Just some initial scattered thoughts regarding Twitter – if you don’t use it, this will make little sense to you.  Perhaps.  

I’m noticing possible user typologies, from my admittedly small vantage point, that are proving fascinating, at least to me.  (All numbers are current as of 2 December 2008.)

What follows is tongue-in-cheek, as I am not a fan of categories.  I am jotting it down in response to a question from a new virtual friend.  If I decide to take this seriously, I’ll look at balancing the categories; for now I’m just spewing.  If someone else has already perfected the Twitter Archetypes, please accept my apology and send a link.

I (@jbordeaux) am following 262 feeds, and have somehow gained 258 who are following my feed.  (Some are no doubt spammers, who follow many in hopes of opening up a channel for their wares.  Twitter appears to be getting a handle on this nuisance, suspending accounts that demonstrate ‘suspicious activity.’)

For reasons unfathomable; I find myself following Brea Grant, a young actress on NBC’s Heroes.  This enterprising lady blogs frequently, promoting her show and charitable causes.  Ms. Grant follows 82 twitter users, and is followed by 4,282.  I confess to once offering a homeopathic remedy for her insomnia, and she immediately responded that it was on her list to try that evening.  This occurred while my Bride and I were watching the Heroes program.  I paused the show playback to mention that the attractive young spiky-haired character on the screen had just written to me.  I received a well-deserved glare in return, and quickly resumed the program.

Ms. Grant (1:52) is an Incurious Celebrity. That sounds unkind, she actually appears very curious – however she does not treat Twitter as a source of original information. I don’t know the ratio threshold, but being listened to by 4,282 people while only listening to 82 likely makes you an Incurious Celebrity.  It is important to note that Ms. Grant had no problem responding to a relevant comment I made to her directly – she was gracious, and not at all impolite. 

One of the magical things about Twitter is the opportunity to be contacted publicly by anyone – Ms. Grant does not follow my feed, but was alerted to my comment because I directed it to her.  Private comments are also possible, but only to people who have decided to follow you.  The folks at twitter paid attention during Sociology class.  

Brea Grant provides value in other channels, she entertains us using Old Media.  We follow her because she offers a behind-the-scenes look into, well, celebrity.

Another example is Matt Bacak (1:60) (no, I will not link to him in any way), who has 1,928 followers and only follows 32.  The amusing difference here is his recent vanity press release touting his triumph as a social media genius because of the number of his followers. (Those of you who do not use Twitter are laughing at this point.  So are the rest of us.) There is no discernible value associated with this gentleman, therefore no celebrity: while his ratio resembles Ms. Grant’s, he is apparently an Empty Suit.  (He has been called worse.)

So the ratio is augmented with Actual Value.  Need to work on quantifying that somehow.

Stephen Fry (1:1) is a Curious Celebrity.  This delightful gentleman is followed by 24,387 people, and follows 23,265 in return.  From his Flickr photos during a documentary shoot in Africa, to the many audio-video offerings on his eponymous website, to his quiet walks through NYC: he is a gentle treasure.  

Guy Kawasaki (1:1) is another Curious Celebrity, following 31,937 and followed by 31,567.  It is likely he automatically follows whoever follows him, but I can tell you from experience he also engages with them.  I have no idea how he does that, but it is (sorry) insanely great.

Some souls follow at many people as possible, but are not followed in return by any appreciable number. These appear to be, um, Quiet Followers.  They have little to say on their own, and their twitter feed consists almost entirely of replies to others.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Empty Suits also have little to say aside from replies to others.  Another segment with similar numbers are Marketers and Spammers.  In every pond, some scum will grow.

Dr. Mark Drapeau (1:8) represents another segment, perhaps the Engaged Intellectual. He follows 204, and is followed by 1,659. While that seems out of balance, consider how he appears to be limiting himself to the bounds of social group dynamics – see Dunbar’s Number.  Unlike the Celebrities, he is hoping to have actual and meaningful exchanges with the people he follows.  If you are followed by him, he will chime in.  Unlike celebrities, he is watching.  His messages are an intriguing window into the convergence of government and social media.

Me (1:1)?  Well, with 262 followed, and 258 followers, I suppose I am a Balanced Invisible.  I’m dangerously close to promiscuity in my following behavior, but have yet to generate much interest.  While I have the same ratio as Mr. Fry, I am not – wait for it – in the same category.

There should be more thought here, but dinner beckons.  What am I missing?


Also it apparently lacks a Y chromosome, is considerably younger, and uses a Mac.  But I suppose the “analysis” that gets me most is this absurd over-the-top silliness:

“Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.”


All courtesy of this place.  Spiffy.

First of all, I wish for all a Happy Thanksgiving – despite world events that focus our attention on those under seige.  For myself, I remain the luckiest person I know.

Along those lines, I can’t wait to see what is next for me. On the bright side, my holiday calendar is opening up nicely!

The exploitation of social media by the Obama campaign has reverberations across generations.  Two Republican Congressmen (Pence, Cantor) remarked on the phenomena on the Sunday following the 4 Nov election.  Paraphrasing: We must use this media to reach out to young people, get them our message, explain where we want to take this country.sharing

That sounded noble, but I found myself straining to hear something else:  “we will listen to the people.”

I never heard it.  The more I listened to representatives and spokespeople for the opposition party, the more I was struck by the absence of an eagerness to hear.  They appear eager to learn how they can reach the organized masses who turned out for the Democratic ticket, but only in terms of how they can broadcast their message to them. I don’t hear any indication that listening is part of the magic.

This difference may be profound, I don’t know.  One party speaks of principles in governing, while the other has imperatives gained from observing what people need.  The first defines leadership by sticking to proven policy principles, the second defines it as steering government through challenge and opportunity.  The first proactive, the second reactive. The first accuses the other of lacking principles, and in this election tried mightily to scare Americans into thinking that Obama in fact had hidden principles and an agenda at odds with “real” Americans.  The second accuses the first of sticking to principles that are in fact not natural laws, which got us into an ill-advised war and deregulation, and which are disconnected from the needs of the American people.

Both approaches are disastrous in the extreme.  The second leads to citizens voting themselves cash from the public till, while the first leads to oppression as minority voices are marginalized and principles trump understanding.

The seismic shift this election?  Those “proven” principles did not ensure success.  The belief that “spreading” Democracy would be welcomed by allies and weak states did not prove warranted.  The conviction that relatively unfettered markets would strive for harmony and equilibrium fell victim to the Tragedy of the Commons and basic human nature.  Finally, the Bush presidency was subject to a series of challenges for which it was demonstrably less than capable.

The Moment, for me, came during the extraordinary session where the President, the candidates, and Congressional leaders came to the same table to discuss drastic measures to address the financial crisis in October.  Mr. Obama, at ease in sessions where principles are applied to situations and learning results – sat in stark contrast with Mr. McCain, who had nothing to offer.  McCain’s presence was simply to be the symbol that would rally House Republicans. (Perhaps fatal to his candidacy, they did not stand with him.) The awkward moment:  when Mr. Obama leaned over to address his rival.  “What do you think, John?”  No response.  Mr. McCain wasn’t there to listen, to advise, or even hear.

Mr. Obama was there to aid in governing.  The application of principles with a feedback loop so that learning can occur.  “What works?” is the central question of the inquiring mind.

In organizational learning circles, this inquiry is a hallmark of some learning styles, defined as Single, Double, and Triple Loop:

Single Loop describes a condition, often referred to as a thermostat, in which an organization holds stable goals and adjusts its behaviors to achieve those goals.
Double Loop describes a condition in which new factors or experiences can change the organizational goals—and the organization adjusts its behaviors to achieve them.
Triple Loop describes a condition in which the organization manages changeable goals—changing ways and means iteratively—and builds upon them, doing so in part by changing the organization itself in response to these requirements.

[Chris Argyris, “Single-Loop and Double-Loop Models in Research on Decision-Making,” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976) & A. Georges L. Romme and Arjen van Witteloostuijn, “Circular Organizing and Triple Loop Learning,” Journal of Organizational Change Management 12.5 (1999).]

The first party would do well to consider moving from Single Loop learning, and develop the ability to learn rather than present themselves as guardians of timeless governing principles.

And the second party, flush with victory, best not forget that they won on a principle of listening, inquiry, and competent yet participative government.

The weekend blogs are abuzz over the reference to a civilian national security force mentioned by Obama this week. Godwin’s Law was invoked quickly, and the dire notion that Obama was seeking to mobilize a civilian corps that will bankrupt the nation has stirred thoughtful people who were until this morning still reeling over the revelations regarding Obama’s aunt. The venerable Drudge Report even saw fit to devote a small portion of his page to a 20-second excerpt of an Obama speech.

As someone who is helping to write national security reform, perhaps I can shed a little light. Let me quote another radical scary government guy who raised a similar terrifying notion almost a year ago:

“My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short … I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft’ power and for better integrating it with ‘hard’ power. So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future – the world you students will inherit and lead.”

That speaker is the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. The notion of “soft” v “hard” power, or in the words of CSIS, “smart” power – have gained ground in national security policy circles as a more appropriate way to structure the components of national security. For just one example earlier this year, in Afghanistan, where we are helping to rebuild a nation, based as it is on an agrarian economy, we recently tripled the workforce deployed there from our Department of Agriculture. The number of deployed personnel rose from two to six. The idea that the military should continue to bear the entire burden of a broadened scope of national security is indefensible.

How large a burden? Secretary Gates also raised the idea that balancing our national security investment portfolio may be in order. Consider this chart regarding the 2006 national security budget (from the Preliminary Findings of the Project on National Security Reform):

Perhaps it is time to diversify our national security portfolio a bit. It may be good sport to decide Senator Obama was talking about reviving the Hitler-Jugend, but those political points miss an important truth.

Perhaps it is worth our time to also learn a bit about the changes in our approach to national security that will occur – no matter who wins on Tuesday.

Exhibit 1. A twitter fragment reflects the opinion that Organizational Theory ‘dictates mostly top-down’ while ‘Social Media is Chaos Theory.’

Conclusion. Organizational Theory is now obsolete.

Exhibit 2. A gentleman writes a blog, which quickly goes viral, regarding what he sees as a ‘generational war’ between Knowledge Management and Social Media.

Conclusion. Knowledge Management is now (thankfully) obsolete.

Exhibit 3. I knew there was water on Mars before you did. Chances are. Why? Because the Mars Phoenix whispered it to me back in June.

Conclusion. Typical approaches to Government are now obsolete.

All done in by Social Media. Huzzah.

There is something to be said for assertions in the presence of minimal context. I forget the precise saying, but everyone has one and they can stink. Permit me a few slightly contrarian viewpoints:

  1. What if, instead of ‘social media’ replacing approaches to How We Organize, it simply represents a new tool-set that reflects approaches to organizations that date back almost 60 years?
  2. What if Knowledge Management leaders actually embrace notions of complexity, natural science, and the distributed nature of organizational thought?
  3. And what if approaches to Government actually… actually, I’ll get to that one last. Because there is a pony in that pile.

I’ll offer some ideas on these over the next few undefined units of time.

First up:

Has social media slain organizational theory?

Organizational Theory Cliff Notes – A Selection of Thoughts

The study of organizational theory is the examination of how humans organize for a common objective. The forum is the firm, the organizational units devoted to business activities, and the common objective of greater wealth accumulation within a capitalist economy. The assumptions include freedom of mobility for labor, access to capital, and a market within which to trade products and services for remuneration. The central question for organizational theory: Why do people organize, and how can organizational objectives be effectively and efficiently attained, given the determinants of human behavior?

There has been a tension between a mechanical approach to organizational management – dating back to Taylor’s (1911) scientific management theory and Ford’s embracing of it – and an organic one, which emerged in the 1950s. The former presents humans as driven primarily by economic incentives. The employee is compensated, and this is considered sufficient to provide for his maximum prosperity – this characterization of the employee is referred to as the “economic man,” driven only by wages. Taylor’s framework for organization included a clear delineation of hierarchical authority, management by exception, and task specialization. The firm was seen as a machine, and by setting the right incentives and optimized processes in place, management would only have to maintain anomalies within the structure.

Henry Ford developed the principle of mass production by applying Taylor’s theory to an industry that had previously been one of craft production. By establishing task specialization and the innovation of the assembly line, Ford created the first miracle of U.S. production in the 20th century. His reaction to the resulting labor-friendly market, where workers could move between automakers easily due to a shortage of skilled labor, was to double the going wage to $5 per day. This was an effort to exploit the “efficiency wage”, which aimed to provide an incentive for the employee to stay with Ford – even if non-compensation issues were preferable elsewhere.

It’s important to stop here and note two truths.

  1. This is but one approach in the field of organizational theory.
  2. This particular approach has been relatively unpopular (outside of factory work) for a very long time.
  3. Bonus truth: Scientific management theory is one reason why “Six Sigma” makes sense to some managers, despite the evidence of great harm to natural work processes, innovation, creativity, etc.

A Few Challenges to Taylor and Scientific Management

The organic approach appeared soon after WWII, with explorations into systems science (sometimes called ‘soft systems methodologies’) and decision theory that together began to explore a more radical description of the nature of the firm. Yes, our friend chaos theory entered the scene way back in 1927, later popularized in 1963 when Edward Lorenz first noticed the possibility that minor changes to initial conditions could lead to enormous changes in weather prediction models. (Further popularized by Jeff Goldblum in 1993, but I digress.) It didn’t take long before chaos (and the parent field of complexity) found its way into organizational thinking – cementing the observation that human organizations also demonstrated non-linearity, co-evolution, emergent behaviors, etc. Chaos theory has actually been a part of organizational theory for longer than most social media evangelists have been alive.

In 1947’s Administrative Behavior, Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon criticized the Taylor scientific management approach, by revisiting how we make decisions and exploring the limits of rationality. The economic man theory assumed the ‘man’ had access to perfect information and could therefore behave according to rational choice theory. Simon renamed the employee as “administrative man,” arguing that decisions are made with incomplete and imperfect information. How can you manage a workforce as if they had all the information they needed within the firm, and made decisions based on an economically rational assessment of their choices?

In 1960 Douglas McGregor developed alternative notions of employee motivation – beyond the efficiency wage – in his work on Theory X and Y (The Human Side of the Enterprise). Theory X, perhaps a direct reference to Taylor, relied on an authoritarian approach to management, while Theory Y he termed a participative management style. “The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.”

And so on. Recent work in value networks and organizational network analysis reveals that the organization obviously is more than the employees, and is best understood, examined, and managed as an ecosystem.

So-Social Media?

So if organizational theory has contained inside its hallowed halls the ideas that 1) people’s imperfect decision processes matter more than management edicts or high wages for success; and that 2) organizations are more ecologies than machines, so you’re better off gardening than engineering… what does this say about the effect of social media on organizational theory?

How about: social media represents an affirmation of the organization as ecosystem? It introduces diverse voices into the value network. Yes, it challenges the hierarchical delivery of information we use to manage our work lives – but that is a challenge to hierarchy, not to organizational theory. And before you declare the death of hierarchy, consider that this is an artifact of our sociology. It will take more than twitter to reverse the anthropological and sociological imperatives of hierarchy.


Social media is another in a series of challenges to hierarchy, not organizational theory. It also provides a remarkable tool for the detection of weak signals in a decision environment, while challenging our cognitive ability to pay attention – but I’ve run out of pixels for today.

Colin Powell, U.S. Army General (Ret), former Secretary of State, the man behind the eponymous Powell Doctrine…

…is black.

And today, that’s all that matters to Rush Limbaugh and some backers of McCain.  According to Politico, Limbaugh said: “‘Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race,'” Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail. “‘OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I’ll let you know what I come up with.'”

For the record, using this logic, Senator Obama is also the first “inexperienced, very liberal” candidate I have endorsed.  I have no political footprint, of course, so this did not make Politico or any other news source.  But then, I imagine white guilt explains my support.

Citizen Powell spent considerable time Sunday morning explaining to the media why he was backing Obama over his old friend.  He was even asked the delicate question, and gave a sensible reply.  No matter, although Powell measured up the two teams and chose the one he felt was best suited to the times – Limbaugh tells us his vote was a given because of the color of his skin.  The content of his character no longer matters to Rush Limbaugh.

I had occasion last night to conduct a small experiment with a friendly waiter at my local ristorante.  He was ending his shift, but the friendly bartender was still on duty.  I showed her the news item regarding Powell, and her eyes lit up.  The waiter asked what I was showing and when I told him he replied:  “90% of the black vote is going to Obama, we know that.”  I called the bartender over and asked him to repeat that to her face, a few shades darker than his.  To his credit, he did, and the moment was delicious.  He is not a racist, and to her credit she was not offended.  He doesn’t believe his conclusions diminish all people of color, and she knew he wasn’t racist.  She dismissed his assumption airily – “That’s not why I’m voting for him.”

Disclaimers: I do not know Colin Powell, but I have been privileged to hear him speak in a small setting while he was in uniform; I almost knocked him down one day as I rounded a Pentagon corridor too quickly; and I used to know the owner of the auto parts store that he frequents to work on his beloved car.  I know this young waiter, and as I say, I have no reason to believe he discriminates against people on the basis of their color.  I do not know Mr. Limbaugh, and have no idea if he does.

This is what President Bush used to call, in a different context, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Yes, it may be correct that some people of color will vote for Obama on the basis of his heritage, and it may be true others will not for the same reason.  However, it reduces both sides to assume those votes are based entirely on race.  If it is wrong to call McCain supporters merely racist – and it is – then how can it be correct to call black Obama supporters electoral sheep?

When you reduce Mr. Powell’s endorsement as based on pigment alone, you deny his humanity and call him a liar.  The man has provided his rationale, and he deserves – like anyone, and more than most – to be trusted as a man of his word.