22 February 2007

will Web 2.0 social tools have a major transformational positive impact in the workplace?

Yesterday, I attended in London a David Gurteen’s Knowledge Café with the topic of the Web 2.0 social tools and what they will mean for organizations.

The question to answer was: will these tools have a major transformational positive impact in the workplace?

This K Café had an unusual format this time, starting with two speakers given 10mn to either answer positively or negatively. Then the 50+ attendance divided in groups of 5 to discuss/debate, followed with a speaker for each group addressing everyone with the conclusions reached by their group. The event ended with an informal vote on the question.

Let’s start with the result of the vote: about 35 people chose to answer positively. It’s a majority but that still left 15 to 20 people (so about 1/3) either unsure, or believing that these new social tools will either have a negative impact or no significant impact at all. I felt that was still quite a lot.

Being a supporter of any tools that can help to foster knowledge-sharing and innovation, I will focus here on the arguments given against them having a large impact.

A key “negative” argument mentioned was that these social tools are over-hyped since the bulk of effective conversation can only be spoken, not written. Face-to-face conversation would always be required.

I would agree with the over-hyped status but not for this reason. The Web 2.0 social tools are not designed to replace face-to-face conversation at all! They are to enable conversations and knowledge sharing that would for the most part otherwise simply not take place. You don’t start a blog and join online forums to discuss with your neighbors and the colleagues you see every day. Yes they might also take part but you intend to reach many many more people you will never speak to directly, let alone meet face-to-face.

The reason these tools are over-hyped is that the issue is not about the technology but about the people and the organizational culture. As it was correctly highlighted yesterday, these tools are to be used for a purpose that make business sense to the people using then and to the organization they work in. In other words, they must contribute directly or indirectly to the bottom line: higher profits (or value for money in the public sector).

Another “negative” argument I noted was the fear of information overload. More collaborative tools meant for many the risk of increasingly less control over the amount of incoming information. I believe this risk is real but so it was with the telephone a century ago, with email 15 yrs ago or with mobile phones 10 yrs ago. It didn’t stop our ancestors to install a phone in their home or for us to now receive emails on ou mobile phone(s)! It is a potential problem yes but not one that would prevent the Web 2.0 social tools from flourishing. This fear will influence more how we use them individually or collectively such as within an organization.

On the whole, the majority agreed that the spread of Web 2.0 tools inside the organization was inevitable. It was only a matter of time. What was less clear was what would be their true benefits, what transformation they would generate. What is happening on the public web can give us some clues but it is indeed difficult to foresee exactly their impact on the workplace. Nevertheless, this is not a reason for not starting to use them, maybe just one to be cautious and not move too fast. But that’s ok, that was also the case with email back in the 90’s.

Peter-Anthony Glick


At 8:40 PM, Blogger Yoav said...

Hi Peter,

You wrote

"The reason these tools are over-hyped is that the issue is not about the technology but about the people and the organizational culture."

I did not fully understand that line. In what way does the organizational culture prevent leveraging of knowledge?

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Peter-Anthony Glick said...

Hi Yoav,

This is a good question and I decided to respond with a new post on my blog: "Organizational cultures not conducive to effective leveraging of knowledge". Please refer to it and let me know if it does answer your question.



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