The hierarchy problem

Liveblogging: Social Business Combined Meetup, July 2014

This is a liveblog of the Combined Social Business Sessions meetup held at IBM’s visitors suite in London in July 2014

Chris Withers

Chris Withers

Chris is Head of Financial Services, EMEA, Watson Group at IBM

Watson is really exciting for IBM – because it heralds a new era of computing. The current era is defined by things like Google’s self-driving car. 10 years ago there were academic papers saying that self-driving cars would never happen. They’re talking about having it on the market in 2017. The police are using drones. 3D printing is happening at an industrial scale – and is being used to construct buildings. Hatsune Miku is opening Lady GaGa’s latest tour.

This is where Watson fits in.

Automate that work…

Some jobs are being automated – like telemarketing. At a 67% chance, lifeguards and ski patrols might be replaced, with drones, for example. Sensors could do better than a bored 20-year old. Economists have a 44% chance of being automated. What has a 1% chance of being replaced? The clergy.

In total, 47% of employment has a greater than 70% of being automated. That’s pretty astounding.

Watson is an artificial intelligence built by IBM. It’s played Jeopardy on TV in the US – it took them four years to train it to do that. It was programmed to work at Ken Jennings level – answering ⅔ of the questions, with 90% success. Technologies? natural language processing – understanding how humans phrase things, in context. Watson tries to generate as many answers as possible, and then looks for evidence to support it. It’s a hypothesis-generating machine.

Oh, and it learns. They teach it. They give it a question, and then it answers. They tell it if it is right – and if its reasons were right. For an example of use, we’re show a video of an oncologist using Watson to prepare for a meeting with a patient. Watson generated suggestions based on the patient’s details and its library, and gives the oncologist evidence backing up the suggestions. Key to this is the confidence score that Watson gives. It free doctors up to concentrate on diagnosis and treatment plans.

The Watson Group is now taking these technologies out into other businesses.

We are terribly biased as humans. We are subject to 50 or 60 biases that we’re often not aware off. Watson has no bias. It looks at all answers, and figures out which is best. We tend to look at two or three. Can we digitise wealth management? If we can, we can drive it down in price, and start providing good advice to much, much poorer people, at a massive scale.

Oh, and it can come up with recipes, too…

John Mell

John is social business lead for IBM UK

What’s IBM doing at Wimbledon? Analysing huge data sets to make the event coverage better, and more resilient…

  1. Refreshing and rebuilding the Wimbledon site. 80% of visits are still to the site, and 50% of those are from mobile. It’s update 140,000 times a day. Some are application updates from scoring, but there are also editorial updates.
  2. Social media analysis, which leads to…
  3. Hill versus World – what’s the difference in sentiment between people there, and those elsewhere. What’s the experience gap between those in the ground and those following along via online or other media?
  4. Social sentiment planning cloud needs. Watson comes into play helping run a 90 minute rolling forecast of likely traffic, including all sorts of factors, including weather, players, historic demand – and also social analysis, so a social media event that drives traffic doesn’t surprise them.

These four elements are being expressed through the app, too.

David Terrar

David is an Agile Reprobate

IBM are pulling in from the Twitter firehose for Winbledon, and using geotagging to segment what they’re getting. They send raw feeds out to broadcasters with all the facts – and a social media dashboard. There’s a marked difference between the website for Wimbledon, and those of other events. The website (as noted above) is being driven by IBM and its data tools. The social media stuff is being powered by Softlayer, and the analytics out of three data centres in the US.

Bjoern Negelmann

Bjoern works for Kongress Media

Announcing the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in London on 26th November 2014. They’ve run it three times in Germany, and once in Paris. Now, it comes to London. Social business is very cultural – different nationalities have different pathways to achieving their goals. Case studies will include: Cemex, Deutsche Bank, British Airways, Citi Group and Sanofi Pasteur. The schedule is in progress right now, and may well be followed by an unconference.

Luis Suarez


Luis is chief emergineer & people enabler at Change Agents Worldwide

87% of today’s workforce is disengaged at work. That means that about 13% of the people are doing most of the work. Gallop does a yearly study on this – since they have paid attention to social technologies, it has gotten better. We’ve gone from 11% engaged to 13%.

What happens when we go into existing businesses, and get them into the mindset that they own the company? That they should be more social, empathic, and interactive with their coworkers. There’s a book called Reinventing Organisations. Right now we’re operating in the command and control “Amber” organisation. Someone else makes the decisions, and you just execute. The Green organisation is where you progress into employee-owned. And finally, you get to the Teal organisation – which has no need for hierarchy. We never needed it in nature.

Are we ready for that? Or is he living in a utopia that can never be achieved.

Alan Patrick

Alan Patrick

Alan is an Agile Reprobate

There’s a common idea that the hierarchy is no longer relevant. So, we look dat old models, like Quality Circles and Lean Operation Cells. These were non-hierarchical, but tended to die off. People tended to form hierarchies naturally – unless you pruned them. They didn’t stay heterarchical. They also tend to have hierarchies on the borderlands – external hierarchies impose themselves within the structure. They needed more skilled people in them – a “higher energy state” to run them.

Any human society started with the “strong man” structure, with one person leading through force. That also happens after civilisation collapse – like the Dark Ages. Cities in landmasses tend to be hierarchies, while those on the coast tend to be networks of commerce.

Hierarchies are very deeply entrenched in us, and very easy to set up. That’s why they’re so popular.

Hierarchies are easy to set up, more stable but they tend to ossify quickly – the Peter Principle. They make brutal decisions fast – and so do unpleasant things effectively. Once they’re established, they’re hard to get rid of. And they’ve very scalable.

The hierarchy problem

Heterarchy is harder to keep running – but it can create much, much higher output. They harness far more brain cycles, but are hard to scale.

So maybe we need fishnet organisations: a mesh of the two types of working. Heterarchies are easier to run now, because of social technologies. So this becomes more possible.

Jon Ingham

Jon Ingham

Jon is an independent consultant

Disengagement is a global disgrace. It means people reduce discretionary behaviours and contribute as much as they could. It’s not about the 87% who are disengaged, it’s about the crummy organisations that disengage them.

Like a lot of people, I’ve given up on promoting the word “social”, because it’s associated with so many different things now. It can turn people off. But at its heart, this is about relationships, about being social within organisations. How do we build organisations that are more than the sum of their parts – where people spend more more time collaborating than in petty politics and turf warfare?

We need to be clear about what’s in it for us. We need a clear benefit case for all individuals – but if you go too far with that you lose the plot. We’re trying to get to the point where people think about “what’s in it for us”. Think about John Lewis or Whole Foods stores.

Think about being a relationship-based business. Organisations need to be more human. But it’s only part of it. Then there’s being social, which is additional and oppositional. For example, “superstar” training programmes are very human but damaging from a social point of view.

The Panel Discussion


The panel

Luis: I don’t think people are disengaged at the hiring moment – it happens latter. How much of it is down to their first line manager?

Jon: We sell our organisations very positively, and then people arrive on their first day, and discover its very different to that. We don’t recruit managers based on their management skill, but their technical ability. People join people – but people leave people as well. The whole team is as important as the manager.

Ian: Small manufacturing companies have an attitude of very social engagement. Once they get bigger and bigger, they get too for that.

Cat: I saw a recent example where an MBA student joined a company which she was told valued MBAs, but had a manager who blocked her visibility in the company. She’s looking to move on – but is nervous because of this experience.

Martha: Most people when they go to work are going because they have to. It’s incumbent on the organisation to inspire them to be dedicated to the mission put forward. The lack of social-object driven motivation at work leaves them adrift. You’ve got to get the size of groups right – any bigger than 14 is too big.

Ian: AirBnB is becoming popular partially because travellers can experience different interactions, rather than being stuck in a boring box in a hotel.

Cat: Startups are the trailblazers in getting the culture right. People want to come into our office – and people want to work with us because they sense that culture.

Luis: Markets are obsessed by profits. They’re not going to fix organisations.

Ian: The hotel industry is coming up with nasty statements about AirBnB because they know that their model is broken. Give Gen Z, who are being taught coding, a chance and they will really disrupt things.

Martha: Every company has a mission and an exchange. The great ones are the one completely obsessed by their jobs, and not by their exchange. What’s your object: exchange or production? If you’re not driven by production, you can’t be a social business. You can’t retrofit that on an exchange business.

Cat: If you recruit entrepreneurial types, but don’t give them the right environment, you have a real problem.

Luis: We, as the market, are starting to demand that organisations act with purpose.

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