Cisco Blogs

Getting To the New Normal (Part 2 of 2)

- October 13, 2009 - 2 Comments

by Alan S. Cohen, vice president, Enterprise Solutions, Cisco.

I am a recovering (semi-competitive) mid and long-distance runner. At an advanced age (in my late 20s), I finished my last serious competitive race at 5:20 a.m., skidding a finish line on the FDR expressway in New York, having run the inaugural leg of America’s Ekiden. As part of the Washington, D.C. delegation, we ran the relay race through Manhattan at the wee hours – it was primetime television in Japan – and I finished dead last in my segment when I passed the sash to my anxious teammate. Like all runners, I competed against myself. And I lost. I should have known I was out-classed when I stood behind Steve Scott at the starting line. At that time, Scott was the American record holder in the mile, 5K, and several other feats of running prowess.

Unlike running, work should not involve competing with yourself. Increasingly, winners in the global economy emerge from companies and ecosystems where constructive teaming rather than self-competing creates the winning formula.

In my earlier blog on the New Normal, I noted that for many knowledge workers, the isolation and endless information flow could often feel like losing a relay race. Work often involves an endless series of assignments passed over a virtual wall to a waiting team member.

Increasingly, team members are both geographically distributed as well as crossing company boundaries. For this distributed workforce, the transaction and text-based collaboration systems developed over the past 30 years have run their course. It would be silly to call them obsolete. But they present a limited utility in this next wave of work, where innovation and operational efficiency come from people working together, rather than simply absorbing and using information.

For knowledge workers today, the new normal reminds us of the famous I Love Lucy scene, where Lucille Ball wraps pieces of candy coming through on a conveyer belt and things get too fast and crazy.

The new normal requires a new set of tools that enables the next wave of business innovation to flourish. Does the loneliness of long-distance email and document strings create an environment conducive to innovation? Prediction: The social media revolution will come to the Enterprise because it, too, needs community.

The new normal requires more human and media-rich interactions. Can you build trust with people you do not see on a daily basis through text communications?  Prediction: On a mass scale, video technologies – not only telepresence and streaming video – will arrive in new, unique ways over the next few years.

The new normal requires the technology and innovation curve to support a more open environment where people know what their co-workers are doing.  Can you increase efficiency if workers spend endless hours completing frustrating discovery and re-discovery of co-worker activities?  Prediction: The way information and work is created and horded will change dramatically.  It will happen dynamically, auto-magically for people.

The new normal requires collaboration technology to do more than simply share information, but to also share context.  Can there be better ways to connect people, information and communities digitally, as if they worked in the same office?   Prediction: Even brief communications can create knowledge.

The new normal, where innovation is truly unlocked, requires a dynamic understanding of company cognitive assets, or as Clay Shirky notes, unlocking a work chain’s cognitive surplusCan you understand what all your employees can offer without the unpredictability (and mechanics) of manual tagging?  Prediction: The network will become the great tool in unlocking cognitive surplus.

The next normal is a new normal where technology is the helpmate and not the taskmaster of collaboration.  For the knowledge worker, this new normal cannot come fast enough. How are you getting to the new normal?


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  1. I attending a New"" journalism at a local small business group a few weeks ago and it seems like the new normal is in full force in their industry. The future of journalism requires skills unimaginable 15 years ago. But they'll get there."

  2. Alan, I am now always dealing with a new normal of age and there isn't any digital technology that's going to help me. :)