Monday, July 23, 2012

Technology, Organizations and Paradigm Change


I am a true believer in the inevitability of a paradigm shift in not only our country but the world. The evidence is everywhere self-evident for those willing to see it. I very much like Kevin Kelly view of technology (a must read is his recent book "What Technology Wants"). He posits that technology is the 7th Kingdom of life. What he did is solidify a much broader and more accurate definition of technology - as something that has made us human. We have to realize that language, culture, institutions, writing are all forms of technology (technique). As McLuhan (among others) has noted - humans shape tools and tools shape humans.

All of this to emphasize how important these new technologies are in driving not just change but paradigm change. But fundamentally important enablers to the what we normally consider web 2.0 / social media technologies - cultural/institutional 'softwares'. This needs to include some serious legislative change.

A little example - the email systems we use. They are designed to interface with us using old comfortable metaphors of physical mail. We get digital envelopes that we open and answer or sort into digital cubi-holes - just as we would with physical mail. The same with the metaphors of files and filing cabinets/directories and so many more metaphors. These metaphors were profoundly important in making ICTs more approachable to all us - they minimized the types of learning we had to undertake to use these technologies.

But this approach to making things easier to learn by using familiar metaphors has a steep price. We tend to overlay these technologies upon existing institutions - essentially making it very easy to let us do the same things in very similar ways. I think of how we have overlaid these powerful network technologies upon hierarchical structures without changing the corporate hierarchy.

Now on the edges people have learned to use email in truly network ways - learning to find, form, sustain all sorts of new personal networks - networks that have also, in surreptitious way become integral to how we work. Except, it hasn't 'consciously' change the 'org chart' formal structures of how we organize/design how we will work.

Workers have learned to self-organize - but we do so 'outside' the corporate structure, outside of the formal management culture. There are many managers who 'sort of get it' but continue to see management structures as the basic traditional forms of 'property rights' accountability structures.

I'm not sure if I am being clear - but I think integral to the paradigm change necessary to the unleashing of a real gov 2.0 - one that engages citizens and harnesses the full human capital of its workers, will need institutional innovations around how we conceptualize leadership and management. Fundamentally, leadership and management entail a type of 'monocentric' decisioning structures (see Eleanor Ostrom) and this technology is most fully productive when it enables and is structured for 'self-organization'. Which by definition is antithetical to traditional concepts/metaphors/frames of management/leadership.

New concepts such as Gerald Fairtlough's 'responsible autonomy', Raimi and Wellman's concept of 'networked individualism' represent new design principles for organizational architectures of participation - coherent with the power of self-organization, social computing, contextual/competency leadership (based on the metaphors of 'object oriented programming' - which entail that the data coming in to the system determines which object takes control of the systems resource allocation process, - until the data coming in/context changes which will require a different object/set of competencies to take control).

If I can paraphrase McLuhan, I would phrase like this.

If the digital environment is the medium, then social computing is the message, entailing that modes of production must become programmable.