Enterprise 2.0 is beyond a crock. It's dead

Martijn Linssen and prof Andy McAfee are engaged in a battle over Enterprise 2.0. It is a battle that is well worth the studying as it demonstrates the chasm in thinking behind E2.0 and social business concepts.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor on

An interesting war of words is breaking out on one of my favorite targets: Enterprise 2.0. In the blue corner we have ex-Cap Gemini consultant and integration expert Martijn Linssen. In the red corner we have what some might call the godfather of Enterprise 2.0, professor Andrew McAfee. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm taking the role of somewhat biased and unfair referee. I fully expect to both land and take a few blows.

Martijn Linssen's people argument

Mr Linssen starts out with a thinly veiled attack on prof McAfee's thesis that social tools can help business become more social. He notes the subtle shifts in the use of terminology by different actors in this play, juxtaposing Enterprise 2.0 with 'Social Business.' Why is this important? Mr Linssen notes in the context of the Enterprise 2.0 conference:

Enterprise 2.0 was mentioned in the hashtags, but not in the topics itself. Dion Hinchcliffe said at some point

Very interesting: IBM, Jive, & Adobe have all been using Social Business in their keynotes instead of Enterprise 2.0. #e2conf #socbiz #e20

which made me remark:

Where #E20 used to be about tools, process and people, and #socbiz about people, process and tools, they now seem to mean the same *cough*

and yes, that was slightly sarcastic

Maybe Dion got inspired as his next tweet seemed a Gandhi-like gesture:

My take: Any #e20 <--> #socbiz debate just isn't as important as focusing on solving business problems by better connecting people together

Dion should be taken outside and berated on that last one. He's been banging on about this topic forever. None of this would matter that much if it wasn't for the fact that the conference is dominated by the same players: IBM, Jive etc have been part of the Enterprise 2.0 conference fabric since forever. As has prof McAfee. What's going on? In Mr Linssen's analysis:

One year ago, Dachis seemed to be the prodigal son to E2.0, stepping away from the extremely IT-focused approach wielded by Andrew McAfee, and embracing people as the core focus of "Business 2.0". Over the past year, they and Altimeter have grown hugely just doing Social Business, and now Ray Wang takes that a few huge steps higher with his Constellation Research Group

This week, E2.0 returns to Social Business almost as a prodigal Dad, begging to be let in. I say we give the old man a break - but let's remember this parable and tell its tale the next time someone suggests that tools are at the heart of solving our issues...

Marketing won then?

I have a somewhat more prosaic analysis: the Enterprise 2.0 meme didn't cut it so the IT vendors have moved on to the next thing that sounds good: Social Business. There is a somewhat more complex answer: Enterprise 2.0 has never been comfortable with itself. On the one hand you have people who think it is about collaboration while others portray the topic as an extension to sales and marketing. It could be both but very often you will see the answers co-mingled as though they are one and the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Andy McAfee's tools argument

Mr Linssen's analysis clearly ruffled Andy McAfee's feathers. He argues:

...the idea of a ‘social business,’ a hive mind guided by open leadership marshaling people, process, and technology, is not new. It’s been around for 80 years, and has been studied intently throughout that time. In contrast, Enterprise 2.0, which I’ve defined as the use of emergent social software platforms by organizations in pursuit of their goals, is a novel phenomenon.

This distinction matters. It matters because telling business decision makers “There are some important new (social) technologies available now, and they’ll help you address longstanding and vexing challenges you have” is very different than telling them “Business is social, and the more deeply you embrace that fact the better off you’ll be.”

I'm glad he said the first bit, not so sure about the second. I wish that prof McAfee had made THAT first statement with as much force four years ago when I first asked him: "Show me the examples." (I am still waiting for a solid answer.)

What's more interesting is that in arriving at his '80 years' argument he references a number of social science academics that shaped his thinking. As a social scientist by training I recognize a number of the authors he talks about. The problem as prof McAfee well knows is that social scientists almost never agree on anything. The fundamentals that underpin any social science theory and practice are predicated upon belief systems that emphasize either nature or nurture in varying degrees. Neither he, nor I nor anyone else who operates in these fields is any different but rarely if ever do proponents of theory acknowledge those influences. And that's critically important.

Missing the point

From where I am sitting, prof McAfee is taking what I consider a reductionist position that has its roots in both Descartes and Darwinian thinking but without the benefit of understanding or infusing that with a real understanding of what makes enterprise tick. In throwing up his hands at Mr Linssen's barbs...

“Should this movement be called ‘Social Business’ or Enterprise 2.0?’” is a dumb debate, and one I’m not going to participate in any more (here’s what I’ve said about it). Advocating something like “social business design should place technology at the very, very end, and people first” is both dumb and harmful, which means that a response is important.

...he fails to make an essential connection. On the one hand he states there are well established theories that position people at the center of business. On the other hand he says management is tired of hearing it. What he doesn't do is explain why management has failed to make sense of the people centric argument. Instead, he assumes that tools are the answer.

This quantum change in technology is the reason that the Enterprise 2.0 conference, going on right now in Santa Clara, exists and has grown. It’s also why new companies like Jive, Socialtext, Spigit, Atlassian, Yammer, and many others exist, and why established enterprise software vendors including Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce, Novell, IBM, are making deep changes to their products (disclosures at end of post). It’s the reason that new professional services firms like Dachis Group and Altimeter Group are attracting interest and clients. It’s why the $250 million sFund was recently established, and why venture capitalist John Doerr said “If you don’t have a social strategy, you better go get one.” He didn’t say this because he suddenly realized that people were important and business was social. He said it because he saw how much opportunity there was to use the new social technologies to improve business.

In making these claims I fear prof McAfee has managed to confuse himself. Putting my own critique about 'social anything' to one side for a moment, he is losing sight of the fact that having a great sounding buzzword capable theory is always music to IT vendors. It sells 'stuff,' often off the back of industry pundits looking for the Next Big Thing to flog to an unwary buyer. The industry has a long history in this: MRP, ERP, CRM, SCM, HRM...the list goes on. And yet time and again we come back to the old chestnut argument that can be summed up as follows: other than one time productivity gains or reductions in head count, what did we REALLY get from our IT investments? Here, 'social anything' tries to set itself apart in what at times looks like a Frankenstein nightmare of conflated and confusing argument.

Altimeter's Jeremiah Owyang rarely uses the term Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business. At least not as far as I can tell. He prefers to think (broadly) of social media tools as a way for brands to sell more. That's not a difficult concept to grasp even if it has yet to become a mainstream idea. Dachis Group on the other hand wants to socialize the business from the inside with blogs, wikis and the like but also looking at the process elements. That's a much tougher ask and one that at present I see having little chance of real success precisely because the basic question I outlined above has not been answered. Do you see what I mean when I say confused?

In quoting a venture capitalist prof McAfee is further confusing himself. He is falling into the trap of believing VCs understand technology. With a few notable exceptions, they mostly don't but they know a hell of a lot about buzz trends that increase capital values, they know what sells and they know how to place spread bets. What he would have been better saying about John Doerr's remark was: "He knows a good thing when he sees it. Kerrching!"

Quo Vadis?

Does this mean Mr Linssen's discussion is right? It does after all seem to fulfill the marketing desires of those who talk people but actually mean tools. I would also argue it is an incomplete analysis. He does well to bring up the differences if only to allow me to infer the marketing differences. But none of this gets us an inch further unless the industry starts to get honest about what works and what doesn't.

I know of two very high profile, award winning 'Enterprise 2.0/Social Business' initiatives that are failing.  I know of others that are heading south. One is Intellipedia, the other I cannot name as the project leader is in a precarious position and about to jump ship after years of disillusionment.

When you get down to the nuts and bolts of the problems that prof McAfee correctly identifies but for which no amount of technology will solve it is really simple: the kinds of management and structures you need in order to make these ideas work in a sustainable manner is almost non-existent. Command, control, power and status have a huge part in this. And no amount of putting lipstick on those organizational pigs will change the fundamentals. In one well known case I still see individuals being taken to one side and asked: "Did you really have to say that? It's not what we expect from people in your position." Insidious isn't it?

If the application of a technology looks like it will either save money or deliver top line revenue growth then it's going to get attention. That's one reason why Altimeter has done so well and is getting attention. Jeremiah Owyang has done a great job of sifting through and identifying those things that can deliver business value and which can be externalized without necessarily impacting the way a business is fundamentally organized. He may argue differently in the area of customer service but I have plenty of contra arguments on that topic.

If E2.0/social business is based on some perceived fluffy idea that exposing the social nature of business is a 'good' then forget it. Management, as prof McAfee states, has known this for years. But does it REALLY want that exposed for internal or public consumption? Far better to pretend it doesn't exist as a way of exercising control than unleash a tidal wave of unfiltered, critical thought that may at once make management look extremely silly or inept. That's the fear that kills these projects. That's what leads to the kind of pressure which ensures a dumbing down of ideas in the name of presenting a unified, brand enhancing face.

Where to next? That's hard to tell but I'll take a stab at it. 'Social anything' is a currency that's out there to be traded and marketers, ably assisted by PR are milking this for all its worth. In the real world, it will continue to fail until it is wrenched away from the marketing hand wavers and put into those of organizational social scientists and HR professionals who are genuinely empowered to help bring change. We are a very long way from achieving that Nirvana.

In the meantime I look forward to reading the next installment in what should be an enthralling intellectual battle between messrs Linssen and McAfee. My sense is this war of words is only just beginning.

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