Enterprise 2.0 & The Flywheel

We seem to have come full circle in our debate around the impact of culture on Enterprise 2.0. Couple of years back, Tom Davenport stirred up a hornet's nest with his "Why Enterprise 2.0 won't transform organizations" post. In that he said:

"The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only
reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise
2.0 software and the Internet won't make organizational hierarchy and
politics go away. They won't make the ideas of the front-line worker in
corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers
that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power
differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive
cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won't be
addressed or substantially changed by technology alone.
For a set of
technologies to bring about such changes, they would have to be truly
magical, and Enterprise 2.0 tools fall short of magic." [ Emphasis mine ]

More recently, Steve Radick wrote a meticulous post on how Enterprise 2.0 reflects the culture in an organization. He had a bunch of snippets from conversations in their Yammer network. He goes on to make a few recommendations : " Consider incentivizing employees to share information and collaborate
with each other.  Make information sharing part of their annual review
(my team reviews the employee’s contributions to our internal network
during their annual assessment debrief).  Reward staff for taking risks."

And couple of days back, Gil Yehuda in his post on his experiences in the E2.0 conference in Boston says he is frustrated the "motherhood and apple-pie" lessons about E2.0 . He agrees that culture does play a key role and that the Enterprise 2.0 community needs to start working on this.

My triggering point for this post was a post by Peter Bergman in the Harvard Business blogs on the best way to change corporate culture. It is in many ways a recapitulation of fundamental issues organizations face on the cultural side. He says:  "Performance reviews and training programs define the firm's
expectations. Financial reward systems reinforce them. Memos and
communications highlight what's important. And senior leadership
actions — promotions for people who toe the line and a dead end career
for those who don't — emphasize the firm's priorities.
In most organizations these elements develop unconsciously and
organically to create a system that, while not always ideal, works."

What all of this really boils down is two things – human and social capital. Toyota in my view could be one such company – the robust and high performance knowledge sharing network they have built across their supply chain is a case in point. See research paper here .

Quoting from the paper:

"Toyota’s network has solved three fundamental dilemmas with regard to knowledge sharing by devising methods to (1) motivate members to participate and openly share valuable knowledge (while preventing undesirable spillovers to competitors), (2) prevent free riders, and (3) reduce the costs associated with finding and accessing different types of valuable knowledge. Toyota has done this by creating a strong network identity with rules for participation and entry into the network. Most importantly, production knowledge is viewed as the property of the network. Toyota’s highly interconnected, strong tie network has established a variety of institutionalized routines that facilitate multidirectional knowledge flows among suppliers."

Remember this was years before we even started speaking about Web 2.0. Inevitably, organizations that have invested in building human/social capital and a collaborative culture will stand to benefit the most from E2.0. Anecdote's whitepaper on "Building a Collaborative Workplace" neatly summarizes the essence of this :

"Of course technology plays an important role in effective collaboration. We are not anti-technology. Rather we want to help redress the balance and shift the emphasis from merely thinking about collaboration technology to thinking about collaboration skills, practices, technology and supporting culture. Technology makes things possible; people collaborating makes it happen."

And remember, this is hard work!! Building this work culture and ensuring that there is value alignment [ everyone believing in the lean philosophy in Toyota is an example] across multiple stakeholders are not easy. In Toyota's case, one of the challenges was to
optimize the entire supply chain using lean principles and the supplier
network in particular and the larger Toyota Production System in
general played a key role in that. It seems to have taken a lot of hard work to build out these networks, evolve norms, align values and ensure that all of these rolled up to specific business objectives like the rapid diffusion of lean production techniques across the supply chain. Could Toyota have done this better with E2.0 technologies? Looks like it would have helped them accelerate this journey but then it would have been possible only because they had a strong cultural and business foundation.

The interesting inference I can make is this-At a more fundamental level organizations need to realize that Enterprise 2.0 is possibly a new lever to set the flywheel in motion and make it go faster – The principle of the flywheel is one of the analogies Jim Collins uses in his book "Good To Great". He speaks about a host of things that add up to set the flywheel in motion – Level 5 leadership, getting the right people on board, confronting brutal facts, the "Hedgehog" concept, a culture of discipline & technology as an accelerator.  Jim did not think of technology as a change agent but this could be changing – E2.0 and a Gen Y/X workforce could fundamentally challenge this notion IF organizations focus on the other levers as well.

Here is the bottom line as I see it : If yours is a great organization, E2.0 can help your flywheel go faster in the direction you want. If yours is a good organization, E2.0 can be one of the levers to help you set the flywheel in motion and eventually make it go faster. And this time around, technology holds a real good chance of being a change agent by enabling socio-technical ecosystems.

Organizational History & KM

I was reading this article on change agents in the Harvard Business blogs and one of the things that the author wrote about caught my attention [ probably because I saw a KM connection]. He asks "Have you figured out how your organization's history can help to shape its future?"and then goes on to quote Psychologist Jerome Bruner's view on creativity : "figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you already think." This to me also seems to become  one of the fundamental objectives of knowledge management if it changes to "figuring out how to use what we already know as a organization in order to go beyond what we already think".

Having said that, I also this this poses a paradox :Shouldn't KM also help organizations challenge long held assumptions and beliefs? Many times what we know and believe conditions us so much that we fail to act otherwise ..we don't see things "as they are".

KM practitioners need  to consciously look at organizational history to explore the roots of beliefs/assumptions and unwritten rules that negatively influence an organization. Organizational history could be a useful element in evolving a KM intervention.

Google Wave Implications On KM

I have thinking about the implications of Google Wave on KM and enterprise collaboration.  Interestingly, many of them have been propounding the end of
email and the end of IM. And some of them have taken on the new
complexities that real time/concurrent editing can bring in – issues
ranging from the cognitive impact of seeing what someone is typing as
they type it to privacy. It's been really interesting!!

This debate is going to continue for rest of the year as Google prepares to go live with the Wave.

My
interests around Google Wave are from a KM perspective. Will Google
Wave change anything for good in the KM world? I think it holds great
potential to solve some of the fundamental problems inherent to KM as
we know it. Three areas where I believe it will have a positive impact :

Flow Versus Stock

For starters Google Wave blurs the line between what was traditionally knowledge flows and knowledge stocks. As O'Reilly
rightly put it, in the Wave world – "conversations become shared
documents." This has huge implications on enterprise KM. Let me go back
to the Andrew McAfee's SLATES for a minute. The "A" in the acronym
stands for authoring – lowering barriers to authoring is one of the
fundamental challenges in KM and I think by blurring the lines between
conversations and documents, Google Wave goes a long way in enabling
this.

Everything Is Fragmented

That is principle number 4 in Dave Snowden's 7 principles of knowledge management. Here's what he has to say :

We
evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information
objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on
the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or
pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires
considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle
fragmented patterns not information.

I believe Google Wave
is closest from a "enabler" perspective to augment this behavior. Would be good if eventually Wikipedia's discussion pages get
replaced with embedded Waves. That could create richer and
far more distributed conversations around articles.

Contextual Collaboration

While
I haven't seen gadgets getting embedded in a Wave in action as yet, it would open up a new range of possibilities to enable contextual collaboration in enterprises. Being able to pull in business data from systems like ERP,CRM, Logistics etc., and being able to seamlessly wrap conversations around it will be a huge breakthrough. I guess the Wave makes it far more seamless while there have been a host of other solutions to this problem.