How a Police Detective changed my Life

girlsday-konfetti-smWhen I was a boy back in the Seventies, I loved to watch U.S. TV crime series like “Kojak.” Every time a murder occurred and the investigation got stuck, Kojak would say: “We’ve got to ask the computer!”

Then he and his team would go into a computer room and type in some clues on the crime, like male victim, brown hair, blue eyes, contusion on the back of the head caused by a blow with a blunt object.

Magnetic tapes in racks would spin back and forth and after a while the printer would start to rattle and print five or so names of suspects. Three of them would already have been in jail or out of the country and a fourth one probably dead at the time of the murder. Only one was at large. Kojak would tear the paper out of the printer — he knew exactly what to do next.

Of course, that all made a lasting impression on me. One night I asked my mother, “How did the computer know?” To my disappointment, she told me that computers didn’t know anything at all; they had to be fed with information first (as people used to say back then).  My interest in computers vanished for a while after that, until I went to college.

As a computer science major in the Eighties, I bought my first home computer. Later, at my first job with a U.S. computer manufacturer, I worked as a programmer and consultant on software projects for major corporations.

That is when I began looking for a computer that would give me answers I did not have to enter myself in advance. Even if it seems so, I am not talking about Google or artificial intelligence, augmented reality or big data. I was looking for something completely different. And I finally found it: at Covestro.

But let me back up first: when I joined Bayer in 2000, I suddenly found myself in the midst of major change and was faced with many new challenges. It was the beginning of e-commerce and many industrial companies were racing to set up their own sales platforms on the internet. Bayer had just resolved to form a team of 50 people for this purpose, half of which was to be comprised of existing employees and the other half of new ones like me.

On this international and diverse team, I worked independently as a Java programmer and project manager, which included trips to Pittsburgh, United States, to coordinate activities with colleagues there. I did not expect to experience that kind of dynamism, openness and agility in an industrial company.

The sales platform was a success:  for several years, our customers could use it to schedule, place and track their orders. We later used the same computer code again for other portals. But for me personally, the search I mentioned before continued.

After six years as an in-house “IT service provider,” I switched over to the client side.  As a project manager in Business Engagement at Bayer Material Science, I mediated all project phases between IT and the IT program and platform users.

In 2009, we then launched our Social Collaboration and Networking platform, and I took the first, major step toward my goal. As a user of comparable platforms on the Internet, like Facebook and Twitter, I quickly got involved and became an active participant in a rapidly growing community. It was logical for me to be the one to answer those first inquiries that came into IT concerning the use and sense of such platforms. It was the beginning of an avalanche of questions and I started giving training classes all over Bayer on the hows and whys of social collaboration. After a while, I was released from my job at the time to work full-time on training and education in this field. I even went to Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai in this capacity.

What I never had thought possible before happened: based on my interests and inclinations alone, I had picked this new job myself, with the help of an employer who supported and promoted me along my chosen path.  I began giving talks about our experiences and advancements in the field of social networking and collaboration at national and international congresses. Interest was very great among the professionals in attendance from companies, government agencies and other organizations, because many of them were either still waiting to see how things would develop, or had not had the desired success after launch and were in search of new ideas. I can well remember a talk in front of some 250 international professionals at a congress in Orlando.

This growing network of people at other companies is still a source of many new ideas for my job today, which is at Covestro, a young and exciting company. By “young” I mean not only physical age, but also the ability and willingness to constantly change, develop and question the status quo. Our CEO once called Covestro “an eighty year-old startup.” We can look back on a long tradition of invention and research, but by leaving the Bayer Group, we acquired the freedom we need to start afresh in many areas and tailor things to our needs.

Here at Covestro I have finally found the answer to the question I have been pursing for so long: where can I find a computer that can give me answers I don’t have to enter first myself?

While collaborating within our social network, we collect knowledge and ideas, and share opinions, but the result is often greater than the sum of the contributions of each individual participant. The network gives me answers to questions like “Who is a recognized expert in topic X?,” “Where can I find information on topic Y that was also helpful for other colleagues?” or “How can I, as a specialist, become visible to others?” – I can access all this information without having to enter it first myself.

The “computer” I was looking for is not a device full of electronics after all, but rather our company’s social network. But what sounds so trivial is of inestimable value to us.

Take the topic of innovation. Social networks and innovation are closely related to my mind, and this fact is also expressed in my further career. In addition to my responsibility managing Social Collaboration, I am now also head of IT Innovation. Apart from planning and supporting company-wide idea campaigns, I am currently preparing an idea campaign for over 480 IT employees worldwide, for example. Recently, I greatly enjoyed holding a guest lecture on innovation management at the Cologne Business School and also the Girls’ Day 2017.

In everything I do today, I naturally can build on knowledge and experience acquired in the past, but I mostly use my new-found “computer.” When it comes to “ideation,” meaning finding and developing ideas as a team, we at Covestro already have a well-developed culture of collaboration: the broad competence and high motivation of the participants encourages the finding of ideas, as well as commenting and voting on them. Our in-house counterparts to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as well as chats and video conferences, round out the options we have for collaborating. These platforms help me to select the right tools, depending on the task, and leave nothing to be desired. When they occasionally do, then I can develop and discuss new ideas with my colleagues.

So if I ever get stuck with something, like Kojak did, I just say: “We’ve got to ask the social network!”

My new Job

Thanks for the congrats and likes in the Social Media. For those who asked or wondered:

De facto starting in September I’ll be globally responsible for IT Innovation in my company.

There were also some more important announcements this week in the Internet about the fact that there will be a major reorganization of Bayer.

Perhaps have you seen the announcements ( Bayer decided to concentrate on Life Sciences and to spin us (MaterialScience) off. Our new company is called Covestro.

And the „Co“ stands for… TaDa … Collaboration! Which of course has a more generic meaning but makes me very proud anyway.

In 2009 I started promoting Social Collaboration as a one-man-show.  Now, with our Social Strategy we have many ambassadors and a network of Change Agents that work decentralized with the users in their area.

The other measures of the strategy (Profile Days, Promoting Lighthouses, Communication, Reverse Mentoring, Increase Accessibility, Executive Ambassadors…) have led to the situation that Social gets more and more settled, adoption has reached a critical mass and is running and growing on its own.

Our social KPIs are steadily increasing from the beginning.

This was a good point in time for me to take over a new challenge, though I’ll never give up to support and promote Social and I will also utilize it for my new job and look at it from the IT Innovation perspective. Social Collaboration underlies maybe even more than other areas the need to continuously innovate and renew. The borders between internal and external will continue to weaken over time and a high demand for IT Innovation will occur.

At Bayer I already was MaterialScience’s chairman in the group-wide Innovation Committee.

Now we can build our own IT Innovation Organization, which amongst other topics will be tailored to the specific requirements of our business.

Regardless where you (will) work at Covestro, the times are very exciting now. There are many opportunities to reshape things, challenge the status quo and proceed in an agile way.

I’m looking forward and counting the days until September, 1!

The journey has begun.

The Last Thing We Need is an Enterprise Social Network

  1. we need to succeed by fulfilling our strategy to create greater value in a rapidly changing market; and to do that
  2. we need to be able to work in new & better ways that create a more effective, agile and responsive organisation; and to do that
  3. we need a new culture in management and more leadership from our people; and to do that
  4. we need new conversations that enable our people to discuss and act on creating better strategic value; and to do that
  5. we need more engagement and a better ability to leverage the potential of our people to contribute to and lead this change; and to do that
  6. we need an enterprise social network to support the first 5 steps.

Read on …

Hi Mom, finally I made in into an eBook


The Book is in German my chapter is in English.

A word in the beginning: this post is not about condemning E-Mail and its usage but on how to increase the efficiency of collaboration by utilizing and leveraging all tools and platforms a modern workplace has including Networking, Collaboration, Conferencing, Instant Messaging. For many use cases E-Mail is the tool of choice and for sure it will remain to be for quite a while.When I started at in my current department I was handed over an ongoing project by a colleague. She went to her mailbox, selected with a few clicks all mails associated to that project and sent me the result as one big E-Mail. I was supposed to read all these historical conversations bottom-up. After trying this for a while I ended up just poking around in this mess using the built in search whenever I needed some information that could be issued in a search query … 

Read on …

Is Gamification Gaming?

Yesterday I wanted to trackback my latest post How to reduce your email load to my company’s intranet. To my surprise my Blog is blocked by my company’s externally hosted web filter. It is categorized as „Gaming“ / „Low Risk“. My company for good reasons blocks this category.  But how could this happen? I’m not into GAMING, GAMBLING and LOTTERIES, I never made it to WIN A JACKPOT?

It looks like that my article Gamification vs. Gaming is the cause.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems“ — Wikipedia

I submitted a change request. Lets see how flexible they are.

Social Tagging – Are you an Expert?

I do presentations on Social Networking which is – besides Social Collaboration – one of the two major building blocks of Social Business. One important Use Case within in Social Networking is “Finding Experts” which focuses on questions like

  • How you can expose yourself as an expert
  • How can the community raise the relevance of an expert and, of course
  • How to find an expert?

Finding experts often is crucial for our work. Especially if you are new to a specific department or even completely new to a company it is not easy to get hold of people that can support you in doing your work.

Who is an Expert?

Once in a while, especially during a training where real-life experts (like engineers, chemists, …) are in the audience, these social mechanisms are challenged for good reasons.

Questions are usually:

  • Can just anyone claim to be an Expert?
  • Even if he/she isn’t?
  • What if on one hand a ‘self made’ Expert is found, but on the other hand me and the (real) experts in my team of are not? (sometimes have to smile on this one …)

In the social context many terms have a slightly less formal definition as in Enterprise Collaboration / Knowledge Management. A Tag doesn’t necessarily match with the qualifications in your HR record. In the social meaning, being tagged as an Expert does not mean that you are the (only) “Source of Truth” in a specific domain. The presence of a Tag in a profile doesn’t necessarily mean: this is “a Domain I’m officially certified in”.

In fact, the term “Expert” does not appear in the user interface. The respective area is often simply labeled with “Tags”.

If I added the Tag “Rocket Science“  to my profile it actually wouldn’t mean much. I could mean

  • I (think I) am an expert in this topic, or
  • I work in an area where this takes place or
  • I’m just interested in Rockets

Perhaps I changed my work in the meantime and this tag only has a historical meaning.

The relevance of a Tag in a Profile increases as other colleagues of the social community give the same Tag multiple times, for example after someone

  • Helped someone else
  • Answered a question or
  • Shared relevant information.

The relevance indicaties I’m (likely) knowledgeable in this area. When a “critical mass” of Tags in a profile is available the main Tags that characterise me can be easily  separated from the less relevant ones.

Additionally, someone who found my profile searching a Tag search can also see:

  • Who gave me this Tag? Was it a supervisor? Was it a recognized expert? Was it someone whose judgement I trust in?
  • What other users have also this Tag, maybe even with a higher relevance?

Each person (including myself) can assign a Tag to my profile only once. That is why it is so important that uwers not only tag themselves, but also to tag their colleagues. They usually know what there are working on and what they are knowledgeable in.

If someone gives you an advise or support in the system, on the phone or personally, why not as a good practice immediately give her the appropriate Tag?

What to tag?

Besides areas of expertise you should also tag Projects, Responsibilities, Location, Country, Region, Department, … do not consider any kind of tag as too obvious (“Everbody knows that I work in Cape Canaveral”). If someone searches for an expert in “Rocket Science at “NASA” in “Cape Canaveral” they won’t find you if you don’t have all these tags in your profile (i.e. lacking the “Cape Canaveral”-Tag). Add Tags also to the profiles of the colleagues you are working with helping them to gain visibility in the area of their expertise.

Gamification vs. Gaming

Recently I heard someone say: “we’ll add some quizzes and skill games to our web site a user has to solve in order to come in”. That is Gaming but not Gamification.

These terms are often mixed up. Gamification is not about applying gaming elements to the work environment. It is about applying gaming mechanisms to none-gaming environments, to extract the motivational factors that make us play a game and improve our skills in it.

Two examples from the Internet:

  • Have you ever been annoyed by a progress bar in the profile page of your favorite social network that indicated that your profile is (only) 75% complete?
  • Have you already thought of purchasing a Pro Account so you can see who has visited your profile?

The second example – a Gamification approach called “Freemium” (“Free” and “Premium”) — solves a dilemma of the service provider: A social networking service has to be free in order to be distributed as broadly as possible. To earn money the provider has to identify features that are not crucial and that users are willing to pay for.

  • Good Usability of an application can also leverage Gamification

A good usability of an application can motivate users to use it in way it is intended to. I use for example a to-do app (Clear for IOS) that allows me to maintain my to-dos in a very basic way (no due dates, no alarms, no geo location …). It does this perfectly with very nice animations and sounds that make me enjoy to enter to-dos, to shift their order and even more to dump them.

That is Gamification. There are no angry birds around and there is no icon of a treasure chest hidden in the depth of a Web Site. It just addresses the right set of synapses and emotions in you to make you do what you are supposed to do.

As in real games, Gamification is based on the voluntariness of the goal it is applied to. IMO, it is not the tool of choice to reward someone just for doing their work.

A frequent misunderstanding of Gamification is to use it to buy loyalty (with rewards, rebates and badges) – as opposed to foster engagement. Loyalty is volatile, engagement is sustainable.

We recently evaluated a Gamification tool  that decorates users with badges that are visible on their profile. The tool is able to assign these badges based on the frequency of nearly every action a user can take in the system. Thresholds can be defined for different levels of achievements for these badges. Also limits can be configured in order to prevent “one-dimensional optimizations”. For me this looks more like buying loyalty.

On more point to consider in the work environment: no tool solves the challenge to gamify the right goals and thresholds that

  1. Are aligned to a company’s strategy and
  2. Are not too easy or too difficult to achieve (another rule from gaming) for every individual of a company’s heterogenous staff