Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where are the boundaries... if they exist at all?

I recently attended the online Connectivism Conference, during which I met many very interesting people and made more direct contact with others I already knew (well, their online personae anyway). Out of this has arisen an interesting situation, which I will try to relate effectively without mentioning names.

During the conference, I encountered two people whose fields of work overlap fairly extensively with my own. Of course, this meant that we had an interest in furthering our acquaintance. For myself, I have begun to read their blogs, and have befriended one of them on Explode. One of them approached me with a view to getting together to exchange ideas. The other approached me for possible insights into a project he was working on. And that's when I got hit with the politics stick!

My manager's gut instinct was that the "exchange of ideas" would prove to be an attempt to sell me something and that I would be at risk because the person in question works for an organisation that is a direct competitor of ours. So I stopped being just me and started being a representative of my employer.

Also, with regard to the request for insight, the client in this case was one of our biggest clients and internal to our group. So the feeling was that the work should have come to us in the first place. The words "conflict of interest" were raised. So once again, I stopped being just me, and became an asset/resource of my employer.

I really enjoy and have come to depend on the online exchange of ideas with people outside of the team, the company, the country, the field. I have gleaned so much from these conversations that my professional practice has changed to something completely unrecognisable as the work of the same person. I enjoy the transparency, the generosity. I have benefitted enormously from these attitudes. Now I feel as if I am ducking to the cloakroom when it's my turn to buy a round. I recognise that I tend to quite naieve and openhanded. This, I have been told over and over in my life, is not the corporate way. When it comes to corporate politics, I am really thick. I have neither the skill nor the stomach for it, let alone the patience. Which is why I had to ask the advice of my line manager.

Was he right? Is Kathy Sierra's experience a sign to us all to be more circumspect? Does connectivism trump corporate? If so, do I "publish and be damned"... well, sacked anyway?

My brain hurts!


Harold Jarche said...

I think that your situation will become more common as employees connect their online professional lives with their salaried work. One thing that I've recently become aware of, through value network analsysis, is that in a network every node can have some influence on the entire network. Once you're connected, you have influence, even though it may be minimal. This is rather different from a hierarchy, where the chain of command determines who has infleunce. The Cluetrain adage that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, seems to be true.

The traditional employee-employer relationship is sub-optimal for a networked economy/society, but the hierarchial corporation as wealth creation model remains the standard, for now. Almost all of our corporate law is based on the emloyee/employer relationship as norm.

Perhaps a better model would be to consider your employer as your primary client [Yes, I know that there are legal issues differentiating this relationship]. Then ask yourself how you could best serve your client, while maintaining your own professionalism and market value. I would see no difficulty in sharing ideas with your contact, while maintaining client confidentiality.

Jon Husband coined the term wirearchy in 1999 (the same years as The Cluetrain Manifesto):

"a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology"

I think that wirearchy will have to be a foundation for effective business models in the future.

I also think that your employer may be inadvertently stifling your professionalism, and I'll add David's Shaffer's definition of a professional, as "anyone who does work that cannot be standardized easily and who continuously welcomes challenges at the cutting edge of his or her expertise."

We live in a time where the old models don't work but we haven't created many options - yet.

Best of luck, and please keep going with the professional conversations :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment, Harold. I hadn't formulated it quite so articulately in my mind, but my thoughts were sort of drifting along these lines, so I feel encouraged.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karyn,

As you know, I feel pretty much the same as you. It's very difficult when you "live" in an open atmosphere of sharing and cooperation but then have to come back to a situation where you are expected to show total loyalty to one particular group or organisation.

Harold has said: "Perhaps a better model would be to consider your employer as your primary client. Then ask yourself how you could best serve your client, while maintaining your own professionalism and market value."

I can understand that, from my point of view, but I'm not sure most employers would...

Anonymous said...

What a shame that competition can get in the way of; sharing ideas, working together,openness,collective understanding,making connections, learning opportunities and sharing the highs and lows of part-time post grad study. Interestingly I mentioned meeting up with you with my boss whose reaction was; It's always good to share ideas.

If we're meant to meet then I'm sure we will.

PS I'm on our stand at the HRD exhibition on 18th April!!!

Anonymous said...

Rats! I am meeting with a client on 18 April, so I'm not going to be able to attend.

lucychili said...

hi karyn
i think harold is right
some of this is having a sense of personal agency. yourself as company yourself as a person. i thinkif we own the system and the individuality in ourselves then we have some tools to navigate with. i try to be explicit about hats i am wearing or not when i am participating. i am lucky in my employer and have tried to be careful to work to that trust. if you were a consultant how would you navigate?