The new threads of ‘Organization’

A thread runs through it.

Organization is one of our most potent social technologies. In a world where chaos, connectivity, and creativity have risen to new heights, increased attention on the topic is both natural and welcomed. Quite simply, if our civilization is set to pivot, getting better at it will help us realize a better future, sooner.

My three favourite books on the topic are (reading recommendations at the bottom of this post):

I recently revisited them side-by-side to see what they had in common. What stood out for me were the themes conditioning, humanity, networks, and social technology.

Conditioning trumps control

Already back in Heart, Beer recognized the role of management as attending to cohesion, sensing for incipient instability and making the minimum of intervention. In both Future and Pull the authors are more critical of the dehumanizing effect of command and control driven organizations and zero-sum management practices. They all argue that control restrains the creativity, humanity and innovation needed for any organization to thrive and adapt in complex and dynamic environments. Designing and managing organizations is increasingly about creating and conditioning spaces for passionate people to pursue a common purpose.

Organizations are human first

In Heart, Beer talked about the ultimate manager being someone who achieved enlightenment – someone who was fully alive and aware of who they were. Similarly he saw the optimal organization as one ‘exploding into self-consciousness’. Future and Pull more simply recognize that people are at their best when they are free to pursue what matters to them, in short, when they are treated as human beings, not production resources. Where Pull dives into the shift from transactions to relationships and the role of trust, Future summons the moral imperatives of beauty, truth, love, service, wisdom, justice, freedom, and compassion.

System dynamics dominate

Information flow is at the heart of Beer’s Viable System Model and Heart excels at driving the rigor of design around information sensing, amplification and attenuation. Its purpose is primarily for being able to sense for incipient instabilities and opportunities within and around the system in focus. This systems perspective is more fully fleshed out in Future through a case illustrating the power of prediction markets in achieving more accurate forecasts than the best analysts. Pull goes further drawing from examples of how sharing, production and collaboration through social media foster natural innovation and illustrate how these dynamics lead to increasing returns. In fact, they argue, that the real value of an organization lies in its networks of long-term relationships.

Social technology playing a pivotal role

Before Beer wrote Heart, he led a Star Trek-esque roject using telex machines in Chile to manage a centrally planned economy. It’s hard not to have a chuckle at first glance, but the core principles of the design are at the core of the opportunity in the emerging ecosystem of social technologies we have at our disposal today. In Future, written at the start of Web 2.0, Hamel boldly declares “Argue with me if you like, but I’m willing to bet that Management 2.0 is going to look a lot more like Web 2.0”. While the novelty of Web 2.0 had worn off a bit by the time Pull came out, the examples of how social technology is enabling people to pursue their passion, connect, and create value are foundational to how organization actually happens today. It is of course about more than the technology, it is about the technology having reached a point where it nurtures, enables and is compatible with the other three themes above. It seems, these technologies are instrumental in allowing organization to happen more naturally, and of course with over 4 billion people connected, at a scale never before imaginable.

In summary, it seems that the technology of organization is undergoing a transformation, enabled by our social technologies, and powered by passionate people. It seems that we naturally are drawn to collaborate around purpose to create a better future, sooner, however that looks to us individually. It seems, even, like a rennaissance of humanity.  Whatever it is though, it is on the upswing.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the great thinkers and writers discover next. I’m also, of course, looking forward to seeing what I can contribute to the game with things like

These are fun times to be alive and engaged.

>>> for those who haven’t yet read the above books… here’s my quick take on which is best for whom

  • Heart of Enterprise: A beast of a read but the most accruate understanding of what an organization actually is. Best for those who really really want to get their geek on… or those who are somewhat sadistic.
  • Future of Management: A powerfully passionate case for reinventing management. Best for those who are in management and in need of serious rehab from convention… if you don’t what I’m talking about, that’s you.
  • Power of Pull: A well researched and articulate understanding of how ‘organization’ is fundamentally changing. Best for those who want to understand what is going on right now and why… and those who are working to innovate for good right now.
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Into 2010

Last year was a pivot for me. But while I’m entering with a new stance, my direction, my intention, remains.

Taking the high road.

To that, Ryan Coleman and I crafted this:

To have fun, live well, and make the world better by facilitating ambitious ventures.

Like last year, my focus rests on social technologies and how they are shifting our culture, disrupting and enabling the systems of our society, and changing the way in which we came together. ChangeMedium is the charitable expression of that, Shouldless is the commercial expression, and ProjectX is the ongoing work – re-inspired by the Vartana review – to develop tools and approaches to building those things.

In the fall of last year we launched ChangeMedium and our first events, explored the future of the web, and began experimenting with some approaches to facilitating ambitious ventures.

Looking back at last year, it’s clear I can’t predict what will come of the year ahead, but I am pretty sure the direction it will follow.

Thankfully it will be a journey of many. Without that, it wouldn’t be much fun.

Hopefully it will make the world better. Without that, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Certainly it will be an adventure. Without that, it wouldn’t be much of anything.

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My 2009 in review

I was just writing an update to some great partners of mine and realized I needed to include a recap of 2009 for some context on what’s next. That of course reminded me that I’d yet to post one. So here goes.

Into the wild.
Into the Wild

2009 was a pivotal one for me – a year of transition. It was full of new adventures and an unexpected closure of an old one. 2009 started with a bunch of excitement and energy around the Social Venture Commons, VenTwits, and A group of us had come together and were sweating out an experiment in peer-producing some apps that we thought could help people come together and build a better world by using public micro-messaging. We had some encouraging feedback on the concepts but we missed the mark and didn’t get enough traction (users or funding). We had felt we were constantly 2 weeks ahead of ‘everyone else’ and when we took stock of what we felt we’d need to get to a viable venture, we just couldn’t do it with what we had. I had failed at guiding us through to a viable product and estimating what it would take to get us there.

At the same time, my past life in energy and finance rose up and I became engaged in designing a financing framework around what the Green Energy Act Alliance hoped would make Ontario North America’s leading jurisdiction for renewable energy (it did) and particularly community power. The Act was tabled in May which then prompted another engagement to help the CPFund plan for a transition to the new reality. That plan, if successful, stands to be a great example of social finance and turn the renewable energy finance sector on it’s head.

Closing out the summer, my social finance sojourn continued with the opportunity to co-lead a Canadian contingent to the Social Capital Markets conference. Next came the privilege of doing a review of Vartana – an ambitious project that aimed to change the way the charitable sector banked in Canada. And then things shifted.

On my birthday I learned that a company I founded was in discussions on being acquired. Those talks came to fruition in early October, and while not a big exit by many standards, for our lean life it was/is a big turning point. It meant taking a breath and taking stock. It meant getting ‘our house in order’. It meant saying thank-you to those who’ve supported me.

An adventurous chapter with an unexpected plot twist was over. Thankfully it’s part of a book that I love… one of those books I just can’t put down.

OpenMicroBlogging amps up the medium of change.

December 18th was the first ever StatusCamp. It was also another ChangeMedium experiment – bringing the context of the medium of change to the developers building its future.

The event was an excellent day with over two dozen folks including the team and Peter Deitz of SocialActions. It was an amazing event to learn about where and the OpenMicroBlogging initiative (OMB) are going.  The wiki has more details on OMB but it is due for a major new release and will be integrating PubSubHubBub,, Salmon, and WebFinger.  What this means is an integration of emerging protocols to put people at the centre of micro-messaging. Not only is this a positive protocol development, but it signals the collaboration of major participants in this field to create an 0pen, interoperable system – an essential aspect of the medium of change.

I also presented a new pitch (below) on why all this really matters to all of us. It prompted a good session on social uses for and sparked a number of unexpected side conversations. What I’m learning more and more is that many developers have a social streak – a bent for making the world better. Many don’t publicize it but it seems that most do. This is encouraging as I look forward to future ChangeMedium events and seems to fit with the notion of bringing research, development, and application together to build this medium better.

Following that thread, I received some great suggestions for ways to do just that including compiling social use cases for developers to hack, doing developer challenges – prizing the best apps/hacks, and focused dev days to tackle specific problems. I’m interested in all ideas like this – they give fodder for communities who want to create events that move and make this medium for all of us.

If you want to dig into the details there’s a pretty comprehensive wiki up with notes from the event (update: good summary post from Jon Philips too). Here also is the context presentation I piloted at the event.

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ChangeMedium is coming to Montreal on December 18th. Following up on his participation at #cmToronto, founder Evan Prodromou has invited us to join them at their first ever StatusCamp. is the open source micro-messaging platform that can be hosted independently as a private or public platform like For us at ChangeMedium public micro-messaing is at the heart of this inflection in the web and at the core of the medium for change. That perspective is what hope to bring to StatusCamp.

On December 18th the entire team will be together to host an unconference led by Jon Phillips. It’s an excellent opportunity to understand, explore, and apply this medium. In typical unconference fashion what we do is up to you. And in typical unconference fashion, what we’ll do is what we need to move forward.

In that spirit I’m putting out the call to all you folks interested in making change using the medium of change. has opened their arms and their community. Let’s show up and return the spirit. How can we advance our understanding, contribute to, and apply this medium for change?

Contribute your thoughts in the comments or on the wiki. In or near Montreal then come on out for the 18th. Just email, message him on Identica, or put yourself on the wiki.

Let’s help make the medium of change.

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#cmToronto Recap


#cmToronto opened on a gray Saturday morning with an introduction to ChangeMedium and the day by Michael Lewkowitz. James Walker followed up with an overview of what to expect during the hack session.  The orientation reminded participants that the opportunity is to take us out of our bubble and think about the reach, application, and implications of this medium for society.

Our first research presenter was Hima Batavia, Research Assistant at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and Earth Institute at Columbia University.  Her talk “Mobile Health: the Great Equalizer” focused on mobile health and showcased 7 examples including:

Several questions came up after the presentation provoking both developers and researchers alike.

Up next, Kayleigh Platz, Technical Solutions Provider at the University of Waterloo shared her challenges of engaging in anthropological research in the area of culture and technology.  Her presentation “Culture and Technology” highlighted the groundbreaking nature of this medium and she concluded with the question of how can the research community support developers provoking discussion on the convergence of research and development – a central theme to the future of ChangeMedium.

The WorldCafe proved the biggest surprise of the day. Participants, many of whom did not know each other previously moved through 3 questions, forming different groups for each question. The questions posed were:

  1. Within the context of the goals of today, what are some of the trends you see developing in the mico-messaging/social change spaces? As a group decide on what you think is the most significant trend.
  2. With your new group share what your group felt was the most important/significant trend. As a group, discuss your thoughts on what these trends  mean for the future, where are we headed, what becomes possible?
  3. With the future possibilities in mind, discuss what technology roadblocks exist today that need to be remedied/overcome to achieve this future vision.

The experience was described as “eerie”, “amazing”, and “unexpected” due to the high degree of similarity among participants’ answers and observations in each of the questions. A real sense of community began to form through this process which could have easily been extended from the 5 minutes per question allocated.

The hacklab began shortly after noon and was introduced by James Walker as an opportunity to work on infrastructure, applications, or even have extended conversations. The group identified four topics:

  1., Open Micro Blogging
  2. Relevant Inbox
  3. Hashtag Directories
  4. Local Political Engagement

Development commenced on the “ Micro Blogging” and “Local Political Engagement” topics while a lively conversation emerged around the role ChangeMedium can play in supporting the research community.


In reflection a number of observations have surfaced from both direct feedback and convenor conversations:

  • Future events will benefit from clear descriptions and definitions around ChangeMedium and the purpose of the event.
  • Converging research and development in the medium for change is a unique, engaging, and valuable approach.
  • Research presentations featuring examples involving social impact and underserved communities engage developers to step outside their box.
  • The worldcafe format is very effective in bringing the participants together and should be expanded.
  • During the hack session, conversation can be as valuable as development. Creating an open space format allows for the participants to make the most of the time available.
  • Specifically for hacking, it would be helpful to have an ongoing development track such as contributing to the OpenMicroBlogging infrastructure.
  • Hacking of specific applications could also be aided by pairing participants at the start of the session with the specific objective of creating an application by the end of the day.  These pairings could be done between researchers and developers and could be focused on a specific topic or left to each pair to decide.
  • There is an unmet opportunity to help researchers engage directly with developers. This engagement is conventionally limited by the research incentive structure pointing to the need to offer new incentives to researchers for engaging earlier and iteratively in their research processes

In summary, cmToronto demonstrated the unique value of convening researchers and developers in the medium of change to achieve practical outcomes. Despite the initial ambiguity and Saturday timing, we had 40 registrants with 26 participants coming from as far as Halifax. Active progress was made on the OpenMicroBlogging infrastructure, an application for local political engagement, and the future direction of ChangeMedium itself. A clear call was heard for a series of local events, an online blog-based community, and an ongoing thread of practical development activity culminating in an annual event for the local communities to convene.

This recap of course would not be complete without a big thanks to the participants and those who made it possible. #cmToronto was hosted by SiG@MaRS and convened by Ryan Coleman, Renjie Butalid, Lisa Torjman, and James Walker. ChangeMedium is also thankful for the deep support of SiG@Waterloo and the super-judo skills of Peter Flaschner, Dan Williams, and Joseph Dee.

To get involved please visit:


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It’s Go Time >> ChangeMedium Toronto

It’s go time.

ChangeMedium Toronto is slated for October 24th at MaRS. What is it? Read more to find out. Want a hand in it? Leave a comment below.

ChangeMedium is an initiative to provoke public micro-messaging as a medium for change. Public micro-messaging (e.g. Twitter) is emerging as the most accessible, participatory public medium in history. Bringing the open and emergent properties of the web to the global reach of text messaging is already showing great potential for public benefit. But we’ve only begun to understand what’s happening let alone build an infrastructure to make the most of this medium. Enter ChangeMedium Toronto.

ChangeMedium Toronto is an event to explore the frontiers, gather community, and make the medium. It will be a simple format with 2 tracks – one for researchers and one for hackers. We want to explore the frontiers. What is this medium about? We want to push ourselves further. What are the implications for change? We want to contribute to making it better. Let’s make it happen.

The pace of change is stunning. Researchers, hackers and makers are already involved in understanding and applying this medium. Whether for fun, profit, or benefit we’re creating this as we go. ChangeMedium Toronto is our inaugural effort to convene this community and introduce and provoke the potential for change.

ChangeMedium emerged out of the work of a group of people passionate about the world play with Twitter as a platform for change. The Toronto event itself was provoked by Frances Westley and Renjie Bitauld of SiG@Waterloo, Lisa Torjman and Allyson Hewitt of SiG@MaRS, Ryan Coleman, Peter Flaschner, and James Walker.

Of course we’re just beginning and what ends up will be a product of the community. Have an idea? Want to play a role? Want to know more? Leave a comment and get the ball rolling.

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