“All the other inventions of the human brain sink pretty nearly into commonplaces contrasted with this awful mechanical miracle. Telephones, telegraphs, locomotives, cotton gins, sewing machines, Babbage calculators, Jacquard looms, perfecting presses, Arkwright’s frames – all mere toys, simplicities! The Paige Compositor marches alone & far in the lead of human inventions.”
That’s Mark Twain talking about the machine that almost bankrupted him, the Paige Compositor, an automatic typesetting machine invented by James Paige in the 1870′s. The Paige Compositor excited Twain because in it’s first iteration it could set type 4 times faster than by hand and in a later iteration was able to set it 16 times faster than by hand. Twain invested, by some estimates, nearly $300,000 in the compositor because he was a technofile and he saw the great potential for a publishing revolution if the compositor could be made to work. Unfortunately it didn’t work. For one very important reason: it had 18,000 moving parts! It was impossible to keep every part working long enough for the compositor to ever be a viable tool. In the quote above Twain derides “telephones, telegraphs,…sewing machines” because of their simplicity, overlooking the fact that it was their very simplicity that helped make them successes.
There’s a lesson there for all of us involved in architecting and implementing Enterprise 2.0 solutions for business and it’s the third key takeaway I want to highlight from my 2008 Enterprise 2.0 conference notes as I get ready for Enterprise 2.0 2009: SIMPLE WINS.
At the Microsoft Strategic Archtect forum last November I attended a break out session about Twitter in which one person pointed out that if Twitter had been designed in a traditional software architecture process it probably wouldn’t work. Twitter does work, the group contended, because of it’s very simplicity. Join it, leave it, find people, follow people asymetrically with little or no governance. It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have too: it just works.
The challenge when introducing an Enterprise 2.0 solution into a business is always that of adoption — will people use it? People will use it if it’s relevant to an existing need and if it works. What we need to remember when we’re developing Enterprise 2.0 solutions is to focus as sharply as we can on an identifiable need within the organization and solve that problem. Don’t solve problems that don’t exist, don’t add procedural steps that don’t improve employees’ abilities to succeed. Start small, that’s OK. Start small and iterate. As new needs arise, solve them, add features as they become necessary, but let need drive solution and put the solution to the problem at hand front and center, make it accessible and make it work.
This has become an apocryphal story now, but it’s true: as a speaker at last year’s conference pointed out, one of the most successful Web 2.0 tools ever developed was the original Federal Express package tracker. It had one form field and a submit button and it started a revolution. It did one thing: it told you where your package was at any given moment. It addressed a singular but acute need. It eliminated multiple steps with one step. It moved power from the company to the customer. It could not have been simpler. It just worked.
As one of my colleagues here at Allyis, Ken Efta, has said about planning Enterprise 2.0 solutions: “Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start small and then iterate.” Good advice. Simple wins.
And now, because it’s fun, here’s a list of things I thought of that we all use all the time that are simple as can be, but just work better than any more complex competitor that has tried to replace them. They’re not all technology items; they’re just things that, as simple as they are, remain the best in their class at addressing need:
1. Google 2. FedEx Package Tracker 3. Twitter 4. Hammer 5. Debit card 6. Q-tip 7. Books 8. Chocolate Chip Cookies 9. Blogger 10. Flip camera 11. Jeans 12. Toothbrush 13. Post-It Notes 14. IPod
What would you add to the list? Look around your daily life, it’s fun to realize the simplicity of the things we rely on the most.
Next up: Enterprise 2.0 = Retention = Success