All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Beyond Serendipity for Enterprise 2.0

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.


bhc3 said...

Great post Rex. I sometimes think of blog, wikis, forums, microblogging as "Social Software 1.0". It was critical to get the tools of sharing and transparency in place, to break the one-way broadcast tools.

But it turns out that wasn't enough. Those tools need to be recast in terms of actual workings of companies. Apply these great social principles to the real, tangible needs of companies. "Social Software 2.0", if you will.


Mark Fidelman said...

I like your sales example. While I agree with the premise that competitive sales people don't want to share their best practices, I believe there are ways to socially engineer an outcome that will benefit the individual as well as the sales team.

For example, (counter-strike#1) why not recognize publicly the top contributing sales people to the Wiki? Make a big show out of it. As you said (and I agree) sales people love recognition. Get the CEO involved (in smaller companies) and have him/her recognize the contribution.

(counter-strike#2) Salespeople are always complaining there are not enough sales tools. Have marketing put up strawmen tools, and then have the sales people "refine" them.

(Counter-strike #3) While salespeople may not have the best writing skills, they do have great ideas. Curate and edit the contributions to the sales wiki to make the results better.

My .02

Rex Lee said...

Thanks Hutch & Mark! Appreciate your insight. I think your suggestions are exactly the type of thinking that needs to take place to really get value.

Another consideration is that if one decides to change the rules (i.e. Let's say we change the compensation or recognition model). Resistance is typical unless the perceived benefit is 9X better (ala John Gourville).

The compounded problem is that those that not only benefit from the previous model BUT also have a distinct advantage from the previous model, will be hard to sway and it's those people you often need.

On the other hand if the changes are simply reinforcing the existing model, buy-in from others will be very hard.

Bertrand Duperrin said...

Great work Rex. It's becoming obvious that Enterprise 2.0 can't rely on serendipity alone as an operational or business model.

In my opinion, "social activies" in the workplace can be of two kinds :
- serendipity driven and enliven by community management activities
- work-flows driven and enliven by managers
Both being to be connected.

I tried to sum it up there :

As a conclusion, I'm quite sure that the future of the E20 debate won't be about adoption but integration (including sensemaking and alignment with business goals).

The day after tomorrow I'll be speaking in Milan about "bringing conversations into processes". That's a part of the answer I think.

Rawn Shah said...

I think we underestimate serendipity. For one, we're already in the "social engineering" phase as you describe it in our org, for several years now. I call it social architecture or modeling in my book which is entirely on that subject.

However, the best outcomes still generally come out of serendipity, even while we guide our users to follow models of adoption.

For one, my view is that serendipity isn't 100% entirely accidental. You can do many things to improve your chances. I'm still working on my ideas of how to measure serendipity on a consistent basis. Sounds like an oxymoron huh? But I think its possible to do so.

Deborah Hinton said...

Provocative post Rex. Welcome back.

Do you see a difference between social engineering and system thinking? Is system thinking the source of insight? And social engineering the design?
Do you think you can you institutionalize serendipity as Rawn suggests? Or do you agree with Bertrand
I'm also thinking about Bertrand's two points. The most social of all activities is conversation. I think it can happen as the result of serendipity and work flows within both formal and informal networks. Curious about what you mean by bringing conversations into processes Bertand.

As an internal communicator I'm thinking about the role of professional communicators and institutional social media. What does it mean for the communications function/profession of the future?

Rex Lee said...

Bertrand, Thanks. Interesting point about integration vs adoption. One of my beliefs is that integration (into business processes) is the best way to drive adoption. Sure we can tell people how great it is, but they forget and default to the path of least resistance when under pressure.

Rawn, Would be fascinating to see how one might "measure Serendipity". I do believe that proper design can increase the liklihood as well.

Deb, I think systems thinking provides the insight that we then need to put into the design. I think communicators can be catalysts for serendipidous collaboration. Take this blog post for example... You may not have known Bertrand in the past, yet now you are connecting with his thoughts which may lead to serendipity.

Pankaj said...

Great article Rex. I think it is incredibly tough to create tools for social engineering. You simply cannot allow for all of the myriad motivations and agendas different groups and individuals may have. You can however have flexibility options in tools which allow you some degree of social engineering. mark gives a great example of this.

Wim Soens said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rex. I find the serendipity debate very interesting, as my focus on Enterprise 2.0 is the design of collaborative innovation platforms. I fully agree with Rawn that serendipity isn't entirely accidental. I wrote about it myself in this post:

KaroT - Speaker and Transformational Artist Art of business said...

Great article Rex ! You know my love for words ... So I searched the definition for Serendipity = is a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.
Now knowing how challenging it is to implement E2.0 apps ( ROI need to be solid, measurable, linked to business objectives, +++) , it's certainly not something we can rely on to design ... I beleive serendipity is an outcome of the design and that would be one of the four E2.0 collaboration benefits... fortunate discovery or innovation !

Anonymous said...

Hi Rex

Great article - I think we share a lot of the same ideas on the need for Focus and Purpose in Social business models (see for one post on this) - Serendipity is great, but totally unpredictable and to base a business practice on its occurrence is reckless at best, and irresponsible at least.

Loved your examples - and look forward to reading more in the future