Thursday, 8 November 2007

Spirituality 2.0

Now this is going to be a rather exotic post! Last Sunday I visited a friend of mine who is working as a pastor. It was my first Sunday service within almost a full year, and after the event we engaged into a discussion about the cultural change that is happening in faith-based communities.

Apparently there is a movement in christian communites which tries to adapt spiritual life to a postmodern reality and that shows stunning links to the discussion about the knowledge age. To one extent, the movement called "Emerging Church" or "Emerging Conversation" emphasizes the importance of decentralized networks and social communities for church life, promoting flat hirarchies, an inclusive participation of laymen and innovative ideas in spiritual service and teaching. On a second glance, however, the cultural change goes much deeper. The approach not only tries to communicate a well-known message in new forms, it acknowledges that spirituality and faith itself are changing (and have to change) in a postmodern mindset. It is about a pluralistic approach to religion and spirituality which emphasizes the postmodern rejection of absolutes and metanarratives. It is top-down prescribed truth vs. subjective and community-based experiences of "truths". The implementation of this concept is also closely linked to the information and knowledge revolution with its decentralized flows of knowledge sources. The whole movement is evolving and communicating largely over the internet with extensive use of blogs and the establishment of international community networks. My friend told me that while he was learning from teachers and acknowledged church leaders 10 years ago, today his spiritual concepts are being shaped and constantly evolving by enganging with the peer-to-peer community over the internet at least for 1h a day. That is a dramatic shift in how people live and develop their faith.

The besteller concept of "The Starfish and the Spider" very much applies to this cultural change within faith-based organizations. There is no "head" of the movement, no authority enforced rules and no top-down dogma. It is multi-stakeholder, open social networks. It's Spirituality 2.0. Not only in it's organizational form, but very much with respect to the cultural paradigm shift towards a new way how individuals think about faith and church. Which is an exact reflection of how the philosophical implications of the knowledge age affect society as a whole.

The individuals enganged in this process are actually very well aware that they are part of a bigger transition of the cultural mindset. They are already children of the knowledge age. Clearly my friend is, who was telling me with a grin at the end of our conversation: "If you want to know more, just surf the net where ever it will lead you. Because actually, the web 2.0 is a metaphysical existence on it's own which you can confide in once in a while..."

(See also the article "Confessions of a postmodern mind" of my friend at http://www.futurefaith.de/text.html)

Monday, 5 November 2007

Towards a knowledge age

Sometimes it's important to remind ourselves that Web 2.0 is indeed just an expression of a deeper paradigm shift that is happening: the transition from a modern to a post-modern society or - in business terms - from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy. With regard to organizational development, this shift is characterized by the transition
  • from authoritative decisions to team work
  • from hirarchies to flat organizational structures
  • from an infrastructure focus to a focus on people
  • from a chain of command to a culture which gives space to creativity & innovation
  • from tightly controlled to widespread information
  • from one lifetime job to multiple careers (with a loss of job security)
  • from specialized skills to multi-tasking
  • from external inscentives to intrinsic motivation
    (Kotler 2002)
The web becomes the symbol of this change from centralized institutions to social networks. Web 2.0 is just the (IT-wise not very complicated) technological expression of this change. While we are thrilled by all the tools which are out there, we should regularly step back and look at the whole picture. Which will leave us even more thrilled by the wave of societal change that is rolling over us and that will impact the way we will live and work the upcoming years and even decades.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Meta-Network - now it's getting interesting

Today Google announced the launch of the new standard OpenSocial for tomorrow, which should enable third-party programmers to develop widgets which could be integrated in any social software application observing the standard. By requiring external applications to exchange a standardized set of metadata between the networks, Google is hoping to connect a wide range of different social networks under one framework. The opportunity to plug into these networks with accustomed widget application has already propelled the recent success of Facebook and is what developers were waiting for. The end result could be a global standard which would connect all existing networking applications and form one single global network.

This is actually exactly what I was waiting for. However, I am curious to which extent this network standard will deserve to be called open, namely to which extent Google will control and monitor the data which is exchanged. The fear of course is that privacy standards might be violated with one company controlling the user data of every social networking application which adheres to the standard. While from a technological point of view, this is the right step, a monopoly by Google on global social networking data is surely not desirable. In my opinion, this issue calls for a global identification standard in context of a United Nations regulatory framework. Cleary it should not be monopolized by a single private-sector player. But I still don't have an appropriate concept in mind for this, so I'm eager to learn how the discussion will further develop.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Looking out for a professional Facebook

In his latest blog post, Christian Kreutz asked why IT departments (who are still responsible for technical Knowledge Management solutions) seem to not take the participative web as a top priority. I fully agree with his analysis and also his call for a higher priorization of Web 2.0 within organizations.

Just to give one example: In fact, what I’m really looking for, is an internal Facebook application for enterprises/organizations, where everyone updates his status message regularly and you can see who’s currently working on what, meeting with whom, participating in which event, etc. Just imagine, somebody setting his status to "John Smith is drafting a discussion paper on xy". It would be so easy then to step in and say “hey, you’re working on this? That’s interesting for me too, I'm working on something similar! Let's have a look at it, maybe we do this together?”

After all, lots of our younger staff members and interns (most if them are below 30 years) spend huge amounts of time in their private Facebook accounts. They are naturally used to communicate and socialize like this. Why not seize this culture and skill setting for enhancing the communication flow withing professional teams and organizations?

By the way: It seems worth mentioning that Microsoft today bought a 1.6% stake in Facebook (worth 240 million USD). Now I'm myself not yet sure if that's good or bad news, but it might indeed be a step that could help integrating Web 2.0 as part of professional environments in the long run.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Envisioning one single world network

A funny post on the KM4Dev network, which suggested that "maybe all these social community sites could be merged into one called, say, MyFlickeringFace", caught my attention today.

In fact, considerations regarding a global meta-network, which consolidates all existing social networking platforms, are already under way. And the big IT players like Microsft, Google, etc. are very eager to get the lead in this. There was an interesting article in SPIEGEL Online this week (unfortunately only in German) which tries to grasp what's happening there at the moment.

For me as an indivdual user this is very ambivalent. One one hand, I hate to have to maintain all these different applications and accounts in parallel (Private email, Google, del.icio.us, facebook, xing, skype, youtube, flickr and many more specialised portals and communities) and desperately long for a one-stop shop where several (or all) of the above services are integrated and ALL the people I want to liaise with can be found. Competition among service providers in this regard seems counterproductive for the user, as he always has to maintain several incomplete networks in parallel and invite people from one network also in the other etc. One part of me therefore says we all should only have one global network, in which we can chose those applications and subgroups which we need.

However, the other part of me is fully aware that - as the examples of Microsoft and Google shows - service provider monopolies are to be avoided! One single global network fully controlled by a business player is a horror scenario with regard to privacy, data security and freedom of expression, and includes the severe danger of misuse for political or business objectives.

I really can't think of a satisfying solution for this. Can anybody else? Maybe a global standard for social networking applications is necessary. But then the question remains: What kind of administrative service is trustworthy enough to maintain and store the data of connected users? And what mechanisms can be put in place to effectively prevent the exploitation of user profiles by retrieving and connecting data from all the different applications in this unified network?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Leadership and management in a post-modern world

Some weeks ago, I had to write a few paragraphs on how I would define good leadership and management. The following revised essay is the result of this exercise:

When the 51 founding members of the United Nations convened in San Francisco in 1945, the signed UN Charta marked a clear shift from unilateralism and colonialism to multilateralism. The main basis for this development was the growing consciousness that the existing global challenges can not be faced by one power alone. The distinctiveness of this new international system of collective security was not characterized by one nation claiming leadership but by a peer structure with equal rights and responsibilities. In its own way the UN system thus appears as one of the many faces of the transition process from a modern to a postmodern society.

Why is this important with regard to leadership and management? Because unlike the modern characteristics of enforced rules, clear hierarchies and strict boundaries, the post-modern era is characterized by the inclusion of a growing variety of actors and approaches within fuzzy boundaries and through peer-to-peer organizational structures. And because I believe that leadership and management in context of such a postmodern reality are also different from what the concepts used to be in the modern age.

Leadership in the 21st Century will be more about facilitation than it is about authority. More about connecting the right people than putting single leaders in place. More about working with what people want and what they already know then about telling people what to do. While this is true on a societal level, it also translates into the challenges of leadership within business entities and organizations. Good leadership within an international organization will need to consider the following three aspects:

Leadership is facilitation. Like the UN Secretary General’s role is not to impose concepts and ideas to member states, but rather distill the essence of consensus among the existing ideas and agendas of the member states, leaders within agencies need to work with what (the very much gifted and knowledgeable) people bring, rather than introducing what in their opinion should be done. It is important to note that this does not contradict the pursuit of an organization’s mandate. It does rather enable all members to actually identify with the organization’s mandate, as they can see themselves as part of the process and therefore have a much greater incentive to commit and engage in context of their assignments.

Leadership is trust. Good leadership selects the right people and - more importantly – trusts them after selection. It also trusts the processes which are put in place to organize the work of an organization. Good leadership will let people do the job they were hired for, trusting their professional competencies as well as their moral integrity. The saying that ‘faith moves mountains’ is in particular true when faith is invested in people. The energy mobilized within individuals who experience that they are trusted to do their job well is an indispensable parameter when striving for project success.

Leadership is support. The essence of good leadership has always been this: To provide vision for a common goal and to bring out all the potential of the ones who are led, building an environment so that their commitment, knowledge and capacity can be harnessed to the fullest extent. In this, the leader has not so much a dominating than a supporting role, thus serving the organization and its members to fulfill each of their tasks to the highest degree possible. Power plays or opposition to personal development of staff can have no part in such an environment.


The implications on managers in the 21st century follow the same lines, as we experience that classic institutional hierarchies and control mechanisms are being softened over time. From this perspective, the following three items will be of particular importance for future management practice:

Management needs to be transparent. Communication is the key to successful management processes in particular within large organizations. Management therefore has to understand that being part of the post-modern knowledge society means that people within organizations need to be provided with as much information and knowledge as possible rather than limiting information flows to only what staff needs to know to do their own job.

Management means managing networks. In today’s business and organization processes, no single entity knows all it needs to know on its own. To acknowledge the power of networks means to benefit from the possibilities of connecting to and distilling from a vast pool of resources, management partners, experts, solution providers and practitioners. Networks are more than the sum of their parts and by encouraging and maintaining networks, both inside and outside the organization, management will strengthen competencies and efficiency on every level of the organization.

Management can open up for self-organization. The biggest challenge of management today will be to overcome the traditional urge for control, micromanagement and confidentiality. In a networked knowledge society, business processes need to be allowed to become an open space for shared opinions, solutions and responsibilities. Trusting the capability of individuals to act, decide and carry responsibility can open the way to organizational processes which involve a wider range of people. This in effect bears the chance for much more adaptive, creative and successful solutions and ways to do business.


The societal change towards post-modern thinking, knowledge economies and a networked world is happening. We need leaders and managers who understand this change and its implications for the organizations they are serving.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Worst case scenario for a blogger rookie

OK, it happened. The one thing I was afraid of since the very day I started this blog: I haven't found the time to write anything for a far too long time. Too long for just ignoring it. Too long for a simple excuse like a 2 week holiday in Indonesia or a 1 week training in Kuala Lumpur. There's just one single obvious reason - I was lazy.
So what does that mean? Is this like some kind of death sentence for my young blog ambitions? Am I just not professional enough for this? But no, I still want to write, I still want to express myself. So what am I to do now?

Basically I figure there are three options in this situation.

1. I come out with a long and lengthy excuse, including sincere apologies and a determined promise to never let it happen again. Makes me still look as the lazy author I was and doesn't really encourage anyone to trust my committment as a blogger in the future.

2. I just ignore the empty space since the last post and start with the next post. Maybe nobody recognized my long abstinence from this site and the likeliness of being uncovered will even diminish over time! However, there is this guilt inside of my and the fear it might happen again. What then?

3. I write several posts at a time and give them adjusted past dates afterwards. That could do the trick - provided that I don't believe my reader's intellectual capacity to uncover such kind of blogger felony. At least it would look good, but then again it would just replace one guilt with the other.

4. I do what this blog is about: reflecting on the experience of being a learning blogger and Web 2.0 explorer. And actually, maybe we could do that for every situation where we ususally come up with some unsatisfying standard reactions...

Thursday, 5 July 2007

The quest for finding the right topic

The biggest question for me as a blogger newbie is, what should I actually talk about? Do I have something to tell which is of any importance to the outside world? Do I know things that others don't know? Things of actual value to others? Realizing that many of the blogs out there elaborate on private life details of an intimacy level with which I either feel not comfortable with or I am just not interested in, I decided to abstain from publishing personal diary stories. On the other hand, a significant amount of bloggers use their blog strategically to position themself in their professional environment or a thematic community they feel part of. This however requires of course a certain confidence in your own knowledge and (where this knowledge is still very much in the process of evolving) significant investment into research. And of course this strategy will not work, if positioning yourself is your only inscentive to start a blog. In order to have something to tell about which others might be interested in, a certain amount of passion regarding the topic would be necessary, as well as a certain amount of trust in the tool of blogging as the right means to communicating this passion.

The difficult thing is that the topics I am most interested in, are they ones I don't know much about yet. Not a good starting point for a professional thematic blog, is it? Well, but at least I could maybe market my reflection on these questions as kind of "reflections of a Web 2.0 newbie", right? But then, blogging and Web 2.0 this is probably not the only topics I want to talk about. I am always learning about new things in course of my professional development, which always triggers some kind of change in my personal reality. This change of mind during learning might actually be interesting to document. So the bottom line could be someting like "reflect during learning". What about that? Reflections during Learning. Could be a title. Let's see.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Shocked that somebody is actually reading my blog...

It is fascinating, how a message of a participant of last week's KM4Dev workshop, who just congratulated me to the launch of my blog today, is able to force me into hectic and most nervous activity. I just created the launch 4 days ago and Google is already indexing it on the second page when searching my name??? I remember times when search engines needed 6 months for this... Does that mean that I now actually have to WRITE something in my blog every week? I cannot dissapoint the 2 people who suscribed to my blog within these first four days, can I? But what if more people will see it then? Waves of thoughts are breaking over me... What if colleagues will find the blog and read about my professional views? Ooooh.. what if my boss reads it? Or my Human Resources focal point? Or former students from university. What about family and friends? I realize this has serious implications on my public reputation, as well as my professional environment, my career options, my social peers, well, maybe even my love life! Do I really want to do this? Writing and publishing fragments of thoughts visible to anyone in the world? Why would I wnt to do this? What are the benefits - and more important, what are the risks? Launching an own blog just out of a moment's mood might not be the perfect framework to reflect on these questions... hm, on the other hand - maybe this is exactly the right framework...?

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Magister Artium!

After waiting for several months for my professors to review my final thesis in my studies in political science, I finally received my certificate yesterday! This means I can now freely distribute my thesis to everyone who is interested.

The thesis examined the connection between common development theory approaches and ICT for Development (ICT4D), based on the observation that most development projects in this field seemed to be somehow disconnected from theory-based development research. Projects often were developed according to various assumptions which have never been proved before - such as the idea that development countries would be able to 'leapfrogg' various stages of development by transforming form agricultural societies straight to information societies. The character of these considerations where inspired by a rather practical and pragmatic approach, asking rather what actually could work than how this would connect to the research in development theory of the years before. The guiding question of the thesis therefore was if ICT4D was actually done without development theory at all. Where there any connections to developmeng theory approaches of the last 20 years and if, which role does ICT4D play in these different approaches?

The study was conducted in cooperation with InWEnt – Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung (Capacity Building International, Germany) gGmbH and in particular with the support of Balthas Seibold (http://www.webwort.de/). The InWEnt project IT@COOPS (http://www.it-coops.org/) in this regard served as a case study to illustrate how the different development approaches implicitely or explicitely feed into one concrete ICT4D project.

Unfortunatley, the study is only available in German language, which was a concession to the fact that I had to complete the writing solely on weekends during the first months of my new position at UN Volunteers. However, if you like to learn more about the study and its context, feel free to contact me personally.

Download the study

Friday, 22 June 2007

I was sure I will never write a blog

It has been about 13 years ago, that a good friend of mine tried to persuade me to get myself an email account in order to communicate with her in some other part of Europe. It was 1994, I was 20 and I had just started my studies in computer science in multimedia. Even though I signed up for one of the most innovate studies existing in Europe at that time, I had somehow a strong hesitation when it came to new tools which did not immediately reveal their usability to me. So it took my friend about 6 months until I finally approached our university's IT admin to set up my account. Since then roughly about 10,000 emails have left my outbox and today of course I could not live without emails anymore.

But somehow, this inner resistance regarding new fancy-but-senseless tools remained to a certain extent. So all the hype about blogs and Web 2.0 left me extraordinary unimpressed. In fact, I considered most of the blogs I have seen in the early days to be stunningly irrelevant, boring and basically a waste of time. Who the heck should keep track of all the stuff which is written out there and how on earth should one filter the relevant needles in the haystack? I decided to leave this to the professionals, trusting that journalists would provide me with filtered, condensed and up-to-date destillations of blog articles whenever there was actually something important posted in the world out there. As far as I was concerned, I had better things to do.

And well, I still have of course. Intrestingly enough however, today I ended up working in Knowledge Management at the United Nations Volunteers, so I cannot avoid to concern myself with any tools and ideas which support knowlede sharing and exchange. And therefore - after quite a long time in which I tried to ignore that I actually SHOULD concern myself with Web 2.0 tools for professional reasons - the wave finally broke over me... After participating in a 3-days workshop of the Knowledge Management for Development Network in Zeist, Netherlands this week (http://www.km4dev.org/) and especially some lengthy discussions with Christian Kreutz who shared on our train ride back to Germany his experience about setting up his own blog after a similar time of resistance (http://www.crisscrossed.net/), I decided to start my own. Just to see what will develop out of it...