Quick update on social studies

It is so much easier to understand US government with these few videos. One very well done recent one and an old time classic.

Video: Electing a US President in Plain English:
[Via Common Craft – Explanations In Plain English –]
Using a low tech approach, coupled with the latest Web 2.0 approaches, allows Common Craft, a very lightweight company to distribute an incredible message. It reminded me of this oldie, which can now be re-seen due to YouTube.

Or this one:

These are all novel information transfer tools that just were not available to us even a few years ago.

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A different metaphor for me

NY by b0r0da
Life At 35,000 Feet:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

This whole subject of social media proficiency and enterprise 2.0 begs for analogies, so let me try a new one on you:

Getting good at this stuff is like an airplane trip.

At the outset of an airplane journey, it’s all hassle. Finding the right flight, getting to the airport, dealing with security, disposing of all your liquids, taking off your shoes — awful stuff. At the gate, it’s lousy food, no seats, delays and weather, airplanes full of cranky people — none of it fun.

Eventually, it’s time for takeoff. Lots of rumbling, vibrations and strange noises. If you’ve never flown before, you look around and wonder “is all of this normal?”.

Finally, you break through the clouds. The captain turns off the seat belt sign. Everyone relaxes and settles in. Drinks are served. You’re on your way.

Well, we’re pretty much at that stage in our journey. We’re at cruising altitude.

Well, I just got back from a cross-country flight so I am not too enamored of the state of flying right now. Used to be an enjoyable endeavor. Now it is just something to get through. Besides, I rarely interact with anyone on a plane any more, while Web 2.0 is all about human interactions.

My choice of metaphor would be visiting a big city for the first time, say New York. Don’t know anyone. Where anything is. How to get anything done. The buildings are awfully big. And there sure are a lot of people.

Then, after just a few days, the real benefits of the town are apparent – great restaurants, lots of things going on, people to have a drink with, so many bead stores. We adapt to the huge increase in information and learn to take advantage of it.

That is where EMC is now getting to.

I came back from an extended trip, and looked at the internal platform. I saw a continuous stream of beefy, engaged business-oriented conversations on dozens of topics. I saw that we had a half-dozen new communities springing into formation, each with a high degree of business value, and conducting themselves with confidence and enthusiasm.

We’ve entirely lost the golly-gee-whiz-this-is-all-so-new feeling that permeated the activities of the first few months. Everyone seems to know what to expect, how to engage, and how to leverage the new social computer.

Nobody asks for justification any more. Nobody wonders how this platform compares and contrasts with other alternatives. Nobody is waiting for the Official Word that this is a sanctioned and supported activity.

Mainly what he is seeing is that the diffusion of innovations is now making itself felt throughout more of the community. They are closer to the middle of the S-shaped curve, where the change is most rapid. Here are a few of his examples:

Example 1 — Content Generation

EMC creates a lot of content. Sometimes, I think we don’t make products, we just make stuff that talks about our products.

Historically, this stuff went to the Official Corporate Portal. There was a long and somewhat cumbersome process to get stuff reviewed, approved and posted on the portal. There were insufficient mechanisms for sorting and finding stuff — and presenting stuff in an attractive fashion. And, like most Corporate Portals, it slowly turned into a big pile of stuff that many people didn’t think was entirely useful, and could be better.

Now, it seems that most content comes through our internal social media platform on its way to the corporate portal. Preliminary documents are posted, discussed, debated and revised. The comments are sometimes more interesting than the document itself.

This is very enlightening. “The comments are sometimes more interesting than the document itself.” This is often the case, since we can now follow the process that resulted in a final draft, and glean information about how it was developed, helping us make decisions when we have to create new documents. What was fairly private or tacit information is now made explicit.

Example 2 — Reach Out And Touch Someone

If you’re in a company of 40,000 people, and happen to be at one of the more remote outposts, sometimes you don’t even know where to start. You don’t know exactly what the problem is, or how to ask the question, or where to start looking.

We’re starting to see more “IHAC” questions. “IHAC” stands for “I have a customer …” followed by a statement of the situation, the ideas that the local team are working with, and an open-ended what-do-you-suggest question.

People chime in with what they know, and what they would do. Sometimes, a debate erupts between contributors as to exactly what the best approach might be.

The posting team not only gets access to a wealth of perspectives, opinions and experiences — but now they’ve got a virtual team to work with. And, of course, the entire discussion lays there waiting for the next person who comes along.

The ability to have a conversation is what really makes all of this work. The reduction in the friction of information transfer when Web 2.0 approaches are used provides very rich discussions to be created very rapidly, providing deep answers for customers, even if they reside in the community.

Example 3 — Mac Support

I don’t know about you, but I want to use a Mac at work. So do lots of people. And, like many companies, EMC doesn’t officially support Apple products in the workplace. The reason? It’s too expensive. Fair enough.

Spontaneously, a “Mac At EMC” group sprang into existence. Wikis were created about how to configure things, what to buy, how to work around various problems. I’ve been using it a while, and it meets my needs. Sure, I can’t lob a ticket into IT and have them fix things — I have to take a more hands-on approach — but it works, and it works well.

Just recently, the group figured out how to make the new iPhone 3G work on the corporate network. Now I want one of those, too.

Incremental cost to EMC: zero. That is, until we have to upgrade our entire remote access network to support a bazillion iPhones ;-)

This is an example of bypassing a choke point. There is a demonstrated need but IT can not easily provide a solution, so the community takes it upon itself to fill the need. This sort of self-help is seen in Open Source communities and appears to actually be a basic part of human behavior.

Studies have shown that people will stop doing their own work in order to help someone else with theirs. Web 2.0 just makes this much easier.

Example 4 — The Old Guard Gets On Board

Like any company that’s grown through acquisition, there’s pockets of Old Guard and New Guys at EMC. Subtle but powerful lines divide people into tribes. Inevitable in any large company, right?

The Old Guard has always done things in certain ways, and done them with people they know and trust. Comfortable for them, but not ideal from a strategic perspective.

As of late, several communities aligned with Old Guard interests have sprung into existence. They’ve gotten over their discomfort, and fully embraced open communities of like-minded people. There’s no way I could have made them do this — they had to do this under their terms and conditions.

I don’t know how to put a number on this implicit — yet very significant — change in mindset. I can’t measure it, but I know it’s important, and very valuable.

There is a tremendous amount of research indicating that most people really only change when other people they respect ask them to or demonstrate why change is necessary. It is the information transfer by human social networks that accomplishes change. A piece of paper saying ‘Change’ does not work.

Web 2.0 tools make it much harder to reside in a simple echo chamber, only hearing from the ‘Old Guard.’ Exposure to innovations can occur in a more organic fashion than sitting people down and telling them things change. People can adjust to innovations following their own rhythm rather than a mandated one.

However, because information flow is so much greater with Web 2.0 tools, this rhythm may also be greater, permitting change to occur at a more rapid pace.

The normal rate that change diffuses through an organization depends on the people in it. Web 2.0 tools can greatly enhance this rate, permitting a community to respond to innovations much more rapidly, and thus surmount challenges that would have just taken too long before.

Just as there are many more opportunities in the large social network that is a large city than in a small town, so too do Web 2.0 approaches provide greater opportunities.

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Training online

video conference by edans
You Want ROI? Try This:
[Via Enterprise 2.0 Blog]

The Times today catches on to a trend we’ve all been noticing for months: Replacing in-person meetings with virtual ones saves time and money. But check out this remarkable ROI story from the article:

“Corporate training and education is a field many companies are moving online, in part to trim travel costs. Darryl Draper, the national manager of customer service training for Subaru of America, used to travel four days a week, nine months of the year, presenting educational programs at dealers nationwide. Today, Ms. Draper rarely travels and nearly all of her training is done online.

Previously, Ms. Draper estimated, in six months she would reach about 220 people at a cost of $300 a person. She said she now reaches 2,500 people every six months at a cost of 75 cents a person.”

There are times for face-to-face meetings but generally training is not one of them. The effects of Web 2.0 approaches on training will have substantial impacts on the bottom line.

Cisco has reduced traveling expenses by $100 million and decreased greenhouse emissions 10% by moving online for meetings. Air travel is down by 25% in some offices at HP using videoconferencing. With air travel being so costly, both in money and in wasted time by employees, videoconference and other Web 2.0 approaches should really explode over the next few years.

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Cuil is middling

Cuil Misses Me:
[Via chrisbrogan.com]

cuil search engine
I just tried out Cuil, which is supposed to be amazing and better search engine, and what not (that’s what they told Mike Arrington). But it didn’t work for me.

I searched on “Chris Brogan” and found all kinds of relevant info, including random pictures not related to the text results beside the search, and none of them my main URL.

I searched on “chrisbrogan.com” and it couldn’t find my URL.

I searched on “chrisbrogan” and it found a bunch of social networks where I’ve used that username.

Call me egotistical, but if you can’t find yourself in a search engine after a decade of littering the web with your presence, I’m thinking it’s not much of a search engine.

I had a similar experience. Not only were the pages that came up when I used my name out of date but many were also not accessible anymore. Why does it provide links to pages that are no longer on the Web? The first relevant link was not very easy to find.

In addition, when I tried several terms that I knew went to very good Wikipedia pages, the top link was to the discussion page on Wikipedia, not the relevant page itself. search is all about finding the relevant, useful page fastest. cuil in this outing fails at that for me.

cuil still has a long way to go to overcome Google. But since its launch was to big, I am going to take it really slow, with a lot of convincing from others, before I try it again.

Others have discussed how it was able to get hyped so much on day one or how it just does not do what they need a search engine to do.

It might have been better to have a smaller launch and work out the bugs first.

Liking knol somewhat

drops by eye of einstein

So, after
writing about my knol dislikes, let me discuss some of my positive thoughts about knol. Knol is the newest feature from Google.

As I wrote earlier, I do not like some of the non-Web 2.0 features seen in some of the early essays (i.e. lack of any links to other pages, static text, lack of effective conversations). But I do like some of the principles behind this product.

Huge amounts of information are collected inside a person’s head or on their computer. And it is not accessible to anyone else. Getting this tacit information out, making it explicit so that others can use it, is an important goal of many Web 2.0 tools.

By providing singular authorship, knols allow a more ego-driven approach for making the information explicit than Wikipedia does.

That is, Wikipedia also provides a means for moving tacit information into the explicit realm. But, there is no real sense of authorship, nothing to really plant a flag and say I did this, I am providing this to the world.

Knols permit this to happen, which should enlarge the amount of information seen on the web. Because there are a plethora of experts who do not want an anonymous reputation built from Wikipedia but might want a renowned one from a knol.

Finding ways to transform tacit information into explicit are crucial in today’s world. Wikis can do this. Blogs can do this. And so can knols. Knols will not replace other approaches. They provide a new path for the transformation to occur.

Being a scientist, I have a pretty healthy ego (almost a necessity to do research) and I want people to know about the work I do, not simply as an anonymous entry but with my name attached. It is why I want to have my name on a paper that as many people as possible can read. I can then point to it and say This is mine. That is also part of the reason I write a blog. Ego is good.

So, Web 2.0 tools that provide an avenue for ‘named’ publication will find a market.

Plus, a knol entry would probably look a little better to the tenure committee for an academic than an Wikipedia entry or even a blog. The author could use the web stats to demonstrate the impact of the article in ways that current journal articles can not. It would be a novel approach for dissemination of scientific knowledge.

So, I can see a knol developing into some sort of secondary arena for publication of scientific research, for example. This would be a paradigm-shifting possibility. I will be very interested to see if this avenue is used much by the scientific community.

However, the same problem of filtering still matters. Knols could be a tremendous path to transforming tacit information but there will still be an information glut to deal with. My concerns come more from how these articles are found and dealt with.

In the scientific community, this sort of authorship is now dealt with by peer review and publication in reputable, high impact journals. If a knol is going to provide anything similar, especially when it comes to reputation, it will have to function a little differently than it does now.

I don’t worry strictly about people plagiarizing as much as diverting. An example off the top of my head:

I put something up about my latest, cutting edge research. Perhaps about some research in press but with more detail than normal. Perhaps I include some of the information from my grant requests.

The essay provides a spot for people to read about my work and comment, potentially providing insights and questions that can accelerate my ability to innovate, leading me to new areas of research while providing me with documentation for my performance reviews. Great.

This is what the Web provides that no other medium does. And everyone wins. I get my ego-driven scientific reputation enhanced and the world gets a lot of information made available for others to use.

But my article is written for a scientific audience.

Then someone (say a good science writer) takes that information, rewrites it and uses SEO approaches to make sure that people find that article before mine and create ad-driven revenue for themselves.

They get very popular (as I hope they would be, since good science writers are important), get found first from search engines and my page views plummet. So then I have to justify why I wasted my time publishing my research.

No one here is doing anything wrong but it becomes more of a zero-sum game now instead of a win-win. I would no longer have any incentive to use this approach to write about my work.

So, at this point, I am still a little worried about how the articles will be found, just how reputation will be determined and how the filtering of information will be accomplished.

But I do think there is a place for this sort of approach. It may not be there yet but having information ‘owned’ by someone will provide new avenues of dissemination not seen with more anonymous approaches.

It just may take a few iterations to get to perfection.

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Not liking knol

rose by eye of einstein
Google’s Knol product is now open:
[Via Bench Marks]

Google has officially announced that their Knol product is now open to the public. Over at the Science of the Invisible blog, AJ Cann asks, if it’s worthwhile and really anything ‘more than extra eyeballs for AdSense.” My response is that of course the whole driving force behind Knol is extra eyeballs for AdSense. That’s what Google does. That’s their MO. To paraphrase the now defunct Fake Steve Jobs, Google’s business model is to drive the price of everything on earth to “free”, everything except one thing that is, small ugly text-based ads, which, conveniently enough, they’ll be the ones selling. So you should never have to ask, is this just a ploy to sell more ads, because with Google, the answer is always going to be “yes”.
That said, there is some merit to the project, and it will be interesting to see if they can get buy-in.

[This is an expansion of a comment I left at Bench Marks]

Well, one thing a knol is not so far is Wikipedia, which for all its faults, is about connecting information. That is (and this is something all good wikis have and most blogs do also), it links to a lot of other information on the web. Wikipedia connects with others.

Part of the skill set in a Web 2.0 world is being able to rapidly find the information needed (well, being able to find the ‘correct’ information, really). Finding information used to be hard, requiring a lot of experience and the fortitude to attack such tomes as Index Medicus or Chemical Abstracts.

Now i go to a Wikipedia page and find out that Index Medicus stopped publication in 2004 because the online site, PubMed, supplanted it. There are all the links to show me that exact information from the National Library of Medicine.

And the PubMed article gives me a lot of detail about how do to searches well on PubMed. So, in a couple of clicks, a graduate student who jumped from the mid-70s to today would be able to see what had changed and how to use PubMed in order to do literature searches. (Yes, there will be all sorts of other things to teach them but you catch my drift.)

A couple of clicks can rapidly aggregate and transfer a lot of knowledge. Even information I used to know and want to remember.

So, if I want to find something quickly that I have forgotten, like the quadratic equation, I can go to the Wikipedia page and not only find out more about it than I really need but I can also find links to a huge number of other Wikipedia pages giving me much more information. Why remember it when it is so easy to retrieve it?

In addition, I can click on some of the pictures and very rapidly determine how or if I could use them in my own work.

All of this promotes the rapid dissemination and acquisition of information.

I saw none of this at knol.

A knol seems to be something entirely different. Every single knol may have an author but of the 5 or so I looked at from the front page, none had a lot of links to outside web pages, even other knol pages.

Each page existed in isolation. It was like dropping in on a seminar given by a single professor in front of a large auditorium. With the author’s back turned to the audience. Students could comment about the lecture afterwards but not affect the lecture itself. The lecturer could not tell if any of the students were attentive or had left the room.

This is a very different conversation than wikis and even some blogs carry out. Collaboration and active dialogs are the hallmark of these approaches. A knol seems to engender neither.

And the ad-driven aspect adds some further complications.

Since each page ‘belongs’ to someone, they do not want anyone to leave. Why have links to other pages allowing people to leave? There is little sense of community. It feels more like a cul-de-sac.

Like the Roach Motel, visitors check in but they don’t check-out.

I’ve been using Wikipedia links here to make a point. In this case, Roach Motel is a stub, with minimal information. I could, and maybe will, add to this article to make it more useful. In a Web 2.0 world, we can get something started as a community and strive for perfection. A knol does not seem to allow this to occur.

Each author owns the article, not the community. That is one of the possible benefits of a knol in the right hands. But I worry a lot about the lack of links, even ones generated by Google.

For example, the use of copyright. Each author can define the copyright of their article, from all rights reserved to Creative Commons. So far so good. However, the knol gives me no way to find out what this really means at all.There is no external link to any copyright definitions at all.

There is no link to tell me just what ‘Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0’ really is. Goggle does not even provide an automated external link to Creative Commons so I can tell what I am allowed to use or not use. So I have to search elsewhere for the term to find out just what I’m allowed to do.

And take a look at this article on pediatric sports injuries. It is very authoritative and has several publications referenced. Yet none of them are linked to the articles, so I have to try and track those down myself. And there is no easy way for me to add those if I wanted to help make the article better.

My son had a problem with ischial apophysitis, which is mentioned briefly in the article, but not at all in Table II. Is this an oversight or because it is not common enough to be included? I have no way to add any information about a topic I know pretty well, even if I am not an expert. Do I create an entirely new knol to cover this? Do I contact the author? Do I leave a comment and hope he reads it?

An article that is owned, that provides no real way for others to have a voice, that has no links to outside sources and retains copyright only for the author goes against much of what defines the Web. It is a magazine article put up on the Web, with little that makes the Web a distinct medium.

Each knol seemed like a dead end to me, with little connection to the rest of the web. I guess the only way anyone would ever find any of them is by a Google search.

Wikipedia may not be perfect but it does provide usually valid entry points for rapidly finding information. And it can do this by a community effort.T hat is what the web is about, using communities to information rapidly. Wikipedia helps here. I fail to see how Knol, in its current form, comes close to helping.

And don’t even get me started on what will happen when someone’s ad revenue drops because someone else has written another more entertaining article. Or when authors write for the ad revenue, just like the modern mass media.

However, a knol could develop into something. In a Web 2.0 world, I expect early failures with a rapid ascension towards perfection, so perhaps some of these problems will vanish or a knol will develop into an entirely different tool than Wikipedia.

Just because I do not find it useful today does not mean it will not be useful in the future.

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Good Work

About five years ago, I read a very interesting book called
Good Work. It is very dense with a lot of information but it was very clear in its premise. We are happiest when the work we do aligns with our personal ethics.

in this book, the authors examined two groups of people who chose a vocation because they wanted to help others and to change the world: geneticists and journalists.

Many people entered each field for noble reasons. But only the scientists were happy with their choice, while many of the reporters were not. The book indicated that this was because the needs of the industry they chose did not match their personal viewpoints.

The geneticists were pretty happy with their jobs. Journalists were not.

The book indicated that newspapers exist to sell advertising. Advertising is what pays the bills. But this is often at odds with the reasons many journalists enter that profession.

Many reporters who really wanted to provide vital information were often held back while those who helped sell newspapers were rewarded.

Well, it looks like Web 2.0 approaches are providing an outlet for journalists to earn a living while staying close to their own personal ethics – by going directly to the community. Spot.us is devoted to providing journalists an alternate way to get paid.

And here is a recent post describing some of the things a journalist would have to do to get community funding for reporting.

Ten Tips For Journalists to Fundraise Money:
[Via Spot.Us – Community Funded Reporting]

I’ll admit it, sometimes when nobody is looking I’ll watch a late night infomercial. These people are fascinating to watch. They are master salespeople.

I realize the idea of a journalist fundraising money for their work is new. Normally it’s a duty we’d hand off to the advertising/marketing people and stick to creating content. But “the times they are-a changing” and so is the job description. There is a reason why freelance journalists have to write a “pitch.” They are selling their services. Normally we sell to high-end repeat customers (editors) because they have a freelance budget. But Spot.Us believes that journalists should pitch the public and that if members of the public band together they too can have a freelance budget.

Rather than treat journalists fundraising as taboo, we should have a healthy discussion about the right and wrong approach. I don’t claim to know the answers, so your comments are valued.

This is something that will be worked out as they go along. I don’t think it is going to replace the mainstream media. But it is a novel approach and will heavily use Web 2.0 approaches for success.

What are the best practices? Are they different for text and video? How can journalists best explain the value of their services? I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions (so your comments are highly valued), but I do think these questions need to be tackled. If journalists are going to become more independent, they need to learn how to re-master the art of the pitch.

The list below is my own and I think will evolve over time.

10 Things to Keep in Mind To Get Community Funded Reporting

The list is actually a nice one for anyone working to earn a living by using Web 2.0 conversations. Creating a pitch. Finding the community.

The one thing the web can not duplicate is a human being. Going directly to their audience is a way that journalists can earn a living that more closely aligns with their ethics, just like recording artists and filmmakers are doing.

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What scientists are we talking about?

research by SqueakyMarmot
Obligatory Reading of the Day: Opening up Scientific Culture [A Blog Around The Clock]:
[Via ScienceBlogs : Combined Feed]

Why are so many scientists reluctant to make full use of Web 2.0 applications, social networking sites, blogs, wikis, and commenting capabilities on some online journals?

Michael Nielsen wrote a very thoughtful essay exploring this question which I hope you read carefully and post comments.

Michael is really talking about two things – one is pre-publication process, i.e., how to get scientists to find each other and collaborate by using the Web, and the other is the post-publication process, i.e., how to get scientists to make their thoughts and discussions about published works more public.

Those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I am thinking along some very similar lines. If you combine, for instance, my review of Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge with

On my last scientific paper, I was both a stunt-man and the make-up artist with Journal Clubs – think of the future! with The Scientific Paper: past, present and probable future, you will see a similar thread of thinking.

But, what do you think?

Read the comments on this post…

Michael Nielsen’s essay is well worth reading, since it goes into some detail about the need for openness in science. It has a lot of depth and it very thought provoking.

The comments are also very interesting, with an ongoing dialog between skeptics and believers. But a lot of these discussions only examine the barriers and pressures of a very small slice of the researchers in the US.

The science that is discussed in these essays really only encompasses those scientists in research universities where tenure competition is the fiercest. Take a look at some recent statistics (2006):

22 million scientists/engineers in US
18.9 million actually employed
69.4% work in the business sector
11.8% work for the government
8.2% work at 4 year institutions
9.7% work in the business/industry sector for a non-profit

This discussion seems to have focused on just a small fraction (but an important one) of the number of scientists who would benefit from these tools. These researchers are funded by grants and are in tenure-track positions at 4 year research universities.

More scientists work at non-profits. What sorts of pressures are brought to bear there to prevent open collaboration? How different are these pressures from a research university? Those in business might also benefit from these approaches but have another set of barriers. Can they be surmounted?

This discussion is really important but it also conflates a large number of scientists/engineers who have different needs and pressures. There are 12 million in business who will have different needs than the 1.6 million at research universities.

How do Web 2.0 approaches impact them differently? Will some be more readily accepting of these tools than others?

We need to realize that scientists encompass a much larger group than those in tenure track positions at universities.

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The synthetic organization, part 3

pencils by Paul Worthington
{See The synthetic organization, Part 1
The synthetic organization, Part 2 }

Pixar is not like any other studio. Part of this may stem from the fact that its medium of choice is all about
synthesis, in the ancient Greek definition of bringing together. Every frame has to be created. A director and a cinematographer can not just sit together and film a reality that already exists.

This goes beyond collaboration, as almost every film is a collaboration. Every single pixel in a CGI has to be put there for a reason. But, for it to be realistic in any sense, these pixels have to be put together in an integrated whole.

So the medium for a computer animated movie is very different than a normal motion picture. Pixar is the only studio that seems to have really incorporated this idea into its being, creating a model for how to use synthesis to produce products that no one else can. And generating an organizational structure that maintains this drive for synthesis.

Synthesis requires a strong social network to be most effective. Especially with something as complex as creating a new environment, while also pushing the edge of the technology and creating a stunning narrative. Part of this can be seen in the interesting approach Pixar has for leaders.

The lack of hierarchy seen with Web 2.0 approaches does not mean that there are no leaders, no one at the top. But it is a different sort of leader than often expected, one who helps hold the central vision of the community and can act as a facilitator of the community’s needs.

Leaders at Pixar come forward, do their part and then sit back to let someone else lead. Usually they come from inside the community but sometimes they have come from outside. This almost ad hoc form of leadership is one of the main differences between Pixar and other organizations that are built on hierarchies.

This form of leadership reminded me of a quote from Margaret Wheatley’s essay on the Unplanned Organization.

I also want to emphasize that emergent organizations are leader-full, not leaderless. Leaders emerge and recede as needed. Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.

Her description of the emergent properties of a self-organizing community seems very odd, yet it has many overlaps with Pixar.

The reason I think this is so problematic for us is that you cannot plan; you can only watch once you’re in the process of being together. You can only notice what’s happening, and then tinker with it. Instead of creating dream teams, you just get into the process of organizing and see what emerges. That feels unplanned, it looks messy, it smacks us in the face; it goes against all the ways we have been taught to be effective leaders, or effective individuals. In contemporary society, we’ve gone crazy with goal-setting and planning and thinking about our lives in a linear progression.

An organization as a simulacrum of life. While her metaphor may go a little too far, it does have some real insights.

The interconnectedness of the Web 2.0 social network may have emergent properties that permit novel solutions to complex problems. Leadership, which is needed to complete any difficult task, is simply a form of behavior which emerges from the community as needed.

Look at some of her points.

Organizations are made up of intelligent beings who can be mobilized for change.
Experimentation is necessary.
Messes are used to produce well-ordered solutions.
The best solution is the one that works, not the most elegant.
There are many paths that can be taken, so understanding when to change paths is important.
There are more opportunities as the community progresses along its path.

Anyone working in a sector requiring synthesis for solutions should have a structure mimicking the Unplanned Organization. Machine-based hierarchies focussed on defined processes may not be the best approach .

Becoming a truly synthetic organization provides the best model and Pixar seems to come very close to this. In doing so, it is able to retain its creative talent while providing opportunities not seen with other companies.

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The synthetic organization, part 2

pencils 2 by Paul Worthington

The Synthetic Organization, Part 1 }

Pixar is different from every other movie studio. Why?

One aspect is mentioned in the article – a leader at Pixar for one movie becomes a follower and supporter for the next. They remain engaged in each other’s projects. The success of one helps the success of all.

But I also believe that there is a little more than this. Because each Pixar movie is more than just telling a story; it is adding to the tool box being used by all the innovators at Pixar. The impact of each movie to this continually enlarging storehouse of knowledge engages these innovators who work at the leading edge of technology.

There are other computer animated movies that are quite good. Kung Fu Panda , for instance. But many of these are really no different at their basis than regular 2-D animation. That is, the movie would not have been much different using classic cel-based animation. The gags would have been the same and just as funny.

On the other hand, each Pixar movie, besides the obvious need to create an enjoyable experience, seems to have another motive for being created. Each actually seems to be an exercise in solving a difficult technical question, one that can only be examined using computer animation.

Toy Story proved that a compelling story told by computer generated animation could actually be accomplished. A Bug’s Life examined the problem of opening up the world, from the relatively claustrophobic, medium shot world of Toy Story to an almost Cinerama widescreen not seen since How the West Was Won .

Toy Story 2 brought increased pathos and emotionality from animated characters, indicating that these completely virtual creations could twist our emotions like regular actors. Monsters, Inc. stretched the reality of the computer animated world, taking it into fantastical directions impossible in any other medium, while using increases in technology to address things like animated hair. Finding Nemo added the problematical world of water, something always very difficult to do with any animated approach.

The Incredibles began an examination of an effective animated caricature of the human form, something that had just looked too weird in previous movies (even Monster, Inc. covered up Boo in a costume for large periods of time) and was thus often avoided.

Cars demonstrated an increasing sophistication by creating normally inanimate objects that could actually act. That is, they only had eyes and mouths to convey emotion. No arms or legs to help demonstrate emotionality. It is as if an entire movie was made with only head shots.

Ratatouille now combined all the lessons previously learned into human characters that could emote. While the human figures in The Incredibles often acted in grand gestures and seemed larger than life (well, they were superheroes), the people who inhabited Ratatouille looked and acted much smaller, like regular people.

The characters did not have to ‘shout’ to convey action but could tell us what they were thinking by a subtle change in facial expression. Ratatouille was the first computer animated movie that seemed to have actual human beings occupying the screen.

And WALL-E is the solution to a dandy problem. Can a computer animated character be created that is emotionally engaging but has no human eyes or mouth, who does not speak? Essentially, could an animated movie be created combining a robotic Buster Keaton with the first 20 minutes of 2001:A Space Odyssey ?

Now illustrating a great story has been done with computers before and they can make enjoyable movies. But each Pixar movie has been on the path to creating singular movie characters that can emote on the same complex level as human actors. Pixar has put together a tool chest that no one else has.

So part of the way Pixar has kept its creative people engaged is to provide them opportunities to succeed at solving very difficult questions using tools no one else has. Recreating all of this elsewhere would be difficult.

Each of these very difficult questions (realistic animated characters, realistic surroundings, emotional connections, toolbox of techniques) had to not only be answered but had to be done inside a commercially successful creation. Simply solving these problems, as if they were some sort of Labors of Hercules, was not enough. Pixar movies also had to be have narrative that was worth the price of admission. Simply pushing the envelope would not be successful.

Pixar set itself up to attack very complex problems that required solutions at many different levels in order to achieve success, with the added problem that success would be measured by box office response. Success at just one of these levels only would result in failure.

Pixar has been able to do this because it seems to be designed along different lines than many multinational or MBA-driven companies. It is synthesizing the knowledge it learns to create something not seen before, and developing methods of organization to sustain this synthesis.

As discussed in the Harvard article , Pixar’s innovators lead some times and provide support at others. I’ll talk more soon but check out The Unplanned Organization by Margaret Wheatley to get a hint of where I am going…

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