Characteristics and root causes of dumb organizations

Excerpt from a longer two-part blog. You can read Part 1 here:

This is the first of two-posts on the characteristics and habits of smart organizations. In this post, enterprise collaboration and knowledge management expert Gordon Vala-Webb outlines why so many organizations struggle to get smart.

Organizations didn’t always need to be smart.

Their customers and competitors were relatively stable from year to year, and the economy was growing steadily. Organizations could just keep doing what they had always done. Repeatability and the optimization of existing processes were key.

All that has changed.

Whether you are selling in the market or providing public services, that that kind of approach isn’t good enough. Yet most organizations aren’t able to learn and react quickly.

They’re stuck being dumb in a smart world. As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”

Organizations that cannot adapt and learn will die. And, before they die, they make the lives of the people that work there miserable. According to Gallup, 71 percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work.

The resulting negative impact on people’s mental and physical health is staggering.


Wondering if you’re stuck in a dumb organization? Here are four characteristics of today’s unadaptive org:

  1. There are too many emails and meetings, and yet it’s hard to know what is going on.
  2. It takes a herculean effort to implement just one good idea.
  3. Your competitors/clients/customers keep surprising you (and not in a good way).
  4. People in the organization are disengaged and frustrated. They hope some recruiter will whisk them away to a dream job, or that they win the lottery and can quit.


Posted in Knowledge management, Strategy and leadership

Measuring the value of enterprise social networks

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To be innovative you have to ask three questions

According to From Allen Fuqua, CEO of Winstead PC (a large business law firm), there are three critical questions you need to ask of your business leader(s) – in an intimate conversation – in order to drive innovative results:

  1. How do you define success?
  2. What is challenging that success?
  3. What are you putting into place to address those challenges?

That conversation will be difficult – and it ought to be. It will require vulnerability – but its the only way.

To see more:
Future Think & Innovation: Client Service & Differentiation; LMA LosAngeles.

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Video (1 min): building smarter organizations

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Jack Welch – on the ultimate competitive advantage

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”  Source

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Source

by Jack Welch


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Connected – by Fowler

There is a lovely book entitled Connected : The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler , PhD.

Four organized ways to connect people from CONNECTED by Christakis and Fowler

They distinguish between “organized” networks that you can find (see illustration on right) in bucket brigade, a telephone tree (could also be a hierarchy) and a set of military squads – and open / social networks (below). The number of connects differs depending on the arrangement. For example, in a set of 10 squads of 10 members each the connections would equal 45 per squad (= 450) plus 45 between the squad leaders for a total of 495. All members of the squads are equally close / distant (leaders-to-leaders and member -to-member).

In a open, social network, the number of connections between members is not set – and who you connect with is not set. If you map that network you get something that looks like this (below):

Natural network of people from CONNECTED Christakis and Fowler

In a telephone tree network the content of the “tree” is based on the message that is given from the centre. Social networks have some unique properties including the fact that they ”

tend to magnify whatever they are seeded with.” Christakis and Fowler go on to say:

Partly for this reason, social networks are creative. And what these networks create does not belong to any one individual—it is shared by all those in the network. In this way, a social network is like a commonly owned forest: we all stand to benefit from it, but we also must work together to ensure it remains healthy and productive. This means that social networks require tending, by individuals, by groups, and by institutions. While social networks are fundamentally and distinctively human, and ubiquitous, they should not be taken for granted.”


To read more see:

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Why dynamic adaptation is important

Your organization won’t be able to survive unless it can make sense of, and change, much more quickly than ever before.. (2:41).

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The sclerosis of hierarchy

I came across this wonderful quote by Philip Slater in his book The Chrysalis Effect:

“In a healthy system, information flows are unimpeded by clots of power or the sclerosis of hierarchy.”

We talk a lot about the use of social networking technologies to improve information (and idea) flows into and around an organization. But “the sclerosis of hierarchy” can restrict those flows drastically.

To make smarter organizations we are going to need smarter leaders who can step outside of the hierarchy to engage and connect with people on a personal basis. In fact social networking technologies are tremendously power for supporting just such conversations.

To learn more, tune in to “Building Smarter Organizations” with Gordon Vala-Webb – part of the KM Webinars at Kent State Series

Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Time: 12:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time (New York, GMT-05:00)
Meeting Number: 805 078 622
Meeting Password: IAKM
To join the online meeting (Now from mobile devices!)
1. Go to
2. If requested, enter your name and email address.
3. If a password is required, enter the meeting password: IAKM
4. Click “Join”.

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We shape our tools and our tools shape us.

A wonderful video (longish 38.40 video by Wilson Miner entitled “When we build”

Some quotes:

  • “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Marshall McLuhan
  • “A bicycle makes man the most efficient mover on the earth. A computer is a bicycle for our mind.”


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Posted in Strategy and leadership

How social networking tools can improve productivity

McKinsey & Co. Senior Fellow Michael Chui discusses how companies can use social technologies.

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Posted in Tips and tools