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Number: 71
Year: 2002
Author: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Title: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age

Implications of technology driven changes on information services

     There is a need to adjust the organization through its leadership to operate effectively in a digital global environment as shown in the section on The Transformation of Management and Leadership. Successful leaders are moving away from component-based, linear thinking toward holistic, nonlinear thinking, involving the following shifts:
  • from microscopic, local views with a focus on the marketplace to global views, with focus on the environment
  • from a model wherein structure creates process to a model wherein the interactions within a system create self-organizing structures
  • from a focus on organizational pathology to a focus on organizational potential
  • from paying attention to policies and procedures that are fixed and inflexible to paying attention to perking information and emerging events
  • from planning steered by strategic-planning committee or consultants to whole-system input into planning process
  • from a focus on quantitative data to visual thinking in the big-picture context
  • from seeing change as a threat to seeing change as an opportunity
  • from leadership being responsible for success to everyone being responsible for success. (Saunders 1998)
The role of leaders
“The leader’s job is to enable an organization and its members to operate in dynamic balance with a changing world so that collectively they grow in strength, effectiveness, and legitimacy.”(Nanus 1997)
     The modern leader has four roles - direction-setter, change agent, communicator, and mentor. Nanus (1997) believes that these provide the answer to all the turbulence, exploding uncertainty, change, and complexity that face leaders in the global economy and the rapidly changing electronic environment. The leader, as change agent, makes critical choices or influences the choices of others about investments and personnel, customers and markets, partnerships and new products. The leader is also the pri- mary person who communicates and negotiates internally, but particularly, externally and who models new behaviors through coaching, mentoring and teaching. In previous decades, leaders and their managers spend most of their time creating order out of chaos. However, based on our new understanding of complexity and chaos, it is clear that such systematized and orderly organizations are now challenged to respond effectively to the fast-changing electronic environment. In the next section we will explore what this means for leaders and the management of organizations.

MAIN POINT: The role of leaders in this kind of world are not to direct others in what to do but to establish the conditions in which workers can realize their own creativity on a much larger scale than is currently the case. This is also true for governments.

Evolving management theories and strategies for the electronic environment
“So, when you insist on your vision, when you try to stick to your blueprint, when you cling with so much determination to control, are you destroying the capacity of your organization for complex learning?” (Stacey 1996 b).
     Stacey (1996 b) postulates that all modern management thinkers share an unquestioned assumption that successful organizations are systems tending to states of stable equilibrium and adaptation to their market, societal and political environments. The assumption is that they will continue to move to equilibrium unless they are disturbed from such states by perturbations in their environment. Most bureaucracies, especially governmental, believe the same. Successful organizations identify these changes as soon as possible and align themselves to fit these changes. Senge (1990) sees organizations as nonlinear systems changing through learning. Ansoff (1987 & 1991) believes that strategic choices can be made in highly rational, analytical and intentional ways, while Mintzberg and Waters (1985) points out that many strategies simply emerge. However, Stacey (1996 b, 1999) disagrees that success depends upon being “in control,” or at least on achieving control faster than rivals, by whatever means. He suggests balancing traditional management systems with parallel internal systems that are under less control and functions on the edge of chaos, relying on creativity to achieve breakthrough ideas.
     The almost spontaneous development of the Linux version of the UNIX operating system, is an elegant illustration of this point. Linux software was developed as free-ware. It attracted the attention of more and more programmers over time who contributed their own ideas and improvements. The Linux community grew steadily, soon encompassing thousands of people around the world, all sharing their work freely with one another. Within three years, this loose, informal group, working with- out managers and connected mainly through the Internet, had turned Linux into one of the best versions of UNIX ever created (Malone & Laubacher 1998).
     How would such a software development project have been organized by one of today’s major software companies or in our own organizations?
Malone & Laubacher (1998) speculates that “decisions and funds would have been filtered through layers of managers. Formal teams of programmers, quality assurance testers, and technical writers would have been established and assigned tasks. Customer surveys and focus groups would have been conducted, their findings documented in thick reports. There would have been budgets, milestones, deadlines, status meetings, performance reviews, approvals. There would have been turf wars, burnouts, overruns, delays. The project would have cost an enormous amount of money, taken longer to complete, and quite possibly produced a system less valuable to users than Linux.”
     They suggest that the Linux community, a temporary, self-managed gathering of diverse individuals engaged in a common task, is a model for a new kind of business organization that could form the basis for a new kind of economy.

MAIN POINT: Today’s leaders are challenged to create an environment that encourages unexpected advances and unleashes creativity in traditional organizations such as our universities and research establishments.
Ideas from the literature for creating such an environment are discussed below.

- Leaders question linear thinking to create a nimble organization

     Experts say that adaptation is the heart of competing on the edge.
Organizations must become complex adaptive systems (CASs) that resemble the nonlinear feedback systems one can find so abundantly in nature as we have discussed in the section on Complexity and Paradox. An important characteristic of CASs is that they are composed of autonomous agents whose interactions with each other produce the emergent structures that form the unique properties of a system. The flocking behavior of geese — i.e. flying in a V-formation — illustrates this concept. They appear to follow a few simple rules; don’t bump into each other; match up with the speed of other geese flying nearby; replace the lead goose when it gets tired; and always remain with the group. Yet a complex and efficient flying pattern emerges from these few rules. The group relies on constant feedback and adaptation to achieve its goal of remaining resilient in the face of changing circumstances such as encountering geographic or weather obstacles.
     The lesson here is that rather than stifling chaos, managers should allow it to flourish. They also must ensure that the work environment encourages interaction and creativity. In nibble organizations leaders should not provide answers but create the flexibility that encourage employees to come up with the solutions. To grow such a collective intelligence, leaders need to create a strong sense of shared meaning so that people have the freedom to make decisions based on local situations much faster. In a complex turbulent environment, the mechanistic, authoritarian and hierarchical decision-making process is too slow and too cumbersome to react to the situation. Employees at every level of the organization need to bring their intelligence and capacity to their work and to make decisions quickly. Any or every employee may hold a piece of the puzzle that is critical to completing the picture.

The next two leadership requirements also derives from these ideas: Leaders give up control to achieve innovation AND; Leaders share intelligence, information and meaning with a high level of interactivity. Creating opportunities for discussion and using every communications technology available to the organization will encourage two critical components of creativity: posing questions and involving unlikely partners in conversations, discussions and meetings.

- Leaders develop resilient employees who can absorb future shocks

     We have discussed the need for interactivity and sharing intelligence but to manage the unknown future an organization must have the capacity to absorb shocks in times of changes and chaos. All information-based organizations such as libraries and universities are experiencing such times. Employees will need the following characteristics to become more resilient: be focused, organized, proactive and acquire a positive sense of their ability to deal with change. This is encouraged through training, building an understanding of the external world and global socioeconomic changes and creating an organizational culture of continuos
improvement. Cross-training, developing self-directed work teams and having groups of people who can be moved from one part of the organization to another on short notice, builds resilience. Open forums without any fixed agenda is also conducive to building this culture, as are preparing employees for emerging trends such as those discussed at the beginning of this chapter.
     It is especially important for workers in a distributed environment to understand how their job are integrated with that of their coworkers. Managers in distributed work environments can develop strategies that explicitly emphasize and develop the connections among employees to develop common understanding of larger group or organizational goals. Analysis suggests that undirected electronic communication (UEC), such as project tracking tools and electronic bulletin boards, is important for satisfaction with office communication in the distributed work environment. UEC allows “lurking” where workers can monitor a wide variety of workrelated events and discussions among colleagues (Tapsell 1999).

- Leaders foster Communication and build Relationships
“In this new world span-of-control mentalities must give way to span-of-communication mentalities.” (Leinberger and Tucker 1991)
     Leaders need to communicate obsessively, both formally and informally, to forge relationships and knowledge networks. New research suggests
that it is a mistake to think about knowledge networks only in terms of technology. It is important to examining the web of relationships that exist among the units. The way a unit is linked to others had a dramatic effect on its performance (Cliffe 1998). The difference in performance can largely be traced to two organizational factors: a unit’s centrality in the corporate network and the types of relationships it maintains with other units. The relationship between two units should be tailored to the type of knowledge that needs to flow between them. Cliffe (1998) categorized knowledge as either explicit or tacit. Explicit knowledge needs little interpretation and can therefore be communicated quickly and easily electronically, e.g. research reports, simple software code, and market data. Tacit
knowledge, in contrast, requires a high degree of interpretation; it can’t be transferred quickly and easily, e.g. scientific expertise, product technologies,
and operational know-how. The exchange of tacit knowledge requires a great deal of face-to-face contact. Leadership actions are important to ensure that this happens.

- Leaders ensure effective decision making and encourage risk taking

     Clearly, leaders must be able to manage the paradoxes of chaos and order as they juggle creativity and experimentation along with control and efficiency. In the evolving electronic workplaces, leaders must “push the envelope to survive, we live in a constant stream of tensions: balancing work with play, creativity with competition, complacency with outrageousness” (Tetenbaum 1998). This means honing the decision making skills at all levels of management. Decision making is the most important job of any executive. It is also the toughest and riskiest because of the ways in which human psychology can sabotage decisions. Decision makers display a strong bias toward alternatives that perpetuate the status quo as you may know from your own experiences! These are called decisionmaking
traps by Hammond, (1998). In the electronic environment, especially when investing in information technology, many leaders and their management teams are treading new ground. Understanding and awareness of such traps such traps are more necessary than ever. Below is a discussion of some of these decision traps from the work of Hammond (1998).
     The Anchoring Trap refers to the common phenomenon when the mind gives disproportionate weight to the first information it receives. Initial impressions, estimates, or data anchor subsequent thoughts and judgments. This can be as simple and seemingly innocuous as a comment offered by a colleague or a statistic appearing in the morning newspaper The Status-Quo Trap reflects on the biases that influence the choices we make. Decision-makers display, for example, a strong bias toward alternatives that perpetuate the status quo. On a broad scale, we can see this tendency whenever a radically new product is introduced. In business, where sins of commission (doing something) tend to be punished much more severely than sins of omission (doing nothing), the status quo holds a particularly strong attraction.
     The Sunk-Cost Trap deals with our deep-seated biases to make choices in a way that justifies past choices, even when the past choices no longer seem valid. Sunk costs are irrelevant to the present decision such as investing in a digital library when we have already invested in a traditional system, but nevertheless they prey on our minds, leading us to make inappropriate decisions
     The Framing Trap effects the first step in making a decision, which is to frame a question. The way a problem is framed can profoundly influence the choices made. A frame can establish the status quo or introduce an anchor. It can highlight sunk costs or lead you toward confirming evidence. It often traps decision makers into making estimates or forecasts about uncertain events based on past experiences that may be meaningless in the electronic environment.

     There are also a number of Uncertainty Traps that can cloud our judgement. The most common of these uncertainty traps are:

     The Overconfidence Trap. Some decision-makers tend to be overconfident about their accuracy in estimating. That can lead to errors in judgment and, in turn, bad decisions.
     The Prudence Trap. Another trap for forecasters takes the form of over cautiousness, or prudence. When faced with high-stakes decisions, they tend to adjust estimates or forecasts to play it safe. Over cautiousness may result in creating expensive and delaying worst-case-analyses which may have no practical benefit. Too much prudence can sometimes be as dangerous as too little.
     What can you do about these traps? Leaders in the evolving electronic environment should study the work of Hammond (1998). The best protection against decision traps is awareness. Forewarned is forearmed.

MAIN POINT: The main message of this section on management and leadership is the ability and need to integrate opposites. The challenge for managers and their teams is to create coexisting, highly differentiated and highly integrated organizations. Differentiating units is easy; achieving integration is not. Tushman & O’Reilly (1999) stress that innovation (either incremental or discontinuous) stems from two component processes: those structures, people, incentives and cultures that promote creativity and those that facilitate implementation. The need for creativity must be balanced with the need for execution; they state that: “Organizations
can sustain their competitive advantage by operating in multiple modes simultaneously — managing for short-term efficiency by emphasizing stability and control, and for long-term innovation by taking risks and learning by doing. Organizations that operate this way may be thought of as ambidextrous — hosting multiple, internally inconsistent architectures, competencies and cultures, with built-in capabilities for efficiency, consistency and reliability on the one hand, and experimentation, improvisation and luck on the other.”


Evaluation takes on even greater significance in the evolving electronic marketplace where intangible assets predominate. Cost savings from successful web initiatives must be evaluated and explicitly identified.
Such savings should be aggressively re-allocated to develop more electronic and human assets. The best measures of the success of intangible assets are customers. Web-based services are ideally suited to getting constant feedback from them.

Organizational learning
“…innovation is everybody’s responsibility” Math Kohnen,
Director of GameChanger Initiatives at Shell (Stepanek 1999)
     All of the above trends point to the importance of organizational learning. Developing electronic assets such as digital libraries and acquiring information technology infrastructure require traditional start-up learning but more importantly, maximizing the benefit of these through innovation and organization-wide learning. Below are examples of successful approaches.

- Virtual cross functional teams and skunk works

     How can we bring the startup mentality inside our large existing organizations?
     By creating entrepreneurial units within the traditional organization from which the rest can learn. What Stepanek (1999) calls “rebel bands” and Tushman & O’Reilly (1999) calls “skunk works” Such groups are relatively small, have loose decentralized product structures, experimental cultures, loose work processes, strong entrepreneurial and technical competencies and relatively young and heterogeneous employees. Entrepreneurial units build new experience bases and knowledge systems; they generate the experiments, failures, and they create the variation from which possible dominant designs or technological discontinuities can
emerge. The ambidextrous organizations referred to earlier, build in contradictions as they operate both for today and tomorrow. Tushman & O’Reilly (1999) believes that management must protect and legitimize entrepreneurial units and keep them physically, culturally and structurally separate from the rest of the organization. There is not enough evidence, as yet, that the latter is always true. There is good evidence that this “rebel culture” pushes decision-making deep into the organization and cut through layers of bureaucracy, begetting more innovative teams. Here are some examples provided by Stepanek (1999).


     Nortel allocates “phantom stock” to those who volunteer for special high-risk innovative projects. Nortel “buys” the stock, as if it were an internal IPO. Staffers get paid twice—once when a product is finished and again after it has been on the market for about a year. Nortel now has 17 products under development in this program.


     P&G has created a group called Corporate New Ventures, an autonomous idea lab. Its mission: to encourage new ideas for products and put them into speedy production by funding the best ideas. By 1999, seven ideas have already gone to market in half the time of previous new products.


     The company holds weekly “GameChanger” sessions to brainstorm for new ideas. By 1999, more than 300 new-product and processimprovement ideas have been implemented, including four of the company’s five most crucial initiatives that year.

- Acquiring, growing, and keeping Creatives

     Learning organizations are challenged to grow and keep creative people.
Creative types design the software, Web pages, and special projects that convince people to use our services and continue using them. It is not advisable to manage creative people in traditional ways. Cook (1999) provided useful ideas for keeping and encouraging creatives:

1. Structure without control. It is generally unwise to try to manage creative employees at all; leading them is more effective. They require more freedom, with the only structured provided through deadlines and guidance, rather than management techniques. “High-tech and artistic people don’t accomplish anything without structure, but the structure needs to be primarily unknown to them and unconscious.” (Cook 1999)
2. Forget the 9-to-5 jive
3. Right brain and left brainworkers. Teams usually consist of right brain (creative), left brain (technical), and strategic (synapse) members.
Although there are some inherent difficulties in getting creative and noncreative types working together effectively, allowing employees’ unique personalities to shine through helps even the most seemingly different people find common ground.
4. Feedback gets amplified
Knowing how to give feedback is a crucial aspect of fostering good relationships between creatives and non-creatives. Because the creative process is such an intensely personal pursuit, improperly presented feedback can be extremely damaging. Therefore, it’s necessary to help creatives articulate how they feel about the feedback they’ve been given. By setting clear expectations in the beginning, a manager can tie criticism back to the initial expectations and explain why certain aspects of the project don’t work. Integrating peer reviews into the evaluation process generally provides greater credibility as most creative work is highly subjective.
5. The creative career track
Creative types generally do not make good managers and another career path needs to be developed for them. They must have assurances that they can rise high in the organization without being forced to manage people.
6. Managing smarter people
Frequently non-technical people manage technical people and, in some sense, they may feel less smart than their employees, however, leaders and managers need not be as technically proficient because their role is quite different. This should not be a stumbling block in hiring and keeping creatives.

     Another strategy to keep new types of workers is to “sculpt” jobs specifically for them. Job sculpting is used as a competitive strategy by many electronic-based companies. It is the art of matching people to jobs that resonate with the activities that make them happy. Butler & Waldroop (1999) says that managers do not need special training to job sculpt, but they do need to listen more carefully when employees describe what they like and dislike about their jobs and their deeply embedded life interests. They then work together to customize future work assignments. Employees stay at jobs only if the job matches their deeply embedded life interests. These interests are not shallow and temporary, but deeply embedded life interests that drive what kinds of activities make them happy. At work, that happiness often translates into commitment, keeps people engaged, and keeps them from leaving your organization for the competition.

MAIN POINT: There is a shortage of technically skilled workers and even more so of innovators. Retention and recruitment is one of the greatest obstacles to developing digital library services and information products.

- Fostering Creativity and Innovation

“Creativity is the process of bring a novel idea into existence.
Innovation is the practical application of creative ideas, i.e., the implementation of the ideas that are new.” (Sullivan 2000).

The development of digital library services and functions require innovation and creativity. There are 3 key elements for a creative workplace (Sulivan 2000):
  • individuals who are willing to tap their creativity and express ideas
  • an environment which supports creativity and innovation, i.e. risk taking, trust, openness, play, and humor
  • allowing time for idea generation
  • having the necessary resources (time, money, energy, learning)
  • There are many different processes that have been used to stimulate the generation of creative ideas. Below are listed just a few of these. It behooves organizations in the rapidly changing electronic environment to explore as many of these as possible.

  • Electronic meeting and brainstorming systems are useful in generating ideas. Everyone in the meeting can “talk at once” by typing into his or her computer. The system then instantly distributes the contributions throughout the group. This means that participants do not lose track of their ideas while listening to other contributions, nor do they lose track of what others are saying while they are contributingbecause all ideas become part of a real-time and permanent written
    record. Strong personalities can no longer dominate or sidetrack a meeting. Weaker personalities have equal access to the “floor.” And because individuals provide input anonymously, participants evaluate each idea’s merit independently from the personality of the person de- livering it. Participants can float unconventional or unpopular ideas without evaluation apprehension.
    More information on virtual collaboration can be found by visiting the web site of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work at and examples of software applications are provided in the resource section.

  • Scenario planning is a process that enables us to visualize a range of opportunities from trends intelligence and to facilitate a departure from traditional thinking - to spark creative “what if” thinking. Arranging trends in some type of logical story form can facilitate comprehension and relevancy. This brings to the surface unspoken assumptions about the future, challenges mental models, and more frequently than not, lifts the blinders to creativity and resourcefulness are lifted. (Tucker 1999)
  • Thinking exercises can be employed when work groups are stuck for new ideas. The Six Hats method is a well known thinking tool kit developed by Edward de Bono, a man many regard as the authority in teaching thinking as a skill.
  • The arrangement of office spaces that, for instance, allow frequent interactions, the use of unstructured meetings and unusual meeting locations, and other non-traditional arrangements also stimulate creativity and help foster a new organizational culture.