It’s not often I agree with Dennis Howlett. The two of us have a history of going at it hammer-and-tongs in the defense of our own perspective on an issue. Sometimes it gets messy but that’s all part of the *fun*.
Most people interested in the space will have read the post, but the central thesis Dennis takes is that;
…business has far more pressing problems. The world is NOT made up of knowledge driven businesses. It’s made up of a myriad of design, make and buy people who -quite frankly – don’t give a damn about the ‘emergent nature‘ of enterprise. To most of those people, the talk is mostly noise they don’t need.They just want to get things done with whatever the best tech they can get their hands on at reasonable price.
It’s a theme that, despite the historical acrimony between Dennis and myself, I find refreshingly honest, and one I want to reflect on here. Bear that thought in mind – business is full of real people doing real stuff without the time, inclination or need to wax lyrical on “the new paradigm”.
I reflected on this thought, especially given the post written by Enterprise 2.0 thought leader Stowe Boyd in response to Dennis’ polemic. In his response Stowe says that;
those things called Enterprise 2.0 form only one bit of this bigger whole. The world in which work exists has changed fairly drastically in recent years, and so we are seeing a fundamental reset in the nature of work.
And this is the point I want to come to – yes the world is changing, a fact most of us accept. But enterprise, at least at a granular, man-in-the-cubicle level, is (for the most part) not changing. And the main reason for this is not technological, not financial but rather cultural.
I occupy an interesting space in that my background is very much SMB (I own and/or manage half a dozen different businesses in different sectors – technology, property, manufacturing, professional services). Added to this background is the fact that I’ve also had a number of consulting roles for large businesses. I am therefore able to compare and contrast these two very different beasts, and parse the differences in terms of “Enterprise 2.0”.
I never cease to be amazed at the commonality between different large businesses – no matter the industry they’re involved in, no matter which part of the world they’re based, they seem to share similar traits. The people within the organizations are focused on compliance, they’re fearful of making decisions lest they be seen to be putting their head above the parapet and they’re invariably exceptionally poor at communicating – no matter how many whizz-bang “Enterprise 2.0” tools their organization has invested in. (Disclaimer – this a general comment and doesn’t reflect on current clients 😉 )
In his original post, Dennis asks what the problem is that Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve. This question misses the point in my view – most people accept that the world is changing, that instantaneousness, collaboration, organic structures, open standards and agile development are the themes de jour and will continue to be so going forwards. This change however fails to take into account the nature of big business – despite the rhetoric and the hand waving by the select few organizations that have bought into this new way of doing things – enterprise is, for the most part, resisting change as strongly as is humanly possible. It’s almost entirely a cultural issue that Enterprise 2.0 is up against – and it’s a formidable barrier indeed.
I wrote a paper over a decade ago, in part inspired by Ricardo Semler, his book Maverick and his work within Semco, the large business he inherited. In part motivated by the belief that it is almost impossible to be innovative and proactive within a large enterprise, he set about tearing Semco apart, creating autonomous sub-organizations where the workers were often the business owners, able to sub-contract both to Semco but also to their competitors.
It’s a solution to the problem that Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve – that is the sheer terror within large businesses of opening the floodgates, and the general trait of enterprise workers to be focused on creating a silo for information in effort to protect their own patch and, as Dennis puts it, “a protectionism on [their part] hoping they won’t be pink slipped any time soon”. Enterprise 2.0 is an incredibly valuable tool but, as yet, it doesn’t have much raw material upon which to work.
So… Enterprise 2.0 isn’t a crock at all, but until there is a new kind of enterprise that is able to leverage it, it may as well be.