Moving through the Paradox: Digital-First and People-First

A new and deeper work culture based on a dramatically different set of values and tools must be adopted by those undertaking human-centered/digital transformation.

Catching up on recent thinking from Lee Bryant of Postshift, I came upon his piece, The role of the Quantified Organisation in Digital Transformation, in which he wrote this:

[…] Whilst most companies are tracking low-level KPIs regarding usage, adoption and in some cases even impact on existing business processes, there is a clear need for better ways of talking about the organisational impact of social technologies that is more specific than just describing the long-term characteristics we hope will result.

Emanuele Quintarelli shared an interesting graphic last year that suggested most ESN deployments fall into the ‘deploy and pray’ category, a minority address known pain points and use cases, whilst only about 20% of projects involve a concerted organisation-wide roll-out aimed at creating a connected company. He argued that some kind of paradigm shift is needed to go beyond just adopting social technologies towards creating a new kind of organisation designed around people- and network-centric principles.

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source: Emanuelle Quintarelli

This is the transformation needed before transformation can happen. The golden threshold in Quintarelli’s diagram involves a ‘paradigm shift’, using the term introduced in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The term has been over-generalized, perhaps, but is apt here.

Kuhn’s premise is that the scientific establishment of any discipline and era are bound to a worldview based on the conventions and thinking of their time. However, when scientific questions arise that cannot be resolved with existing perceptions and techniques, new thinking starts to break out, and less-well-established researchers — generally of a younger generation — develop new perspectives, and necessarily challenge the assumptions and conventions of the establishment. To the extent they start to develop contrary theories, they are often attacked by the establishment. The two groups may have worldviews that are so divergent that they are, as Kuhn put it, incommensurable, that is to say the established and radical groups may differ so greatly in their views and premises they may not be able to effectively communicate, lacking common standards.

I think the reason companies can’t pass through the golden threshold is partly because of the paradox at its heart: It’s both digital first, and people first.

  • The enterprise software we have today is based around a model — or models — of business and organizational culture that is either out of date, imaginary, or both. I’ve written about this a great deal, most recently in The Failed Promise of Social Collaboration.

I interviewed Lee back in 2013 (see here), and I hope to do that again, soon, to explore this topic in more depth.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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