Monday, August 20, 2007

Λόγος in the Enterprise

The more I read what JP Rangaswami has to say about Facebook and the enterprise, the more skeptical I get. Admittedly, today's skepticism was primed by a Reuters Life! story from Canberra, which was the first time I read of an attempt to put a cost figure of Facebook usage:
Internet security company SurfControl looked at the phenomenon, and found Australian workers who keep a close watch on their Facebook profile page were costing their employers up to A$5 billion ($4 billion) a year.
The article then elaborated the details of how SurfControl came up with this rather striking figure. In all fairness, however, I am not sure that the approach that SurfControl was taking to the measurement of worker productivity was any better than those invoked by JP, which I have previously critiqued; but it was still nice to see that someone is trying to assess the impact of Facebook in terms of a dollar figure, even if the dollar was an Australian one!
In his post today, JP invokes the wisdom of Max DePree, author of Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz. This is what JP learned about leadership from DePree:
  • The first job of a leader is to articulate strategy and vision.
  • The second and last is to say thank you.
  • In between, a leader should be a servant and a debtor to the led.
This led to an extended riff on the use of Facebook to "capture the real-life interactions of a person in an organisation," which drifted pretty far from the points DePree had tried to make. Indeed, it all seemed to come down to using software as a facilitating and managing tool for handling masses of lists about the members of the enterprise, rather than having anything to do with engagements with and among those members.
I thus took great delight in a follow-up comment submitted by Stephen Lewis, which tried to get the discussion back on the topic of articulation in the context of such processes of engagement. This comment tapped into one of the more profound truths about the nature of knowledge, not just in the workplace but in everyday life. I tried to illustrate this truth in the following diagram, which I originally reproduced from one of my PowerPoint files for a post on my old Yahoo! 360° blog entries:
My work on that diagram grew out of Nonaka’s misconceived “definition” of “knowldge” as “justified true belief,” which he attributed to Plato's "Theaetetus." Reading this dialogue for myself, I discovered that Plato had Socrates dismiss this definition as entirely bogus, along with three other attempted definitions. However, while one gets to the end of Plato’s text without a definition of knowledge, one has learned that the concept of knowledge is tightly coupled to at least three other equally fundamental concepts: memory, being, and description (which may be a poor translation of the Greek λόγος). I see that final concept of λόγος as the more general capacity that lies behind what Lewis wrote about articulation, and I further see it as another one of those skills that has fallen by the wayside in our current approaches to education.
Of course, in the context of my campaign for "equal time" for verbs, as well as nouns, I was particularly impressed with Lewis' process-based approach to such articulation. Given the pre-Socratic insight into all the flux in the world, the act of describing is more important than any resulting description, which, while more concrete is also more temporary. I have tried many times to raise this distinction on JP's own "turf;" and he has even taken some noble stabs at grasping the point I have tried to make. Unfortunately, as far as Facebook and the enterprise is concerned, he still does not seem to get it. Enterprise work is not about making a whole slew of structures (lists) about people more manageable; it is about making the processes of engagement more effective. If technology can facilitate those processes, so much the better; but the success of the enterprise will still come down to the day-to-day practices of all those who work there. I see Lewis' approach to articulation as a healthy contribution to those practices.


America Jones said...

What can be assigned quantitative value can be traded as a commodity. I wouldn't quite venture to say that's an axiom, but I think it has a certain truth to it: the business models of services like Facebook and MySpace profit by making a commodity of personality.

Whether that profit derives from a share of some third party's increased productivity (indirectly, through the stock market, for example), or from the "inconvenience value" paid by casual users who put up with or patronize invasive marketing and advertising, MySpace and Facebook are two possible solutions to the problem of how to profit from the commodification of personality. They become brand names for "value added" personality, after proprietary processing...

I think the important question is how to best prevent the wholesale manipulation of this market.

Stephen Smoliar said...

I am afraid the market is being manipulated on a pretty grand scale. This is most evident in the performing arts (where the consummate performer is inevitably trumped by the personality shaped around public appeal); but it has been emerging in the business world, too. Think of the cult status that formed around Lee Iacocca. With MySpace and Facebook even Musil's "man without qualities" can profit!