Sunday, March 22, 2009

Distilling my thoughts on the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum

A month on, I continue to reflect on the content and conversation from the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum (also known by the Twitter hashtag e2ef); and observe how this plays out.

There are a number of interrelated themes that have stuck with me:

  • People and technology: it's culture change and trust in people
  • The need for executive support; and the ‘grass-roots’ business ready to adapt
  • The myth of ‘it’s time-wasting’ compared to the real business value to be gained
  • Work/life balance: the blending of the work and personal
  • Make the tools easy to use: If you have to ‘train’ people to use them, there’s something wrong
  • Implement through rapid prototyping, iterative cycle, i.e. ‘Have a go, find what sticks, make it better’

What’s been sticking with me lately is the culture of trust and people, and how issues surrounding this can be a barrier to using Enterprise 2.0.

My thinking around this is that in business today, there are so many standard or traditional type procedures which have been in existence for a long time, in some cases decades: where both internal and external communication for an organisation is easily controlled and managed; where systems have a long implementation and testing process. And Enterprise 2.0 shakes this up, where the tools flatten the entire control aspect and make things visible and easy.

That can be confronting for many people, and not only those in management. Old habits die hard, even if a better option emerges. Open minds more readily try out and accept a new way of doing an established activity and I believe that this is where we are now – finding those open minds.

There are so many new ways of doing things, to communicate, to get work done. We’re in the midst of a phase that has some parallels with that earlier killer app, email. I’m thinking back to the recent past where, in the absence of alternatives, email became the default communication tool for pretty much everything. An essential business tool.

Yet I remember when email came into use (at least where I was working) in the 1990s. At the time, the company had one (that’s right, one) external email address. A few times a day someone had the task of checking the email account to see if any messages had come in.

The underlying thinking seemed to be that if everyone had an email address, they’d be wasting time emailing their friends and not working. Like it is with the phone at work. And the web. There are so many tools and distractions.

Again, the underlying assumption seems to be that people can’t really be trusted to focus and do their work. But what if people are using these new tools to do their work, and more efficiently?

So coming back to the e2ef and the conference program and speakers. Here are some of the many things that resonated with me…

  • Enterprise 2.0 is creating the next phase of organisations, helping us create new organisations. You cannot map this out – it’s experimentation. It’s about learning lessons and applying what was learned. (Ross Dawson)
  • Rigid controls discourage participation and serendipity (Peta Hopkins, Bond University)
  • Don’t be afraid, just be honest (Nathan Wallace, Janssen-Cilag)
  • A new era that challenges our concepts of hierarchy, privacy, and what’s in/out of the firewall. A culture of sharing rather than blame. Get people to focus on the value of the outputs rather than the inputs – this helps deal with the ‘myth of time-wasting’. Email has become the electronic equivalent of snail mail. (JP Rangaswami, BT Design)
  • Bandwidth and security issues are people issues, not technical issues (Peter Williams, Deloitte Digital)
  • Expect that people can handle social interaction – we’ve been doing it for a long time. Expect to have a group of people who are adults. The dynamic around people and technology – it’s connecting people, so it’s about how they interact and how they feel. (David Backley, Westpac)

(On the Enterprise 2.0 blog Ross Dawson has provided links to speaker presentations)

So to me, all of this says that no matter what the technology, there are human beings behind it. We have needs, we work things out, and we engage and are effective to the level of our own capacity and desires. It doesn’t matter if new tool comes along and people start using it – the behaviour and the culture (for good or for bad) would have been there all along. The tool simply makes it more visible.

And in all of this, failure is part of the equation. Human beings learn from their mistakes. This is no different in the environment of Enterprise 2.0. And this environment is providing us with a huge opportunity - to do things differently, to find the knowledge and advice we need quickly, and collaborate and learn from each other, no matter where we might be located.

I tweeted a whole lot during e2ef; and on reading back, I found this one: “sometimes need to put things out there and see what happens, how it works. Culture change – ‘fail fast, fail cheap' - and learn”.