Today’s Forecast – The Blizzard Will Continue

Once again, this week’s reading provided lots of food for thought and reflection for those of us that are working in the intensely hyper-connected environment of today’s world. One of the most interesting pieces of information that I found while researching this week’s subject for my blog was that Yahoo stock price nearly tripled since CEO Marissa Mayer’s much-derided decision to end telecommuting in February of 2013. Perhaps she was on to something.

In discussing this with my son who is a sophomore in college he asked me an interesting question. Have other companies done anything similar? Upon researching that question I found that the week after the decision by Mayer, electronics retail giant Best Buy followed suit with a similar decision regarding telecommuting workers. Best Buy also saw a similar increase similar percentage increase in its stock price in the months that followed their decision. Would the experiences of these two companies be the death knell for telecommuting? Apparently not.

Further research could not uncover other large companies that had made similar decisions. Given the exceptional results of the stock prices in the 18 months since these decisions were made at Yahoo and Best Buy seems to indicate that Fortune 500 CEOs still embrace policies that allow employees to telecommute. This tells us that there is still a perception that allowing some employees to telecommute is advantageous to companies. What are these advantages? The Pew Internet & American Life Project (2008) on “Networked Workers” does not segment its data in ways that report on telecommuting policies specifically. But the study does tell us that nearly half of all working Americans do at least some work from home. Given that the study was completed in 2008 it seems a safe assumption that that percentage has risen since that time. In effect, this tells us that over half of all working Americans are in one way or another telecommuting at least part of the time.

Some aspects of the Pew study revealed that connected workers are willing to spend more hours meeting the responsibilities of their jobs while at the same time juggling their work and email accounts throughout the day. Some managers see this as a detriment to productivity while others see it as a necessary concession which affords the employees opportunities to spend more time on their job – which the Pew study also indicates is happening.

Overall the Pew findings indicate that the networked environment in which today’s workers are immersed is a mixed blessing. While productivity increases and workers become more efficient in the use of their time for both work and personal purposes, there is the detrimental effect of “cognitive overload” that happens in a world that exchanges information “faster and faster” as Shirky’s (2008) Chapter 7 is titled. Last week’s reading by Gartner (2010) reinforces this idea by stating “work will increasingly happen 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.” As each week of this class goes by it becomes apparent that Shirky’s title “Here Comes Everybody” is absolutely appropriate. Leaders must learn to deal with this blizzard of information for the sake of themselves and, even more importantly, for the sake of those whom they lead.

This leads us to one of the most important Future Work Skills 2020 identified by the Institute for the Future (2011). Davies, Fidler, and Gorbis note that one of the 10 skills that members of the future workforce must develop is that of “Cognitive Load Management”. They define this skill as the ability to filter and synthesize the massive influx of data that workers receive in an efficient way that allows them to focus on what is important. Workers that do not develop this skill will be overwhelmed by the cognitive overload to the point of making little contribution to their organization.

It seems this particular blizzard shows no signs of letting up.

References

Best Buy. (2014, July 25). Retrieved from http://fortune.com/company/bby/

Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Future Work Skills, 1-14. Retrieved from http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/front/docs/sponsored/phoenix/future_work_skills_2020.pdf

Gartner, Inc. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513

Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008, September 24). Networked workers. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2008/09/24/networked-worker

Pepitone, J. (2013, March 05). Best Buy ends work-from-home program. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/05/technology/best-buy-work-from-home/index.html

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Yahoo! Inc. (2014, July 24). Retrieved from http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/Stock/YHOO?countrycode=US

This Is My Life. How Did They Know?

This seems to be an appropriate time to confess that over the past two years I have not read every page of my reading assignments for this doctoral program. However, I do find that for this particular class on Technology and Leadership the videos and reading assignments are so timely and insightful that I read and watch many parts of them a second and third time. I have come to know enough about Ignatian spirituality that I realized it would be instructive for me to enter into a period of reflection to attempt to discern why I find the material so captivating.

The fruit of that reflection can only be expressed by saying that what I read this week from Gartner (2010), Husband (2013), and Shirky (2008) described with stunning accuracy the world of work in which I find myself immersed. Regarding those few hours a week in which I am not engaged in work, the reading also accurately describes my “free time” spent individually or with family and friends. For the past several decades I have ascribed to the principles of time management laid out in the work of Stephen Covey with a special emphasis on those ideas expressed in First Things First (1994). This is tantamount to saying that I spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about how I will spend my time. You can watch more about Covey’s work here. 

Since it was all found to be so relevant to me it seems appropriate to highlight the conditions described by the authors that are most profoundly true in my own situation. These are as follows:

Husband (2013) describes today’s environment as the “permanent white water” in which today’s decision makers operate. This is such an appropriate metaphor for the situations that leaders find themselves in today. An expert rafting guide leading others through whitewater requires sensitivity to changing conditions such as water level, obstacles in the river causing dangerous waves that must be negotiated, and the surrounding weather. Such a guide must also understand the strengths and weaknesses of those with whom they are working with in the raft. Finally, they must have an indefatigable energy to stay engaged with the river until they reach a calm spot in the stream. Of course, in today’s world those calm spots seem to occur less often than they once did.

The decreasing frequency of these calm spots led to me nodding my head in enthusiastic agreement as I read the point that Gartner (2010) makes about the growing “de-routinization of work”. The fact that robots are replacing work by individuals that can be automated (work during the calm spots) should cause us all to pause and give thanks that there are still many positions requiring non-routine functions that only human beings with capacity to analyze, synthesize, and interact can adequately complete. Those who can do such work well will continue to find gainful employment that allows them to make a contribution to the world and the well-being of their families.

Reflecting on scandals within the Catholic Church, Shirky (2008) poignantly reminds those in positions of authority in larger institutions that are hierarchical in nature that they are well-advised to reflect on the lessons regarding the impact of electronic media that now allows traditional structures of hierarchal authority to be circumvented – particularly in cases where large groups of people become aware of injustice. The Catholic school in which I work is such an organization – 1,200 students, 230 teachers and staff, 2,500 parents, 10,000 alumni etc. Even more noteworthy, the students with whom we work are much more fluent in the languages of this evolving form of linked communication than the adults who supervise them. Control of the message is tenuous at best.

I believe that Shirky’s work could be improved by giving other examples of this phenomenon at work in today’s world as opposed to focusing on events that unfolded in 2002. The rise of the “unapproved message” made possible by the expansive access to electronic media has impact on all traditional structures of authority in journalism, politics, corporations, and education. Nonetheless, Shirky is to be commended for the insightful comparison of similar events in Boston in 1992 that could largely be ignored. In 2002, thanks to the growing interconnectivity of the world, that was no longer the case. Today’s leaders are wise to take note that we now operate in a refreshingly stimulating environment.

Finally, I must return to a point raised by Gartner. The press release notes that “work will increasingly happen 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.” For better or worse, this is the life that I live. How did they know so much about me?

References

Andrade, R. (2013, December 27). 7 big rocks | Stephen Covey | YOLO video on choosing success. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmV0gXpXwDU

Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gartner, Inc. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513

Husband, J. (2013). What is wirearchy? [Web log post]. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

What Would Aragorn Do?

‘It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’

‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’

In this conversation between two future kings, Eomer and Aragorn, in The Two Towers (1954) author J. R. R. Tolkein gives a prescient view of the universal challenges that change brings to leaders. Just as fast-paced change was a part of Tolkien’s world, so it is with ours. Though we can argue over the seemingly increasing speed of that change when past generations are compared to our own, the fundamental principle is the same. Human beings, especially leaders, are forced to make decisions regarding situations that are new to them and taking place in an environment that is previously unknown and uncharted.

As a leader of a school community over the past 25 years, I can tell you that the question voiced by Eomer, “How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” is never very far from my thoughts. I suspect that many of today’s leaders feel the same. The exceptionally well-done blog posts by Dixon (2009) give us affirmation that leaders over the past two decades have certainly been dealing with a similar question as they grapple with the best ways to deal with the growing availability of information.

Several of Dixon’s statements resonate profoundly with my own experience:

1)   In the 1990s knowledge management professionals discovered that technology alone was not enough to manage knowledge.

2)   Knowledge is not stable over time but is constantly changing. (I am reminded of Bennis’ lament over the difficulty of herding cats – it seems that managing information may be just as difficult.)

3)   There is growing recognition of the value of the critical knowledge that those on the front line of an organization’ as the role of reflection came to be appreciated methods to facilitate a successful process of reflection need to be refined and considered.

4)   The processes for leveraging collective knowledge must embrace a commitment to cognitive diversity. This is reminiscent of the “opposable mind” concept so well developed by Martin (2009). Leaders who have not experienced the value of frank dialogue among those with different perspectives are surely operating at a handicap in today’s world.

The role of the leader then is to convene a conversation that brings people with diverse perspectives together to tackle and discuss a properly framed question. The leader is responsible for both framing the question and for convening the conversation. It is out of these conversations that many of the most perplexing questions facing organizations begin to find appropriate responses that lead the organization on a path to proactively addressing its challenges.

Shirky (2008) points to the complicated nature of those conversations in today’s world with so many forms of social media. The neatness of traditional media has been replaced by the messiness of social media. However, the growth of Communities of Practice has allowed for a focus to be brought to social media communications that benefits organizations who learn to use this tool properly. Through these communities of practice a global conversation can take place in beneficial ways that were heretofore unthinkable.

As Aragorn stated, “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear… It is a man’s part to discern them.” In today’s language, Tolkien would have likely agreed to a translation that reads “it is a leader’s part to discern them”. The current thinking in best practices of leadership is that the discernment sometimes takes place in an expanded conversation with those who care for the organization and have a vested interest in its future.

References

Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going – part one [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge management: Where we’ve been and where we’re going – part two [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going – part three [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

Martin, R. L. (2009). The opposable mind: Winning through integrative thinking. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Tolkien, J. R. (1954). The two towers; being the second part of The Lord of the rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The Eagles Are Tweeting

Twitter

What is it?

My view of Twitter holds that it is an enhanced text messaging service that differs from texting in the following ways:

1)   The message is limited to 140 characters.

2)   Links to pictures can also be sent and do not count toward the 140 character limit.

3)   The only people who can receive the message are those who “follow” you.

4)   It is not possible to send messages to specific individuals. Each message goes out to all of your followers.

5)   Each individual message is called a tweet. A message can be segmented by placing a “hashtag” indicated by the # symbol at the end of a tweet. Tweets with the same hashtag end up being accessible to anyone with a twitter account who intentionally searches for all tweets that have that same hashtag. For instance, if I tweet a message that reads, “I love my courses at Creighton. #GoBluejays!” Anyone who has a twitter account can search all messages that were given a “#GoBluejays!” hashtag.

How might it be used for your leadership situation (education, healthcare, business, non-profit, etc.)?

General Comments

Twitter may be more famous because of the number of times people have been forced to retract lamentable tweets. These moments usually come when famous people with Twitter accounts say something that one would not normally say in polite company or if the whole world is listening. Those of us who live in Indianapolis are familiar with the owner of the Indianapolis Colts sending out regrettable tweets from a bar that he is at 3 AM on a Monday morning. These can be entertaining but can also damage one’s reputation. Whether one has a Twitter account or not, these controversial tweets then get reported in the broader media for worldwide viewing over the Internet.

In spite of these ignominious moments, Twitter is a remarkably efficient way to communicate short messages to followers that can sometimes number in the millions. Pope Francis, whom I have never met, can get a message to me (if I follow him) and his other 4.1 million followers in remarkably efficient fashion. That message can then be “retweeted” by every one of his 4.1 M followers to each of their followers’ Twitter accounts. This cascading effect of the Twitter network allows for messages to spread faster than wildfire as noted in our previous week’s work on the earthquake in China.

Education Applications

High school teachers that I work with have noted that the use of Facebook is rapidly declining among the 14-18 group. Most of our students like the quicker and more concise format of Twitter. A teacher can use this to their advantage by requesting that the students follow them if they want to keep up on the latest happenings related to the class. Teachers can also use their Twitter account to send out useful supplemental materials – especially web links – that may add additional clarity to subject matter covered in an earlier class. Twitter is flexible enough so that individual accounts can be set up for individual groupings of students so that each class can be communicated with separately. Administratively, some schools are using Twitter to send out homework reminders, snow day announcements, weather cancellations of athletic contests, and general “feel-good” news and pictures to craft a positive public image of their schools.

Another educational use of Twitter is to use the hashtag function as a means of researching topics. For instance, if I am an English teacher at a Catholic high school and want my students to write an essay about Pro-life organizations, one method that I can suggest they consider for research is to do a hashtag search on their Twitter accounts for postings under the #prolife postings. A remarkably diverse set of articles, organizations, and individual leaders will immediately present themselves for immediate use by the students.

Leadership Applications

For a great introduction into the ways that world leaders are using Twitter see Beth Kanter’s blog here. All but one of the G20 governments have an official Twitter presence. Kanter (2014) reports that six of the seven G7 leaders have individual twitter accounts. Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is the most influential world leader on Twitter. His Spanish tweets are retweeted on average more than 10,000 times each compared to Barak Obama’s average of 1,400 retweets. Modern politics has become acutely aware of the “sound bite” nature of today’s political discourse. Twitter is tailor-made for such sloganizing. This is not only true of countries and states but also true of any communication to smaller organizations and groups. Leaders who are committed to communicating a vision can use Twitter to reinforce the elements of this vision for all members of the community and thus build understanding of their hopes and dreams for their organizations.

(3) What are downsides to using it? 

The downside to using Twitter is that it is, by nature of the application, a one-way conversation. While it is a good way to get a message out and to begin to get others thinking about issues, it is not to be confused with a conversation one would normally have with a small group of people. The messages are by nature short. This makes it difficult to discuss complex issues in any sort of detail.

Reference

Kanter, B. (2014, June 25). How Do World Leaders Use Twitter? New Findings from Annual Twiplomacy Study. Retrieved from http://www.bethkanter.org/twiplomacy2014/#sthash.xHn12lnp.dpuf