Friday, May 28, 2010

Can you Trojan Horse cultural change?

We all know the tale of the Trojan Horse. I was thinking of it again this week while listening to Byron Reeves (Total Engagement, Harvard Business Press, 2009) speak at a conference about the potential for gaming technologies to transform the work environment. Byron talked about the values baked-in to games that support the larger organizational trends toward greater transparency, openness, collaboration, and flatter more democratic work environments.

When I read Byran's book, and again this week while listening to his talk, I couldn't help but think of the Wizard of Oz. That behind every enterprise gaming curtain will be some little man micro-managing the worker's every move. I've talked about this before when discussing the dangers of  workstreaming:

Workstreaming is one of those things that causes me a great deal of angst. It worries me so much that I have been reluctant to write this post. Its potential to be misused by micro-managers and control-freaks is huge. The logs track a worker's every action, through syndication feeds that data is exposed, through aggregation it is combined, and through filtering it is synthesized. Used improperly, it has the potential to lead to work-group hell. You could very easily create a workplace that no one would want to work. Think time-cards, dot-boards, seat-time, and otherwise irrelevant metrics on steroids. Giving these tools to old-school managers would be something akin to Sheriff Taylor letting Deputy Fife put real bullets in his service revolver. 
I'm totally in the camp that says these technologies, when deployed in the right organizational setting, will be incredibly powerful and transformative. I'm left wondering,  however, what happens when you introduce these tools into situations where they are at strong odds with an organization's predominant culture? Do the trojan-horsed values have the power to change the culture? Or, are organizational cultures so strongly entrenched that they will eventually displace the values embedded in this new breed of software?

We're headed for a classic battle once people begin to realize what's hidden inside that big wooden horse called code. I don't have a crystal ball, and I have no idea how it will play out. My gut tells me that most organizations will attempt to drive the embedded values out of the code. In the end, I suspect their attempts will fail, but it's going to be a long battle. Changing organizational cultures is a tricky business.


Peg Boyles said...

Good post! Your thoughts and questions engage with humanity's moral dimension, rarely considered (though invisibly omni-present) as a component of either technological innovation or business practice.

MLK said in 1967, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Along that arc, enormous suffering, dislocation, backsliding, and many Black Swans.

Kevin Gamble said...

I appreciate your comments Peg! Thank you so much.


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