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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Volvo IT and how they blocked blogs and other sites mentioning social software. Particularly it was sites that happened to have "typepad" or "blogspot" in their address or any other trace of being what could be categorized as "social software". Examples of site that was blocked from Volvo employees was

Recent news tell us that e g US Air Force is also blocking blogs as reported by Wired recently:

The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word "blog" in its web address. It's the latest move in a larger struggle within the military over the value -- and hazards -- of the sites. At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so "utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream."

[From Air Force Blocks Access to Many Blogs | Danger Room from Wired.com]

What might all this mean?

To me these events resonate with something much bigger. Is it a coincidence that these actions mirrors what leaders in China, Burma and other totalitarian regimes have been taken to protect their positions? I think this is a chain of events that are on it's way to spread on a global scale and is the result of a number of conflicting driving forces

  • The information and communication technology changes human organizations much deeper than we think - the whole traditional way of building static hierarchies are losing out
  • Leaders in one hierarchy after another are waking up to the fact that they are becoming increasingly powerless, and maybe even in the long term irrelevant and the main culprit seems to be be modern communication technology - by trying to restrict and control Internet they think they can decrease the chaos and again return to control
  • Because of the 9/11 and the growing threats of viruses, stealing sensitive information through the Internet and global terrorism
    (1) the security industry is booming and provide a vast range of better and better tools to restrict certain kind of use as well as gather and analyze enormous amount of information much easier than before and
    (2) citizens and employees are in a psychological state when safety and order is regarded as a goal of higher priority than many other things

This development wouldn't be something to worry about if this "shut-the-gates" behavior was just occurring in totalitarian states and old and rigid corporations. But I think we should be a bit worried when we see it being spread elsewhere. What maybe is starting out is a war against free horizontal communication and Internet is the target. 9/11 can be seen as the pivotal event because it started a chain of reactions that eventually turned what could have been a contained shift of organizational models into an open battle between the leaders and the rest.

Some effects of the changing human communication capabilities are inevitable since the old model must make place for new ones. But how this transformation will develop is dependent on many factors. Some uncertainties I see right now are

  • how far will the major influential global powers go when it comes to maintain/regain control?
  • will the fragile democratic processes actually work when it comes to redefine the power structures according to the new communication reality?
  • how much is people in general willing to sacrifice to achieve to some level of (superficial) order and safety?
  • which real world power will the horizontal networks gather before one of the major conflicts occur?
  • will there be a wide spread awareness of the nature of the conflict or will other issues (like e g the environment)?

Four possible outcomes for the next 20 years?

I think there are four possible scenarios for the future of the relation between the new communication paradigm and models of governance.

200802282254.jpg Scenario 1 - a smooth sail

It will turn out as the technology people are predicting. New communication possibilities will revolutionize the world and the existing governing structures will first be bypassed and then step by step become irrelevant and eventually disappear as a new organizational paradigm will rise from the rubble of the pieces of the old ones.

This will not happen without conflicts but the conflicts will be contained and of a small scale. In most case reason will win and new rules and regulations will emerge from bottom up.


200802282300.jpgScenario 2 - back in line

After seeing some of the consequences of a horizontal and anarchic world almost all top leaders agree on the dangers of entering the unknown and collectively decide that this can't be allowed. The strategy will be to fuel image of the external threats and convince people that we will not be able to solve all these global problems if we allow communication to be completely free.

Some major events will also help to make it very clear to most of us that the price to pay for that relatively small freedom of communication will not weigh up all the chaos that will follow in the trace of dismounting our governing structures and hope new ones will arise.

Scenario 3 - full scale war200802291149.jpg

It is perfectly clear that most of the leaders of influential hierarchical organizations and countries will not tolerate that new communication technology will change and maybe even destroy the current governing models as well as the nation state - the perceived foundation for stability of the world. In order to maintain order and recreate a well needed economical stability almost all possible means will be used to diminish any further effects of new communication technology. The strategies will differ. Most countries will start off with the nice path of surveillance and infuse a silent threat in order to keep some people afraid and silent. When this fails because of the emergence of DarkNets they will be forced to take the path of the more brutal governments and pull the plug to the public Internet completely. Instead new and restricted channels for financial and corporate use will be developed and financed by e g the dying but now revitalized phone companies.

Countries who still naïvely believes in democracy and liberalism and accept and tries to adopt to the new communication paradigm will not be able to stand outside of this but will be drawn in to the conflict by the large and more totalitarian countries like China, United States and Russia. The world will be divided between the countries who have invested too much in the hierarchical governance model and actually relies on it for it's existence and the rest of the world who will have a better chance if the game is redefined in a less hierarchic manner.

Scenario 4 - many small wars in different areas at different times

The perceived negative effects of changing communication models are not evenly spread. It is almost impossible to decide on one line of action and the war of organizational paradigms will pop up in different arenas and will be followed by actions in isolation to this area. Each conflict could be geographically contained (within China, Burma or United States), contained within an industry or area (traditional industry organizations or military organizations) of activity or even be contained in an aspect of other things (copyright, terrorism).

This scenario could be a prequel to both scenario 2 and scenario 3, and it could maybe even be perceived as a prequel to scenario 1, but it will be the most tedious and slow chain of events. It is unlikely that this scenario will work since the world is more connected than ever. A conflict of governing models within an area will most certainly spread to other areas very quickly.

This is just a short and shallow analysis that might be severely flawed so please comment on it if you have something to say...

1

In Wikinomics blog Brendan Peat writes

In the past Don Tapscott and Nicholas Carr have debated on numerous occasions the topic “Does IT Matter”. At the FASTforward 08 conference Andrew McAfee made an interesting comment on how Web 2.0 tools and technologies mean IT will become a more powerful point of differentiation

[...]

Look at some of the mainstays in the Web 2.0 suit of technologies - wikis, blogs, social networks, tags, RSS, predictive markets. The collaborative, social, user generated nature of these tools makes it almost impossible to duplicate the value from one organization to another. Sure, technically speaking it’s simple to install and configure Web 2.0 tools, but when you are talking about information technology, getting the information into those tools is an art form. This means that organizations that can leverage Web 2.0 technologies will gain competitive advantage based on the skill in which they use those technologies.

[From Sorry Carr, Web 2.0 tools mean that IT matters more now than ever]

My interpretation of this is that, yes IT definitely matters , if we by IT mean everything which helps us communicate with each other and help us organize everything. If we on the other hand by IT mean the information systems and PC-networks that many company's refer to as IT, then I give Carr right.

The point is that Web 2.0 and the next generation of IT tools supports the individual and social aspects of organization - exactly the opposite of what the most corporations and their IT-departments want to achieve today.

This means that IT (with the broad all inclusive definition) will mean everything and IT (with the more narrow corporate definition) means nothing. But more importantly: the IT department doesn't matter anymore.

Maybe Carr should write a new revised edition of his book with a slightly adjusted name?

Today Jamais Cascio wrote a post about The Big Picture where he paints a picture of the 6 main drivers behind the major development of the next 20 years. I am really looking forward to following posts in the issue.

  • Climate Chaos
  • Resource Collapse
  • Catalytic Innovation
  • Ubiquitous Transparency
  • New Models of Development
  • The Rise of the Post-Hegemonic World

He starts his last paragraph in his post with

As always, this is meant not as a prediction but as a provocation.

OK, I am a bit provoked!! 😉
It is really an interesting list which cover a lot of the important drivers. My purpose with this post is possibly to touch on to what I think is either a meta subject or possibly an even larger driver. At least I think it is a major uncertainty underpinning how we react to the consequences of these drivers, but also how we are able to organize to meet the coming challenges.

The rise of the modern man

I am talking about the rise of the Western modern man, as sociologists call the phenomenon, and specifically how the modern man is silently and by just ignoring it challenging the existing hierarchical structures everywhere. For this purpose I would characterize the modern man as

  • more pragmatic and critical in larger scale than ever before - most notably to experts, media, authorities and institutions
  • is being able to create a (socially constructed) personal worldview - truthiness rules
  • is to an increasing extent driven by the need for self esteem and creating a personal identity
  • has more input then ever which gives a broader and at the same time more shallow perspective of the world
  • is increasingly connected
  • is increasingly empowered by different means of technology - more and more of a prosumer

Eroding organizations

But what maybe is more important now and a consequence of all this, the modern man is starting, beginning with the younger generations, to throw off the inherited mental limitations and cultural patterns of hierarchical subordination. This is already having consequences to many organizations. The ideas behind almost all of our current organizations, including nation states built on democracies, relies on a too simple principle of subordination and division of labor.

If I am right and the emergence of the modern man have already been eroding the steering mechanisms within our society and companies there are a number of consequences. The most subversive aspect here is that you don't notice it in everyday operation, but how the more long term steering works. This means that when you are going about and do the operational stuff it works pretty well, and the only thing that we notice is the increase in Dilbertian sarcasm. But when you are trying to redirect the ship you realize that wheel isn't connected to the rudder anymore.

What are the uncertainties?

One conclusion of this is can be that, OK some structures are rotten and will die or at least radically change when things are getting serious. So what?

I think it is more serious than that because these defunct organizations

  • harbor most of the available resources in the world
  • are still relied upon by the other organizations to do something about the situation
  • are symbols for a defunct model for organizing e g maintaining dangerous knowledge in the times to come

To me this might really qualify as a black swan. I am not worried at all that we as the human race will change our way of organizing ourselves according to the new situation over time, but in the coming 20-30 years when facing the big challenges it could be really dangerous to rely on a non-working organizing principle. It will have a big difference for how we succeed if we collectively noticed this change and actually started to identify and actively destroy the bad structures in favor of building new ones which actually worked.

2

When I was at Volvo IT (my former employer until 2000) for a meeting today, it became sadly clear that Volvo IT have entered further down the path of radical ignorance. I've heard about their strange firewall filters before stopping people from visiting web pages containing the phrases "IP telephony", "sex" and ""games". Apparently the filters have broadened and now they seems to have added phrases like "social software" as well.

I couldn't resist asking if I could do a quick test for a number of web-sites I read or write. Here are 4 examples of sites that was blocked.

When trying to reach these sites you are met with:

BLOCKED / STOPPAD
Ã…tkomst stoppad
(English text below)
Ã…tkomst har stoppats till webbplatsen http://brintam.blogspot.com/. Den ör klassad som kategori Social Networking and Personal Sites.

Volvokoncernen ger åtkomst till ett urval av webbplatser genom sin internettjönst. Andra kategorier av webbplatser ör stoppade.

Behöver du åtkomst till den angivna webbplatsen för ditt arbete måste du begöra åtkomstmöjlighet till den genom att sönda ett e-brev till internetfilterse@volvo.com. Ange varför du behöver komma åt den.

Ytterligare information finns i:

Regler för internetanvöndning

Access blocked
(Svensk text ovan)
Access to web site http://brintam.blogspot.com/ is blocked. It is categorised as Social Networking and Personal Sites.
Volvo Group provides access to a subset of web sites through its Internet services. Other web site categories are blocked.

If you need access to the requested web site in this blocked category for a work related purpose, you must request it to be accessible by sending an e-mail to internetfilterse@volvo.com. Be sure to state why you need access to the web site.

You can find further information in:

Rules for internet use

So of course you might request access to a specific site when you believe you need to... I don't know how often they say yes or no, but to have to request access site by site in the information age is really strange!

Here you can read what Richard Gatarski wrote about restriction of web access in May 2007:

Here is my main point: Various measures to control access to IT is an alarming issue for the organizations who have not yet understood the consequences of their current security measures. These might stop outsiders getting access to internal systems, and keep insiders away from what might look as non-work-related stuff. But in the long run the result is an organization full of members who neither know what is going on, nor get the chance to develop knowledge and skills concerning media development and new social patterns

Isn't it ironic that Volvo IT employees can't read Richard's post containing these lines since they can't reach his site at all?

Maybe I should be happy that this blog (http://www.futuramb.se/blog) and it's sister blog (http://www.futuramb.se/scenariotankar - in Swedish) could be reached so that Volvo employees can read this post... Ooops! Now they probably can't since this page contains the phrase "social software".

Update 2008-02-15:

The filter seems to filter everything which is published on the sites blogspot.com and typepad.com. Another large blog that is blocked is http://sethgodin.typepad.com, one of the top 10 Technorati blogs.

4

The other day I started to read "Emergence" by my new favorite author Steven Johnson. Since I was very interested in complexity and emergence from a philosophy perspective first in the 80:s and then again in the 90:s it is a bit funny to revisit an area which seems to slowly picking up speed.

As expected Johnson is picking good illustrative examples which he is weaving his story around. This time I slowed down around the standard example of complexity and emergence e g ants and the ant colony. Most intelligent people seem to accept the similarities between ants and humans when it comes to cities and other agent based organizations where individual agents are allowed to take their own decisions. It is just a matter of scaling, zooming and adding the time dimension. Computer scientists who are in charge of the "macroscope" are the masters of this trade. See e g what NewScientist reported the other day about researchers at GeorgiaTech and Microsoft who developed a 4D model of a city to visualize these emergent properties which is usually invisible to the individual.

But what about traditional hierarchic organizations? (I think Johnson is touching too briefly on this in his book...)

I see the modern and future knowledge worker, who is equipped with new communication technology, working in an environment with increasing complexity and having a different view on authority is changing hierarchical organizations to become increasingly more like cities (ant colonies) than machines. In practice the modern organization inhabitant is deconstructing the organization from inside simply by following his or her own mind rather than obsolete process directions. Gradually the organization is becoming something else, and maybe without anyone noticing the change.

Maybe it even have changed from what we traditionally call an organization to a continuous process of organizing? Do you really know what state your organization are in right now? Answer these questions for your organization and try to assess the the level of emergence in your organization:

  • To what extent is your CEO/President/Chariman similar to an ant queen? - does the CEO have similar important function for the existence of the colony/company but is completely disconnected and irrelevant in day to day activity?
  • To what extent are your organization's properties (e g the strengths from the SWOT analysis) emerging from individual actions? - and what can be attributed to conscious design decisions?
  • To what extent do deliberately designed feedback loops make you adjust your behavior? - or do you change your behavior according to your own conclusions from small signals from you colleagues, customers, the media or from other observations you do.

Ready?

Think then what it would be like if your management team actually understood the level of emergent behavior in your organization. What would change? And would happen if the management board did acknowledge that?

My guess is: probably nothing in traditional organizations. Not in this paradigm, but maybe in the next Kuhnian paradigm shift. It simply breaks the basic law that the illusion of control is the last thing we will let go of.

I think one of our major future challenges is to understand and embrace what is really happening as a direct consequence of our connected society and really understand the consequences for our traditional organizational structures. Often when we face large problems like e g global warming, international terrorism or a threat of a pandemic flu we gather top individuals (usually from an hierarchic perspective) and then appoint responsibility to whole organizations through their respective top representatives. I think that we 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we could be so naïve and not recognize the decline in organizational capabilities.

It could be the case that our irrational belief in the capability of traditional organizational structures is the major obstacle in our efforts to solve what we believe to be the most important problems. I can see a future where this inability will be the major underlying source for conflict and war.