Technology and Organizations

Partnering, Integrating, To Make the Complex Simple

In the recent top rated book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World , Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt offer that, “When many parties must work together, simple trumps complex” (p. 44). This is a beautiful fit for the future of work, a future made up of complex work, performed in complex ways. Freelancers, contractors, and global project work, all intermingle with traditional organizational forms. Rather than try and understand all the complexities yourself, partner with those who do -- and do it in a simple way. By simple in this instance I mean push decision-making to where the information is, close to the work itself.

Complex Work and Partnerships Require Simple Rules and Direct Connections to Feedback

This is such a strong idea that Sull and Eisenhardt use it as the conclusion of their book:

..simple rules work because they provide a threshold level of structure while leaving ample scope to exercise discretion....

Close to the facts on the ground, individuals can draw on their judgment and creativity to manage risks and seize unexpected opportunities. The latitude to exercise discretion not only makes simple rules effective, it makes them attractive. People [and organizations, my addition here, but also covered in the book] thrive when given the opportunity to apply their judgment and creativity to the situations they face from day to day. And if they benefit from simple rules, they are more likely to use them and use them well" (p. 228).

The “threshold level of structure” is what keeps the ground-level decision making from just being tactical. Key is that the structure is understood and committed to across all actors. Nilofer Merchant talks about the value of co-creating strategy so that the vision and the tactics are tied across all levels of the work from inception. Co-creation can support commitment and innovation. Sull and Eisenhardt provide detailed notes on the value of working throughout the organization as rules are created -- and are clear that strategy and execution cannot be separated.

The Future of Work Is Complex, But the Underlying Technologies Can Help

Internet enabled collaboration, product development supported by real-time data, The Internet of Things. These all mean we spend more time and effort checking and connecting with data and others throughout our days, and nights. The process is not simple, but it could be simpler. Some organizations have found ways to leverage the complexity of data in ways that simplify the work.

Pulse Mining Systems

Pulse Mining Systems provides integrated business management tools to mining companies. (I’m looking forward to writing a more historical piece remarking on how much mining has taught us about management.) They offer resources for operations, human resources, marketing, and more. The key is that they don’t do it alone -- and their tools aren’t meant just for executives or data scientists.

I spoke with Rob Parvin, then their visualization and analytics manager. I was looking for an example of the value of offering access to operational data to people doing the work, but I found much more. Yes, he described examples where mines with five kilometer conveyors are progressing from manual reporting to real time, sensor-based, feedback to the shift managers. Yes, maintenance and staffing decisions are made with better data. (More on those soon.) But what surprised me was how they were creating these opportunities.

Pulse Partners to Co-Innovate

Pulse partners to simplify both their strategic decision making and how they then take action on that strategy. They co-innovate -- work with their strategic clients -- to identify the specific information needed by the client for decision making (going for simple rather than complex), key metrics, and prototyping. The product is eventually rolled out as a general offering -- but with the knowledge that it’s a tool that’s valuable in the industry and works. The implicit rule is that products are co-developed rather than created away from the work itself. They’ve been able to create early versions in as little as three weeks.

Pulse is able to move this quickly because they’ve partnered with two analytics companies rather than trying to build out their own capabilities (implicit rule: Don’t reinvent the wheel). They work with Birst (see an earlier mention here) and Tableau to provide analytics and visualization building blocks that are rapidly prototyped and tested in the field. The complexity is managed by focusing on pre-built, reusable capabilities. The partners are bound by a common interest in answering operational questions.

In prior posts I’ve written about how we can lead by letting go (of old school management techniques), but that creates an image of chaos for some. Instead, let’s think about a structured handoff of responsibility. We are unlikely expert in all the areas where we need expertise. Pulse has found like-minded partners. SAP has done the same with their co-innovation labs. Each seems to have developed simple rules of organization to handoff pieces of the innovation process to partners with appropriate skills.

My Own Simple Rules

Rereading Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, and considering the issues in the context of our quickly changing work environment, has inspired me to think about my own simple rules. I work with a variety of audiences interested in designing organizations for innovation and offer a process for creating designs unique to their settings (I’m in full agreement that the local creation of the rules is an important piece of the process). That said, I think there are a few rules many can work with and I share them here in hope that you will help me improve them.

  • Base decisions on data, with decision makers as close to the work as possible.

  • Build teams with diverse skills, but common interests - highlight the interest.

  • Bundle similar work, and where possible, pass off to automation.

  • Be transparent and pay attention to what others are sharing with you.

Sull and Eisenhardt use the second half of their book to discuss how to refine and improve your rules. The above are just a start for me, are they also an interesting start for you?

Summer Reading List on the Future of Work

This mind map shows my reading list for the futures of work. (Here is a link to an Amazon page including all the entries -- and I will update it as new books are added). This has been my homework as I develop the ideas for my next project. I see these contributions as providing a great foundation for how we think about what the future may bring, but I think we’re just at the beginning in terms of making these ideas reality for most of us.


We don't have a guide for work in the modern age -- something that acknowledges the forces for change but also acknowledges that our experience and education haven't prepared most of us to work in a world of increasing transparency, mobility, and jobs shared with automation of increasing intelligence.

I'm writing the book I hope will fill this gap and I need your help to be sure I'm on the right track.

For organizational leaders there are books on the forces for change (e.g., Brynjolffsson & McAfee’s Second Machine Age), predictions around the future (e.g., Malone’s The Future of Work), strategies that companies can and are taking (e.g., Wang’s Disrupting Digital Business), and examples of what some of the most forward looking companies are doing (e.g., Bock’s Work Rules! -- Google).

There are also books to help with specific techniques like creating a results only work environment (e.g., Ressler & Thompson’s Why Work Sucks and What To Do About It ) and possible actions for individuals inside and outside of organizations (e.g., Simon’s Message Not Received, and my own, The Plugged-In Manager).

What I have yet to find is a book that acknowledges the full reality of the futures of our work. All of us will be playing all of these roles simultaneously: Leading, strategizing, shifting work methods, and planning our own professional development -- while moving between traditional employment and freelancing.

Design and Redesign Throughout Our Careers

We will design and redesign our jobs and organizations. The organizational rate of change, reorganization, new initiatives, product development life cycle is all increasing. Additionally, many of us will be freelancing, at least part time, so we become the designers of our personal organization.

This last is a reality acknowledged in Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha’s book, The Start-Up of You (p. 8 ): where they talk about the "...challenges of today's fractured career landscape." You and your career, they argue, needs to function as an entrepreneurial startup.

Even if you aren't part of the growing ranks of freelancers (see the forthcoming book, Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment, by Boudreau, Jesuthasan, and Creelman for more), whatever your span of control, take on the responsibility as if you were the CEO. That's part of the advice Maynard Webb (past COO of eBay and CEO of LiveOps) offers in his book with Carlye Adler, Rebooting Work: You have to be CEO of your own destiny.

Valuable advice, but most of us have never been a CEO nor do we have the broad organizational skills set necessary to be a good one.

What’s Missing?

What seems to be missing in this reading list is an overview -- and a project that acknowledges that a book is not enough. Like this mind map, we need an overview with options for deeper dives. More than a book; a book as an introduction and then connections to a living outline and community for future learning. Do you think there a place for a book, and more, on how to lead, strategize, shift work methods, and plan for our own futures of work?

Am I on the right track? What else should I be considering?

I've been hinting at this project for a while. Some of these older posts were trial balloons, others are sneak peeks. Please let me know here, on Twitter, or Facebook, which seem the most valuable and where you'd like to know more. I'll be working on a full outline to share as I hear back.

If you are not reading this on, please click here to provide your comments. I would love to hear about your own futures of work.

Gild Does for Hiring What Boeing Did for Airplanes

Airplane systems are incredibly complex, expensive, and directly affect performance. The same is true for the hiring process. Gild today announced their end-to-end “smart hiring success platform,” leveraging machine intelligence, automation, and collaboration. Just like aircraft “health” systems now save millions of dollars by collecting vast amounts of data and signaling to pilots and maintenance crews when to take action before there is a problem, Gild’s system offers a proactive on-line system using data and analytics to help the recruiting team find, recruit, and hire better candidates faster.

Recruiters Need Help

An entire field of psychology (and the 2002 Nobel prize in economics ) is devoted to helping us make good decisions --- because, left to our own devices, we often don’t. Research shows a variety of biases in hiring decisions and even in how people approach their own job search. Given that bad hiring decisions are incredibly costly, this is an area ripe for support by more data-centric approaches.

This isn’t to say that hiring decisions aren’t based on data now. They are, sometimes, it’s just that humans can only look at relatively small amounts of data. Machine systems, however, are tireless at sifting through applications, past results, and testing new approaches to learn the best way to do the task. I just received my copy of Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education . It’s nothing for IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence to read and learn from 9,000 recipes in Bon Appétit magazine (or 23 million MedLine papers when supporting cancer research). We can’t say the same for our own abilities to process information.

Gild’s Capabilities

In the case of the Gild platform, recruiting teams are supported in a hybrid approach to writing job postings, sourcing and communication with prospects, and even scheduling and interview support.

My first contact with Gild was when I read about their tools for identifying job prospects based on publicly available work and social media activity. Gild tools can reach into online sites like GitHub (a collaboration platform focused on building computer code) and StackOverflow (a popular question and answer site for programmers) to algorithmically identify the best coders. They’ve extended this ability (from their press release):

Smart sourcing: Gild’s hiring recommendation engine scours the web to compile a list of relevant prospects. Gild indicators tell recruiters which prospects are most likely to change jobs and the right time to reach out to them. Gild also applies patented technology to score tech prospects’ expertise (based on publicly available work) and demand (based on the current job market).

Adding Machine Learning to the Team

I got a glimpse of how current users are doing with Gild when I talked to co-founder and CEO, Sheeroy Desai last week. He said, “the more you use it, the smarter it gets.” The critical question for me was about how the recruiting teams adapt their work practice given Gild. Desai noted, “you need software that has the workflow [built in], but then you need the collaboration.” This isn’t about a machine taking over, it’s about evolving to better practice and outcomes. Recruiting teams learn the new tool, and the more they use it the more valuable it becomes, but I suspect they also need to reevaluate how they coordinate their work in the same way you would with any new team member.

We have a fairly mature understanding of how to support human project teams: Involve only people needed for the work (rather than for political reasons), allow the groups to stay together over multiple projects, provide feedback from the task itself, keep meetings focused on work rather than reporting, etc. However, we do not have a standard set of best practices for integrating hybrid systems into standing teams. We don’t have a clear process for helping people hand off tasks where the system will do a better job -- and perhaps more importantly -- helping people see the opportunities in their uniquely human capabilities. My book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get In Tune With Your People, Technology, and Organization To Thrive , is a start, but Watson didn’t win Jeopardy until 2011, so machine teammates didn’t make it into the discussion.

Perhaps it’s an easier transition in aviation where these systems are focused on other machines rather than people. For talent management, we may have to work harder to make the transition. We may, as I’ve had the chance to write about elsewhere, lead by letting go: We may accelerate our improvement by letting go of systems and rules built to run 20th century organizations (while still holding tight to our values, relationships, and performance standards).

How have you incorporated machine capabilities into your own workflow? What is your biggest challenge as you try? Let me know in the comments section here (or at

Will LinkedIn & Help Us Race With The Machines?

Last year, 1,896 experts responded to questions from the Pew Research Center around how artificial intelligence and robotics will affect our work and lives by 2025. The group was about evenly split on whether more jobs would be created or destroyed, but they also gave more nuanced comments on the different themes underlying their thinking. One theme tightly related to my own research is summarized as, “Technology will free us from day-to-day drudgery, and allow us to define our relationship with “work” in a more positive and socially beneficial way.” Technology will change the nature of work. Technology can also help us cope with these changes.

LinkedIn and

Think about LinkedIn. With 107 Million users in the United States and 347 Million worldwide, many of us have already gone to the effort of providing LinkedIn’s machines with our work history. Combine this with LinkedIn's recent announcement that they will pay $1.5 Billion for professional education company

Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO is quoted in a press release:

The mission of LinkedIn and the mission of are highly aligned. Both companies seek to help professionals be better at what they do…’s extensive library of premium video content helps empower people to develop the skills needed to accelerate their careers. When integrated with the hundreds of millions of members and millions of jobs on LinkedIn, can change the way in which people connect to opportunity.

Lifelong Learning Demanded by the Shrinking “Half-Life” of our Job Knowledge -- But Machines Can Help

Jobs evolve more quickly than they have in the past. For example, half the knowledge in some fields of psychology is expected to be obsolete in less than six years. For information technology professionals, the pace is even faster.

My version of the best outcome of the LinkedIn/ acquisition is that the deep integration of our LinkedIn work histories and LinkedIn’s broad perspective on available jobs, and the skills needed to do them, will help us prepare for a world where work is constantly changing and we have to race to stay current. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call this racing with the machines instead of against them.

LinkedIn may be able to combine what it knows about the kinds of jobs that are available (via its recruiting services), the kinds of skills we have (via our LinkedIn profiles), and predictive analytics (data crunching focused on testing what might happen next) to direct us towards the most valuable educational opportunities offered by the content. Ideally, we’d have enough time to prepare for the jobs of the future and stay ahead of the curve. The machine becomes our partner in career planning at exactly the time that we need it.

Do you feel like the pace of change in your work is increasing? For career success, what’s the right mix of staying up to date on factual knowledge (book learning), the technologies (tools) of your work, and your professional (human) networks?

What Does Plugged-In Mean? Computers In Class & Conference Rooms

A colleague recently shared this Washington Post article with me: This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom. Yes, I have seen the studies about long-hand versus typed notes (long-hand wins). But that is comparing across one dimension -- something everyone in any of my classes or workshops knows is not what you want to do.

Your learning experience or meeting is not about lecture and taking a test... or at least it shouldn't be. It should be about the full process: The best course design or collaboration using the best tools (electronic or not), designed to work in the best way with your own skills, context, and needs.

Mixing Human, Technical, and Organizational Dimensions in Your Work

Being plugged-in is about the mix of human, technical, and organizational dimensions. If all we did were listen to lectures, take notes, and then take tests, I might suggest you keep the computer in your bag. If you simply don't have the self-control to stay off of your social streams, then too, maybe leave the computer in the bag until we need it for a specific task.

But, if the computer is giving you a way to link what we're doing in class or in a meeting to how it's going to help you at work, or how it relates to other material -- or if it's the way you're co-creating the learning experience or work product -- then I'm going to ask you to have an "internet enabled device" as part of your toolkit.

Learning By Integrating

I'm just back from a conference where a colleague said he'd banned computers in the classroom. I said I'd have to drop his course. My notes, even those from that conference, are a combination of what's being said plus links back to other material. I think I even sent follow-up emails to colleagues not at the conference so we could take a related action. I'm fully engaged, both with the inflow of the information in the room, but perhaps more importantly, with how that information relates to my own work. Yes, I could create those links after the class or conference session, but few of us get the chance for that kind of reflection. I'll also admit that I may have missed a talking point while integrating a previous point with a possible action item. (Might a different session design have pauses built in to allow for this integration?)

I'm also at a loss when a meeting kicks off with a request to close the laptops or put down the tablets. There is a presumption that all the information we'll need to do our work is in our heads, that we don't have the self-control to stay focused on the topic, and/or that we couldn't be leveraging our tools to do the work of the meeting (taking group notes, getting information from others not present, starting the draft of the report while we can all be looking at the result, etc.) Rarely can I as a meeting leader guess at the best way for the session to go. I need to be confident that my colleagues are making good choices - and of course I want to provide a clear agenda in advance so they can.

The Answer

Plugged-In doesn't mean always connected. It means engaging appropriately with all the human, technical, and organizational dimensions of your work and learning.

  • Stop and consider the context and goals of the session, both for you and your colleagues.
  • Build your approach to match these goals. Think of it as as negotiating change, even if it's just for yourself.
  • Share (think out loud) with your colleagues and look for improvements to your practice. They'll appreciate you're aware of the issues and you may co-create a better overall approach for reaching your goals.

And if you are checking Facebook rather than engaging with your colleagues, realize that the camera documenting the course or meeting, is also pointed right at your screen....


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