sense. Don’t you think it’s bizarre that Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab flew to Detroit without any luggage? What is he going to wear in -20 degree weather? Who pays expensive tickets in cash anymore? If so, why? See, the real story behind good security is to integrate the human factor:

    If a story doesn’t make sense, let’s try to make sense out of that story. Or search the passenger thoroughly. During my work at United, I encountered thousands and thousands of passengers. Some displayed many suspicious signs. Some only one. It didn’t make a difference. 99% of the signs we could resolve within a minute. The rest we focused on. And, if not resolvable, we searched them. And, I’m talking about real search. Yes, we would have even found a syringe taped to underwear.

    Why is that?

    Because we didn’t focus on technology and try to start an arms race with people that dedicate their lives killing innocent passengers. We focused on people. We focused on how people would feel and act when they are trying to kill 200 fellow passengers. They are nervous. They display signs. They are different. And we adjusted our model each and every day. We made sure employees get to do different tasks each 15 minutes because they tend to burn out and become less ware of suspicious signs. By discussing individual cases with employees and making daily judgements if we made the right decisions. And adjustments how to deal with tomorrow’s threat. Technology was just an after-thought. Shouldn’t it be always that way?