Andrew McAfee is the Harvard professor who coined the phrase Enterprise 2.0 a few years ago to describe the phenomenon he was seeing of Web 2.0 technologies making their way into organizations. Stowe Boyd describes himself as “A tireless student of social tools and their impact on media, business, and society” on his blog. I think that makes him a kindred spirit of mine and I can tell you his presentation at the Enterprise 2.0 conference last June was one of my favorite because it went beyond the technical and into the sociological, anthropological and philosophical impacts of these new technologies.
Stowe and Andrew got together for an interesting interview on the state of Enterprise 2.0 and you can watch the video here:
This is not a short interview, but it’s more compelling than most. You can read Stowe’s blog for his key takeaways. I want to focus on just one of the many things Andrew brings up:
Why is Enterprise 2.0 not yet being more widely adopted?
Andrew points out that for Enterprise 2.0 to take hold in an organization, the leadership has to get on board and lead by example. The CEO has to jump into the E2.0 tools if he wants the rest of the staff to do the same. One reason for uneven adoption rates of Enterprise 2.0 may be that there is not consensus among business leaders that the tools are worth using.
1) Old habits die hard: We’re conditioned to live in our Outlook inboxes. We keep them open every hour of every day and information flows to us as we go about other business. Granted, the possibilities of Enterprise 2.0 point out that the information that comes through email is only a small subset of what might be useful to us — it’s just the stuff someone else thought we needed or that we thought to ask for. It represents a very narrow spectrum of what’s going on, but it comes to us. Too often, Enterprise 2.0 implementations overlook the importance of passive information discoverability. Yes, with Enterprise 2.0 you can open up the dialogue to more voices, but if employees have to become hunter gatherers to find the information — if they have to remember to go look for it, if they have to change from passive consumers of email that gets served to them into active explorers — your Enterprise 2.0 implementation will fail.
2) Which brings us to company leaders. Why do they choose not to get involved in Enterprise 2.0 tools? Why don’t they do what Andrew and Stowe talk about in their interview and force exchanges into the Enterprise 2.0 tools? Why? Because they aren’t convinced that the tools are ready to deliver the truly relevant information to employees quickly and easily — that is, they aren’t convinced that the issues in point number one have been overcome. Business leaders have a duty not to commit their companies to things that are potentially harmful to the business (the recent record of the clowns on Wall Street notwithstanding). Forcing communication out of an admittedly imperfect system like email that, despite it’s short comings, can at least ensure that your content reaches its intended audience and into a system that can’t guarantee the discoverability of information is committing the organization to something that could potentially do harm. Better communication, not worse communication, is what business leaders are after. That is not to say that Enterprise 2.0 tools can’t and won’t replace email. They will. And they do when architects of E2.0 systems include the following two things in their primary architectural focus:
1. Passive content discoverability – A good Enterprise 2.0 tool should serve up content to you without you having to search for it. Tagging, rating, folksonomies, inference of key words are all capabilities of E2.0 tools that make this possible.
2. Relevant networks – E2.0 tools allow, on the one hand, a wide variety of user generated content opportunities for a wide cross section of the organization. So they tap into the collective intelligence and extend their reach well out into the realm of “long tail” interests and expertise. But the good E2.0 tools don’t stop there, they also actively reveal to each user who else in the organization has posted content that is similar to their own posts and aggregates all such individuals into a living network shaped only and always by the fact that, by virtue of the similarities in the information they’re dealing with, network members are relevant to one another.
Make sure people know what’s being said and how it’s relevant to them. That will drive adoption. That will get the company leaders on board: once they see that asking the company to adopt new communication tools is not synonymous with asking them to lose sight of information they need — is not tantamount to asking them to work inside black holes — the leaders will become the biggest champions for Enterprise 2.0 in the organization.