Intertwingled Work

July 5, 2010 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

Last week's post by Jim McGee Managing the visibility of knowledge work kicked off a nice conversation on Observable Work (using a term introduced by Jon Udell) including: my blog post expanding on a comment I wrote on Jim's post; Brian Tullis's Observable Work: The Taming of the Flow based on a comment Brian made on Jim's post, which he found from a Twitter update by @jmcgee retweeted by @roundtrip; a Twitter conversation using the hash tag #OWork (for "Observable Work"); John Tropea's comment back to Jim from a link in a comment I left on John's Ambient Awareness is the new normal post; Jim's Observable work - more on knowledge work visibility (#owork), linking back to Mary Abraham's TMI post and Jack Vinson's Invisible Work - spray paint needed post, both written in response to Jim's original post; followed by Jack Vinson's Explicit work (#owork) and Paula Thornton's Enterprise 2.0 Infrastructure for Synchronicity.

That's a bunch of links! But I include them for a reason. [ For anyone who finds the presence of inline links distracting, see Apology to the Easily Distracted, below. ]

This modest trail is not only observable - it's spread over about a dozen posts on eight unrelated blog servers using unrelated software, loosely coupled by conversations, links and hash tags observable in the Web commons known as Twitter. The only things that connect this trail are links, search, syndicated feeds and serendipity. In the words of Ted Nelson this is an intertwingled trail - although not very deeply intertwingled, and not that easy to follow.

That brings three points to mind:

1) The fact that "intertwingle" is an amusing word can obscure an important idea I believe Ted Nelson is a Casandra-like inventor blessed and cursed with a rapier wit and the ability to invent concepts and coin terms that stick deeply in peoples minds. Hypertext one of the terms Ted coined and concepts he invented - working independently from Doug Engelbart at about the same time - inspired by the work of Vannevar Bush.

One of Ted's mantras: "EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no "subjects" at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly." Ted Nelson, Computer Lib / Dream Machines, 1974

Although I think it's useful to believe in the existence of subjects - and spoons - in the past, conversations could only be intertwingled across paper memos, faxes, written reports and email. Until the advent of the Web it wasn't possible to intertwingle conversations, networks, analysis and work in near-real time and global scale. Now that's trivial and essentially free with basic Web access.

2) The Web does what it's intended to do, so long as content is addressable and findable. The trail on observable work isn't stored in one specific place - but with a little effort it's possible to follow the flow and join the conversation.

The fact that blog posts and comments are created and served by different content server systems is irrelevant, so long as the content is addressable using basic Web standards. How the different servers store the addressed content internally is likewise irrelevant so long as they deliver the content using Web content standards.

The fact that no one has to create a common place to contain a trail is an advantage of the Web, not a disadvantage. It makes finding and linking harder, but creation and association infinitely easier than attempting to force the world into one "Observable Work" discussion area you create in one specific blog, wiki, forum, Wave or whatever.

The Web succeeds succeeds by making it possible for anyone anywhere to create a trail which others can find, follow and join using nothing more than their own Web browser, Web search layered over the basic Web and Twitter as one good example of a Web commons.

The Web doesn't guarantee that you'll be aware of conversations on observable work going on in other trails unless you search or stumble upon a link which leads you connect the two. I don't follow discussions on LinkedIn, but might be alerted to something interesting there by someone I follow in a commons like Twitter where I do participate.

The fact that everything posted publicly on Web is potentially observable doesn't lead mean you have to deal with Too Much Information shoved in your face - or into your email box.

You choose who and what to follow, augmented by Web search and your ability to jump in and join or forget about and a trail at any time - although you might hold on to a link so it's easy to find the trail again if you change your mind.

3) Business context makes observable work easier to create, discover and use. Unlike the public Web, work in a private or public organization has a purpose and context that can make observable work easier to discover and talk about. Work and discussion in an organization generally take place in the context of broad business activities like sales, product development, research, finance or administration. Context in an enterprise can be represented as places where work and conversation takes place with reliable privacy aware search, tagging, linking, comments, status updates and activity streams. [ For Traction Software's take on this concept, please see Traction TeamPage 5.0: Social Software for Work ]

I strongly believe the important point is supporting business context - not business process in the sense of transactional workflow or automated systems. I believe that functionally specialized transactional systems in an organization will likely remain silos of structured information - but market forces will drive vendors to make their content addressable using simple Web standards and services - with appropriate authentication and privacy in context.

These functionally specialized systems will also signal their status using social computing standards that are now starting to take shape. This will push routine reporting and dealing with exceptions from transactional systems into the "social" places where people can stay informed, recognize issues and exceptions and decide what to do. In an ideal world, transactional systems would provide authenticated access to Web addressable content or analysis, signals based on routing activity or exceptions, Web sensible control interfaces - and not a much more. Most human access would be handled on the Web rather than transactional processing side. I believe the Web has become a valid, scalable and secure alternative to proprietary stacks for integrating most enterprise software at the user experience level.

Much of what a sociologist would call "social" behavior when talking about Enterprise 2.0 would naturally center on the sociology of work: how people communicate and interact with others while dealing with questions, issues, exceptions, suggestions and the messy stuff that routine transactional systems can't handle, along with interpersonal relationships that develop in a specific context or as member of an extended enterprise (including customers, suppliers, consultants and external as well as internal stakeholders).

On top of relationships based well established patterns of work and conversation - Andrew McAfee's strong ties - enterprise social software opens the door to discovering people and groups who most folk in a large organization would never meet face to face.

This offers the same opportunities for serendipitous discovery we see on the public Web, but with privacy in context which enables open discussion and shared goals and purpose that are part of what Peter Drucker calls the purpose of an organization: "The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary humans beings to do extraordinary things."

Much of what's challenging about using "observable work" principles can be addressed by examples at top, middle and grassroots levels of an organization. What's needed is a willingness to tolerate and encourage observable work in the small under local control, and leadership to make it an enterprise norm.

As Paula Thornton says: "For as much as people want to make Enterprise 2.0 about technologies, then I’m willing to concede this: Enterprise 2.0 is the means by which to achieve Work 2.0 to deliver Business 2.0."

To be continued Jim, Brian, John, Mary, Jack, Paula, Mark, Gordon, Rawn, Jose, JP, Tom, Deb and the rest of the World - over to you. The best way to follow the evolution of the Observable Work trail is Twitter's #OWork tag. All of the participant's seem to use Twitter as a commons linking posts that either directly respond to the Observable Work conversation, or are related in some interesting way, such as Tom Peter's Strategy: Space Matters ("who sits next to whom in your office can make a huge difference"), JP Rangaswami's Musing about learning by doing, Deb Lavoy's Common Operating Picture - share facts, debate possibilities, John Tropea's link to Keith Swanson's excellent slide set, and John's soon-to-be-published post on Adaptive Case Management.


Tuesday July 6, 2010: As promised, John Tropea posted a comprehensive analysis and synthesis on observable work and Adaptive Case Management (and much more) titled: Have we been doing Enterprise 2.0 in reverse : Socialising processes and Adaptive Case Management It's a great post that's long for a very good reason: John pulls together many themes with well-sourced references and quotes [ another apology to the easily distracted ]. I won't use this comment to summarize all of the points I find interesting and valuable - there's a lot to come back to! I'll will try to summarize one theme John develops that seems directly relevant to Intertwingled Work.

1) Adaptive Case Management is a data rather than process centric way of looking at how people deal with situations centered around a particular problem, issue, or case. It's intended to support people who need to make decisions that depend on complex and unpredictable circumstances associated with the case that require judgment and knowledge work rather than application of a deterministic process. Think of a doctor treating a patient.

2) Observable work can be thought of as an object of Adaptive Case Management, focusing discovery, analysis, requests for advice or assistance and recording of outcomes on the work itself. This centers collaboration on the case (or work object) rather than trying to create a fixed set of business rules or a rigidly repeatable transactional process where none exists. John quotes Ken Swenson:

" ... Because the process is emergent, you have to model the process using something that people can read, add to, and manipulate readily while they are doing other things. With knowledge work, it is not the case that you have a dedicated business analyst to work and get the process model just right; instead the actual case worker needs to do it on the fly."

3) Connecting collaboration to the object of observable work rather than a formal business process lines up very well with what Jordan Frank calls Emergineering! or Social Process Reengineering. Jordan describes the difference between Social and Business Process reengineering as the difference between orchestrating a unique response to the circumstances of a case, versus a futile attempt to capture a response as a rigid business process. Jordan quotes a customers' experience:

"... She was a master of what Paula Thornton recently coined as B2.0: Orchestrated Improvisation. Peggy understood the piece parts of what her orchestra members do in their daily work life, understood the process context in which they worked, and, like a good conductor, was able to lead them, like any good conductor, to play together to the symphonic challenge of the day - which was sure to be ever changing but followed certain patterns and basic structures. Whether the technology was new-fangled or old didn't matter - the key was her ability to figure out What, How and Why. Then she could explain the new process (loosely described as a set of interleaved intelligence communities) and how people could use the technology to do their jobs better."

Summary: The idea of connecting collaboration to observable work is at the heart of what Doug Engelbart has taught for decades. One of the most important lessons I draw from Doug's work is that to support effective collaboration, work needs to be both observable and addressable. That seems to be a necessary condition to support Adaptive Case Management using software. Addressable Work might be a better term for what I've tried to discuss in Intertwingled Work - but Ted Nelson deserves a shout out too!

July 6, 2010 | # | Greg Lloyd

Unfortunately neither Twitter nor Google's hash tag search seems complete and reliable. So far as I can tell not all Tweets mentioning are found by either service. There's room for improvement on the public Web as well as the Enterprise 2.0 domain.

Apology to the Easily Distracted: Readers who find embedded links distracting don't have to click while reading the paragraph. I apologize if using the Web to source references that would be unimaginably difficult to provide in any other medium is a distraction. I believe it's not hard to exercise a little discipline when reading, then go back and click any links where you'd like to dive deeper based on your interests. I like to put a small number of See Also links at the bottom of posts where you can dive deeper if you choose.

Related

The Work Graph Model: TeamPage style - "...A work graph consists of the units of work (tasks, ideas, clients, goals, agenda items); information about that work (relevant conversations, files, status, metadata); how it all fits together; and then the people involved with the work (who’s responsible for what? which people need to be kept in the loop?)"

Reinventing the Web - Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee and the evolution of the Web

The Future of Work Platforms: Like Jazz - The social dance of getting things done, dealing with exceptions, and staying aware of what’s going around you

Fixing Enterprise Search - Context and addressable content in functional line of business systems

Enterprise 2.0 - Letting hypertext out of its box - Hypertext and the Web

Explaining Twitter - One of Three Places for People - Neighborhood, Work, Commons

User Experience Standards for Social Computing in the Enterprise Notes for Mike Gotta E2.0 Boston 2010 panel

Enterprise 2.0 and Observable Work - Riff on a theme by Jim McGee and Jon Udell

29 July 2010 | Enterprise 2.0 and Observable Work: Brian Tullis and Joe Crumpler, Burton Group Catalyst 2010 Santa Diego

20 June 2005 | Supernova | Why Can't a Business Work More Like the Web? - White paper

Peter Drucker and Enterprise 2.0 | Drucker Centenary - Why Enterprise 2.0?