Actor-Oriented Organizing for the Digital Age

Digital technologies are transforming the global economy. In his pioneering book Being Digital (1995), technology futurist Nicholas Negroponte described how the old industrial economy would be eaten away by a new digital economy. Moreover, digital technologies make it possible for members of an organization to self-organize and thereby avoid the delays, distortions, and other damaging effects of hierarchically organized systems. Established companies recognize that digital technologies can help them operate their businesses with greater speed and lower costs and, in many cases, offer their customers opportunities to co-design and co-produce products and services. Many start-up companies use digital technologies to develop new products and business models that disrupt the present way of doing business and take customers away from firms that cannot change and adapt.   Digital technologies play a role in all aspects of operating, controlling, and coordinating the activities of organizations. Broadly speaking, they are used for automating and augmenting tasks, communicating internally among organization members and externally with customers and partners, and in collaborative decision-making among digital and human agents. At Tesla’s manufacturing facility in Fremont, California, technicians work alongside 185 robots made by the German firm Kuka Robotics to assemble the electric cars. By using artificial intelligence “reinforcement learning algorithms,” the robots are able to switch tools and perform certain tasks far better and faster than their human co-workers. Surgeons at the Mayo Clinic use robots to augment a variety of surgical procedures in heart, head, and neck operations. The surgeons perform those operations by controlling surgical micro-instruments attached to robotic arms.   Both intra- and inter-organizational transactions and communications have been performed digitally for a long time. Walmart exemplifies a highly digitalized supply chain connecting its stores, distribution centers, and suppliers. Currently, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are used by companies to communicate with their customers and other stakeholders, and digital platforms such as Facebook at Work and Microsoft’s SharePoint allow for internal communication and for collaboration with partners.   Digital technologies are also used for learning, decision-making, and design. E-commerce companies such as Amazon, Google, Airbnb, and Uber study the data trails of consumer behavior to design markets for greater efficiency and build new markets. Intelligent digital design tools such as Autodesk are used in engineering and creative industries. Those tools typically offer 3D representation of the objects under design, and they allow designers to simulate the operations and performance of alternative design choices. In semiconductor manufacturing, the designs are digitally transmitted to equipment that manufactures the product. With continuing development and wider adoption of 3D printing technologies, the design-to-manufacturing process will become fully digitalized across many more industries. The U.S. Army, for example, is currently experimenting with the 3D printing of food in order to feed troops as they mobilize across difficult geographies. Some companies employ digital design tools in collaborating with their customers. Lego provides toolkits on its website that enable entrepreneurs and customers to submit product ideas and start new Lego brick-based businesses.   Digital technologies are not only changing how organizations operate but also the way we think about organizing. A traditional organization is arranged hierarchically – that is, control and coordination are achieved through an authority (reporting) structure in which superiors plan and coordinate the activities of subordinates, allocate resources, and resolve problems and conflicts. A hierarchical organization can be effective in stable and predictable environments because the organization does not have to regularly innovate or adapt to change. Many of today’s environments, however, are not stable and predictable; they are volatile, uncertain, complex, and even ambiguous. Such environments are characteristic of knowledge-intensive industries like biotechnology, computers, healthcare, professional services, and national defense. Organizations operating in these types of industries must be agile and innovative, and their success depends heavily on the agency of their members. A hierarchical organization inevitably instills a hierarchical mindset among its members. Members understand that they are being paid to do a particular job, and they look to their managers to set goals, formulate plans, and approve the quality of their work. As a result, organization members become psychologically as well as economically dependent on the hierarchy. In addition to the friction created by “relay managers” who merely pass along information, hierarchical management styles tend to reduce intrinsic employee motivation to take initiative.Hierarchically managed organizations, in short, are constrained in their ability to innovate.   My colleagues and I (Strategic Management Journal, 2012) have developed an organizational architecture that is appropriate for knowledge-intensive sectors where organizations must continuously learn, innovate, and adapt. We call this architecture “actor oriented” because it places a premium on human capital: the organization members themselves and the other people and organizations with whom they interact. Actor-oriented organizations rely on self-organizing, with only minimal use of hierarchical mechanisms to achieve control and coordination. Our architectural scheme is composed of three elements: (1) actors who have the capabilities, mindset, and values to self-organize; (2) commons where the actors accumulate and share resources; and (3) protocols, processes, and infrastructures that enable multi-actor collaboration. We believe that actor-oriented organizing is a new paradigm for designing and managing organizations. It is best used in situations where exploration and innovation are desirable or required. It enables actors to share knowledge and engage in collaborative problem solving. In actor-oriented organizations, control and coordination are based on direct exchanges among the actors themselves rather than on hierarchical planning, delegation, and integration. Although hierarchy is present in actor-oriented organizations, these designs mainly rely on lateral, reciprocal relationships among actors for control and coordination. Dr. Charles Snow Chairman, Organization Design Community Professor Emeritus, Penn State University  

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A story telling workshop that changes lives

Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for marginalised young people aged 7 to 17.  Stories have the power to change lives. Research shows that quality arts-based learning significantly improves social and emotional wellbeing. The storytelling workshops have been designed by creative writing and literacy experts to build literacy, confidence, and creativity: essential skills young people need to shape their future. https://www.storyfactory.org.au/

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Digital Cash Settlement using Blockchain

Several of the world’s largest banks are in the process of investing around $50 million to create a digital cash system using blockchain technology to settle financial transactions. They aim to develop a system to make clearing and settlement in financial markets more efficient. The new system called Finality could launch in 2020. Blockchain, which first emerged as the software underpinning the cryptocurrency bitcoin, is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-banks-blockchain-exclusive/exclusive-banks-to-invest-around-50-million-in-digital-cash-settlement-project-sources-idUSKCN1SM2U0?

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Carbon Sequestering Seed Inoculation

SoilCQuest have an amazing seed technology which can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide. This has the added benefit of improving soil health by increasing soil carbon levels which in turn promotes plant growth. This unique technology was discovered by examining the traits of plants that thrived in harsh environments. Find out more here https://www.soilcquest.org.au/

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A way to combat opioid abuse

Over almost two decades, Dr. O’Neil has implanted a device he invented, containing the drug naltrexone, into thousands of people who have traveled to his nonprofit clinic called Fresh Start in Perth, Australia. Dr O’Neil has pioneered the use of opiate antagonists in Australia for opiate addiction. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/australia/opiate-opioid-treatment-naltrexone.html

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Converting brain signals into speech voted top idea at Ashurst Boardroom Lunch

Three ideas from IdeaSpies were presented by Jack Digby Lawyer at the Ashurst June 2019 Boardroom Lunch addressed by David Thodey AO. The idea receiving the most votes from directors was to convert brain signals into speech. This idea now goes to the final at the December Boardroom Lunch to select the top idea for the year. https://www.ideaspies.com/brain-decoder-that-turns-brain-signals-into-speech/.

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Microbiome test provides insights into microorganisms living in your gut

Microba Insight™ is the most comprehensive gut microbiome analysis available in Australia, providing a personalised report of the microorganisms living in your gut microbiome. The detailed report provides a picture of species present, and explains the potential of the gut microbiome to perform different functions. There are also whole food suggestions to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and a complementary 15-minute consultation with a microbiome coach who can help explain the report and suggest next steps in improving overall health and wellbeing. https://bit.ly/313hFM9

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The power of your gut- a hot topic in health!

The gut microbiome is emerging as a “hot topic” in health care right now, and scientists are amazed at the connections being made between our gut bacteria and our health and wellbeing. The bacteria and other organisms that reside in our gut have been implicated in a number of diseases ranging from colorectal cancer and ulcerative colitis, through to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. An innovative company is empowering Australians to understand the power of their gut and how it influences their body and mind. Microba, founded in 2018 by two professors from the University of Queensland, is using modern scientific tools to help people learn more about their guts. At the same time, Microba is furthering our understanding of how the gut is contributing to various diseases. The reason that the gut microbiome is connected to so many different health conditions is that the collection of organisms in our gut are a metabolic powerhouse, able to produce and breakdown a vast array of different compounds that have various effects on the body – some beneficial, and others detrimental. It is estimated that the gut microbiome harbours between 2 million and 20 million different genes and each of those genes is a blueprint for making something in your gut. When you consider that the human genome contains an estimated 20,000 –30,000 genes, it’s easy to see that the gut microbiome has a far greater potential to be producing many more compounds than our bodies can. It’s for this reason that some people in the medical community are referring to the gut microbiome as the “forgotten organ” of the body. For example, some organisms can produce beneficial compounds like short-chain fatty acids, which are used as energy for your intestinal cells to stay healthy and resist disease. Other organisms produce detrimental compounds like trimethylamine and lipopolysaccharide which have been linked to heart disease, inflammation and type-2 diabetes. The exact influence that your microbiome has on your body depends on the unique composition of your gut. This is where Microba comes in. Microba can send you a sampling swab that you use in the comfort and privacy of your own home to collect a small amount of material from the surface of your used toilet tissue. You return the sample back to Microba’s lab, where they use DNA-based metagenomics technology to identify the relative proportions of every organism in the sample, as well as their metabolic capacity – an indication of how well your gut can produce and degrade the various compounds that have been shown to influence our health. This new technology has only been commercially available for 1-2 years – other tests that have been available previously are using different methods such as cell culture and PCR, but they only identify a subset of the organisms and don’t report on the metabolic functions of your gut.  Only the technology used by Microba can give you this detailed level of information. Microba uses this data to generate your Insight™ report. This report is provided as an interactive online experience, and each element can be clicked on to reveal what the latest science is saying about that aspect of your gut. The report provides you with both a high-level overview of your gut microbiome, as well the option to dig deeper, and walks you through all of the different species identified in your gut and what they are doing. It also provides you with food ideas tailored to your gut microbiome, based on the prebiotic fibres that will feed the potentially beneficial microbes that are below optimal levels. To help you understand the report, Microba provides a free 15-minute phone call with a Microbiome Coach to talk through your results and answer any questions you may have. To support you further, Microba is working with a network of health care practitioners who have undergone training to further understand these test results. This means that you can seek out additional support from gastroenterologists, GPs, dietitians and other health professionals in your local area. Many Australians are doing just that. In less than a year, Microba has issued over 5,000 kits to people who want to learn more about their gut. Some have had astounding success with their results and in conjunction with support from health care professionals, have used the information in the report to see complete remission of their gut symptoms. Others are discovering that their gut microbiome isn’t the source of their concerns and are then able to focus on other areas of the body to manage their health. Microba acknowledges that the information currently provided in the Insight™ report is best used to guide thinking and support the decisions being made about your overall health, rather than being a diagnostic. A key goal of Microba is to bring science to life with an easy-to-use test, and provide access to anyone who wants to explore their gut microbiome from the privacy of their own homes. In offering this test, Microba is aiming to further their understanding of the gut and how it impacts health. Users of the test can opt in to the Future Insights program which allows researchers at Microba to look for patterns in the gut and their overall health. The goal of this program is to reveal connections in the population between the gut microbiome and health states and attempt to isolate the mechanisms of some of these health challenges. In doing so, Microba hopes to turn these discoveries into treatments and use their knowledge of the gut to improve the health care options for millions of Australians who have gut issues. By Dr Ken McGrath, Technology Liaison Manager at Microba

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A machine that makes coffee to order

Briggo has created a fully automated, robotic brewing machine that can produce 100 cups of coffee in an hour — equaling the output of three to four baristas. Using a blend of Latin American beans, the machine — known as a “coffee haus” — creates cups of gourmet coffee that can be ordered via an app, giving you control over ingredients. www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/03/22/baristas-beware-robot-that-makes-gourmet-cups-coffee-has-arrived/

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The importance of trustworthy reputations to increase even further

Samsung’s AI center in Moscow has released a new algorithm capable of creating fake talking-head videos with just a few images of a person’s face. Hollywood has been creating fake videos for decades via special effects so this type of technology could be seen as merely democratizing special effects. Look for its use to increase in news as well as in entertainment. Importantly, as trust in video as a source of truth declines, the importance of a trustworthy reputation should increase. Seen in Abundance Insider. https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/samsung-ai-deepfake-videos/

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A breath biopsy to detect cancer early

A breath biopsy to detect cancer early

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A faster and more sustainable way to extract rare earths

A team of Chinese scientists has developed a new process that could ignificantly reduce the time needed to extract rare earths from ore, and it could also cut industry pollution. Extracting the trace metal elements is difficult and takes days to complete, but researchers have found a way to shorten the process to minutes. The 17 trace metal elements in rare earths are critical to the manufacture of nearly all hi-tech products, from semiconductors to smartphones and stealth fighter jets. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3012641/chinese-scientists-find-faster-way-extract-rare-earths-may-also

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