Monday, November 24, 2008

I borrowed and read wikinomics (in Dutch). I'll return it tomorrow, so I thought I'd blog the things I'd like to recall from Wikinomics- my blog is the extended memory of my brain. Wikinomics was quite different from 'Here come's everybody' by Clay Shirky because it focuses so strongly on the case of business collaboration. Shirky focuses more on the fact that the availability of these tools will foster new levels of (unexpected) collaboration on all sides of the worlds. Important to remember is that peer-production does not work in all cases, but in cases where 3 pre-conditions are met:

  1. The purpose of production is information or cultural which makes participation costs low.
  2. Task can be fragmented and split up (like in wikipedia).
  3. Costs of integration of these tasks in an endproduct should be low.

    Three ideas I would like to remember are:

- The ideas agora

Ideas agoras are market places for ideas, innovations and talents. The example of InnoCentive where solution seekers and problem solvers are matched. The problem solvers can be rewarded with a cash reward. It is not the typical type of voluntary collaboration I had in mind (people contribute because of the reward), but it seems to work well as an innovative way to put expertise to work. Another example is yet2 where patented innovations are marketed. I would love to see an idea agora in development. Not Nabuur where people in development countries can try and get direct support from their neighbours in the north, but a place where development organisations can share their sticky problems. I'm sure it would be great to read and see various organisations struggle with similar problems, and get fresh ideas from outside the sector.

- The Tech Scouts

Scouts that search for innovations external, to avoid reinventing the wheel. In development I would love to see a tech scout function in organisations. Someone who purposely liaises with others. Though everyone should ofcourse be a little tech scout for his/her field of expertise, it would be good to make this more explicit.

- The idea of productive friction

This idea is presented in The Only Sustainable Edge by John Hagel and John Seely Brown. and refers to the new type of learning that takes place when knowledge and tasks are exchanged outside the boundaries of companies.

The best example in wikinomics is for me the example on page 260. The director of the Geek Squad thought of introducing a wiki for internal communication. As he was working with geeks, knowing what a wiki is shouldn't be an obstacles. However, the wiki was not used. Finally he discovered the employees were communicating a lot while playing games. The lesson is that rather than designing tools for communication, it is better to find out what the tools and modalities of communication are and go from there. In development for instance, most intense sharing and conversations occur during extensive travels... So instead of changing this, you can build on this by stimulating certain people to travel together.

The wikinomics books continues as an open wiki online at wikinomics.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Innovation in the development sector

Last week I attended the conference organised by Strohalm on this topic. It was a little weird, because it was a mix of talking about innovation in the development sector (which was the reason for me to attend the conference) and talking about Stro's innovative social trade system (which was the reason for most participants to attend the conference).

The first two sessions were really interesting: Henk Molenaar from Wotro was speaking and noticed that the development agenda is getting wider, which call for more knowledge intensive processes. Innovation is increasingly seen as a recombination of knowledge, and through trial and error, as opposed to a narrow view of innovation happening through lineair research and development processes. Innovation has to be seen in context, and therefore should be demand-driven (not sure if I agree there). The conclusion is that processes of endigenous innovation should be stimulated by using trial and error. However there is a tension between such an approach and projects planned with logical frameworks aiming at succes. Innovation may come from new, surprising actors. All this means to create room for innovation, actors like the ministry should let go of managing and steering tightly. (I'm not sure that we should blame the logframe, but rather acknowledge that we have banned risk taking).

The second session was a panel with 3 people from the private sector (men) and 3 people from the development sector (women). They talked about questions like: 'how to create room for innovation?' and 'what are important lessons about innovation?' The private sector innovator said that you need to search for audacity and passion for something new- dare to let go and reduce procedures. Search for what moves people and try to bring that to the surface. The Rabobank said that innovation is often local, change and innovate yourself, don't innovate others. For development organisations this means that the drive to help partners is larger than the drive to please donor bureaucracies. From the examples it was clear that there are currently a lot of private sector- development organisations collaborations, like the collaboration between HIVOS and KPN around HIV/AIDS awareness creation. I'd like to quote Gert van Maanen who said: 'put the people with the ideas more central than the bosses with the budgets'. and 'innovation happens through the spark between people', ING talked about innovation departments: 99% is about incremental change, and 1% about out-of-the-box change (the EUREKA innovation).

If you want to know more about Stro's proposed innovation in the economy, play their social trade game.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama's use of social media: what can we learn from it?

The netsquared thinktank question is this time: 'What was the best example or lesson learned about leveraging social media from the political campaigns this year?'

At first, I didn't feel like responding. I have followed the campaigns of Obama and McCain filtered through the Dutch news. But it's a nice opportunity to find out more about how Obama leveraged the social media- I have heard it was a great campaign and his team made good use of the media in general and social media in particular.
I'm a fan of Obama (like 90% of the Dutch I believe!), because of his ideas but also because of his grandmother, who is a Kenyan, living in the Luo speaking part of Kenya. This is where I lived two years working with farmers on irrigation between 1990-1992, near Lake Victoria. When I saw her in a documentary, I really recognised the type of homestead and could understand some of the Luo language she speaks. I also lived with a Barak family (Barak Odwar). Kenya is proud! It would be great to have a presidential swap for a week between Kenya and the US! (like in the TV series 'your wife, my wife' or 'teenage swap' puberruil XL?)

But back to social media. What I found out from this blogpost on the blog 'cooler insights' is that he has a very web2.0 friendly website, with links to all kind of online hangout places like facebook, twitter, etc. which shows they understand it is not enough to think everyone comes to your website, but that you have to go out and be where your people are online. Make it easy for twitterers to stay updated. Not only myspace, but also on migente, a social network for latinos. Check it out to see a web2.0 friendly website (miss the tagcloud though!).

It seems is not only used to spread messages around, but also to engage with people online, to listen. Via a Dutch weblog called 'civil servant2.0' I learned that Obama's team doesn't simply use social media to campaign, but experiments with a site where you can share your story what these elections mean to you and has a weblog to keep people informed what happens till the transition of power.

My personal lesson is that it is not a social media strategy, or the wider campaign that made Obama win. It is Obama himself who did it. Don't overestimate the role of social media (or campaigns in general for that matter). A crap candidate with a good social media strategy is still crap. Social media can help and support you when you have a strong service or product, but can also amplify weak services or product. At times I have the impression that is forgotten and that people think a web2.0 tool will automatically give you a good reputation. Take the example of a weblog: a weblog can also worsen your reputation because your work and ideas will be exposed.

To summarize this in 3 lessons:
1. Go out to where your audiences are online, don't assume they come to your website or portal
2. Make it two-way communication, not only talking, but also listening
3. Make sure your service or product is strong, otherwise you will amplify your weaknesses
By the way, not only Obama is using twitter, you can also get news about the Ghana Election on twitter by following Ghanaelections.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Anonymous browsing

Yesterday we had another inspiring ecollaboration meeting in Ede, kindly hosted by MDF. I met David Jacovkis who works for the Free Knowledge Institute and explained why and how you can browse and contribute anonymously to the internet.

I'm crossblogging this from a blogpost I made for the ecollaboration blog: David tells us browsing and contribute anonymously to the internet is a basic skill that parents should teach their children. There is a open source software that you can download on TOR. TOR is an anonymiser tool. It makes use of a network of intermediate computers so that nobody knows from where you are connecting and to which websites. You will find the instructions- which are quite easy on the website of Torproject.

You can watch David explain this system:

If you want to know more about anonymous blogging, Global Voices has put up a technical guide for anonymous blogging which you can find here. It explains more steps like choosing pseudonyms.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Thinking out of the in-box

Luis Suarez works for IBM and I've been following his experiment to reduce his email through his weblog. I was a little sceptical about his efforts. I don't have any problem keeping up with my mails I see it as communication concerning the tasks I'm working on with other people. If people have problems with their mails, they probably have problems with setting the boundaries of their tasks too. I felt he was blaming the medium email for the mailculture, like blaming the telephone for the fact that many people are calling you. I thought the solution would be in becoming better at deleting non-relevant mails and knowing when to use other means, like telephone or walking by. But then it is true that there is a real problem. I have heard so many people complain about email. They tell me for instance that they still have 150 mails to 'work through'. Or that working at home is problematic because these people start sending so many mails. Email seems to de-energize many professionals and makes people feel not in control of their work. When I worked for an organization I had more mails, which made it hard to wait a few days in checking your mail. Now that I'm freelancing, it seems easier to control my mail.

So I was happy to see Luis Suarez presenting on this topic in a 9-minutes presentation in a youtube video, and I get his point. Luis tells us basically: Most of the people get over 30-50 mails per day, taking about 2-3 hours per day spent on emailing. Mails are not transparent- there is a political game around bcc's and cc's. When you spend the same amount of time on social media like twitter, it is more supportive of a colleagial teamspirit. It sounds like an important difference. Be in control of your online communication, rather than be controlled by it.

You can watch the video here, unfortunately he doesn't explain how he did it, but you can get that information from his blog.

This seems an excellent entry point to get people interested in social media in organizations!