I heard an interesting story the other day about automotive companies. Apparently after the Model T went into production, Ford concentrated on selling cars to people who didn’t have cars. Now, as far as marketing strategies go, this seems like a really good one. After all, most people didn’t have cars. The production model meant that this kind of new-fangled transport was now available to all. And, despite some initial adoption barriers, it worked. Ford sold lots of cars. The problem came about when General Motors arrived, a bit later on.
Turns out GM couldn’t sell cars to people who didn’t have cars, because everyone already had one. So, they decided to sell the car as a ‘status symbol’ — to entrench the car as a reflection of its owner. Obviously, this too was a brilliant marketing strategy. It was at this point that GM began to surpass Ford as the number one car manufacturer. Ford, meanwhile, was still trying to figure out what to do with its profits — and still hunting for customers among people who didn’t have cars. “Look! No Horse!”
History repeats itself. Microsoft completely missed the Internet thing. They were firmly focused on the extremely profitable business they invented: selling consumer software. When they did finally engage with the Internet, they saw it as though it was consumer software. Even today, Microsoft are still talking about “Software + Services” — as though the Internet is some kind of Add-On pack to their consumer offerings. In a sense, they still seem to say, “Look! No more IBM mainframe!”
Companies seem to think that the way to beat the Idea 1 legacy thinking problem is to get crazy obsessed with finding Idea 2. Microsoft are trying to be, among other things, an advertising company. Google has gone from Internet search engine to enterprise software/hardware vendor, mobile phones and even virtual worlds. Both companies acquire startups regularly. I can’t help but be skeptical of these efforts. I think that there’s no doubt that they are possible avenues for success, but looming large over all of these is the legacy of Idea 1.
Success seems to be a fertile breeding ground for legacy thinking. In a way, it’s like we’re all striving to find a point where we don’t have to think any more. Or perhaps it’s just that every new idea has to be seen through the lens of the idea that proceeded it. People are innately more inclined to protect against loss than to seek out ways to gain. The advantage of Idea 1 is that it carried no risk of jeopardizing existing profits, unlike Idea 2 and all subsequent ideas.
Anyway, it’s an interesting paradox, but me musing on it isn’t getting this startup any closer to its Idea 1 release. Back to Vark!
I have a confession.
I am starting to really hate the word “enterprise”.
The problem with the term enterprise is that it is an abstraction. An enterprise isn’t something you can see, touch, or work with directly. The adjectives that get applied to the word are themselves disconnected abstractions: an effective enterprise, a dysfunctional enterprise, an innovative enterprise. What do these things really mean? Aren’t they just wishy-washy arm-wavy generalizations?
Enterprises are everywhere, and yet, they are nowhere. When you talk to your bank teller, you are “interfacing with an enterprise”. But really, you’re talking to a person. You can’t hold the person responsible for the entire enterprise. (This fact has been wonderfully exploited by bureaucracy for decades now.)
Web 2.0 brought the individual into the world of the Internet. This revolution — like most others – was about bringing power to the people. Users add value to the web. Every URL is a latent community. Wikipedia, YouTube, and Flickr bring us content that we made for ourselves. Self-organizing groups. The freedom to share and discuss and annotate. This democratization changed the way people used the Internet and changed the way they interacted with each other. (props to Clay Shirky)
If we want to change the way people work, we have to give up on this notion of “the enterprise” as the thing that needs to change. We have to stop focusing on abstractions like Enterprise Content Management and Business Intelligence. We can’t claim to bring more “Collaboration“, more “Innovation” or more “Social” into the enterprise. These things are intangible, hard to see, hard to measure, and largely irrelevant to the problems at hand.
Trying to bring about change at the abstract level is impossible. What ends up being sold is a utopian ideal. No wonder most of these projects fail — they’re designed entirely in fairyland.
What we need to do is get back to reality. Let’s tell the architecture astronauts to come home.
Enterprises are made of people.
One of the recurring themes at E2.0 Last week was the notion of Generational Adoption. It’s the idea that Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all had an innate relationship with various ways of working, and that these different work habits are a major factor in the adoption of new technology. Jay Hariani at the e2.oh blog has a nice wrap up of the generational adoption meme. Since then, Ross Mayfield, Jeff Nolan, and Larry Dignan have all chimed in, with various cases for and against.
I was lucky enough to share a drink last week with with Rob Salkowitz, Author of Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap, who was presenting at the E2.0 conference. I haven’t read Rob’s book yet, but In the wake of our conversation, I am definitely going to check it out. (Venkat’s Review over on RibbonFarm is also a good read).
I have big problems with using the generational argument to drive adoption of Enterprise 2.0. It feels like another vendor-inspired bogeyman designed to convince companies to buy heaps of software they don’t need. (Install our compliance software or Sarbanes-Oxley will get you!)
The notion that the millennials are going to “demand” some kind of “Facebook” to do their work is just plain rubbish. Think about when you joined the workforce. What exactly did you demand?
When I first left school for the workforce, I wasn’t in a position to demand anything. It took me five years of working within the system before I realized which parts were broken. And it was only because I’d put in the time working within the system that I was trusted to actually influence things a bit.
Generational change happens gradually. There’s not going to be some giant “MySpace Revolution” where “The Kids” take over with their externally hosted collaborative tools. Instead, these people will join the workplace as wide-eyed and impressionable new starters, and they’ll do their best to work within the framework that they are given with the tools that are allocated to them. Then, slowly, their own ideas will become part of the way people work, including their favorite tools and technologies.
Sure, the generational issue is interesting from an anthropological perspective. It’s indicative of a lot of things, most notably progress in society. But as a call to arms for business to rush out and spend cash on some new-fangled social media tool for your enterprise, it leaves a lot to be desired.
(But hey, what would I know. I’m just a disgruntled Gen X’er who has no respect for authority, right?)
We arrived here in Boston tired, and pretty scruffy looking after the red-eye train from DC. But, we made it!
We just missed an interesting sounding opening presentation from Rob Carter from FedEx – it looks like FedEx are making extensive use of the web, facebook and blogs and wikis both within and external to their organization.
Sean Dennehy and Don Burke then presented a great seession on their work at the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA’s knowledge sharing ability has been greatly enhanced since they deployed their “intellipedia” – a mediawiki implementation that allows CIA staff to edit and share information freely, and without editorial regulation.
My favourite quote from Sean – “Wikis don’t work in theory – they only work in practice”
Other than removing the ability to make anonymous edits, not much was changed by the CIA when they launched intellipedia, last year. They claim also to have a much higher contribution rate (Wikipedia has a markedly low percentage of users who actually edit it – often guessed at about 1-3%) – but they are still working with the early adopters – intellipedia hasn’t been wholly rolled out to the entire organization.
“A culture problem – not a technology problem”
Don mentioned that there was substantial resistance to their efforts to incorporate this crazy wiki thing into their business. Primary benefit comes from working at the broadest audience possible. The wiki approach also focuses more on topic than on organizational structure – it means that the point tends to be on content, rather than process. That’s a really good thing.
” But – I don’t have time to edit this intellipedia thing”
Don and Sean seem adamant that the best way to deal with this kind of response is for people to stop writing emails and documents, and start writing intellipedia articles instead. (I suspect that that’s going to be a friction point for them. People don’t like new ideas very much. )
All in all, this was a great session – intellipedia seems set to be a great success.
I really got a kick out of Jevon’s Enterprise 2.0 Drag Queens post. Watching a company trying to be something that it’s not is a bit sad, but in a comical way. On the eve of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, I thought it might be time to stop and think a bit about “Enterprise 2.0″, which is really quite a horrid name for something so important.
As corny as it may be, the thing that I really like about the label is the “2.0″. It sounds as though it’s a new release of the Enterprise. But-why do we need a new Enterprise? The old one still works, right?
Well, yeah. But also no. Things have changed. And the changes have happened subtly – to the foundations of the way we work.
If you take any department in your organization, you will find two common elements. These are Information Management, and Communication.
It doesn’t matter what department it is. HR, Finance, Operations, Marketing -all they are doing is storing and retrieving information, and selectively passing it on to people – customers, colleagues, and other organizations. ( I realise this is a pretty high-level abstraction, but stay with me for a while. The view’s really nice up here )
Most of the principles – the “best practices” around optimizing organizations deal explicitly with these two elements. That’s what’s kept management consultants getting paid so much for so long. That’s what brought us Business Process Management, and Automated Workflow, and Process Re-engineering. Structuring and refining information management and communication processes. That’s it.
(See – what good is a high level abstraction if you can’t make sweeping generalizations?)
But while we were busy with flowcharts and telephone systems, the fundamental assumptions of those two disciplines changed. And it was the internet that changed them.
The 1.0 Rules of Communication
The 1.0 Rules of Information Management
None of these things are true anymore.
That’s why we need the 2.0. That’s why our tools need to change. The foundations that we built our organizations on are not the same.
(And perhaps that’s why it’s funny when the guys who have years of 1.0 experience behind them cram their burly legs into the silk stockings and the whip out the lipstick…)