Enterprise 2.0 and Human Psychology

The first time I met his ghost was in 2003. I had just returned from to my organisation after spending the last six months in Business School in England.

I returned with my analytic skills sharpened and my head full of new ideas and theories. Ready to innovate.

I had just completed a two month project to develop a executive information dashboard for the top leaders of the organisation. It was time to present my proposal to the CIO who was responsible for the funding.

After I was finished the presentation to the CIO, he leaned back, took a breath and said:

' Do you think there is a good ROI for this project ?'

'Absolutely, I am convinced this will lead to improved decision making quality and save time' I responded.

' But...can we point to an improvement on bottom line from this saved time.. in euros ?'

Mmmm heart sank, I knew I could surely do this, but what about the other aspects: decision quality, effectiveness, motivation ? What happened to all the modern psychology and human relation theories I learned about ?

It was at this point I saw the ghost of Henry Ford whisper in the CIO's ear : 'Making widgets, that is what is all about, making widgets'

Fast forward to 2008, Web 2.0, Facebook, Twitter, Crowd Sourcing, Enterprise 2.0 the buzz words are never ending.

I met the ghost more frequently now and he still whispered about widgets, and not much has changed. In fact, in some ways the financial crisis has made matters worse, project 'death by business case' is common. Despite this, I have spent the last number of years trying to incorporate various aspects of online collaboration into my organisation - project collaboration rooms, micro-blogging, new 'social' intranets - with little success.

After much frustration and much less hair, I am convinced the issue boils down to one thing:

Many organisations do not understand human dynamics and psychology.

Awareness of human psychology as it applies to work has evolved at a snails pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light

What’s taking so long?

Part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.

At the time little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time.  Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford (the man not the ghost) who complains, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”. This way of thinking has permeated organisation so much that there is term to describe this thinking, Fordism, and the ghost of Henry Ford was born.

Sadly, the machine metaphors of Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time are still driving the management behaviors of most business leaders today. The ghost walks among them and is strong.

Despite the last 50 years of business education, and the shear numbers of MBA's in the working world now, change has been surprisingly slow.

What Business Says It Needs

When you ask business leaders what is needed to survive and thrive in today’s complex economic and global marketplace, the list is long – leadership, creativity, collaboration, innovation, motivation, trust, teamwork, partnerships, learning organizations, rationality, quality decision-making and problem solving skills, accountability and resiliency. But even though there is often consensus on what’s needed – there doesn’t appear to be any real understanding of how you get these things from people  – or where they even come from.

The concept that many of these goal can be achieved through a more open, transparent organisation that supports idea sharing and collaboration is evidently extremely hard to accept.

What’s even more baffling is that many business leaders don’t even recognize the need to understand how people function – what makes them tick.  These management mindsets are completely out of step with the growing body of science of the past two decades that illuminates the how and why of what we think, feel and act. This despite large HR departments whose goal it is to manage this 'asset' of the orgnanisation - the people.

The amazing information coming from research on neuroscience, physiological responses and emotional processes form the basis of a new blueprint that should be driving every management model.

This is where Enterprise 2.0 technologies can come into the picture. Organization's must approach these types of systems the same they way they would any other - with long term commitment and consistent strategy.

Unfortunately – most managers are still operating out of the old, ineffective, unproductive models that have shaped how we “manage” people.

This thinking has resulted in corporate cultures and organisation that do not support Enterprise 2.0 efforts.

Until this changes - social technology use in the organisation will be muddled, slow and ripe for failure.

Despite all of this I am positive and will keep on going. Join me.

PS: To give yourself (or any organisational executive) a crash course describing the most relevant research around human psychology and motivation, I can recommend Dan Pinks lastest book -Drive.

#1 Our Brains are Addicted to Information

My first job out of university was working for an Architecture firm on the east coast of the US. The job market was particularly tough in the early 90's and the building industry was very fragile during this time. I remember my first staff meeting. Layoffs were looming closer and people were under pressure. One particular woman stood up and proclaimed 'We need more information about what is happening!'. This statement was met with grunts of approval from the rest of the staff.

The manager went on to explain that he posted updates in the coffee room in the morning and afternoon. Note: In 1991 email was just being introduced and no intranet existed at this time.

This was clearly insufficient for some.

The woman responded ' How can we work with knowing what is happening ?' Fear in her voice.

The meeting ended with worried long faces all around.

On the way out the manager asked me how I liked things at the firm.

I replied that people seemed worried and stressed.

He looked at me and frowned slightly,

'Chris you can remember this: people can never get enough information' he said, and walked away.

Since then I have run across this issue many times, and recently discovered one of the factors:

'Our brains are addicted to information'

A good explaination of how this works is from Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.

Enter dopamine – Neuro scientists have been studying what they call the dopamine system for a while. Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, and motivation, seeking and reward.

The myth — You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs.

It’s all about seeking — The latest research, though is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing us to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behavior. (From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive). It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opoid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure.

Wanting vs. liking – According to Kent Berridge, these two systems, the “wanting” (dopamine) and the “liking” (opoid) are complementary. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied and therefore pause our seeking. If our seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then we start to run in an endless loop. The latest research shows that the dopamine system is stronger than the opoid system. We seek more than we are satisfied (back to evolution… seeking is more likely to keep us alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor).

A dopamine induced loop – With the internet, twitter, and texting we now have almost instant gratification of our desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type it into google. What to see what your friends are up to? Go to twitter or facebook. We get into a dopamine induced loop… dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, stop checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

Anticipation is better than getting — Brain scan research shows that our brains show more stimulation and activity when we ANTICIPATE a reward than when we get one. Research on rats shows that if you destroy dopamine neurons, rats can walk, chew, and swallow, but will starve to death even when food is right next to them. They have lost the desire to go get the food.

More, more, more – Although wanting and liking are related, research also shows that the dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built in. It is possible for the dopamine system to keep saying “more more more”,  seeking even when we have found the information. During that google exploration we know that we have the answer to the question we originally asked, and yet we find ourselves looking for more information and more and more.

Unpredictable is the key — Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system. Think about these electronic gadgets and devices. Our emails and twitters and texts show up, but we don’t know exactly when they will or who they will be from. It’s unpredictable. This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system. It’s the same system at work for gambling and slot machines. (For those of you reading this who are “old school” psychologists, you may remember “variable reinforcement schedules”. Dopamine is involved in variable reinforcement schedules. This is why these are so powerful).

When you hear the “ding” that you have a text – The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound when a text message or email arrives, or a visual cue, that enhances the addictive effect (for the psychologists out there: remember Pavlov).

140 characters is even more addictive – And the dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is small so that it doesn’t full satisfy. A short text or twitter (can only be 140 characters!) is ideally suited to send our dopamine system raging.

So the next time you sit in a meeting with your communication department and they insist on more news on the intranet, magazines or press releases just remember:

The dopamine made them do it.