Thursday, October 22, 2015

New book: Collaborating in the social era by @oscarberg - a review

There are quite a few books about ‘collaboration’. Recently one was added to the list: ‘Collaborating in the social era’. I had the pleasure to read Oscar Berg’s new book twice. Once in ePub format and then in paper. And I must say I enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend you read it too.

Reason to read the book

The first reason I enjoyed it is because I’ve been following Oscar’s writing (blogging) for years now. It’s great to see his writing has been collected, structured and extended into this book. Intranatverk did a great job publishing it.

The second reason is the fact that many books you read about collaboration are theoretical. They give us general and more strategic things to think about. And these kinds of books have their own right. I enjoy them as well. On the other hand, after finishing those books, I can feel lost. What steps can or should I take? Oscar’s book is not about that. For one, it’s clear that Oscar is not only a consultant, but has done the stuff he’s preaching while working in (and for) organizations. There’s no simplistic 1-2-3 plan in the book. He gives the reader deeper, more philosophical insights in collaboration and work, but maintains a practical, basic focus to help the reader move forward.

What’s the book about?

Let me give you a short summary of the contents of the book:
  1. The first chapter of the book is about proximity. This very important topic is often overlooked when we think about collaboration and communication.
  2. The next chapter should have been the first chapter, I think. Chapter 2 focuses on how business has changed. It describes business in the industrial era and why that doesn’t work too well in these times. I’m curious to hear why it was put in second place.
  3. If business changes work changes too. Chapter 3 and 4 are focused on knowledge or non-routine work, and the problem of the disengaged worker.
  4. I really enjoyed the chapter about information. This topic is not addressed a lot either (I think because it can get quite philosophical). But what is information and how does business and information relate. I’m not sure about using the metaphor of “water” when it comes to information. I think “blood” is more appropriate. The same goes for the statement that “information does not exist”. But still, this is an important chapter to read, think about and work with in daily practice.
  5. Thinking about information is great, but if you can find what you’re looking for, what’s the use? So, the next chapter is about finding and search. Just look at the research on intranet search and you know why this chapter is important…
  6. Chapter 7 is about email. How is email used, how should we use it and how does email related to other (social) tools? I like the fact that Oscar points to the user needs when it comes to work and business. Too much focus is and has been on organizational needs.
  7. Oscar’s Knowledge Work Capability Framework is discussed in chapter 8. To me chapter 8 and 9, which explains the Collaboration Pyramid, are the core of Oscar’s work. In these chapters he clearly brought together loose insights from others, added his own insights and integrated them into a whole. I like the way Oscar shows the complexity of these topics in a simple (but not simplistic) way. By the way all the visualizations and models from the book are shared here.
  8. The end of chapter 9 and all of chapter 10 are great for those that want to move forward with collaborative communication and/or want to help others with this. I like the short “guidelines” Oscar gives.
  9. Chapter 11 is very interesting. It’s about hierarchies vs networks or is it hierarchies and networks? Read this chapter to find out what Oscar's view is.
  10. The next chapter addresses where social technology fits in our daily work. And how the tools are more about a way working/thinking, than a set of features.
  11. Chapter 13 shows (together with chapter 14) that collaboration and new ways of collaborating can be supported in practice. Use cases for social collaboration help you look at work and support them in more collaborative and productive ways.
  12. The last chapter is about change. I was surprised this chapter was so short. In the other chapters ‘change’ is addressed (e.g. on page 116 explicitly, and elsewhere more implicitly). I think readers could have been helped more with some concrete pointers to trigger change. Maybe a good topic for Oscar’s next book? ;-)
Collaborate

One recurring thought I had when reading the book was: Shouldn’t a book about collaboration be a collaborative effort? By sharing his thoughts via Oscar’s blog and discussing the content in the comments, Oscar’s book clearly is a collaborative effort. But I was wondering: could we take things further? For instance, Oscar writes lots of good stuff about the industrial versus the network era, why networks are important and what the downsides of hierarchies are. But there are downsides of networks too. And, as Oscar remarks on page 174, hierarchies and networks don’t exclude each other. The same goes for industrial thinking as well, I find. The only way we get cheap(er) MacBooks and iPhones, is because the industrial thinking is applied and refined. So, what is really going on here? I agree there is no simple answer, as Oscar says on page 185. But I do think we can detail the subtleties more - without making book twice as thick… ;-)

One other example is where Oscar writes about different modes of work. Clearly the focus of the book is on supporting non-routine work in a better way. If this book helps organizations and people do this in a better, more productive way, we’ve achieved a lot. However… I think many people and organizations struggle with the fact that their work is routine and non-routine and they have to switch back and forth between these types of work. To me that’s one of the reasons email is so popular. It’s like the ERP system for non-routine work. But what does this reality mean for organizations and workers? And for the tool/technology landscape?

Congrats

Anyway, let me wrap up this post by congratulating Oscar with his book. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for writing it, Oscar!

And to you, dear reader, as you may suspect I recommend you to buy the book. I’m curious to hear what you think of it.