29 June 2008

Visualizing the Proposal

A word cloud of my proposal for A Valence Theory of Organization, courtesy of Wordle (click the image for a larger view):

(Thanks, Leigh!)

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26 June 2008

An Open Letter to Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc

Dear Joe,

As you know, I have not been a supporter of the St. Clair Right of Way, and especially not of the process or analysis that was used to justify it. In fact, both came out of a very cynical type of agenda-based politics that foment citizen apathy and disregard for those, like you, who have chosen public service. It is a sad and unfair situation when the collective actions of politicians that result in many members of the public feeling that their elected representatives are simply not hearing legitimate concerns, result in all council members being tarred with the same elitist, and anti-democratic brush.

I am writing to you today to ask you to lower your shield of objection- handling, and blind support of the Mayor's transit plan for the city, to honestly consider a matter important to public safety, and the specific security of those of us who are residents along the St. Clair Right of Way corridor. As has been reported in the press over the past few days, and as Royson James of the Star points out in today's column, the concerns raised by the District Fire Chief must be seriously considered in a non-partisan way by City Council. The fact that the absolute measurements of the clearances along the RoW suggest that fire vehicles can possibly squeeze by the obstructions that the RoW design introduces does not instill confidence. In fact, quite the opposite is the case: the clear political manipulation that is occurring creates a chill of fear, both in the residents whose lives and property will now be at increased risk, and those among the public service who risk speaking out against partisan political interests.

How many lives must be lost before remedial action - at much greater expense to the taxpayers - would be taken? How much property must be damaged, including both private property lost in fires because of slower response, and public property caused by equipment collisions along the RoW as indicated by the District Chief? And, how much more risk will be created because of the tight clearances during the winter months, when snowfall creates additional blockages? Is the City ready for the inevitable negligence lawsuits that will arise from the first tragedy to occur, now that it has been warned of the danger?

And finally, how much lower will the public regard for its elected officials sink because the legitimate concerns of citizens among a variety of poorly conceived issues are systematically ignored and sloughed off? The Right of Way was one such issue. The new recycling and garbage bin plan that seriously inconveniences and discriminates against women, the elderly, the disabled, and many of those that live in the city core, is another.

I urge you to realize that these safety concerns are not proxies for yea or nay votes for the Right of Way itself. These are concerns that have been legitimately expressed in the public forum by someone with specific knowledge and the courage to speak out. Please support having the design sent back for correction now, in order to save lives later.

Mark Federman

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24 June 2008

Valence Marketing at Unit 7

One of the consequences of framing a company as a valence organization is the realization that employees and customers are equivalent. Several of my participant organizations have recounted how the stark difference between the ways in which they regarded and treated their employees, and how they regarded and treated their customers led to their respective cultural transformations. But what does it mean to perform marketing from a valence-organization perspective?

Unit 7, one of my participant organizations (which has given me permission to disclose their identity), provides an object lesson in valence marketing. As reported in a recent article on BrandWeek.com, 39 members of the 100-person Unit 7 organization decided to immerse themselves as their target consumers to learn more about living as recently diagnosed, Type 2 diabetics.
Most are perfectly healthy people. Yet they’ve subjected themselves to a unique, pioneering experiment. For 14 weeks, the members of this group assumed the roles of patients newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. They hit the gym religiously; they watched enviously as their friends ate candy bars that they could not; and they picked up a blade and forced blood from their fingers.

The aim of this experiment wasn’t to show how far medical science has come. Instead, it demonstrated how far the study of marketing has come. The members of the group are all employees of a relationship-marketing agency called Unit 7, and it is attempting to be at the forefront of what can be best described as “empathetic marketing.” In the past, marketers relied on focus groups of diabetics whom they interviewed in an attempt to guess what living with the disease was like. Since launching the program, however, some of the guesswork has been factored out; nearly half of Unit 7’s staff now has a much clearer idea of what living with diabetes is like.

This expertise is valuable to the health-related companies that Unit 7 counts among its client pool, corporations such as Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol-Meyers Squibb (which is currently developing new diabetes drugs with AstraZeneca). Unit 7’s leadership believed the value of this experiment went beyond what it could learn about diabetes alone; the sort of deprivations to which the firm’s marketers subjected themselves were a window into the world of any consumer forced to make health-related lifestyle changes.
Conventionally, gaining this type of knowledge is part of ethnography - living and participating as one of the community that a researcher is investigating. By itself, this is a relatively known form of research, something that Unit 7's "me-too" competitors are anxious to point out. But despite some of their sour grapes responses reported in the article, Unit 7 is onto something: Their remarkably collaborative culture is beginning to extend out beyond the walls of their agency, in true valence fashion. Unlike other marketing organizations that would consider this experiment as merely a research exercise, Unit 7's collaborative context sets the stage for this experience to be an authentic valence connection that strengthens the flux, or tactile intensity, among the companies and consumers that now comprise Unit 7's total valence-organization environment.

Congratulations to Loreen Babcock, and the other 38 members who participated in the B-Roll Inquiry.

Update (25 June 2008): Charles Green, who writes on matters of trust in business, provides his take on the B-Roll Inquiry, and why the naysayers have (cynically, in my view) missed the point.

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23 June 2008

And Speaking About Placeholders...

This post is a placeholder post, for yet another placeholder word replacement that I need to come up with. What is a good word (that could be derived from any language) that means the strength of one's multi-faceted valence connection to an organization? As I'm writing this, and keeping with the science metaphor of valence theory, I'm thinking flux, or valence flux.

How does that work for you?

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What is the Question to Which Hierarchy is the Answer?

In a pseudo-non-hierarchical organization, one of the most frequently asked questions is, who’s in charge? Who’s providing the leadership? Who decides what gets done first? Okay, so that’s three variations on the same theme: Who’s on top? The answer is often expressed in hierarchical terms, where the hierarchy in some pseudo-non-hierarchical cases reflects the hierarchy of knowledge, rather than the more conventional economic, or status and class hierarchies. But, perhaps the best answer emerges from my aphorism that, when no one is in charge, everyone is in charge. I observed this in my own department a while ago. Although it may be counter-intuitive, it is consistent with the emergent nature of a UCaPP-oriented, valence organization. I am finding evidence of such interesting, counter-intuitive behaviours among a couple of my participant organizations, one of which reports that when you have a more-UCaPP culture overall, bureaucratic inefficiencies (like strict procedures, protocols, and navigating administrative minefields) can be eliminated without incurring a higher risk of adverse consequences. Indeed, they find it a far more effective way of getting things done.

The secret to all of this, and something that seems to be characteristically inherent in a UCaPP culture, is a shared [something]. I’m using the placeholder [something] because I haven’t yet found the right word. It’s more than vision (since vision is the wrong sense metaphor in a UCaPP world). It’s not merely the tactility, because shared [something] incorporates worldview, imagined future, collective motivation, and collaboratively constructed group – or organization – identity. It’s not necessarily manifest in shared objectives or goals, since these are, in my view, emergent, contingent, and continually in flux. It is [something] that sustains the organization as a whole, and provides the psycho-social energy necessary for the truly organic, valence organization to maintain homeostasis in a complex world.

But to the point, the shared [something] enables emergent leadership of the organization as an entity, without the necessity of any one person (or sub-organization) being dominantly directive. How well can this possibly work? Well, in a specific instance of an organization form more conventionally known as a European city – Bohmte, Germany to be specific - they have applied this principle to the problem of traffic. As reported by Der Spiegel (in translation):
Saturday, Bohmte of Lower Saxony is official[ly] with Osnabrück, the first German municipality without traffic signs in the [city-]center. … Bohmte had taken part as one of seven municipalities from five European Union member states in the European Union project, “Shared space”, with which all road users used the street space equally. The citizens celebrated the day with a road celebration. The renouncement of traffic signs, traffic lights, Fußgängerinseln and other barriers creates mutual consideration between the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and increases security in the traffic, said [European Union parliament president Hans Gert] Pöttering. “Consideration, indulgence and caution in handling are with one another particularly in the traffic indispensable.” The project is however not only an indication of intelligent and courageous traffic policy, but also good European co-operation. … Minister Stefan Schwegmann was pleased, which had Bohmte now a central place. “Shared space is not only a traffic concept, but it has something to do with lives, meeting and communication.”
Well said, Minister Schwegmann! By giving up the presumed need to control, and focusing more on living, meeting (especially of minds), and truly communicating, the questions for which bureaucracy, administrative control, and hierarchy and are the answers may lend themselves to far more interesting approaches.
(Thanks, David!)

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Requiescat in Pace: George Carlin, 1937-2008

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits. And none of them are as obscene as "died of heart failure Sunday. He was 71." As a testimonial to his keen observation of humanity's hypocrisies, and the loss of one of our greatest comedians, here is his classic, Seven Dirty Words:

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11 June 2008


In the midst of conducting research conversations with my government participant organization, I was hit with this inspiration:
Bureaucracy seems to ossify an organization by interfering with the complex interactions among valence relationships.

It may be that the relative location of an organization along the spectrum from BAH to UCaPP is determined by the degree to which valence relationships are able to interact with each other in complex ways within individuals, and how that complexity is expressed via the valence connections among the people.
Does this make sense to anyone out there?

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How to Sabotage an Organization

Via David Weinberger, from a declassified CIA manual on Simple Sabotage, circa 1944, to create general interference with organizations:
  1. Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  2. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of per­sonal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
  3. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and considera­tion.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  4. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  5. Haggle over precise wordings of com­munications, minutes, resolutions.
  6. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  7. Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reason­able” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  8. Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the juris­diction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

It is amazing to me how much this resembles what has been reported in a few of my research interviews!

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10 June 2008

State Religion

Here are the two (presumptive) candidates for US President on the place of religion in America today. McCain: America is a Christian nation and must have a Christian president. Obama: "People are tired of seeing faith being used as a tool of attack."

Isn't it interesting how McCain's views are almost identical (substituting one Abrahamic religion for another) to those of the leaders of some Middle Eastern nations with whom the US is at odds.

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08 June 2008

They're All Goniffs!

Goniff: [also spelled gonef, gonif, ganef, among other variants] (Yiddish) a thief or dishonest person or scoundrel (often used as a general term of abuse).

Yeah, that pretty much describes both Bell and Rogers. Rob Hyndman links to a couple stories, including this one about astronomical data fees being charged by Bell, even under the misnamed "unlimited" data plan. Bell seems to have no compunction about misleading the public through deceptive, but attractive advertising, counting on a fine-print disclaimer to undo the impression made by the tiresome beavers.

And Rogers is no better. In fact, a friend of mine just went through the maze of Rogers deception. She called the customer (dis)service department to complain about the service she was receiving, and the "helpful" customer service rep mentioned that she was probably paying too much on her cable bill. He offered to switch her to a new, digital package, that would cost her $5 less per month, and significantly increase the number of channels she could watch. What's not to like?

The tech arrives to install the new equipment. "Which TV is the HD," he asked. My friend is definitely not tech savvy, and didn't understand the question. I told the tech that neither hers, nor her roommate's, TVs are HD. Turning to my friend, I said, I hope you're not going to be charged for High Definition service, because that usually costs more. She called back to customer service, explained the situation, and the CS rep asked the tech whether he had an extra regular digital tuner that he could install. The tech said he did, and the CS representative said that he would adjust her monthly bill accordingly. But after he checked and rechecked the work order, the tech suggested that my friend call back, to make sure that the reduced price went through. She called, and found out that instead of her bill being reduced by $5, it was actually going to be increased by $30 per month! And, to top things off, she discovered her Rogers Home Phone plan was also changed (not by her) to eliminate her 500 minutes of "free" (i.e. included) long distance. Rather than being more economical as was originally promised by Rogers, my friend's next bill would have been nearly $100 more! This is apparently how Rogers treats one of its "best customers" - someone with Rogers Home Phone, High-speed Internet, and Cable service - lie, cheat, and steal.

Disclaimer: I kicked Rogers out of my home a number of years ago after becoming completely fed up with such tactics, including the deceptive bouncing cable bill, and the "free" cell phone, that we never accepted, never received, and never activated, for which we were nonetheless billed, with the bill eventually being referred to a collection agency for nonpayment, and could not cancel until it was escalated to the VP level. Why does Rogers think they have the unrestricted right to reach into our wallets? According to another friend who did marketing work for Rogers, "their attitude is that they own the customer."

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01 June 2008

Getting Quoted

It's not everyday that one gets quoted in The Economist, let alone being given half a article focused on one's musings. But it happened, and I didn't even notice. Seems like someone really, really likes Johnny and Janey.

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