Enterprise 2.0: The Kumbaya irony

Despite overwhelming good will among Enterprise 2.0 conference participants, the event exposed gaps between expectations and reality that continue to plague the collaboration world.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Last week I attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. It's one of my favorite events, primarily because so many online friends attend from around the world and I enjoy their company. Despite overwhelming good will among participants, the conference exposed gaps between expectations and reality that continue to plague the Enterprise 2.0 world.

Enterprise 2.0 aspirations. Enterprise 2.0 suggests a network of organizational activities involving collaboration, cooperation, and engagement as part of a broader ethos of social interaction in business. Professor Andrew McAfee, formerly of Harvard Business School and currently with MIT, coined the phrase Enterprise 2.0. Andy recently blogged about implications of this new system of thought on managing organizations and leading teams.

Andy's blog elaborated on a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Gary Hamel, which describes "12 work-relevant characteristics of online life." The post provides a convenient summary of an Enterprise 2.0 view of management:

Here are some initial thoughts on how to start blending Hamel’s characteristics of online life into current management practices:

  1. All ideas compete on equal footing. No ideas are above review or commentary; there are no sacred cows within the organization.
  2. Contribution counts for more than credentials. Credentials are not necessary for making contributions.
  3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed. Some hierarchies are allowed to form naturally.
  4. Leaders serve rather than preside. Leaders expand their toolkit by using 2.0 technologies and participating in the resulting communities. They blog, tweet, join social networks, and use 2.0 technologies to show why they’ve ascended to high positions.
  5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
  6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing. Just as with hierarchies, some tasks and groups are self-organizing.
  7. Resources get attracted, not allocated. This is a tough one. Current resource allocation processes are highly hierarchical. Even when initiatives arise from emergent work, they get funded officially from the top down. It’s hard to see how to effectively change this. Ideas, anyone?
  8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. One way to become powerful is to share information, refine and improve it, and/or use it to connect people with each other.
  9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed. Decisions are subject to peer scrutiny. In other words, the crowd has the ability to weigh in on the direction the company is taking. This is very different than giving all crowd members veto power, or even a vote. Enterprise 2.0 does not mean setting up a corporate democracy (even Wikipedia is not a democracy).
  10. Users can veto most policy decisions. See #9. I think and hope that individuals will have greater voice within organizations in the future, but not greater veto power.
  11. Intrinsic rewards matter most. Companies use 2.0 tools and approaches to tap into a wider mix of motivations – both intrinsic and extrinsic. One note here: it’s important not to confuse intrinsic vs. extrinsic with small vs. big, or monetary vs. non-monetary.
  12. Hackers are heroes. Dissenters are valued as long as they do two things: justify their arguments with logic and facts (or at least lay out how to test their hypotheses), and strive to be helpful to others and productive for the organization. “Everything sucks and this place is run by morons” is the stance of a sullen adolescent, not a courageous truth-teller.

This perspective of management and organizational behavior is inspired by interactions online that developed organically among the community of Enterprise 2.0 early adopters. In a sense, the view embodied in this list serves as an archetype for a more humanistic form of consensus-based management than typically exists inside large organizations today.

So far, so good, but there are cracks in this wall.

Evangelists talking to themselves? While these collaborative attributes are certainly desirable, such noble aspirations can form a passionate exuberance in practitioners that reduces critical thinking and risks crossing the line into groupthink.

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference, for example, I thought vendors and consultants, rather than actual corporate customers, dominated the event. Fellow ZDNet blogger and collaboration expert, Oliver Marks, noted that:

The thirst for use cases by attendees at the conference was apparent.

Although Oliver partially attributes vendor dominance to customers' fear of disclosing confidential information, I wonder whether real enterprise use cases are still generally rare. Fellow Enterprise Irregular and Enterprise 2.0 analyst, Susan Scrupski, strongly disagrees with this point. In conversation, she countered:

The so-called market for Enterprise 2.0 is still in its infancy. This is the third year of the conference, and frankly, I'm surprised there are any customers showing up at this early stage. I found the customer conversations fascinating and abundant.

Kumbaya or business value? Enterprise 2.0 cannot credibly show market maturity unless adherents move beyond good feelings to demonstrate how the new methods of work and leadership create clear business value. Responding to this point, independent analyst, Jonathan Yarmis, advises clients to stay away from the Kumbaya Zone.

I asked Jonathan to explain:

The Kumbaya Zone is where we all sit around the campfire, singing odes to social media, and how important it is to "engage in the conversation." If I hear that phrase one more time, I think I'll go crazy. Instead, we need to apply social media strategies with a sound business strategy in mind. Why should I do this? Which conversations do I want to engage in? What outcomes do I hope to achieve from engaging in those conversations?

To place Kumabaya Zone risks into business context, Jonathan created the following diagram, when he worked as an analyst at AMR Research:


Competition or commoditization? Talking with a number of Enterprise 2.0 collaboration software vendors exhibiting at the conference, I noticed strong similarities among many competing products. I believe only a few of these firms will ultimately survive, especially in light of eventual attacks from large competitors such as IBM.

Analyst Sameer Patel wonders whether many Enterprise 2.0 vendors will find themselves victims of self-imposed commodity pricing before becoming profitable:

So the real question for me is: Are we on the path to supersonic commoditization in the Enterprise 2.0 market before even a single vendor has truly broken out & dominated the space?

At the conference, I spoke with IBM's Bob Picciano, who heads Lotus Software and is responsible for the WebSphere Portal, and Irene Greif, an IBM Fellow who manages the Center for Social Software inside IBM Research. These conversations made clear that IBM is serious about the Enterprise 2.0 and social networking market. It's entirely possible that large competitors, such as IBM, will eventually close off opportunities for the smaller players, further accelerating the commoditization about which Sameer writes.

Hopes, dreams, and ironic realities. Although the Enterprise 2.0 market is maturing, there are still many examples where promise and present fact diverge. Even Andrew Mcafee faces turtle-paced tradition at the hand of Harvard Business School Press. It's ironic that a prime mover behind Enterprise 2.0, which emphasizes speed and agility as key virtues, can't get his own publisher to move rapidly on a book that's obviously time-sensitive. The situation would almost be amusing if it didn't symbolize the uphill battle that Enterprise 2.0 adherents still face inside their own organizations and extended business networks.

My take. Despite ingrained skepticism, I do believe strongly in the future promise of Enterprise 2.0 systems, methods, and supporting tools. That said, it's time for reasoned arguments and case studies of adoption in real organizations to replace Kumbaya optimism. As to Harvard Business School Press, I suggest they re-read Mcafee's book and internalize its lessons.

[Kumbaya Zone illustration copyright by AMR Research. Photo of ghosts singing Kumbaya around a campfire from Syracuse.com. For the lyrics to Kumbaya, click here. Harvard Business School Press did not respond immediately to my request for comment.]

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