“Good Enough” as a Leadership Strategy

I think that Michelle Martin’s search for the best curriculum for her Leadership Lab presents intuitively reasonable components – given today’s world. “Today’s world” is a key component to that statement, as leadership of 100 years ago would see leaders as Martin’s heroes (or more likely autocrats), with everyone else following. Leaders as hosts makes sense when it is near impossible to digest all the data that you may need to make good decisions. This was one of the biggest takeaways from the course for me: the amount of technology and data that is coming at everyone today is enormous. This is reflected in the Wikipedia List of Emerging Technologies and the 2016 Internet Trends Report, but also reflected in the Weinberger (2011) book – and all the readings for the course. Recently I was exposed to cognitive services and Bot Frameworks at work, and how we need to understand their core abilities,  but then creatively discover what it can enable: the art of possible. There’s a great demonstration of this capability in this video that involves McDonald’s  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAnz4Fi1-pg&feature=youtu.be. This is new technology that I had heard of peripherally, but this course has forced me to take note of these new technologies, and apply critical thought to determine their possible impact.

Leadership success is often framed as a checklist and sequential (i.e., these are the characteristics you need, or things you need to do). But today, it seems more like a science fiction movie where the actors are moving through a three-dimensional maze, only to realize that there more dimensions: turn left, turn right, move up or down, take a detour to another dimension (possibly with a different law of physics). Martin’s point about leaders as hosts accommodates the need for leaders to leverage assistance in this monumental, digestive task. But it also reveals a dimension needed to enable the new paradigm, which also reflects the Jesuit ethos we embrace: the ego must be humbled so that enablement of others can be successful. This is reflected in my favorite quote by Edith Wharton:

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”  (Wharton, 1902)

Personally, the course has forced me to self-reflect on how I can be successful in such a fluid world – which is more about self-leadership. Tanmay Vora’s poster reflecting Janna Q. Anderson’s ideas of skills for success in a disruptive world, presents an excellent set of skills for anyone’s success – not just leaders (although presumably we are all leading ourselves). But if leadership is your job (calling), then these skills obviously apply.

I am beginning to think that sheer amount of information and data may actually force us all to experience what some on the autism spectrum experience in the normal world (i.e., what we would view as normal). As noted by Lynne Soraya in her Asperger’s Diary about Shopping While Autistic,

“A black mist has descended over my vision, I must fight to focus through it. My vision has become subtly pixelated, like a pointillist painting, and I see after images each time I change focus.  Little bright spots dance across my vision. My ears hurt, my head hurts, and I feel nauseous, but I can’t leave”.

This reminds me of stories I heard in college regarding Russian shoppers who were introduced to American supermarkets only to be paralyzed by choice. According to an article in the NY Times, although Americans tend to think that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people, often leading to bad decisions (for them). But the same article points out that this may be not just a problem with too many options, but also of poor information. Perhaps the social-networking mechanisms that are part of the overwhelming changes we are experiencing can help us filter the noise, so the information is not overwhelming. My friends on Facebook can help me choose a good restaurant at the food court, maybe I should leverage those social technologies to help with leadership decisions.

Business leaders must solve the problem of information overload to be successful. They fundamentally have a fiduciary duty to serve their organizations. This means that they need to identify the threats and opportunities to their organizations. Blockbuster exploited a huge opportunity, but ignored data indicating consumer trends were driving growth in another direction. The rising popularity of streaming movies allowed an opportunistic Netflix to succeed, eventually forcing Blockbuster into bankruptcy in 2010 https://www.usanfranonline.com/resources/business-process-management/blockbusters-business-process-management-failure/#.WLixwoWcGkQ. My parents experienced something on a more micro-scale (but didn’t feel micro to them). They owned a travel agency for many years, but the internet made them all but obsolete. Luckily, my father (who ran the agency) was nearing retirement, so the impact was mitigated.

This class has enlightened me on many fronts, and frightened me on some. It is easy to be overwhelmed (like Russians in the supermarket) by all the inputs that are flying at us. The techniques presented in this class are all going in my quill. I suspect that, just as there are different arrow types, characteristics, and components, that an archer would use depending on where and what they are shooting at, that some of these techniques will serve me better depending on the task at hand. One thing that I need to keep reminding myself, and that I have often said to consultants and customers, is this apocryphal aphorism: Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is supported by Schwartz (2016) when he notes that one way to tackle the problem is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough”. I think many leaders will need to be diligent, try their best, and often just shoot for “good enough”. The alternative may be that their focus on decision-perfection allows others who are just “good enough” to best them by exploiting the next opportunity.

References:

Schwartz, B. (2016). The paradox of choice: why more is less. New York: Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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

Wharton, E. (1902). Vesalius in Zante (1564). The North American Review, 175(552), 625–631.

 

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Leadership Requirements to avoid another electric refrigerator

The world of technology is moving at breakneck speeds, but technology is becoming more and more ubiquitous. That ubiquity dynamic means that the world itself is changing at an incredible rate. Leaders have a unique challenge in leveraging that speed.

Leader must enable their organizations to grow, or minimally to survive. Their focus is typically on identifying what is externally needed (e.g., what are trends, what do customers need?), and how to fulfill those needs using their internal resources.

When Weinberger (2011) ponders whether the Net is making us smarter or stupider, he looks at five characteristics regarding the Net.  We can look at these from the context of the leader needing to manage these as challenges.

Abundance: As suggested by Weinberger (2011), leaders need to learn to manage the playlist, not the library. Their employees have access to information that was never available to previous generations. Leaders of yesterday curated much of the information that got to their employees, but today, that is a recipe for disaster. Even internal knowledge that would be the purview of HR and Legal departments is not victim to applications like Blind (https://us.teamblind.com/), that provide a hyper platform for the leaking of information anonymously. Abundance highlights the importance of transparency for their internal teams. Customers also have the gift of abundance, so information regarding pricing and options for the goods they need seems limitless. Leaders must accept that curating information both internally and externally will likely result in unhappy customers and employees, and a large waste of energy.

Links:

Customers, as with abundance, have many options in a linked world. There is a reality to the last word, so leaders must work hard build a brand that has credentials. If their link is viewed as having validity and fidelity, it just may be the last word – by choice of the customer.

Permission-free:

Many leaders are focused on monetizing everything. But the nature of the Net as “permission-free” challenges the old monetizing systems of yesterday. Although some knowledge will need to be protected (e.g., the formula for Coke), there is likely lots of knowledge that can likely be rethought of as far as intellectual property that has asset value. Building a brand with authority and credibility, even if by sharing, will likely open many doors that heretofore were locked. Which leads to the next characteristic, public.

Public:

The trick for a leader when the world is flattened by technology, is to be on the winning side for their organizations. There is opportunity in the publicness of the Net. This can be seen most recently by James O’Keefe’s releasing of secretly recorded audio tapes (https://youtu.be/xf-0_dFnl-Y). For his agenda, there is too much data, so he is asking the public to listen to the tapes, and find the value (presumably for his viewpoints). Weinberger (2011) has noted similar crowdsourcing efforts in order to leverage the publicness of the internet. Leaders could look towards the creativity of technology leaders like Microsoft, who offered hackers up to $150,000 to find bugs in its software  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/microsoft-hackers_n_3466864.html).

Unresolved:

I believe that we always disagreed, it is just that the availability of the counter opinions was often controlled by curators in the past. The Net breaks down the old power bases of those who controlled knowledge and its flow. Leaders must learn to embrace the open disclosing of disagreements and work toward facilitating progress with differing views present. This is not a new challenge for leaders, only an exacerbated (by technology) one.

The leader’s challenge is how to make this new pace of technology work for their organizations. Kelly notes that we should embrace characteristics of the evolving technologies (https://archive.org/details/KevinKelly_2016T), and try to understand them, to potentially steer their development. He highlights Bots and how they will do the things that are efficient. I have personal experience (just today on a call with a large beverage company) where we (the company I work for) are selling artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Bot technology to relieve the service desk of much of its standard loads. These technologies are also highlighted in Gartner’s Hype Cycle (https://www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2016/08/21/gartner-hype-cycle-for-emerging-technologies-2016-adds-blockchain-machine-learning-for-first-time/#15f2da033f82). The leaders see the immediate potential, but also noted that, given the phased approach over time, that when phase three arrives, they will likely have a very different map of ideas for potential. This is how leaders must think in this new world.

But to leverage the Net’s characteristics, leaders must be predictive, and reassign resources when needed. Leveraging tools like the Gartner Hype Cycle mentioned above, and reports like the Internet Trends Report (https://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins) highlights opportunities. The latter highlights China as a large area for growth, but leaders must weigh the opportunity with the cost to a company’s culture and long term success. Facebook’s moves into the Chinese market face many challenges, the greatest one being that the Chinese government likes to control social media and what people do with it (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602493/mark-zuckerbergs-long-march-to-china/). This will be a big challenge for Facebook’s leadership.

Kelly notes that thinking different is the engine of creation and wealth in the new economy (https://archive.org/details/KevinKelly_2016T). He noted the importance of electricity to the industrial revolution, and how cognification (vs electrification) will drive this second industrial revolution. He highlighted how creative ideas for how electricity could be used shaped that industrial revolution. One word of caution comes from Dartnell’s (2014) description of how we ended up with compressor-driven refrigerators – it was electric companies finding use for their electricity. But he notes that a gas-absorption refrigerator (http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4572467_rv-refrigerator-work.html ) is actually a better choice (if we needed to rebuild society’s technologies). The technology was present at the time, but choices were made. Good leaders will stay vigilant to not let cognification create another electric refrigerator.

References:

Dartnell, L. (2014). The Knowledge: How to rebuild our world from scratch. New York: The Penguin Press.

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

Cyber-Crime, Responses, and Ethics

Merriam-Webster defines the word “crime” as being an illegal act, or a grave offense, especially against morality (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crime). Given this definition, a computer crime is simply an unethical use of the computer as a criminal tool. The term most commonly used today to reflect computer crime, is cybercrime. Cybercrime has been an artifact of computer systems for many decades, but the phenomenon of cybercrime did not truly emerge until the advent of the computer network (http://cubist.cs.washington.edu/CyberSecurity/index.php/Evolution_of_Cybercrime_and_current_situation). It is the ability to access systems across distance that truly enabled the capability to exploit computer systems and the data that they hold. Today, cybercrime is becoming the norm, and overtaking the reporting of traditional crimes in some EU countries (http://www.crime-research.org/news/05.10.2016/4017/).

There are certainly spectrums for cybercrime. Depending on your vantage point, you can look at it from a frequency perspective (e.g., from rare to ubiquitous), or from a gravity perspective (e.g., from minor to heinous). I will look at a few of examples of the latter for both extremes.

Ubiquitous: Ransomware

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lists Ransomware as one of its current top priority areas (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber). Ransomware is a type of insidious malware that encrypts, or locks, valuable digital files and demands a ransom to release them. Victims of this type of crime have included hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, and businesses (large and small). The malware encrypts files and folders on any drive it can gain access to (enabled by network connections). Most organizations remain unaware it is happening until they lose all access to their data. Access to the data can be devastating for organizations; imagine hospitals unable to access medical information or businesses unable to access real time operational data needed to run a factory). A decryption key can then be purchased using another internet phenomenon, bitcoins, which is an anonymous virtual currency.

Ubiquitous: Espionage (both corporate and governmental)

The FBI also lists “Computer and Network Intrusions” as a high priority area (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber). This can also be viewed as corporate and governmental espionage – since most of the intrusions are traced to Chinese and Russian cyber-attacks. Chinese cyber-attacks are part of a major intelligence-gathering operation against U.S. government and private sector databases (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/security-firm-warns-of-new-chinese-cyber-attacks/). This includes 80 million healthcare records stolen from Anthem healthcare, and 22 million records of federal and contract employees containing their security clearance information (of which I was one of those records) from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) (http://freebeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Report_lowres.pdf).  Recent public, and high profile government targets, include the Dept. of State, OPM, the White House, NOAA, and the USPS.

Ubiquity: Identity theft

Identity theft has always been a criminal issue, but it is now increasingly facilitated by the Internet. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in America (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10064.pdf). Identity theft occurs when someone unlawfully obtains another’s personal information and uses it to commit theft or fraud. This theft often involves getting loans and credit cards in a victim’s name using the illegal or deceptively garnered credentials of the victim. Over 12 million victims, averaging $5,130 per incident, represent 7.5% of U.S. households that reported some type of identity fraud in 2015 (http://www.statisticbrain.com/identity-theft-fraud-statistics/). But the number of identity theft victims and total losses are likely much higher than publicly-reported statistics, due to different law enforcement agencies classifying identity theft crimes differently (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime/identity-theft).

Attack Vectors

Both above scenarios, although facilitated by technology (e.g., malware, encryption, brute force attacks), are mostly the result of human behavior. Most victims fall prey to suspicious e-mail and/or phishing attempts, where they are tempted to click on a link, or open a file, that releases the malware into the system. Additionally, the person clicking would need to typically have administrative rights (or cached administrator credentials on their machine) – in order for the malware to be destructive past their local machine, and into the network (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=36036). Other methods include phone calls that trick victims into revealing personally identifiable information. In all these cases, people and process issues are at the root cause.

Heinous: Terrorism

Europol has seen “a marked shift” in cyber-facilitated activities relating to trafficking in human beings, terrorism and other threats (http://www.crime-research.org/news/05.10.2016/4017/). In examining the changes in how the Islamic State (ISIS) operates, Europol notes that individuals and groups involved in terrorist and extremist activities use encryption to conceal their communications from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Additionally, they note that terrorists use different platforms in their communication, and switch between them, or use parallel platforms to obfuscate their exchanges (https://www.europol.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/modus_operandi_is_revisited.pdf). The FBI notes similar challenges with a term they call “Going Dark”. This is when law enforcement has the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information, but often lack the technical ability because of a fundamental shift in communications services and technologies (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber).

Heinous: Violent Crimes Against Children

Is the Internet making cybercrime and crimes against children easier to commit? Law enforcement estimates that more than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment, and that 20% of all internet pornography involves children, with more than 20,000 new images posted weekly (https://www.guardchild.com/statistics/).

The FBI investigates child exploitation by examining all areas of the Internet and online services, including social networking venues, websites that post child pornography, Internet news groups, Internet Relay Chat channels, online groups and organizations, peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, bulletin board systems, and other online forums. Their online investigative priorities include:

  • Child sexual exploitation enterprises: Domestic child prostitution; online networks and enterprises
  • Contact offenses against children: Domestic travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity with children; child sex tourism (international travel to engage in sexual activity with children); production of child pornography; coercion/enticement of a minor
  • Trafficking of child pornography: Mass distribution of child pornography; possession of child pornography

(https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber)

But the problems are difficult to chase down when the vast majority of child abuse material continues to be distributed for ‘free’ on the open net, and the use of hidden services like TOR makes it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to identify perpetrators and networks behind the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material (https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/new-cybercrime-report-examines-disturbing-trends-in-commercial-online-child-sex-abuse).

Closing Thoughts

The ethics of the activities listed above are clearly obvious – as crimes they are unethical. The real ethical question comes with our reaction to these crimes. In order to catch the criminals, technology has to be used. Inevitably, listening for bad guys will mean overhearing the conversations of good guys. How this is done, who does it, where it is done, and what is captured, are all questions that need to be answered when weighing our ethical responses to ethical threats.

The Internet: Harry Potter or Voldemort?

Pros and Cons of freely available internet access to workers can be viewed from multiple views. The two obvious views are from those with the most direct impact: employers and employees. But a third view, with subsequent judgement, could be societal.

According to Pew Research Center (http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/11/19/searching-for-work-in-the-digital-era/) survey data, a majority of U.S. adults (54%) have gone online to look for job information, and 45% have applied for a job online. This could be considered a pro for employees, as their options for getting out of underemployment increase with internet access, but likely a con for employers, as it encourages turnover and can contribute to more competitive, and therefore more expensive, labor markets. For Society, in general, this contributes to more options for its members, and encourages more free-market movement in the labor market – which I would interpret as a pro.

The pros and cons of the power of the network. Jarche notes that connected workers create value and that workers today often have faster access to knowledge outside their enterprises (http://jarche.com/2013/11/networks-are-the-new-companies/). I can attest to the power of networks at my current employer, and with my interactions with customers. All too often we see coworkers, when faced with a question, quickly search the internet, or a shared database they have access to, or post to a group with expertise. These are sometimes internal groups and searches, but often extend outside the organization. But there is an expected order: search first, then ask. In fact, we encourage the order by sometimes shaming; we will search for an answer at http://letmebingthatforyou.com , which returns a URL with the results that we share (shaming is that you realized that you could have easily searched for it yourself). This power of the network is both a pro for employers, who have more productive employees, and employees, who are empowered and more valuable. And for society, a wiser population due to sharing can only be a bonus.

Access to the internet, along with enabling collaboration tools that leverage the internet, flattens the workforce. At my company, there are large amounts of developers who live and work in another country. Notwithstanding the challenges of time zone differences, many of these individuals work in virtual teams on the same projects. Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis (2011) note this virtual collaboration as a necessary future skill, as well as the ability to work with, and understand, other cultures. This last point is something that we have seen with virtual teams across cultures. It is critical to understand how other cultures communicate and what drives their behaviors. Specific training exists at my employer to manage this risk, and ensure that cross-cultural virtual teams are productive. For employees, working on cross-cultural teams can be challenging, but also rewarding (once you get past the first speed bumps) as it is inherently a growth experience. For employers, leveraging the best talent across borders is also a pro – but the barriers must be managed. For society, it can only be good when the world gets a little smaller and we begin to realize that we have more in common, than we have differences.

I think that, regarding challenges of the internet being co-opted for opportunity, it has a lot to do with encounters with the old power structures. As noted by Weinberger (2011) when discussing open filters, peer review crashes past in-house editors of famous publications to all peers on the network. The internet may have created a lot of noise and overloads of information, but it allowed for ideas like open access repositories to surface knowledge that was previously restricted by gatekeepers. And although the internet may present enormous amounts of information that a single human could never process into knowledge, multiple users could crowdsource the processing of that data. So “too much” itself creates opportunity to manage “too much”.

So, to answer the question, is the internet Harry Potter or Voldemort? It apparently depends on which episode you are watching, and from what vantage point you are viewing.

References:

Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future Work Skills 2020. Phoenix Usa, (April), 19. Retrieved from http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/research-studies/workforce-preparedness/future-work-skills-2020

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

 

You’re Not the Boss of Me Now…or maybe you still are.

Technology is changing how many folks work, or are able to work, in today’s economy. I think that this can be characterized as changing the nature of work simply by its altering workloads significantly. This altering frees up time that is likely absorbed by new tasks – so the old job may even become unrecognizable. The new work has to be accommodated, as noted by Chamberlain when referring to automation: workers increasingly need to build skills that are complementary to technology – learning to run the machine, not doing the same work the machine automates (https://www.fastcompany.com/3066605/the-future-of-work/these-are-the-top-5-workplace-trends-well-see-in-2017). Technologies that allow workers to co-author documents (at the same time), and attend virtual meetings rather than physically traveling to a meeting are examples where web technologies can return many hours to a worker. How that time is recycled can easily change the nature of work.

I think it is difficult, and certainly premature to pass judgement on the good or bad of the web in this regard. I agree with Weinberger (2011) that we can use it as a tool to learn about the world, or not, or teach our children, or not. Though his discussion about the disruption of knowledge focuses primarily on the impact to those who traditionally provided knowledge to the masses. It may change their existence, and the power structures around traditional knowledge creation, but it is primarily an enabler for the majority of both the new producers, and any consumer of knowledge. I agree with Weinberger that the web is letting ideas relax into their real shape (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPXmEh24KXA&feature=youtu.be).

Husband refers to the information flow as eroding the pillars of rigid traditional hierarchies. He claims that this new set of conditions (i.e., wirearchies) is having real impact on organizational structures and the dynamics of these structures (http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/). But I don’t see a dichotomy between hierarchies and wirearchies. I think that most organizations will operate hierarchically, but be enabled (or disabled in some cases) by the connectedness and readiness of information provided by wirearchies. For example, Gartner notes that digital leaders must think about technology in a fundamentally different way; past just enabling existing visions and strategies, to creatively disrupting with new innovations and opportunities (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2745517). They note that it requires requisite variety to ask new questions and to think differently about issues leveraging elements such as co-creation and crowdsourcing (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2745517).

But all this progress circles back to people. The collaboration tools mentioned above have to be adopted by most folks in order to be leveraged. Not all technology that enables is propagated virally. It comes back to psychology and understanding how to truly leverage the new technology opportunities. People resist change naturally, and often for good reason. For example, Microsoft Delve provides analytics about a user’s behavior using certain tools (e.g., how many emails sent during an online meeting). This information is meant to provide insight to help a user be more productive, but it can easily be seen as “big brother” keeping track of my activities. Understanding these resistance points, and mitigating the resistance with communications and other tactics, rely on softer psychology skills that the technology itself does not accommodate – until an A.I. computer (likely named Freud) will address this as well.

References:

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

KM, Analytics, and the value of Moderating

Weinberger (2011) rightly points out that our idea of knowledge is being transformed by social media. His reference to “cybercascades”, although specifically relating to belief systems quickly being influenced by the internet’s ubiquity, sounds very similar to today’s concerns for fake news (Weinberger, 2011). And although “echo chambers” are a concept that simply digitize previous ideas like “groupthink”, it highlights the concern that folks had when the Gatling gun put the normal Western firearm on steroids.

The knowledge management (KM) discussion is something closer to my life experience. Dixon lost me at Part 3, but the first two parts were great representations of the progression I understood. In all fairness, she notes that Part 3 is a work in progress, and its recommendations for leadership are all strong. I actually witnessed a macro progression of her model – at least through part 1 and 2. IBM had developed strict processes to run its large computers. There was very good reason since the amount of capital investment in these technologies was enormous, and the cost of failure was typically high. They realized that most failures were around people and process, so they had strict rules for how the technology should be operated. These blue books were part 1 for Dixon. Part 2 came when a community embraced these books, added community experience, and came up with the first version (and subsequent versions) of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). This is knowledge management at the macro level.

Although I agree with Dixon that issues are constantly becoming more complex, her presenting GM as a poster child of KM failures was not explained, and likely quite arguable. I also got lost in her cognitive authority assertion, as this has not been my experience with my company, or the companies that I have done work for in the past – I have seen good, great, and bad leaders, but no trend. And her examples represented a small number of high profile criminals, rather than any statistically significant research number. Lastly, the value of data has always been sold to leadership – and not always as a mechanism to improve internal processes.  This is where the line blurs, as noted by Davenport, data analytics and big data have been front and center in the last few years. He knows a dichotomy between KM folks and data analytic folks, but I have not personally seen that split. Although the differences may be definitional, the data folks in most companies are the data folks, so whether they are working on a KM project or a big data project, it tends to all be looked at as data. And the accessibility of other people’s data for analysis, has always been targeted at the higher levels of leadership/management.

But this should lead to the value of current technologies, and the communities they harvest, to leadership. All of the authors mentioned above speak to the value of some kind of cognitive diversity. This is a lesson that all leaders should take to heart – as it is an easy path to increasing the probability of better decision making. But another insight gleaned from both Dixon and Weinberger was that of having a moderator/facilitator to help manage the noise, and keep the value social media to productivity high. Tomorrow’s leaders may well be the best moderators, leveraging digital organic growth, while keeping the weeds in control.

References:

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

Twitter: I thought I was unTweetable!

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social messaging service. It is free, and designed for sending and receiving short messages in real time. The messages (tweets) are limited to 140 characters. Communications on Twitter leverage common functions. Some common functions are the use of the @ symbol in front of a user name. This is used to primarily get another’s attention, direct message (DM) a user, and sometimes simply to associate with a particular user. A second, is the use of hashtags (#) in front of phrases. These are used to index keywords or topics. It allows people to easily follow topics they are interested in. Analytics are done on these phrases so that popular ones bubble up as “trending”. Users can also retweet messages that they find interesting. All three of these functions were organically driven by the early users of the service, and eventually incorporated into the platform itself; @ symbol to identify others, # to track topics, and the use of RT in front of a message to indicate a retweet.

Communication is enabled by users creating a profile, then following other users. Any messages tweeted by someone you follow will be sent to you via whatever Twitter client you are using. So, a user with multiple followers is really sending (and likely receiving) group messages. But the technology is not reciprocal, so anyone that you follow does not have to follow you. This is a one reason for the use of the @ symbol.

The platform has been characterized in other ways. It has been called a social network, and since it is based on profiles, connections and communications, this is arguable. It has also been called a micro-blogging service, and since it about information updates, albeit very small, this is arguable as well. But Twitter is really just an incredibly powerful and popular instant messaging medium. Originally, Twitter was imagined as a SMS-based communications method for friends to keep track of each other, based on status updates (like group texting). The 140 character limit actually came from the design to be a SMS mobile phone-based platform (140 characters was the phone carrier limit on SMS messages). Although the current web platform could easily exceed that limit, it has remained the boundary of the platform; this has been termed a “creative constraint”.

One important characteristic of Tweets is that they are, by default, public. This means that anyone on the platform can search, and read, and retweet, your posts. It is possible to use the DM feature noted above, but this severely limits the functionality and vision for the platform; you might as well simply text then. This point leads into the limitations discussions regarding Twitter.

 Limitations of the Twitter platform:

 As just noted, it is a public platform. As a public platform, anything that you post on the platform is available indefinitely, for anyone that wants to read it. This means that smart employers now have access to much more information on potential employees – which could be used for good and bad. What might be youthful exuberance to some, may be serious character flaws to others.

Another downside would be its 140 character limitation. I was not a Tweeter (ergo the title of the blog), but when I started experimenting with my first Tweets, I quickly ran into the constraint. For my Doctoral work, this is actually a healthy exercise, as “economy of words” is a necessary requirement for good writing. But 140 characters severely limits the messages that can be sent.

 Many of these platforms have been proven to be quite powerful. Twitter is certainly one of them. It has provided a valuable platform for celebrities and politicians. But the public nature, and short message format has also facilitated digital spats that often resemble kindergartners hurling one-liners back and forth in a schoolyard. “My daddy is tougher than your daddy” could never be proved, but when the DIGITAL school bell rings, the peacemaking that was provided by the homeroom teacher comforts and protects nobody in the digital ether – which leads to the leadership question.

 How might leaders use Twitter?

 My position as a leader (I am a senior individual contributor versus manager) is mostly about influence. Leading without explicit authority is a greater measure of a good leader, rather than having an explicitly defined chain of command. Twitter would likely prove a good tool in that situation. I could communicate domain knowledge to followers, and promote them through the medium.

Reflecting on the use of the tool as a general leader would lead to a much longer blog than is allowed for these posts. We are living in a natural experiment, seeing the transformation that is occurring for, and to, leadership due to technologies such as Twitter. We see this with President Trump (as of tomorrow) leveraging the Twittersphere as a vehicle to communicate directly to the electorate. By my math, 10% of those who actually vote follow him (20.4 million). But the nature of the platform means that his tweets are likely seen by many more folks due to retweets (trolls or not). He is changing the way Presidents will communicate with their electorate.

But this is also a platform that transforms how leaders can interface, and interpret the world. A study from MIT noted that the Egyptian coup d’état of 2013 could be predicted by early Tweets, and the recent coup attempt in Turkey was averted (good or bad) by Twitter communications. For company leaders, it provides a new method to communicate with customers and market products, but an unlikely tool for internal leadership communications.

 Web sources leveraged for this blog: 

https://www.lifewire.com/definition-of-twitter-2654620

https://www.lifewire.com/history-of-twitter-3288854

https://support.twitter.com/articles/49309?lang=en

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-drexler/the-top-pros-and-cons-of_b_5213691.html