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

16 February 2007

“Break the Mould”

Check out this useful article in a Computing Business issue: .
I agree with most of what it says but I would like to highlight the following extracts:

Stop benchmarking the competition,’ says John Riker at the Value Innovation Network. ‘Instead, pursue a quantum leap in value to dominate the market.’ […]

‘To create a quantum leap in value, companies need to direct all their talent to explore the market. The key to this process is to open up the entire organisation to seek growth opportunities. Most firms sit on a gold mine of talented and capable people, yet few tap into them in developing strategy. By bringing together a diverse team of employees from across functions, levels and geographies, an organisation can foster new ways of thinking and a wider business perspective
,’ says Riker.

Now the only efficient way you can direct all an organisation’s talents to any task such as exploring the market for opportunities, is by implementing a corporate culture, internal processes and an infrastructure compatible with knowledge-sharing. Collaborators will actively participate only if:

· They feel safe in spending time on such task (instead of focusing only on their job description). In fact, they should be encouraged by their line manager.

· They are formally recognized and rewarded when producing good ideas.

· They have access to tools facilitating collaboration and sharing of experience/knowledge (this enables cross-functional team efforts and helps to prevent duplication of efforts).

Strategy formulation must consider both a company’s traditional market, and all alternative markets. Until you expand your definition of your market you will not be able to expand the possibilities of your offer.”[…]

‘Through a qualitative process of market exploration, companies can begin to look at their industry and business through a new set of lenses. They learn about their customers’ dreams and hates, their aspirations and irritations. This rich image of the wider market translates into breakthrough ideas for new market space,’ he says.

Re-inventing the wheel.

‘It requires immense leadership and courage to abandon the ritual comfort of traditional strategy development and embark on this process,’ says Riker. ‘But given the unrelenting pressure of competition, the need to introduce unconventional thinking will become imperative for all firms seeking to create successful growth strategies.

In developing an innovative strategy, it is worth looking externally and reviewing competitors’ ideas. Each year, millions of pounds are wasted on research into technologies that has already been disclosed.

There is a multitude of intellectual property being generated internationally, according to
technology broker John Allies, most of which is never used and most of which is relatively easy to gain access to, provided you know where to look and who to talk to. ‘If you are looking for a solution, why pour money into research when someone might already have cracked the problem?’ he asks.

Yes, yes and yes! Even more so when that “someone” is likely to be a colleague of yours somewhere in your organization!

It is really amazing how much all these arguments that sound so common sense are still not considered in most organizations. For the right individual(s) with the right knowledge to be involved at the right time for a particular issue/project/idea, what is first required is an organizational culture encouraging knowledge sharing. It is not a problem of technology since collaboration tools exist in the many now, and some are even virtually free.

In fact, even without specific knowledge-sharing tools, it is still possible (but time-consuming) to find a colleague with appropriate knowledge using “standard” tools such as organizational charts, corporate intranets and address books, and projects documentation. However, too often you don’t even bother searching. Why? Because you work in an organization where it is not natural to ask for such ad-hoc cross-hierarchical/cross-departmental/cross-border assistance. Even if you find someone willing to transfer his/her knowledge, he/she will probably feel the need to request management permission to invest time on your request. This would then immediately formalize and complicate a process that should really remain casual, flexible and simple: sharing knowledge and experience.

Peter-Anthony Glick