Welcome to the Real (IT) World!

The Interdependence of Technology and Culture

Are computers making us smarter or dumbing us down?  However we feel about it, technology will progress and we need to decide for ourselves how we will interact with it. Yet before we can do that, we need to understand how technology is created and how it impacts our lives. We need to understand how human decisions are impacted or what happens when they are replaced by computerized ones. Only then we can make the right choices.

IMG_2598Development of technology depends on uncovering an aspect of nature, from how atoms form molecules, via how bacteria live in symbiosis with the human body, to how humans interact in a social network. It is interesting that technology does not grow and spread equally around the world, but there are hotspots and dead spots. It is both opportunity and culture that shape technological progress.

In The Death and Life of Great American CitiesJane Jacobs argues that the one core aspect of culture that drives progress is diversity of people and ideas. It fosters a creative environment that bubbles with innovation. Let’s not forget that this applies to any social grouping including businesses. The creative work of uncovering technological principles requires an environment of tolerance, prosperity, and opportunities for a diversity of ideas to mix. So quite apparently culture has an influence on technology. Ever since a stone axe has been used to shape the first wooden wheel, new technology is a combination of previous technologies, much like biological organisms are combinations of genes. My most used example is the one of the Apple Appstore ecosystem, setting free the immense creativity pool of its worldwide developer network. It is those applications and content that put Apple in front of Microsoft. Not the Mac or iPhone. As technology progresses, markets of humans using technology increasingly resemble biological ecosystems, with its building blocks being mixed and matched in new and unpredictable ways.

As the number of basic technologies expands the number of permutations and recombinations increases exponentially.  That’s why technological advancement is always accelerating. New technology enables us to uncover even more phenomena and that allows us to build even more technology.

When people say that they are afraid of technology what they are really saying is that they are afraid of people using to technology in the wrong way. As a general guideline we should only do things we fully understand and clearly there is always the military and political aspect to consider. Technology is equally suited for surveillance as it is for control. Too often Technology has been and is being used to kill more people more efficiently. War and piece are both dependent on technology.

And here comes the surprising loopback: Technology more than anything else changes the culture of the social group using it.

Morality and compassion are principle signs of maturity.

So why are people opposed to technology if they apply common sense? A two year old is not afraid of a smartphone, he/she is rather magically drawn towards it and learns within the shortest time how to interact with it. Einstein suggested that common sense is no more than all prejudice collected by the age of 18. Is it just the fear of change or the unknown consequences? I propose that politicians are only too happy to use this fear to enable more government control over technology. Orthodox media just love fear-mongering and especially towards its archenemy, the Internet.

Does that cause us to be prejudiced one way or the other about technology as we mature? Human maturity is mostly about realizing ones own weaknesses and turning them into strengths. Fear protects us but can also stifle. While the ability to forgo immediate pleasures for postponed gains is a sign of maturity there is little benefit by turning such behavior into rigid rules. A lot of it has to do with experience and the related emotional adjustment of ones decisions, also known as the value of failure. If you build airplanes some of them will crash! Using analogies in a future projection will enable a mature person to make large adjustments from small failures. A child that is not overprotected learns through its own experience that the height of a fall is proportional to the pain and that is for most sufficient to not test the limits of that projection. If not it is called natural selection.

Mature people understand intuitively that Collaboration is more productive than antagonistic behavior. Also competitiveness can be a great driver up to a point. So maturity is not just about increasing positive and reducing negative behaviors but about finding a balance while following our drivers. Perseverance, patience, endurance, and tolerance are all going to waste without compassion which is part of the one key human aspect: MORALITY. So what we are really worried about is a lack of morality and compassion that would stop others to use technology against us. But we do not have to just invoke images of Orwell’s 1984 but simply have to look how many businesses are run today and how employees are treated there.

Many would agree that a society has a higher morality if it has more laws and rules to follow. I propose that the opposite is the case. If people would be moral, there is no need for rules and laws. If people know what they are doing there is no need to protect them from their own folly with regulation such as speed limits. And let’s not forget that it is the law that makes the criminal and that the rule makes the transgressor. Many believe that rules and regulations save time and money as they prohibit failures. If that would be true the negative side effect would be a total lack of learning within that organization as there would be no failures and no growth of experience. As a matter of fact, rules and the necessary enforcement use up more resources and time than they actually save. An effect called ‘rule beating‘ is well known to system thinkers. Any defined rule will cause people to try and bypass it. The most efficient way to perform any kind of work is if the people involved know what they’re doing and rules are kept to the absolute minimum necessary. ‚Knowing what to do’ is not equal to abstract knowledge. ‘Knowing what to do’ requires a personal experience transposed by ‘pattern-matching’ to the current context.

Giving people freedom is not anarchy! It drives diversity and learning.

While our understanding of human intelligence is limited, recent years have brought the realization that human decision making – the essence of free will – is controlled by our emotional center and is a bio-chemical function and not controlled by rational thinking. That has led some to say that there is no free will in humans. Brain scans show activity for a movement half a second before the human says that he has taken the decision. But how would we really know? Some use that discovery to argue that human decision-making is flawed. Nothing could be more wrong. The human mind has evolved to deal with decision-making under uncertainty. Boolean Logic requires a context of certainty that does not exist in reality.

Free will is also related to the concept of spontaneity, which is to the surprise of many a key concept of physics, especially quantum physics. Just like in quantum physics, spontaneity does not happen into an empty context, but it is that context that enables and is probably connected to the spontaneous action. Is it then still truly spontaneous or free will? A purely philosophical discussion depending on what free will is supposed to mean.

We do know that the human brain has a very plastic biology of layers upon layers. The limbic system is the emotional control mechanism for memory and decision-making and produces emotions such as anger, fear and our core drives. The cortex however stores a virtual representation of the real world as patterns. It uses it to continuously predict the future, based on the past and present. Each pattern recognised can have higher orders of patterns to the depth of 6 layers of the cerebral cortex.

The human brain is thus a bio-chemical pattern-matching device with a huge number of pre-encoded recognition clusters that allow us to sense our surroundings and deduce feelings and recognitions about them. As the world is simply not predictable in the detail and we are unable to know and measure accurately enough, we always decide under uncertainty and therefore an emotionally driven pattern matching concept works the best. Pattern matching is easy to train and easy to cluster into hierarchies. Much better than complex semantic networks that suffer from unresolvable interpretation issues. It is always the interpreter that assigns meaning and not the message creator. One can agree on common ontologies and taxonomies, but it will be practically impossible to build logic networks that will be showing or explaining free will decision-making. Feeling (through biochemistry) within us the same emotions as others given similar patterns is what allows us to be compassionate and thus moral.

Company culture will change with technology!

One can use technology to do both — empower or restrict. Both will have a strong influence on a business and it will over time change the company culture, for better or for worse. So be careful what you wish for.

It is humans and their free will driven by the emotional context that makes a business moral and mature. A balanced score card or a well-defined process doesn’t. Company culture can’t be described in a few slogans either. There is no way that any kind of business or process maturity can be found in silly and far-fetched templates or boilerplates, models or frameworks, business or otherwise. Why should a business be more mature if it shapes its activity into predefined processes? It may be more compliant if it describes everything in rules but not more moral. It will certainly be much less competitive and innovative. And yes, one can therefore use the analogy of human maturity to business maturity. Mostly because it is the maturity of humans that make up the business that defines the maturity of the business. Not achieving some abstract level state.

Yes, technology will cause new challenges and further problems. There will be failures. Human creativity will use once again technology to solve those, not a methodology or legislation that restricts and demands safety and conformity. There is no need to fear technology as long as enough humans have the freedom to choose in a democratic environment. Technology that empowers will free the employees minds and unlock creativity and innovation. The same free minds will mostly use freedom to do the moral thing.

No matter what your opinion is on the subject, the evolution of technology is tightly linked to our own. The use of technology is also tightly linked to the future of your business! Competitive advantage is not achieved through control so get hold of that fear and use technology to empower.

People Management versus Process Management

In recent discussions the proposition was made that my disagreement with BPM came from discussing people management issues in process management. While I totally agree that as an executive my focus is people management I propose that there should not be a process management perspective that does not focus on people. To bring the benefits of process management closer to the people requires today technology — just as with the Social Mobile Cloud — and not methodology. I am not living in a technology dream world, because as an executive I also deal with other executives and high-level management of the largest corporations on a daily basis and I see and hear their management pains.

They all struggle with one thing only and that is getting their leadership to transcend to the lowest management levels. BPM methodology and business architects can never do that but rather are its killer. They freeze management initiative and drive. No one likes BPM and no amount of training and enforcement makes the business do better. It just makes some numbers look better in the short term. Not only I see the dramatic consequences of the politics and the red tape that kills any creativity and innovation. In most businesses it is the least imaginative and least innovative people who propose, demand and in the worst case enforce a BPM approach. Could anyone believe that Blockbuster or Kodak could have been or Blackberry and HP will be saved by bringing in business architects and BPM? That makes me laugh.

Saved by methodology or by the right people?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had no clue what people want from a Smartphone while Steve Jobs obviously did. Steve Ballmer believed their market analysis, while Steve Jobs said openly that market analysis and focus groups were the killer of creativity. And that applies to all levels of management and all kinds of work. People enjoying working with other people makes a business better. Closest contact with your staff and employees and a good connection with your customers and prospects makes a business better and helps to shape a better business strategy.

I have been told that my BPM criticism is invalid as I am not clear whether I mean methodology, technology, or the practice. Actually, I mean all three together but let me try to ensure that this smoke screen argument doesn’t apply. The need and resulting time and cost for all three as distinct requirements to make the whole approach even usable is a simple proof why BPM is a loosing proposition in the long term. A business thrives by achieving individual customer goals and not by executing rigid processes perfectly regardless of the outcome for the customer. BPM methdology and analysis is FAR, FAR AWAY from people who execute and even further away from the customer. A goal defined there is unbeknownst to the performer and most likely not what this customer currently really needs or wants.

BPM projects are justified by a further focus on using less workers and to replace the ones needed with less skilled ones. This will happen by default because skilled people have no interest to be used as ‘fools with tools.’ Therefore BPM has the unavoidable consequence of lowering the size but also the skill of the workforce in a business. Then you might have a poor process design and no one to see that it is actually so and no one to know how to make it better. The BPM bureaucracy — like all bureaucracies — isn’t close enough to see what goes wrong. They delve into BPM reports that only deal with deviations from the expected and not with customer satisfaction or effectiveness. The ideal process is blind to the unexpected …

There are no perfectly designed processes … Period!

Even worse, much of the logic —  regardless if flows or task conditions — needed for a process cannot be represented in Boolean logic at all. Human decisions are all emotional-experience-driven and not logical. Only reality-removed-intellectuals (imagine Sheldcon Cooper from Big-Bang-Theory) believe we can turn them into logic, but in fact and quite obviously they become inhumane by that very step. Yes, some boundary rules are unfortunately needed for compliance but also there you will find that only a human supervisor can verify that. Therefore there are only processes that have been decided to be sufficient regardless of being wrong or incomplete. For human interaction (aka purposeful collaboration or running a business) there is in fact no ‘fixed predefined realization of logic that provides the outcome if repeated in the same execution context.’ The context is nothing else than the goal to be achieved, meaning a customer outcome or a handover. BPM proponents blindly assume and then propose/claim that what can be done in the closed shop of a factory floor can be transplanted into the chaotic environment of human interaction. Yes, there are processes that need more or less experts, but there is no process that can be done without people who know what they are doing. It needs at least one process owner in the line of business who defines and works toward value goals!

A modern business is therefore one where all people are involved in producing value for the customer. As the target customer is an individual and only in a statistical illusion belongs to a certain demographic, quality is achieved by individual, non-automated service. That is the most effective and at the same time the most efficient. Centralized, fully automated service centers do not have a focus on the customer. They focus on reducing cost through standardization and automation. Rather than claiming that the service center frees up staff to focus on customers (which is hardly ever true) get rid of the internal-non-customer processes that you need the service center for. Spend the money saved to hire staff for actual customer service.

From the perspectives of customer experience, people management and workforce psychology the process environment must be so flexible and easy-to-use that people are willingly letting go of email and MS-Office. Why are these tools so much liked? Because they are independent of IT and ‘experts’ telling employees what to do. They are also the only means to complete the lacking processes. What ever you do in process management it will only succeed if you get business-user-driven adoption! Productivity and customer satisfaction is not about turning people into BPM-controlled robots, but people actually enjoying what they do. The more detail you force on them the more resentment you will get.

BPM architects can’t imagine that the people actually doing the job know what they are doing. But actually they don’t know the job required. I have not yet met an architect who knows how to run a business or how to manage people. And they shouldn’t bother. Architects — both Business and IT — just have to create an IT framework and environment that empowers the business and does not enforce process illusions. Architects can maybe design stuff, but the reality is that human interaction defies any architectural effort. One simply can’t design a process that involves individually acting agents, aka as humans. One can design a great product if it focuses on how people will use it. If all you focus on is making it cheap, your business will be the next Nokia and not the next Apple!

I am certain that a BPM center of excellence and its consequence of process-optimized service centers can be likened to a centrally controlled, pseudo-communist bureaucracy that will never improve the long-term prospects of any business in the reality of a dynamic, if not chaotic economy.

Welcome to the Real World – Outside the Matrix (ah, BPM)!

In the real world — meaning outside the BPM-illusion — there is only work to fulfill goals. There is no process or case and there is no distinction between them. The distinction is an artificial one created by a BPM perspective. That the other work can or ought to be managed through a more flexible case management environment only came up in recent years. I therefore propose that the BPM process control illusion ought to be thrown out because of its obvious drawbacks for a business, mostly in respect to people management. Processes are not a business asset. People are. The work these people do has to target goals and those deliver handovers and finally outcomes. BPM ought to simply define that and make it accessible in real-time, but instead needs a lot of bureaucracy by experts to achieve that. What I propose with ACM is too a form of BPM, but it departs from the the currently separated methodology, technology and practice because it consolidates them for business people.

ACM is different from BPM in that the performers always have freedom — unless it is explicitly reduced in some areas — to target a well-defined, visible goal. As they perform their work, their knowledge is captured within the case and can later be used to improve it. BPM is the opposite: workers are guided and controlled and in a few situations they can do a few ad-hoc things. In most situations however, the undefined detail is executed outside the BPM environment and lost. The whole point of ACM is to not even try to automate what can’t be automated but to provide the best possible support for the performer and create transparency and learning where non exists today.

Adaptive Case Management in my definition can perform everything current BPM TECHNOLOGY can, plus the indisputable need for business content. It provides a simple METHODOLOGY to define value streams as goal trees and guides otherwise undirected execution with constraints for compliance. All work can be described by business users and saved as more or less structured templates. In this manner it brings the power of a process management PRACTICE directly to the line-of-business. It provides top-down transparency for guidance and bottom-up transparency for execution without the limitations and drawbacks of the current state-of-the-art in BPM.

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