The author examines the concept of "hospitality," which originally described practices that were undertaken to accommodate foreign visitors to a city. It involves providing methods to accommodate the foreigners without having to make adaptations that would inconvenience natives, as well as having a level of tolerance of "foreign ways" rather than attempting to assimilate them into the native culture, or force the native culture upon them.
The same concept can be applied to organizations and technology: a unit with a pronounced culture can provide affordance to interface with other units within the same organization without damaging or altering its internal culture. In this way, an organization need not enforce an unwanted and counterproductive homogeny, but rather encourage a cordial and accommodating heterogeny - enabling each unit to do what is effective while still inter-operating with other units in the organization.
The concept of "unit" can be considered on any level: a division, a department, a staff, or an individual.
A Methodological Wasteland
Systems development and implementation processes are often based on appearances. Based upon a subjective and faulty impression, we form assumptions about plans, procedures, and goals. The inaccuracies of perception lead to bad systems design. Some of the shortcomings of the systemic mindset are:
- Idealism - The design of a system based on ideal circumstances leads to the system's incompatibility with real situations
- The Oblivion of Speed. In many organization, the sequence of projects and initiatives is relentless. Master plans, accompanied by new methods, are constantly changing, to the point where the purpose is lost
- Blind imitation. New projects and methods are adopted from the outside, a competitor or the industry, without consideration of the needs of the organization.
- Narcissism. In order to overcome passivity and resistance, "champions" emerge to lead change, with a quasi-charismatic leadership style, and the meaning or purpose is lost.
- Technical Avalanche. Documentation is formalized into grids, charts, spreadsheets, and reports that are intrinsically incomprehensible, and are produced in such volume that it is impossible to track the original intent.
- Totalitarianism. In order to implement change, the organization becomes strongly totalitarian, with top-down decision making and little participation (other than blind obedience) from the rank-and-file.
- Ideological Anarchy. Projects are sold on utopian promises, often intrinsic and unrelated to the organization's purpose or culture.
Said another way, a system-centric perspective relies largely on symptoms rather than causes, and makes decisions made on assumptions. This can be addressed, if not remedied, by closer examination of a critical element that is (intentionally) left out of the analysis: human experience. In particular, the goals of those who will use the systems, and they way they currently interact with the system (or work around it) to accomplish their goals.
The author goes on to elaborate on the problems that precipitate from a system-centric perspective that turns a blind eye to real-world experience, but it seems axiomatic.
An Ambiguous Stranger
Another case study: Unilever's implementation of Lotus Notes as an attempt to enable a "worldwide team" to collaborate for product development. Applications were developed to enable multinational and multidisciplinary teams to communicate, training was provided, and it was an initial success.
However, management began using it as a "controlling eye," to search and scan all the communications among participants and impose their own agenda - and after a few "incidents," usage stopped abruptly. The tool was partially salvaged, in that it became a publishing medium for business units, but the free flow of ideas ceased, and he goal of encouraging informal collaboration and innovation was lost.
The case demonstrates the suspicion with which prospective users (rightly) regard new technology. The distrust of the actual or potential (mis) uses, regardless of the purported ones, is a barrier to adoption.
The author ties this back to the concept of hospitality, part of which requires creating an atmosphere of tolerance for attitudes and behaviors that are contrary to the culture (though in this instance, it is the behavior of insiders). Failure to act accordingly transforms a hospitality center into a concentration camp.
Multiple Worlds in a Word
The author picks apart the various etymologies of "hospitality," which is all very clever, but not particularly valuable. Of importance is the ambiguity of the person who is shown hospitality (to be accommodated as agues, or suspect as an enemy) and the role of the host (to accommodate or to dominate).
The Organization as a Host
In the modern sense, "hospitality" implies a power relationship between the host and the (weaker) guest, and prescribes a doctrine of chivalry (the stronger party is obliged show courtesy to the weaker), though not without boundaries of propriety: there are limitations to how far a host must go to accommodate his guests, and how much advantage a guest may take of his host's willingness to accommodate him.
In that sense "hospitality" defines the middle ground between the boundaries of host and guest, a mutually acceptable zone established for the sake of "reaching out" to one another and achieving harmony. It is very much a political concept.
(EN: the author is missing the concept of the "salon," as a room in which callers are received while not being permitted entry further into the home. It is perhaps telling of modern culture that homes are built without salons, resulting in an all-or-none access to the home, resulting in the death of hospitality in contemporary society.)
Returning to technology, the author considers systems development by which an organization "hosts" technology, which can be regarded as a political struggle. An organization should consider the compatibility and impact of technology on organizational structure, including the unintended consequences it may have. It should consider the boundaries of hospitality, "how far" the organization will go to accommodate it, how much it will tolerate, as well as the course of action to be taken if the technology proves to be hostile.
Technology as a Guest
EN: The author casts technology in the role of the guest. I don't think that's quite right:. I would agree that the organization is the host, but believe that the user as the guest and the technology as the salon and the code of propriety. But I'll stick to his metaphor for now ...
In the realm of hospitality, the guest submits to the hospitality of the host, with the understanding that there are limits to the degree of accommodation and expectations of his own behavior as a condition of receiving hospitality. Primarily, the role of the guest is not to act as master of the house, and treat the host as a servant; the guest must accept the hospitality given, not seek to change the household to his own preferences; and most importantly, the guest must avoid doing harm to the host or his property
Connecting Two Separate Worlds
The author considers "hospitality" as a threshold, a zone between the inside and the outside, where a relationship is in a zone between friend and enemy, where the most critical task is the development of trust. As such, it is a fragile environment to be managed with caution by both parties. Returning to the organization and technology, the threshold must be carefully planned and interactions in that space carefully conducted, to the accommodation of both parties.
One key difficulty is that technology enters an organization in a rigid manner, inflexible and insistent of imposing its culture on the organization (nice term: the "straightjacket" or methods and procedures). And in the same perspective, tinkering and improvisation are the awkward gestures of a host who wishes to remain within the bounds of propriety in an encouter with a hostile and overly demanding guest.
Because of its behavior, technology is seen as a hostile invader rather than a welcome guest, and must amend its behaviors. Technology must be flexible rather than rigid, negotiate rather than demand, accommodate rather than impose, etc. The goal of technology is ultimately to be accepted and adopted, which are both the acts of a willing host, and cannot be forced.