Would a Special Forces Approach to 2.0 Adoption Work?

Two interesting posts fished out of my RSS feed in the last couple of weeks have stayed in my mind and coalesced into some ideas I'll share here.Firstly, David Terrar, a very smart guy who comes from ' a background of over 30 years operating in the trenches of the software business'  wrote a fascinating post entitled 2.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

Two interesting posts fished out of my RSS feed in the last couple of weeks have stayed in my mind and coalesced into some ideas I'll share here.

Firstly, David Terrar, a very smart guy who comes from ' a background of over 30 years operating in the trenches of the software business'  wrote a fascinating post entitled 2.0 Adoption Warfare - can military tactics help?, in which he postulates around the value of using Captain Bill McRaven’s military Theory of Special Operations tactics to successfully conquer inertia and resistance and gain a beach head for implementing 2.0 and social tools in business.

The second piece is an article in Prospect magazine by Stewart Brand ('one of the world’s most influential—and controversial—environmentalists') entitled 'How slums can save the planet' ....Sixty million people in the developing world are leaving the countryside every year. The squatter cities that have emerged can teach us much about future urban living.

...There are plenty more ideas to be discovered in the squatter cities of the developing world, the conurbations made up of people who do not legally occupy the land they live on—more commonly known as slums. One billion people live in these cities and, according to the UN, this number will double in the next 25 years. There are thousands of them and their mainly young populations test out new ideas unfettered by law or tradition. Alleyways in squatter cities, for example, are a dense interplay of retail and services—one-chair barbershops and three-seat bars interspersed with the clothes racks and fruit tables. One proposal is to use these as a model for shopping areas. “Allow the informal sector to take over downtown areas after 6pm,” suggests Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. “That will inject life into the city.”

You could cast the cubicle dwelling denizens of enterprises as being those of us who 'legally occupy the land' which the unwashed hordes would like to overrun with their free technologies. Sound ridiculous? The reality is, especially in this economy, that people will fight for their livelihood with whatever they have, and anything that threatens to cast them into an unknown world - slums! - is extremely undesirable.

David Terrar's post demonstrates just how tough it is to plan 2.0 traction with the promise of

...these tools subverting the "natural" command and control management structures that most big corporations have, and which many of our newer companies grow up to adopt.  The new tools are overlaying  a network centric communication approach, which is beginning to flatten the organization and reduce the power of the traditional organization chart.

If you've spent some time in the rat race clambering up the 'traditional organization chart' you're probably not about to acquiesce to a new flatter playing field without some extremely clear benefits being guaranteed to keep you in the style to which you've become accustomed, and preferably with your fiefdom intact.

There are any number of excellent technology solutions available that could enable adoption of 2.0 ideas, but without clear strategic thinking around deployments they are generally doomed to fail, victims of lack of clarity of use and factional infighting. Much as a special forces raid executed with surprise, speed, and purpose might appear to be a way to overwhelm the unsuspecting occupants of the enterprise fortress, as David Terrar posits, your chances of 'adoption' are unlikely to succeed longer term.

In part this is because of  the world outside the businesses windows is rather like digital 'slums', where free information flies around the planet at lightning speed and savvy new street wise kings of this ghetto emerge living on their wits, their influence spreading like wildfire through the hard to understand new tools that emerge and mutate with bewildering speed online. This densely populated online world, where people's true identity and intents are often masked, is a frightening place for people struggling to cling to the life raft of a secure job and with heads full of work specific information. If they lose their jobs they know in many cases they will have to consume vast amounts of information to get current and find relevancy. Drinking from a fire hose of unfiltered information isn't to everyone's taste and certainly doesn't play to everyone's strengths.

Stewart Brand is a brilliant thinker, one of the originators of the 1960's 'Whole Earth Catalog' and founding board member of the Long Now Foundation which aims to 'creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years'. Many of the comments below his article accuse him of elitism, suggest he moves to a hellish slum and say there is no connection between his privileged Northern California 'future urban' lifestyle on a houseboat in Marin and the scavenging survivor existence.

For Brand

...The magic of squatter cities is that they are improved steadily and gradually by their residents. To a planner’s eye, these cities look chaotic. I trained as a biologist and to my eye, they look organic. Squatter cities are also unexpectedly green. They have maximum density—1m people per square mile in some areas of Mumbai—and have minimum energy and material use. People get around by foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or the universal shared taxi. Not everything is efficient in the slums, though.

In the Brazilian favelas where electricity is stolen and therefore free, people leave their lights on all day.

In a parallel western digital slum world you may have had your house repossessed and be living in your Honda since losing your job but that laptop and Starbucks wifi is the yellow brick road to outsmarting the system. You may have to steal software, content and ideas to get there but it's your path to being feted as an online thought leader and riches and recognition as a kingpin improving the new urban living will surely follow.

Meanwhile 'Cathy in her cubicle' will gratefully accept management endorsed ideas and tools that will help her keep and progress in her job, help her collaborate with her colleagues and hopefully make her life simpler and more efficient while she's at work. What many 2.0 evangelizers - many of whom have a vested interest in selling software, are analysts and market makers or who are actually working in a different profession but are enthusiasts for fashionable ideas - don't seem to realize is how alienating talk of adoption is.

The special forces "approach to planning makes as perfect sense for implementing 2.0 and social tools in an enterprise as it does for the "Raid on Entebbe" suggests Terrar, citing the civilian hostage-rescue mission carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on the night of 3 July and early morning of 4 July 1976.

While I normally have a lot of time for Terrars' thinking and depth of expertise around 2.0 technologies, in this case I feel he has unwittingly hit the nerve which prevents 2.0 adoption evangelism from having the desired effect: fear of risk taking and the unknown combined with well defined benefits.

Strategic planning and tactical role out of carefully designed workplace collaboration is my professional stock in trade, and I suggest that stealth raids by revolutionaries seeking to overrun the establishment and plant the 2.0 flag are all to often ill advised and usually do more harm than good before fizzling out.

Entebbe image from Wikipedia

Editorial standards