Enterprise 2.0 Boston - Tuesday thoughts #e2conf

I am only semi-live blogging the Enterprise 2.0 conference.  This has nothing to do with my coffee intake, but with the fact that there are others doing a bang up job on the LIVE live blogging, like Mary Abraham.  Or just try to consume the barrage of tweets with the e2conf tag.

During the keynotes this morning, there was an interesting mix between thinkers (JP Rangaswami and Andrew McAfee), companies that have done interesting things with E2.0 (CSC's Lem Lasher), and vendors doing demonstrations.  And most of the time in the afternoon, I spent in the Expo hall and enjoying socializing in the conference-in-the-hallways. 

How do we know?  JP mentioned the recent idea from Nicholas Carr that Google makes people dumber.  JP suggested that maybe this is true, but the upside had better be more intelligent organizations.  (Note that many have taken Carr's original argument and extended to "the web makes us dumb" or "technology X makes me dumb.")  While this topic can be debated (and has been), the question I had is, "How could I tell if I were dumber or smarter?"  What should I see if the business were smarter or dumber? 

Of course, this then leads to the question of how I know whether Enterprise 2.0 is helpful.  From one perspective, it's an odd question.  Do you ask "what's the value of a toilet?" in an organization (another one-liner from JP).  On the other hand, I would expect to see something look better, shouldn't I?  The problem that many organizations have is describing what should or could be better because their framework is based on how things work today, and it's difficult to describe what would be different when they allow people to interact in different ways than they do today.  Maybe the real question I should ask takes a step back from the specifics of the tools people use to the question of strategy or direction.  What does good look like for us?

What about the new generation?  On the panel people talked about the "younger" generation who are presumably all about the new technologies.  Within corporations, people are finding that the Gen Y people can't drive the E2.0 agenda because they aren't in positions of influence.  On the other hand, they are using the publicly available tools (twice as much as other people) to do things like sharing photos and posting videos and product demos.  Also, what does it mean when jobs are much more fluid?  What happens when someone works for seven companies at one time? - referencing something else JP said.

How do we make this work?  This being Enterprise 2.0, the keynote panelists had several ideas about how to make "enterprise 2.0" project work.  One repeated theme was around being flexible, listening, and allowing for serendipity and discovery.  As E2.0 projects have a lot to do with the culture of the organization - probably more than the technology - this is a very important aspect to any implementation.  As it's been repeated over and over: if the culture doesn't fit, how do you expect the software to be accepted?  This is not a one-size-fits-all concept, as evidenced by the 50+ vendors in the Expo area.

Innovation.  The CSC talk by Lem Lasher was an interesting example of throwbacks to "old school" knowledge management as well as genuine excitement about getting things to finally gel in a way that made sense for CSC.  He also had some nice, quotable lines.  He talked about the importance of innovation and that, for them, the challenge wasn't in coming up with great ideas, but turning those into great solutions.  Or that good management would kill innovation by suffocating innovation with a focus on objectives and empowerment.  Or his model of innovation as photosynthesis: you have to give people light and air and water and let them thrive.

Sources of information.  Franz Aman of SAP included some interesting thoughts before dropping into a product demo.  He claimed that new research has shown that people in search of information have shifted from asking colleagues first to doing a web search first.  This then led into comments about how we don't record or digitize decisions - which makes sense because we only record inputs and outputs.  SAP should know this well.

Tension.  Andrew McAfee talked about a number of things related to Enterprise 2.0, but I recorded his Four Tensions that he observes in organizations as they make their way down the path of E2.0.  (His slides were a bit more elegant, but I get to capture some of the thinking this way.)

  1. Do you follow what everyone else is doing, assuming it will magically work (the Cargo Cult)?  Or do you build the human, process and technical infrastructure to make it stick?
  2. Do you focus on the inner rings of the social nets, where everyone else has focused (strong ties)?  Or do you build mechanisms to find and bring together people on the very fringes of your social networks?  McAfee argued that the latest tools are allowing the latter, and creating new opportunities.
  3. Do you allow the HIPPO (highest paid person in the office; highly paid person's opinion) to run the show?  Or do you let the Superorganism figure out how to make it happen collectively and without central direction.
  4. Do you go for Stability?  Or do you thrive in Flux?  Do you know where each of these makes sense?

Design for collaboration.  Gentry Underwood of IDEO spoke on his role and the concepts IDEO have developed around collaboration.  They've found that you have to focus on people more than on process; that platforms (physical and/or technical) need to help people coalesce naturally; and that participation needs to be facilitated and rewarded.  He echoed a statement made by Lem Lasher in the claim that "structure gets in the way of collaboration."  It adds layers and complexity.  Friction.  Friction is a fast way to kill off participation.

Lots of Stuff.  And, of course, there was lots of interesting stuff down in the exhibition area and floating around in the air of conversations.  The product demos are looking prettier and prettier every year.  I see this beautiful stuff, and then I look at companies that are using several-generations-old software in their enterprise suites.  (And then I look at my computer, and realized it is still happily running Windows XP.)  There were tons of iPads in evidence at the show, both with the attendees at the demo booths. 

And, most important, there were plenty of old and new friends at the conference.  It makes me think I have plenty of options for work (and fun), if my current gig dries up for some reason. 

p.s. Thanks to the conference organizers and sponsors for making the keynotes and some sessions this afternoon available for free!

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