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Practical analysis for an organisation like yours
on 14 June 2010
In my private life I have long been entranced by the potential of the collaborative internet (225 reviews in, this shouldn't come as a big surprise) and have, as a result being trying my darndest to evangelise its benefits in my professional life - no small challenge, involving as it does a bunch of lawyers inhabiting the more cobwebbed crannies in the infrastructure of a bank. To that end I've set up wikis, libraries, discussion forums and sharepoint sites all, for the most part, to no avail. Old habits die hard in any circumstance, but amongst moribund lawyers they live on like zombies.
In recent times I have taken to trying to understand, or at any rate deduce, whether it is simply a challenge to the design of our particular distributed system or whether it is more a problem of the psychological configuration of the communal working environment, or some unholy, un-dead combination of the two, which renders barren my efforts. Given my current place of toil is basically one gigantic supercomputer, part human, part machine and therefore, you would think, ripe for the benefits enterprise collaboration can bring - it is frustrating to say the least to discover how immune it appears to be to those very charms.
In my studies I have consulted learned (and excellent) theoretical volumes like Lawrence Lessig's Code: Version 2.0 and Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, and populist ones like Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and Don Tapscott's Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, and all tell me, with varying degrees of erudition and insight, that the new world order is at hand.
Except, for all my efforts and enthusiasm, it isn't. Of the 585 articles in our wiki, I have personally authored, in their entirety, about 550 of them. I can't persuade anyone to use a discussion board but me (discussing things with myself palls after a while) and while SharePoint has been taken up with some gusto, it has invariably been done so stupidly, without thought for the collaborative opportunities it offers. Everyone sets up their own SharePoint sites, protects it like a fiefdom, and ignores all others.
I have been looking for the book that explains these challenges of the new world order and which explains how this entropy can be fought. Andrew Mcafee's Enterprise 2.0 might just be that book.
Mcafee is a believer, and a convert from a position of scepticism but, unlike (for example) Chris Anderson, he is not so starry eyed that he can't apprehend the challenges presented. Mcafee takes us through four case studies (all thrillingly on point for me!) of business executives trying, and struggling, to collaborate using existing tools. Mcafee maps these efforts (namely technological solutions) to his own sociological analysis which differentiates groups in terms of the strengths of existing ties between the individuals purporting to connect: there are strong bonds (as between direct colleagues in geographically centralised team, weaker bonds (as between fellow employees of a wider organisation) and right out at the limit, no particular bonds at all - the Wikipedia example. Different types of emergent social software platforms (ESSPs) work better for different types of community bond. Mcafee also deals with the "long haul" challenges, which acknowledges that, particularly where there is an "endowment" collaboration system to overcome (email being the most obvious), or where collaborative opportunity is "above the flow" rather than in it (i.e., collaboration is a voluntary action completed after the "compulsory" work is done), the change in behaviour will take a long time, so stick with it (encouraging stuff for this lone wiki collaborator!)
Ultimately Mcafee doesn't have the answers - nor should we expect him to - but his analysis is thoughtful, credible (as opposed to the more frequent "credulous") and optimistic - Enterprise 2.0 needs evangelists and "prime movers" who are engaged and prepared to stick with it - meaning that this is well recommended as a volume for those wanting a practical view of the enterprise benefits of social networking and Web 2.0.