Is Enterprise 2.0 easy or hard?


Euan Semple, formerly head of knowledge management at the BBC, has written a blog post titled The 100% guaranteed easiest way to do Enterprise 2.0?. His answer (in summary) is:




So is it that easy? Last week at Barcamp Sydney I bumped into James Robertson, who had recently been at FastForward conference (and been one of the writers on its the excellent conference blog). He told me that at the event there had been a fundamental disagreement between Euan and Andrew McAfee, the Harvard professor who has popularized the term Enterprise 2.0. Euan said that it was easy to make Enterprise 2.0 happen. Andrew said that it wasn’t. Andrew has written a great post about it that is well worth a read for the counterpoint. He says:

But it still felt as if most people weren’t with me — as if most participants in the round table felt that enterprise 2.0 was essentially a historical inevitability. So I asked for a show of hands. I asked “How many of us, when we look into the crystal ball that shows the organization of the near future — say 3 to 5 years from now — see widespread deployment of E2.0 technologies?”

Almost every hand in the room went up.

At this point I completely lost my poker face. I sputtered “You have got to be kidding me!!” or something equally profound as I stared around the room.

Very interestingly, Andrew brings up a analogy with the (lack of) success of knowledge management, a movement I was associated with back in the 1990s before I endeavored to distance myself from it (see my thoughts on the future of knowledge management written in 2004). Andrew says:

I reminded the audience that there were plenty of conferences devoted to knowledge management (KM) systems and approaches in past years, and that these events had almost certainly featured rooms full of enthusiasts wondering exactly what the future was going to look like, and probably paying very little attention to the possibility that the future would be KM-free. I asked the room how many people wanted to be remembered as this decade’s equivalents of KM enthusiasts and evangelists, and got a few chuckles.

James Dellow goes into this comparison in more depth, and seems to suggest that he’s prepared to back Enterprise 2.0 over knowledge management’s success.

I have to say that I’m on Andrew’s side on this one. I count myself as a true believer in Enterprise 2.0, but I’ve seen enough of organizations to know that the status quo has enormous power, and making good changes happen is never easy. In particular, unstructured implementation of social media tools in organizations will yield only a fraction of the value of a planned one. Yes I believe in emergence, but leadership is required to create fertile fields. If people try something once and it’s not useful, they won’t try it again. In particular, there are ways to structure how social media works so it creates valuable results in collaborative filtering and enabling useful connections. You don’t know what the results will be, but clear vision and specific planning and actions will make it far more likely to be valuable than just letting it happen.

2 replies
  1. Euan Semple
    Euan Semple says:

    Just to be picky saying something isn’t hard is subtly different from saying it is easy. The “getting out of the way” bit is very hard and engaging your early adopter community is not trivial.
    What I was reacting to was the flood of pundits turning social computing into a thing when it doesn’t need to be and then making that thing seem hard in ways that it isn’t.
    The comparison with KM is valid and a timely warning to try to do things differently this time.

  2. Ross Dawson
    Ross Dawson says:

    Thanks Euan – this is an interesting debate that can span the philosphical to the pragmatic, and is worth pursuing.
    When you clarify it as here, we can get onto common turf and talk about the tin tacks of making things happen in the organization.
    But I think your post was dangerous in that some people will take it very literally, and then be disappointed and frustrated when the results don’t turn out (or seem) to be very useful.

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