Power of one connected to many

Week four

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I ponder this week what the rise of the Internet has meant and will mean for the nature of work. The answer is both simple and complex. Yes, the Web is changing my work. No, it does not change work for everyone. It is changing the nature of leadership for some leaders, while there are fewer implications for others. There is a greater need to ensure communication is received as intended and acted on correctly, as dramatically demonstrated by the very low tech “telephone game.” In a fast moving, remotely connected, virtual environment, the opportunity for miscommunication is greater and has larger ramifications (Ark, 2013). At the same time, there are many benefits. There is great power in connection, whether physical or virtual. And the beauty of virtual is that it extends many aspects of the physical, while offering a few additional, unique strengths.

Husband’s (2017) wirearchy concept is specifically about the power of connection. The author made clear wirearchy should not be misconstrued as about technology. However, technology is at least a facilitating factor that supports open organizational design. Wirearchy visually depicts people as connections points in a web able to leverage each other, and Weinberger (2014) noted that the digital age has allowed “topics” themselves to reflect better their own nature as a web or network. Topics have become webulous. I possibly made up a word right there, combining web and nebulous, or as is more likely, 100 other people also coined it for the same or different reasons, and the Internet allows me to connect to that collective thought to mine value.

Hyperlinked thinking means that leaders may put greater energy into capitalizing on and expanding ideas. The earlier reality was trying to anticipate what might be important and possibly missing valuable concepts in the process (Weinberger, 2014). Where once leaders were “hacking the future,” or attempting to predict and act in advance, leaders now help filter forward versus filter out (Weinberger, 2011). Weinberger’s (2014) example of encyclopedias and libraries being forced to literally throw away information resonated. This winnowing was an “art based upon a limitation.” Space was limited, so they had to make cuts. From books to the simple one page resume, the digital environment allows us infinite access to infinite information, eliminating the urgency to anticipate, making for a broader future.

I feel fortunate to have a few points of comparison, considering how my work has changed with the rise of the Web. I began my career in communications in 2001. We certainly had access to the Internet and were already at that time bridging multiple locations to connect our team. However, this was more out of necessity than by design. For example, I worked on an account where the team was cobbled together between Portland and Seattle, and the clients were located in Seattle, Fargo, and Denmark due to various acquisitions. While one could argue that virtual is all I have known in terms of the working world, I nonetheless note differences between my work then and now. Back then, we were handed a reality, and we used the Internet and available tools to navigate it. Now, work and teams are built to function virtually. And if an Internet connection goes down, it now feels as though you can’t actually do your job (a perceived limitation). In the early days, this was just a nuisance.

Consider now a physically isolated location like Antarctica, with an entire population of workers. I was employed as a contractor there during the two austral summers between 2010-2012. It is a prime example of an environment that requires a good Knowledge Management system to function well. It benefits from Internet connection to function optimally. Leadership would be hard pressed to make decisions without access to knowledge, and management would find it difficult to run systems and processes given perpetual turnover, resulting in large part from the nature of a contract workforce. My time there was relatively short, making it difficult to note changes in the work itself. However, I can speak to how it was at my moment in time, working in the Vehicle Maintenance Facility, using very outdated DOS based programs. I existed in one of likely many transition periods. I had the luxury of software and Internet connection to facilitate my work. I could capture data, analyze it to a degree, and connect with full time employees in Denver to make additional sense of data. I know subsequent years brought in a newer, more dynamic software program, and where full time employees used to deploy as a requirement, this is happening less and less with connectivity. It is fair to say that in a place that was once completely cut off from the rest of the world, while you were there, connection has changed things.

My team today is entirely virtual and was designed so. My work is more about making connections and leveraging resources than it was 16 years ago. I utilize hyperlinked thinking often, where this would not have been possible at the beginning of my career. Once I might write a story, and it lived in isolation, whereas now I contribute to a web of stories. I can write a single piece and help make connections for my readers by linking related thoughts and ideas, often in the form of my own earlier published stories on their work that they may have long forgotten about. This helps get people thinking about the far-reaching impact that something they did years ago still has today. A volunteer effort, for example, that exists alone is great. But a volunteer effort that one can see occurring year over year, involving more team members, because the reader has hyperlinked access to the bigger picture becomes notable. There is power in something as simple as glancing at the Netvibes outlook that connects the various blogs in my doctoral class. Scanning everyone’s post headlines in one place offers a thought provoking snapshot.

After analyzing all of the above from my own perspective, I do pause. I realize how limited my view is as I catch sight of my husband walking by. He has worked in the fire sprinkler trade for approximately 20 years. Installing pipe requires a hands on approach that cannot be managed virtually and does not benefit much from digital connectivity. We came up short trying to brainstorm possibilities. Perhaps that is failed anticipation, but trying say to imagine someone carrying around a computer that has my husband video conferenced and aiming it toward installation points for instruction feels cumbersome and ineffective. Though the Internet can speed up aspects of his role, the nature of his work is unchanged and he feels unlikely to change. It can be made more convenient, but it cannot be made different. It is dependent on codes, with limited scope for creativity. It requires he physically go to a physical space and physically install the pipes.

So the long answer to a relatively short question is yes and no. The Internet has completely altered the work of some, while it has not much affected, if at all, the work of others. While some of us in some roles and some leaders may benefit from the shortening of long-form thinking, there is no real way around long-form for others (Weinberger, 2011). Predictions from analyst firms such as Gartner (2010) or reporters like Dishman (2016) neither fully help nor hurt. Predictions will never be applicable to everyone or capture everything (McCreary, 2008). They are an attempt to anticipate and narrow a future that may not come to pass. Yet this does not render the exercise of trending useless, there is some value in the opportunity to prepare for a possibility, but the future cannot be known and optimized until it becomes the present.

References

Dishman, L. (2016, December 15). These are the top 5 workplace trends we’ll see in 2017. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3066605/the-future-of-work/these-are-the-top-5-workplace-trends-well-see-in-2017

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

Husband, J. (2017). What is wierarchy? Wirearchy. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

McCreary, L. (2008, March 10). How I missed the online revolution. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/03/how-i-missed-the-online-revolu

Ark, T. A. (2013, September 16). Leadership implications of the brave new blended world. Education Week. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_innovation/2013/09/leadership_implications_of_the_brave_new_blended_world.html

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/

Weinberger, D. (2014, October 22). David Weinberger and the power of the Internet. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPXmEh24KXA&feature=youtu.be

12 thoughts on “Power of one connected to many

  1. Good evening, unicorn!
    I enjoyed your post this week, and then I realized that we have a lot of connection points. First, I was born in Fargo, second, one of my recent clients was Tyco residential fire suppression systems. So, I know about the work your husband does. I wanted to ask you about the opening of your post. You stated “Yes, the Web is changing my work. No, it does not change work for everyone. It is changing the nature of leadership for some leaders, while there are fewer implications for others.” My question is that even if you set aside the workplace environment, the Web does impact nearly every person’s life. How does this fact impact a leader’s approach and acceptance of the web?
    Your example of your husband’s work did demonstrate that the one-the-job work might not require connectivity and digital tools, but wouldn’t manufacturers, such as Tyco, use this to create better products, which would impact the work? And, some sprinkler manufacturers are looking into apps that can connect and troubleshoot when contractors are on the job.
    I look forward to your thoughts-Krista

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    1. Krista, hello! Thank you for your comments! If we leave out the workplace, then yes, I agree that the Web has impacted and does impact nearly every person’s life (Carpenter, 2010). It has even impacted my mom’s youngest sister, who has lived on a mostly self-sustaining farm for the last 30 years with her husband. They have 14 children, who were all but the oldest few brought into the world on the farm by a midwife. All of the kids were/are home schooled. There was/is no TV or radio, so the substantial interactions with others were/are at church (Catholic). However, they did get a computer at a point I am uncertain about, and the oldest kids were on social media before some of them got married and are since out of the house. So yes, from a broad view, the Web has impacted many lives and even impacted those that one would not guess. I could make an argument that the Web has impacted even the Amish.

      Answering the literal question though, which asked us to reflect “on how the nature of work is changing due to the web (and hyperlinked thinking), and the associated implications for leadership,” I have to stand firm that the Web hasn’t so far changed the nature of work for everyone. That is defining nature as the core fundamentals of the work versus absolutely all aspects associated (I mentioned, for example, that pieces of my husband’s job are speedier). I must also draw a distinction between the question’s use of “Web” and “technology.” And if there has been a lesser to no change to the nature of work for some, there consequentially is lesser (not no) implication for leadership. Some leaders are leading the team doing the work. If the team doing the work is doing relatively the same work, leaders are leading the same work. It is not impossible that it won’t shift in future.

      I mentioned also that I am limited by anticipation. I am limited by what I can imagine and predict. However, I would be too narrow in my thinking to assume my work changes are the reality for all. It is interesting because it would have been easiest for me to universally claim that the nature of all work for everyone is different because of the Web. That is what I see each day, but it is not the universal case when literally responding, and it is not the universal case even in my own field (Wynne, 2015).

      Thank you for asking me to expand!

      References
      Carpenter, S. (2010, May 10). Q&A with Nicholas Christakis: Our modern, connected lives. TEDBlog. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/qa_wih_nicholas/
      Wynne, R. (2015, April 28). Five ways the Internet hasn’t changed public relations. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2015/04/28/five-ways-the-internet-hasnt-changed-public-relations/#2975f6571305

      Julie

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  2. Julie,
    I enjoyed reading your post this week as your work experience is fascinating. You have experience in different roles that relied upon technology (or involved technology in one degree or another). One question that I have for you is how has technology impacted your leadership? Have you noticed a change in your leadership style?
    Thank you,
    Keshia

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    1. Keshia, thank you much for commenting. Reflecting on your question, technology has reinforced or supported my leadership style versus changing it. For example, input is one of my strengths, and I benefit from as much input as possible to arrive at a recommendation. The Web and/or technology help me gain that valuable input. Also, in a room, I tend to be the quiet one. This is due in part because I am taking information in, but it is also my more introverted style. I have never been the loudest or cared too much about credit, and I recall in the early days of my career I was often told I needed to be more vocal. On that latter point, technology has provided me with the needed time to reflect by giving me avenues after a meeting or discussion to still contribute. Technology has expanded where and how I can be a leader in the way that feels right for me.

      References
      Wooldridge, A. (2016, September 10). Shhhh! The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/business-and-finance/21706490-organisations-have-too-long-been-oriented-towards-extroverts-companies-should-help

      Julie

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  3. Good post. I sort of agree…but think that there might be a danger to assuming that some jobs will not be impacted by tech. For instance, a company is already in prototype for a robot that can pick tomatoes and other produce. People always assumed that some products would have to be picked by hand…and that is now being disproved. We already had a major shift in employment from agricultural to manufacturing…a similar shift is starting to happen (look at the robots Amazon employs in its warehouses, and driverless cabs are coming). I am not sure what type of robot would be needed to track down and repair water sprinkler systems…but I bet someone is working on it.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3687909/Are-farmers-future-Cattle-herding-robots-tractors-pick-broccoli-heading-fields.html

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    1. Dr. Watwood, thank you. I agree there is a danger to assuming some jobs will not be impacted. However, I think there is also a danger to assuming all have been or will be impacted. Perhaps I am answering the question too literally, but there is a distinction between the “Web” as the impacting factor and the much broader “tech.” I do not think these two words may be used interchangeably, and I am far more inclined to agree that the nature of nearly if not all work has changed as a result of technology. Returning to my husband as the example, there are improved tools he is able to leverage now versus 20 years ago as a result of advances in technology. Needing to know how to use those new tools would be a fundamental change to the nature of his work. I can also imagine a future where a technology might replace him.

      Julie

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  4. Good morning Julie,

    I enjoyed your post this week. While I am not sure that I agree that the Web and technology don’t ultimately impact all jobs and all professions in some way, your comments did make me think about the readings, particularly about Husband’s idea of wirearchy, in a different way. The ideals of knowledge, trust, and credibility that Husband uses to describe wirearchy seem to be applicable to all professions, regardless of the impact of technology. Our reliance on all team members to contribute those attributes have changed the way our businesses function and the traditional views on the role of leader and follower. Any thoughts on how those pieces of Husband’s writings can be applied to those who may not be constantly connected by the web in their professions?

    Either way, thanks for helping me think about these concepts in a totally different way!

    Best,
    The Ayes Have It

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    1. Ayes, thank you for reading and commenting. I definitely agree that knowledge, trust, and credibility are applicable to all professions. I see and feel the wirearchy in action at my organization. We communicators all officially report to managers, but it feels very much like a “champion-and-channel” reality versus “command-and-control” of earlier years in my career (Husband, 2017).

      I see wirearchy as less hinged on the Web and more about human connection. The Web certainly is a component that facilitates connection, but wirearchy itself is about people tied together in a variety of ways, able to leverage each other versus only accomplish tasks and gain insight via the chain of command. So, my husband for example, who is not on the Web at work, may leverage any of his coworkers on a job or even other contractors present to make the best install decisions versus only take direction from the field supervisor, who is likely not at the jobsite.

      References
      Husband, J. (2017). What is wierarchy? Wirearchy. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

      Julie

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  5. Webulous! I immediately liked your word and then did as you invited and looked to see if there was a webulous community. And indeed there is! http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=webulous turns out you had it just right – web + nebulous and results when there are simply too many hits when we go to look something up. And it’s a business and a blog and … https://www.google.com/webhp?ie=UTF-8&rct=j#q=webulous Instead of wondering about anything, the answers are at our fingertips. And I do wonder if that’s always a good thing. Because it seems that it gives us all – leaders and followers alike – a false sense of knowing. So instead of wondering and maybe pondering in our own heads or thought partnering with others – we look it up. What might we be missing? So although space was a limitation in the past, might webulosity be a limit today? Might feeling like we have all the answers at our fingertips be a limit?

    Thanks for sharing your Antarctica experience. Wow. That is a really unusual opportunity. And I loved your description of how the stories of the past could be linked not only across time but from person to person thus building a richer network. You seem to be an artist with the network – sensing and utilizing its potential. Your whole post is so well written – this paragraph in particular is beautifully written. Really appreciated your post. ~Tricia

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    1. Tricia, thank you for your kind comments and questions! I love that you looked up webulous, and I really appreciate your thought provoking additions. They bring to mind a quote I keep from Jurassic Park (1993):

      “I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.”

      I agree that we might be missing value by essentially cutting out the act of learning in many cases. Beyond the knowledge itself, there is usefulness in the journey to attain knowledge and the responsibility taking that journey imparts, so webulosity may well be its own kind of limit. Thanks again for everything.

      References
      Speilberg, S., Molen, G. & Kennedy, K. (Producers) & Speilberg, S. (Director). (1993). Jurassic Park [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

      Julie

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      1. That quote is ideal! You really captured the essence of what I was pondering. And I have to step back momentarily to consider the dire situation those in Jurassic Park ended up in as a result of not earning their own knowledge. Thanks for the well crafted blog and thoughtful reply. ~Tricia

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Unicorn Magis,

    I liked your posted because it challenged my perspective on this topic. My fiancé is the director of a trucking fleet for a steel company. They are currently undergoing some changes to the way they track miles. Road miles will be counted digitally with an on-board computer. While this is a big change the core function of what they do remains the same and the challenges are solved in a very hands-on way, by getting key actors in the same room and talking about things. He has divisions spread across the Midwest so one day I suggested that he moves away from conference calls and use Skype for meetings. This seemed very natural to me, but it took months for him and his supervisors to implement the change. I remember jokingly welcoming him to the digital age. Thanks for your post!

    Shelli

    Like

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