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Enterprise 2.0 adoption – A. McAfee Interview

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Stowe Boyd recently interviewed Andrew McAfee (Associate Professor in Technology and Operations Management at Harvard Business School) on the topic of Enterprise 2.0. He coined the phrase Enterprise 2.0 in a spring 2006 Sloan Management Review article and is considered a leading authority on the subject. He has also written a book about Enterprise 2.0 and blogs regularly on the subject.  Stowe has outlined some aspects of the interview, and I’ve expanded on the key discussion areas below:

  • SB: The bell shaped curve of adoption [of Enterprise 2.0 technologies within the Enterprise] has not happened, and the implementation of these tools seems to be happening in a disorganized way.
  • AM: I like the quote from the Economist magazine: We tend to overestimate the impact of new technologies in the short run and underestimate the impact in the long run. We’re coming out of a period of overestimating the technologies. The world changes at a slower pace than a lot of us enthusiasts think it should. I believe the new tools and approaches to getting work done are a big deal and not just an incremental improvement. Overtime they will penetrate how knowledge workers get their jobs done. I am however, surprised at the spottiness of the adoption.
  • SB: Sometimes you have to wait for an entire generation to die off before real revolutionary change can happen. Some of these technologies, however, have become nearly ubiquitous in some industries e.g. the use of wikis for software development in large software development organisations. Some big knowledge intensive organisations e.g. pharmaceutical or consulting, however, where you’d think people should be using blogs etc., have not embraced the concepts.
  • AM: If the boss of the software development effort decides that a wiki is going to be used, and she is going to stop reading emails, then the whole world follows her fairly quickly. What we haven’t seen happen in other knowledge intensive companies is that push, or coaching from the top, where they require/mandate the use of blogs or wikis. This helps to explain why the adoption is a lot spottier than I would have anticipated.
  • SB: There is a reluctance to give up the email culture that dominates most large organisations. Email is  the ‘blood-stream’ of many organizations. Things happen first in email and people haven’t seen the value in relaxing its dominance.
  • AM: The instant the people at the top of the organisations say I’m not going to use email for updates, rather I’m going to co-ordinate and collaborate using other tools; that’s when we’re going to start seeing some tipping points. Email is the life-blood of a lot of organisations, but that will start to change when people want to advance work using something else beyond email.
  • SB: The issue with email is it’s an inherently closed medium. Also, there is no general convention about how you take an email and turn it into something that would be public.
  • AM: Agree. Compare email to Twitter, which I’m using for a higher percentage of my communications these days, simply because the default is openness. It seems a better communications medium for communicating with a bunch of people.
  • SB: Twitter runs counter to the closed email mindset. As Doc Searls once said ‘Email is where knowledge goes to die’. The closed email mindset seems ingrained in many organizational cultures.
  • AM: John Gourville in the Marketing Department at Harvard did some research to understand why some ‘mousetraps’ take off and some don’t. He talked about Tivo, and how as a stand alone technology it was a niche. They spent millions in marketing and people who had Tivos were their unpaid salesforce, because they would be raving about the product. I heard the raves, but never bought one because the benefits seemed nebulous. Gourville describes how people tend to overestimate the benefits of their own technology by about a factor of 3 and the users underestimate the benefits of that same technology – versus what they already have – by a factor of 3. The 9x effect. This helps explain why better mousetraps don’t get used and why it’s so hard to get people to change their established practices.
  • SB: Some technologies requires a majority of users to use them before they can have the required effect, and before the benefits can be realised.
  • AM: This is why I always stress the role of bosses and managers. Enterprise 2.0 is usually a bottom up phenomena. You need passionate people to introduce new tools and to evangelise working in a different way. You also need some fire from the top that say this is a better way for people to work. When the boss mandates it it is amazing how quickly people change. Euan Semple is an exemplar for how to implement change using these Enterprise 2.0 technologies. (see Stowe’s interview IT Is Not The Source Of Innovation.)
  • AM: The economy is in bad shape and companies are looking to cut discretionary spending and focus on the core business. However, Enterprise 2.0 tools are just not that expensive to purchase and deploy. If you want to guide your organisation through tough times you need to use these tools to advance collaboration and networking within the workforce. The economic climate will force companies to try more radical experiments in order to gain competitive advantage.
  • AM: I’m really interested in how companies think about the boarders of these Enterprise 2.0 solutions. They can often be created as silos within organisations. I prefer open and wide ranging platforms as you don’t often know where the experts are. I think the risks of being very broad and open are minimal.
  • SB: There seems to be a clean break between internal systems and external platforms within organisations. That strikes me as inherently bias.
  • AM: There are certain reasons for having a closed boarder i.e. keeping conversations/information secure, but for many areas it is useful to have insiders and outsiders talking. JP Rangaswami said to me he was not worried about employees blogging in the open because a) if someone says something inappropriate I will find out very quickly and b) because people know how to do their jobs. They know what is, and is not appropriate. Therefore, I don’t hear a lot of horror stories.

The conversation above related to research Stowe Boyd and Oliver Marks are conducting into the state of Web 2.0 tools, and the Enterprise 2.0 landscape. They will be releasing an interim report next week at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. Given the economic climate it will be fascinating to see whether these tools have advanced into the heart of organisations. Stowe said email is like the ‘blood-stream’ of corporations. However, given social networks are fast becoming the ‘new email‘, does this mean enterprises are rolling out internal networking tools to facilitate this changing paradigm? The evidence is spotty, but what is clear is that the advance of Enterprise 2.0 ways of working into organisations is primarily resisted by cultural inertia, rather than the technology. Overcoming this is one of the key challenges of its increasing adoption.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Bill FrenchNo Gravatar 12/11/2009, 9:34 am

    Richard, this is a great article and interview. Minor clarification, the first use of “Email is where knowledge goes to die.” apparently was me. I was on a flight to Sydney in 1999 when I coined the phrase in preparation for a series of IT conferences with the Australian Computing Society.

    The First published instance was a Sydney newspaper and the the first time I blogged about it was 2003 (http://bfrench.info/public/item/5994), but I’ve used it in many presentations and papers before 2003.

    I think the confusion concerning Doc Searls stems from a mention by Stowe Boyd a few years back.

    Ironically, my first use in Sydney occurred a few blocks from the current offices of the Google Wave development team.

  • Richard FaheyNo Gravatar 21/11/2009, 10:07 am

    Thanks for that clarification and the link to your post on Transforming Information into Knowledge.

    I’ve heard the phrase used to describe other mediums also e.g. PDFs are where knowledge goes to die. I guess platforms that do not allow for information to be easily updated and referenced, will slowly become irrelevant as knowledge repositories.

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