posted 19 Dec 2008 in Volume 12 Issue 4
The knowledge: Jenny Ambrozek
Australia 1985: At Prestel standard videotex terminals in
As a pre-web venture, records of the occasion were confined to The Edutel Book: A Guide to Videotex in Education,1 which Jenny Ambrozek authored to share the interesting experiments videotex pioneers were conducting around
Fast forward to 2006 and Ambrozek is co-founding the ‘21st Century Organization’ blog to direct attention to the essential human and organisational factors in successful collaboration for innovation and value creation.
Experience – over two decades – of helping organisations develop new service offerings to leverage emerging collaborative technologies found a common thread: collaboration tools empowered connection, knowledge sharing and new opportunities.
But organisations resisted. Too often initiatives failed to maximise potential because organisational changes, required to ensure information flowed more broadly, did not happen. Proposals to be more open and engage stakeholders (customers and partners) in decision-making, redefine job responsibilities or add new positions, extend responsibilities of a particular group, or implement new measurements to evaluate success, invariably challenged the comfortable, if not sustainable, status quo.
Key factors for operating successfully in a connected world – more open organisations, leadership comfortable facilitating rather than controlling, and compensation geared to rewarding working collaboratively – do not come easily to established enterprises.
Ambrozek’s journey from creating content to serve an early 1980s videotex service to helping enterprises more effectively collaborate and share knowledge involved multiple thought leaders and networks, starting with visionary Australian Caption Centre directors Adam Salzer and Alexandra Hynes.
Working in the
Active facilitation is required to engage participants and ensure activity that provides value to spur further participation. Working as a consultant with a rich array of companies from global and national brands through to startups focused her on both the disciplined effort needed to fulfill the business potential computer connectedness offers, and the importance of finding ways to measure and communicate performance.
John Seely Brown and Estee Solomon Gray’s ‘People are the Company’ article in the inaugural Fast Company magazine October 1995 drew Ambrozek’s attention to how changing patterns of participation is key to changing organizations. Eric Von Hippel’s insights into open source movement dynamics, especially the power of lead users, provided clues.
Meeting Andy Snider and participants in his Advanced Thinkers Summits highlighted the complex dimensions of an organisation to be choreographed for success. Participating in Patti Anklam’s 2003 Emergent Learning Network (ELN) to investigate how organisations functioned as human networks was seminal. ELN conversations with Patti, Kate Ehrlich, Rob Laubacher and Nat Welch provided a new language for understanding how individuals and organisations work, the vocabulary of strong and weak ties and social network analysis.
Hearing Reed’s Law creator David P. Reed and Wealth of Networks author Yochai Benkler speak at the Multiples of One Conference at the MIT Media Lab 2003, was persuasive about both technology’s power to connect and accelerate information flow, and how value is created through human networks. Key findings from the 2004 Online Communities in Business2 study (with Joe Cothrel) revealed the work to be done on measuring and communicating the value of collaborative initiatives as respondents explained: ‘Most organisations can’t measure return on investment (72 per cent)’.
Working with the
Tapping social network analysis pioneer Valdis Krebs’ expertise to analyse study data provided respect for the discipline, and the complexity of network analysis, while reading Ron Burt’s “Structural Holes” highlighted the potential.
Meeting organisational strategist Victoria Axelrod at a David Gurteen Knowledge Café (New York 2005) and discovering stakeholder engagement approaches filled a missing gap in how to bring people together to co-create and support strategic initiatives.
A 2007 chance encounter with open source thinker Simon Wardley warned her to prepare for the continuing advances in technology, especially commoditisation and cloud computing.
Robert H. Buckman’s 2007 contribution to the Association of Knowledgework Yahoo Group sealed Ambrozek’s belief that the essence of creating value from knowledge in enterprises is organisational strategy and design:
“… but I never did try and manage knowledge. What I really tried to manage and nurture was a culture that would encourage and expand the flow of knowledge. It was because economic value could only be obtained in our environment when knowledge moved across the organisation in response to a need.”
Bob Buckman, March 6, 2007 AOK Yahoo Group Post
And that is Jenny Ambrozek’s practice, captured in articles and her contribution to the 'Transorganizational Collaboration and Sustainability Networks' chapter of the recently published The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook.3 Bob Buckman’s 2007 explanation of his work also provided the seed for a co-authored article4 that included a call to action for what she sees is key to organisational success today:
“Consciously operating organisations as interconnected human networks stretches traditional organisations. When value is created through interactions, sharing and being open to ensure knowledge flows is essential for innovation at the pace 21st century business demands. To promote innovation and increase value creation organisations must adopt a new, trusting approach to employees, recognising the power each can increasingly contribute through their connected personal networks.” (p101)
For Ambrozek, the other essential is continually challenging our assumptions and thinking and learning how to adapt as new forces (especially technologies) propel the speed at which information grows and knowledge must be created and served to stay competitive.
Today she marvels at the array of tools that support collaboration and knowledge sharing. Working on a pioneering Australian videotex project in 1985 she certainly did not foresee how enterprise collaboration platforms, blogs, wikis, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (and technologies still to emerge) would connect individuals and organisations globally, real time and allow work anywhere.
To understand the changing landscape and implications, Ambrozek uses action research initiatives, most recently the Facebook Groups in Business Investigation, (co-convened with William Anderson and Victoria Axelrod). The seven lessons extracted from the investigation (published in September’s Inside Knowledge5) embody her belief about the practical essentials for effective collaboration and knowledge sharing initiatives:
Clear purpose tied to a business objective;
You have to work it;
Content is essential;
Events drive participation;
Measure, monitor and act;
Pay attention to your tools ecosystem;
Evolve and adapt.
Just as Ambrozek did not envision the dazzling array of collaborative tools that would connect us, neither did she appreciate in 1985 the growing demands on our skills as individuals and organisations to filter, translate and communicate abundant information.
“While it is tempting in a computer-connected world to look to technology to solve any problem, it’s essential to remember that it is our talents as individuals to respectfully connect others around our ambitions, and inspire engagement in productive initiatives that determine success,” she says.
What occupies Jenny Ambrozek is finding ways to help organisations respect the people that make them, maximise participation and knowledge sharing to ensure value is created, and enterprises sustained.
Connect with Jenny Ambrozek online on Facebook, and as ‘Sagenet’ on Twitter, Slideshare and del.icio.us. Or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on her blog posts about 21st Century Organizations at http://c21org.typepad.com and the future of work at www.theappgap.com.
Ambrozek, J., The Edutel Book: A Guide to Videotex in Education, 2005, Australian Caption Centre, Sydney;
Ambrozek, J. & Cothrel, J., Online Communities in Business, 2004, Available at http://www.sageway.com/ocibreport.pdf;
Wirtenberg, J. et al, The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook, 2008, Greenleaf, London;
Ambrozek, J. & Axelrod V.G., Open netWORKing Organizations,2008, Effective Executive Magazine, July pp94-101 Available at http://c21org.typepad.com/presentations/files/open_networking.%20Organizations.pdf;
Ambrozek, J., Anderson W.L. & Axelrod V.G., 2008, ëPlacing Faces on Knowledgeí, Inside Knowledge Magazine, September, 2008, pp27-30.