"Quests" as organizing principles

Make quests visible to as many people as possible. Default: whole organization. Possibly even more visible, to customers or the public, where not inappropriate. Visibility enables serendipity. The point is to facilitate the match of person and task. For the right people to be able to self-select to the right tasks, the quests need to be visible. /.../

From a management point of view, a big reason function lock-in is a problem is because it squelches passion. You already have bright & talented people (right?) and if there is a place in your organization that resonates really strongly with them, you should let them go there. You need them to go there. That is when the magic happens.

From my entry in the MIX hackathon 2011 

Thinking out loud: Why self-directedness?

Today I read the paper A dissipative structure model of organization transformation (1985) by Gemmill and Smith, which inspired this post.

So far, the research I am doing for my PhD is about employee self-directedness or self-leadership. For my first study I have gathered interview data from managers about their perspective on employee's self-directedness - how to recognize it and why it is important (as it is often mentioned as a characteristic viable job candidates should possess). I can say that in some organizations, the true self-directedness of employees was more emphasized while in others the concept was more interpreted as moving quickly in a given direction without any need for manager action.

Taking a systemic view of organizations, however, I would argue that self-directed employees are of value to organizations whether their managers realize it or not.

In their 1985 paper, Gemmill & Smith present A Dissipative Structure Model of Organization Transformation where they emphasize that the model of dissipative structures is not just an analogy but expressive of an ordering of elements and processes that holds across several fields of research and levels of analysis - that it is indeed a bridge between the natural and the social sciences. Simply put there are principles of organizing valid for human organization as well.

The greater the misalignment with the environment, the less it can depend upon the environment for the energy it needs to renew itself. Consequently, it undergoes an entropy process, wherein its mechanisms deteriorate and the key elements of survival become inaccessible or randomly dispersed.

As environments change and fluctuate, organizations must adapt but by what mechanisms do they do that?

In DNA, it's through mutation. Because replication of DNA is not perfect, because there is some room for error, novelty is generated. And it is generation of novelty, or variation, that is the system's best tool for dealing with a highly variable and uncertain environment.

In social systems, organizations, variation is brought about through experimentation or as Weick (1977) put it: play!

The only possibility for effectiveness amidst extreme uncertainty, comes from the capacity to combine aspects of behavior that seemingly have no basis for juxtaposition in a traditional framework /…/ behavior which has no apparent value as long as the situation remains within the parameters where mechanistic processes are effective.

Relating this back to my empirical material, it is not by having employees following best practices to the letter, albeit "by their own accord", that you produce the kind of variability that will make your organization poised to embrace and adapt to the unexpected. At the same time, evolution does not happen through random mutations alone but through the combination of mutations and selection. One needs to simultaneously be willing to let go of "bad mutations" - one could thus be said to adopt best practice and shun the rest - and keep producing new variations. This is the crux of the matter.

Where to go from here? 

  • Explore -> double loop learning
  • Explore -> is everything "solved" already, if so then what is the actual problem?

Sources cited here:
Gemmill, G., & Smith, C. (1985). A Dissipative Structure Model of Organization Transformation. Human Relations, 38 (8), 751-766.
Weick, K. (1977). Organization design: Organizations as self-designing systems. Organizational Dynamics, 31-46.



HELIX Conference 2013, Opening keynote - Organising for Learning at Work

Below are some notes from day 1 of the International HELIX Conference in Linköping, this years theme is Innovative Practices in Work, Organisation and Regional Development - Problems & Prospects.

Bengt-Åke Lundvall
Organising for Learning at Work - An Important but neglected dimension of Innovation Systems

Work org and innovation in collab with Ned Lorenz (Edward) and others 2000.

OECD Lissabon initiative: The goal was more & better jobs - we did not really succeed.

Take home message: we need to link the organisation of work to innovation and economic performance.

Innovation is dependent on active participation and learning of workers. The role of the work process itself is neglected in most innovation studies. But the quality of work is worsening in the crisis.

Two types of innovation 1) Sciencebased: STI - Science, Technology, Innovation; 2) Experience-based: DUI - Doing, Using, Interacting. Science based combined with experience based learning = significantly more innovative firms than one method biased firms. (Odds-ratio 5 vs about 2). Controlled for size, sector & ownership.

Major driver of innovation is competition. Interaction with users, and employee involvement, is crucial for innovation. Human resources and organisation in and across firms very important.

Research tends to look at managers, scientists and policy makers as the main actors. How work is organised is more important! Common indicators of innovation - such as the european scoreboard - do not reflect how work is organised.

The underlying structure of how people work & learn is more important than technological infrastructure

Some preliminary results from a European study. Survey interviews were made with individual workers. Main dimensions: Do you learn new stuff? How much freedom do you have to organise your own work? 

Four clusters of jobs: discretionary learning (high learning, high freedom), lean (high learning, low freedom), taylorist (low learning, low freedom), traditional (low learning, high freedom).

When you work in a Taylorist mode you are very exposed to competition from China etc. That's why we need better jobs.

Correlation between "discretionary learning" and firms leading innovation. Neg. correlation between lean practices (in their definition) and firms leading innovation.

Egalitarian economies are better off. Income inequality goes hand in hand with decreased influence at work.

Source not yet published: Holm & Lorenz - A decline in the quality of jobs EMAEE 2013
[[How exactly does this translate to a measure of quality of jobs?]]

Economists reduce work to employment, to numbers. Ignore quality of job, how work is organised.

KEY! Open education systems that you are never excluded from, that you can always enter as needed. Make theoretical education more practical, more experience based and make practical education more theoretical and reflective.

Flexicurity is important. Which is to say, not just flexibility, but also security. The latter has been lost, Lundvall says. Security & trust must not be ignored.

Q&A session

Lundvall says that actually they found that the more discretionary learning, the fewer startups!! His hypothesis: Where jobs suck, you have to start your own firm to get an exciting jobs.

The key to success: fail & learn

In an article by Forbes on finnish game studio Supercell, their CEO claims to follow an oblique route to success by focussing not on profitability first but on fun. Similar ideas have been espoused by for example Umair Haque, author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: "Profit is an effect, not a cause; a reward, not the accomplishment." So, profits are not a purpose that inspires roaring success. Key number two from the article is distributed decision making:

Is This The Fastest-Growing Game Company Ever? - Forbes:

Most game studios have an autocratic executive producer green-lighting the work of designers and programmers. Supercell’s developers work in autonomous groups of five to seven people. Each cell comes up with its own game ideas. They run their ideas by Paananen (he can’t remember ever nixing a proposal), then develop those into a game. If the team likes it, the rest of the employees get to play. If they like it, the game gets tested in Canada‘s iTunes App store. If it’s a hit there it will be deemed ready for global release. This staged approach has killed off four games so far, with each dead project a cause for celebration. Employees crack open champagne to toast their failure. “We really want to celebrate maybe not the failure itself but the learning that comes out of the failure,” says Paananen.

Focus only profits will probably steer you away from anything that might equal failure, but at the same time steer you away from the learning that can happen through failure. Failure often teaches us much more, gives much more information, about the nature of things. To be innovative, to be successful and, dare I say it, happier people, we must learn to embrace failure as the learning experience it is.

3 podcasts du måste höra

I Stockholm tar det tid att ta sig överallt. Och för mig är största delen av mina transportsträckor inte genom vackra naturmiljöer som det lyfter sinnet att gå i, utan mest massor av trafik, massor av människor och massor av jobbiga ljud. Därför har jag utvecklat en vana att lyssna på podcasts när jag är på väg. Några av dem är så bra att jag känner mig lite som en missionär, jag vill att alla ska ta del av detta underbara!

1. WNYC Radiolab

Radiolabs avsnitt består av spännande historier med avstamp i något mer eller mindre vetenskapligt relaterat. Men det är inte akademiskt, utan vetenskapligheten yttrar sig mer genom att man utgår från frågor som "hur kommer det sig egentligen att X?" Lyssna till exempel på det här fina avsnittet, "Desperately seeking symmetry"



2. This American Life

Showen startade redan 1995 och har inspirerat bland annat ovan nämnda Radiolab med sin storytelling-stil. Varje vecka har de ett tema, som de har 3-4 berättelser om. Och det är alltså inte "sagor" utan berättat så som om en kompis berättade en riktigt bra historia på en fest, ungefär. Det handlar bokstavligen om allt möjligt, men den genomgående tråden tycker jag är att de lyckas göra allt djupt mänskligt. Även i sina mer grävande reportage känns det aldrig som att de är ute efter att sätta dit någon, utan drivna av att förstå varför folk gör som de gör. Även när de gör mycket märkliga saker. 


3. More or Less

Tim Harford, mannen som skrev Undercover Economist, leder den BBC-producerade More or Less, ett program om siffror. Man går till botten med olika siffror och statistik som används inom politik och den samhälleliga debatten. Bara c:a 25 minuter per avsnitt och man måste inte vara statistiker för att uppskatta det. :)

Läst i veckan

Medan jag funderar på hur mycket jag kan och bör blogga om den forskning vi är inne i just nu tänkte jag dela med mig av det kursarbete jag gör istället. :) Denna termin börjar med kursen Socialpsykologiska teorier, och med anledning av det har jag läst:

Chartrand & Bargh (1999) The Chameleon Effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction

Kameleonteffekten är hur vi omedvetet och automatiskt härmar en annan, till exempel med kroppsrörelser, minspel och dialekt.

 Interaktioner där en person blivit “härmad” upplevs av denna person som smidigare och man gillar den andra personen mer.

 Empatiska personer härmar andra människor mer. Detta gäller den perspektivtagande empatin (den mer kognitiva empatin), inte den mer affektbaserade empatin (eller sympati).

Det är inte helt klart om härmandet skapar gillandet eller tvärtom. Troligen är det tvåvägs.

Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren & Baaren (2006) On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect

Att tänka mer aktivt på ett problem ger inte alltid ett bättre beslut. Inte heller är impulsbeslut speciellt bra. I vissa fall är det bästa att “passivt tänka” på något, till exempel att “sova på saken” eller vara upptagen med annat så att man bara omedvetet processar information.

I experimenten och även i andra studier framgår en interaktionseffekt, där simpla beslut förbättras av att man aktivt tänker på dem medan komplexa beslut faktiskt försämras ju mer man tänker på dem.

En begränsning i studien tycker jag är att även de “komplexa” besluten ändå är typ “köpa en bil” och inte till exempel “välja vem man ska gifta sig med”. Men fördelen är att det går att ha ett facit på vilken bil som verkligen var bäst.

En förklaring till varför den här effekten visar sig menar de är att medvetandet har väldigt begränsade resurser. Ens “omedvetande” kan processa mycket mer information är vad man med medvetandet och arbetsminnet kan ta sig igenom och genom att medvetet tänka på problemet så tänker man inte på väldigt mycket av informationen om problemet. (Det är så uppmärksamhet fungerar - tunnelseende!)

Williams & Bargh (2008) Experiencing physical warmth promotes personal warmth

En grundläggande dimension i vår bedömning av andra människors personlighet är varm-kall, den andra är kompetens.

Att hålla i något varmt gjorde försökspersonerna mer benägna att bedöma en beskriven person som mer varm: “generös,” “omhändertagande.”

I experiment två visade man att personer som hållit i något varmt var mer benägna att välja en gåva till en vän, än att ta gåvan för sig själv. De blev, kan man säga, mer altruistiska.

Biologiskt så verkar samma del i hjärnan (the insula=?) aktiveras vid fysisk värme som vid personlig värme, eller “the sensation of one’s physiological state and the detection of the trustworthiness of others”.


Välkommen till min hemsida. När man som jag varit på internet sen '94 är det inte så konstigt att ens onlineidentitet spridits vitt och brett. Här är mitt försök att samla ihop det som jag i alla fall för tillfället tycker känns viktigast och mest relevant. Eftersom jag är en idéperson identifierar jag mig mycket genom vad jag för tillfället tänker på och intresserar mig för, så spana gärna in GÖR innan du klickar vidare till någonting annat.