The quantified self, the quantified organization, and the organized self

quantified org self

The diagram here portrays where I'm going with this post, so let's dive in.

The quantified self

The current Wikipedia entry for quantified self (QS) describes it as "a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical)."

And it doesn't stop at mere data acquisition of course; as the strapline for a major QS community puts it, we're looking at self knowledge through numbers. Adriana Lukas, founder and organiser at London Quantified Self Group, proselytizes self-managed QS, a future in which “expertise is supplied rather than outsourced”, where each of us acquires “agency as sense-maker”.

That's certainly a powerful and possibly quite natural vision, and one I wholeheartedly embrace. Yet it's also counter to the branded data siloes many a purveyor of QS gadgetry would, it seems, have one locked into. Adriana employs a turn of phrase, which may well be riffing off Doc Searls:

We can’t treat individuals as data cows to be milked for the data bucket.

The quantified organization

Lee Bryant, founder of PostShift, describes their take on 'quantified organization':

... a framework of organisational health measures, informed by theory and company goals, that can guide ongoing change in an agile, iterative way and assess the success or failure of change actions against a desired future operating state.

Anne McCrossan coined the term at a social business event convened by Will McInnes, February 2012 – at least I can find no earlier use.

Most recently, a company called Sierra Cedar is viewing the term through the lens of HR, perhaps better serving their own marketing communications than the potential of the concept more broadly:

... we determined that a Quantified Organization would be one that invests in HR technologies, processes, and practices that enable it to improve workforce operations and achieve organizational goals. Through HR practices and technology adoption, Quantified Organizations support an environment of data-driven decision making.

Business performance management (BPM)

Of course, data-informed management is hardly a new idea.

Management accounting emerged during the first half of the 20th Century, and an emphasis on non-fiscal metrics was cemented with the arrival of the Balanced Scorecard in the early-90s. The approach advocates a diligent cascade of mission, strategy and tactics to achieve defined strategic outcomes. It requires the design of the right balance of appropriate metrics to guide performance and secures organisational alignment in conjunction with the associated Strategy Maps.

That organizational alignment isn't a once-off activity. Kaplan and Norton insist:

The alignment process, much like budgeting, should be part of the annual governance cycle.

It's this corpus of work that informs one of my favourite BPM maxims:

Measure what you should, not what you can.

To my mind, these two assertions are a good starting point for considering how the quantified organization is set apart from BPM. QO might represent evolutionary progress, yet I suspect the two will thrive together.

Firstly, anyone aspiring to develop a responsive organization will shudder at the idea that alignment is an annual process – such a drumbeat lost its relevance with the passing of agrarian society. The responsive organization is a quantified organization and it's real-time.

In The Business of Influence I present an augmentation of the Balanced Scorecard I label the Influence Scorecard, aspiring to leverage today's centralized structures and BPM capabilities to embed performance management as sensory feedback throughout the organization, to prompt and qualify transformation. I explore sensory feedback further in Attenzi:

Distilling a well-rounded picture of things from an email inbox is near impossible. ... it’s quite possible that people in large organizations are numbed to what’s happening, to what’s changing, to what’s working and what isn’t.

Modern measurement and analytics serves effectively as a form of real-time sensory feedback, digitally reconnecting the individual to the day-to-day realities.

In other words we're shifting the carrot-and-stick manifestations of BPM where KPIs are presented to you, to the facility for individuals and teams to surface their own understanding of their role and the value they can and do contribute. Not so much performance management in the old simple counting sense, but in the full biomimetic sense.

One might say this is a situation in which “expertise is supplied rather than outsourced”, where each of us acquires “agency as sense-maker” (see QS above).

Measurement and sensing

And that brings us to that maxim about measuring only what you should. Measurement and sensing are different. Measurement is an action – intentional, purposive, subjectively meaningful. Sensing is behavioural – automatic and reflexive.

It's worth remembering that the Balanced Scorecard emerged in an age where the prefix "electronic" distinguished the mainframe-powered from the analogue. Data paucity was the norm and the pursuit of data collection to live up to the expectations of the Scorecard was not inexpensive. By contrast, the quantified organization swims in data.

The exaflood (ready availability of exabytes of data) is frequently referenced yet I always try to lend such change visceral context if only because the shift is so inordinate it's too easy to under-estimate. How about this from Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz describing just the first weekend's sales of iPhone 6:

iPhone launch weekend: Apple sold 25x more CPU transistors than were in all the PCs on Earth in 1995.

More than mere phones, smartphones are incredibly powerful, multi-sensory, networked devices. They are your exobrain and exo-peripheral nervous system.

Sensing does not substitute for measurement, rather we can consider measurement as the emphasis of some of the information derived from all that sensed data in the process of sense-making. The emphases may be deliberate and emergent.

My thinking hadn't got this far in 2010 when I was writing The Business of Influence but I attended to the biological metaphor in Attenzi and now consider this part and parcel of the Influence Scorecard:

We’re biological creatures at one level, and social creatures at another level, a higher level. People have an innate affinity for the layer that’s higher up in the stack if you like because that’s where we live, that’s where identity and relationships and empathy breathe. We’re biological creatures, for sure, but we live, think and behave social. We feel it. We’re social creatures and we’re striving for social business.

So, just as it is for humans, we’ve begun to think of business as biological at one level and social at another. ... No business can really get to be social in a meaningful and valuable way simply by indulging in social media or by slapping apps onto social devices or by subscribing to a social enterprise network. The social human is literally powered by the biological human. The true social business is powered by similar capabilities, capabilities that are clearly lacking in the typical organization today, no matter how much they recite a social mantra.

Some things are easier to quantify than others

By definition, quantified organization encompasses a sociological dimension not immediately relevant to quantified self. How might a group of people organized around a common purpose treat such quantification? How might they respond collectively? How will different people respond differently? What are the opportunities and challenges of such radical visibility?

A London-based company called Quantified Organisation provides dashboards to help transform quantities into actionable information yet it appears they neglect the soft stuff, the cultural, the sociological:

If you can't measure it, then it's not important.

This is evidently wrong. Some of the most important dimensions of organizational life, not least a conducive culture, and communication and influence, are notoriously tricky to quantify. Yet the company isn't the only one to neglect the sociological in obsessing with oodles of data. PwC Strategy& published a white paper January 2015 on a concept they call the Quantified Core.

It takes time to integrate data into an organization this way, and there are no shortcuts. But when you cross that tipping point, and data consistently and automatically influences operations and growth strategy, you become a quantified core enterprise.

There are hints they may be moving in the direction of influence flows, but at the same time it's not clear why they alighted on the word 'core' – to my mind it seems at odds with the distributed and decentralized nature of the responsive and quantified organization. The paper stresses "five mutually reinforcing attributes":

  1. A catalog of data and applications
  2. Open knowledge sharing
  3. Cross-functional proficiency
  4. A growth-oriented CDO
  5. Semi-centralized funding.

Only the second touches sparingly on the cultural facet of organization, and I find little reminiscent of responsiveness. Perhaps this then qualifies the moniker 'core', acknowledging their limited purview, but I struggle to reconcile the massive potential in 2015 of 'quantified' with such narrow focus.

Organization ≠ the firm

In everyday use, in the English language at least, it's too easy to consider "organization" a synonym for "the firm". All firms are organizations but the reverse doesn't hold. I almost always invoke "organization" to mean a group of people organized around a common purpose, and this includes the quantified organization.

In terms of plural quantified selves then, the Artefact Group published the idea of The Quantified Us March 2014:

We are excited about the idea of the ‘Quantified Us,’ a term we use at Artefact which describes the important space between Big and Small data, and between the Quantified Self and crowd. The Quantified Us is based on a select group of people who share relevant characteristics and behaviors. This group may be centered on similar goals, health conditions, biometrics, personal qualities, environmental factors, or even similarity of emerging data patterns. When the members of a group with such similarities decide to participate in collective pooling their self-tracked data, the data-driven insights and recommendations that result take on an added meaning, impact, and personal relevance.

This is very close if not identical to the quantified organization if you interpret the motivations listed by Artefact here as the purpose around which the group forms.

The organized self

To repeat myself from a recent post, social business is about all variety of stakeholders coming together to add mutual value faster than otherwise, with the help of social technologies, appropriately transformed culture, and a network orientation rather than command and control. It's co-creation with customers, partners, suppliers, everyone, constantly striving to find the right combination to best pursue shared objectives, guided by shared values.

Self-organization is a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system. The organized self is the technological augmentation to help achieve this in any and all organizations. It entails software representing us in finding opportunities to create mutual value with others, and helping to realise that value; a human- rather than company-centric perspective.

BYOD (bring your own device) is already an established trend... I simply extend that to include the digital interface one has onto / into organization.

Such potential appeals to free marketers for whom efficiency and utilization are front of mind – after all why should resources be tied up in one combination when they can add greater value faster deployed in another? And it appeals to those on the left of the political spectrum who champion self-management and occupational autonomy. (The Future of Organization.)

The ramifications begin to blur the definitions of employee and 'the firm'. Indeed, anyone who continues to view the firm as simply the sum of its payroll already operates in today's world with yesterday's blinkers. The organized self aims to do for organizing what social media has achieved for communications – eliminate friction and encourage heterarchy. Perhaps it's a logical endpoint of the current vista of social business / future of work / responsive org.

Melding quantification, self and org

The hi:project is a multi-faceted project seeking to address some of the biggest challenges of our use today and tomorrow of the Internet and Web including privacy, digital inclusion and accessibility, decentralization, and the inculcation of a citizen-centric Internet of Things. It sits at the heart of quantification, self and org.

Adriana Lukas:

The focus on empowering the individual, decentralisation and openness gives me hope that the hi:project will go some way towards redressing the current imbalance of power between individuals and organisations. And as a result benefit both.

Lee Bryant:

We are on the cusp of an exciting wave of practical decentralisation of data and the experiences that bring it to life, and this means control of the interface is moving away from organisations and towards the individual. The hi:project is a visionary and delightfully ambitious attempt to accelerate this and give us all more control over our living data, so we support it and hope it succeeds.

If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, you can join the open, distributed and decentralized organization right now, and the Web Science Trust is hosting a webinar on the hi:project 4th March 2015 if you fancy tuning in.

8 thoughts on “The quantified self, the quantified organization, and the organized self

What do you think?...