[SoL] Comments on the de Vulpian Presentation

Following de Vulpian’s talk at the SoL conference, we heard remarks from Anne Murray Allen, the director for Knowledge and Intranet Management at Hewlett-Packard, and Arie de Geus, a former Royal Dutch Shell strategist and SoL co-founder.
HP is an interesting case study for what I call The Web as Organizational Mirror™. In the 1990’s HP shifted from a decentralized website to a centralized website, to present a unifed face to the world. This, just as the world was discovering the joys of decentralization. They once *had* a decentralized team culture too, now they are trying to get it back. The web changes foreshadowed the organization changes. I salute HP for being a corporate member of SoL, and I wish them all the best – at one time HP was one of the most important scientific organizations in the world, like Bell Labs – but, like Bell Labs, I fear the financial engineers have taken over, and the best may now be historical.
HP does appear to be doing some interesting things with regard to internal social networks. In particular, two things stood out from Anne’s talk. First is that they are trying hard to measure ROI on social connection systems. This is valuable work for those of us who work in the field, who have to make decisions or recommendations for clients. But, as mentioned above, the fact that you have to justify ROI on the value of sharing information with colleagues indicates that the finance types have run amok.
She also mentioned the idea of “finability” as an important aspect of the ROI work that they are doing. I perhaps misjudged the tone, but I got the sense that this was presented as a new idea, perhaps even one that HP invented. I am going to assume I misinterpreted this, because “findability” has been in regular use within my online circles for years. It might have even been mentioned in the O’Reilly information architecture book from 1996.
de Geus pointed out that people change and they change society which changes people….. This sounds obvious, but taken to the end it says that you cannot directly control the direction of societal evolution. Societies change very slowly, and the rules are set by legislation, which is sometimes referred to as today’s writeup of yesterday’s solution to the day before’s problems. This slow wavelength change also has important impacts for corporations (some of which de Vulpian mentions in his article).
Also of note: Only people in a society can change a society. You cannot change a system from outside it. Outsiders have no possibility, and perhaps no right, to make changes to the systems of others. Another way of stating this is, Learning has to be done by the learner.
de Geus then went on to talk, of all things, about cooperatives as a mechanism of distributing power to the “ordinary people.” He talked about Mondragon (wikipedia entry) the largest worker-owned cooperative, and about how the most successful management consulting firms (Booz Allen, McKinsey, St. Lukes) all created new mechanisms of power and profit sharing different from the traditional partner hierarchy. Visa International is the ultimate example of this, fully documented in Dee Hock‘s book,Birth of the Chaordic Age.” (Dee Hock and Arie were both instrumental in the foundation of SoL.)
There was a short table discussion that followed, around: What one question do we want to ask the presenters? Our list was:
* What are the failure modes or danger signs for societies?
* How do we change corporate governance? The vested interests have no incentive, and the “common good” has no truck today.
* How do we represent who holds power?
* Is there a limit to personal satisfaction? Or, perhaps, should there be limits? Or is society simply the sum total of all individual personal desires?