While reading John Tropea's excellent post on "harmonising formal processes and ad-hoc work", which contains references to some of my favourite E2.0 bloggers like Bertrand Duperrin & Bill Ives, I was inspired to write something which some of the E2.0 community may find controversial. I believe that the emphasis on serendipity and emergence as cornerstones of enterprise 2.0 actually inhibits the potential of social computing technologies to drive greater value.
But Rex, surely you aren't arguing that emergence isn't a defining element of E2.0 are you? After all, according to the father of the E2.0 term, Andrew Mcaffee, Enterprise 2.0 is defined as "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers." where "Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time."
I would argue that emergence is a benefit, but it's only the first step. Perhaps I should refer to this as Enterprise 2.1 a shift from emergence to social engineering. Social engineering, not in the IT security sense, or Machiavellian sense, but as a means to better focus and harness intellectual capital for specific business purposes. Let me give you an analogy between E1.0, E2.0 and E2.1.
Think of ideas and collaboration benefits as pearls.
Enterprise 1.0, would suggest that only specialized, trained individuals with the resources knew how to find pearls (i.e. where to dive, specialized equipment, knowledge on how to abstract the pearl from the shelled mollusk, etc.).
Enterprise 2.0 suggests that we can simplify and remove some of the "specialization" barriers to enable more people to search for pearls. Perhaps the knowledge is more accessible, the technology becomes simpler and less expensive, etc... This would mean, more people can participate, and we could search more places increasing the likelihood of finding those pearls. People could find pearls in areas never previously considered. This is better but it can be even better.
Enterprise 2.1 would suggest that rather than "serendipitously" finding pearls, that we coordinate our efforts to actually create pearl farms. Specifically designed environments optimally enhanced to increase the likelihood for shelled mollusks to produce "prefect" pearls. So rather than "hoping" that pearls will be found, we can learn how pearls are produced and create the right climate and engineer ways to mass produce pearls.
But how? Well, there are several aspects to consider and I would suggest starting with the engagement factors (motivation/desire, opportunity, capability). Each of the factors needs to be reviewed within context of your organization, and appropriate actions taken to leverage opportunities to improve employee engagement for specific business objectives.
In my past, I was involved with a sales department that read a great article on "wikis". They approached me and asked for assistance in building a "Wiki Sales Manual" designed by sales people for sales people. The logic was that the sales team were the closest to the customer, best understood the details of the products & services being sold, and had the breadth of experience to create this living "wiki sales manual". The sales team was frustrated with the marketing team who were a couple steps removed from the end customer and were the ones currently responsible for building theses sales manuals which became obsolete quickly.
On the surface, it sounds logical. But when we look at the engagement factors, we quickly see that implementing such a wiki without changing processes and building new processes would lead to failure. In this example, the sales team were compensated in a somewhat competitive mode where the top sales people were rewarded "more". Reputation was an important prestigious thing. The best sales people, liked to be known as "the best sales people". The challenge we have with a "wiki sales manual" would be that people most knowledgeable were actually dis-incented to contribute their expertise. Why contribute to this wiki if it could jeopardize one's reputation and possibly even their salary? Where's the motivation? Strike 1...
Every moment spent updating a manual, from the eyes of the sales people was a minute NOT spent selling, and building relations. There was simply no "opportunity" or time to contribute even if they were motivated to do so. Strike 2...
And furthermore, the skills of a sales person may not lend itself well to documentation and training. So even if they were motivated and had the opportunity, they may not have had the capability to actually update the wiki. Strike 3...
Without social engineering and modifying processes, models, policies and education, the initiative was doomed to fail before it even started.
Another example of social engineering is the concept of a JAM session. This on-line collaborative event leverages various social media tools for mass collaboration but focuses participants on a specific challenge or issue. Borrowing heavily from facilitation techniques, these events are socially engineered to maximize business value.
For example techniques such as time-boxing is used to maximize interaction and create sense of urgency, facilitator interjection is used to clarify concepts, drill deeper, enhance participation, and provide focus and pre-event design work around what questions to ask, who to invite, how to ask it, and what to do with the answers are all engineered to improve the quality of collaboration and the speed to which a business can realize value.
There seems to be a belief that by just letting all conversation flow in blogs, tweets, forums, wiki's, etc..., that corporations will find great nuggets of insight, that people will connect and come up with great ideas, that agility and holistic understanding will be natural outcomes. Although this may be true, we don't need to leave it at that.
Proper social engineering in leveraging social technologies can enable organization to focus the potential of their employees & business partners to drive specific business value of higher quality and in shorter time frames. This requires and understanding the engagement factors (motivation, opportunity, capability) and taking initiative to design and facilitate within the environment.