Andrew McAfee is known as the father of Enterprise 2.0. In 2006 he wrote the paper “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration,” which for many of us gave a single point of reference for the work being done in enterprise social software and “Office 2.0″ until then.
Since then Enterprise 2.0 has started to come of age, and I thought the Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco would be a perfect opportunity to sit down and discuss the past and future of collaboration, social software and business strategy.
Jevon: You just released a new book about Enterprise 2.0. What does a book help do that you couldn’t accomplish on your blog?
Andrew: It is unclear in todays world, especially in a technology focused topic, the value of a book vs a blog, but I think the closer you go to the suit side of the geek-suit spectrum the more value is placed on these traditional styles of getting these ideas out there. So, articles in traditional media and books that make a noise when you drop them on tables still seem to carry a lot of weight. As I have looked around and talked to people, I don’t think that [books are] going anywhere. The other thing it does is it makes you sit down and write out all your ideas.
Jevon: So is it the idea of a discourse instead of just a bunch of loose ideas?
Andrew: It’s more an idea of a narrative instead of a bunch of one-liners. It required a suprising amount of up front thinking. You outline it, you shift the outline, it goes to an editor, they make some substantial changes to the structure. As a first time author, it was a lot of work.
Jevon: Did it help you mature the concepts behind Enterprise 2.0, or was it more about simplifying and streamlining what you had?
Andrew: Because of the blog, I had done a lot of the work and initial thinking. Writing the book did force me to advance my thinking however, and to bang out some of my own ideas, and ultimately make it better than it was before.
Jevon: By necessity, writing a book requires you to capture things at a certain point of time. Enterprise 2.0 as a concept is changing pretty rapidly right now, was it hard to decide what to talk about and how to talk about it?
Andrew: I kind of had an idea of the main points I wanted to hit, and once I put that bullseye model out there of strong, weak, potential and no ties, and the more I thought about it, I realized that was an organizing principal for the book and a way to get across the ways that Enterprise 2.0 is valuable.
Jevon: What did you leave out of the book?
Andrew: When you go back and look at the writing and thinking that you’ve done, there is always some stuff that you like that you can’t find a way to put in. More to the point, there is stuff that happens once you turn in the manuscript that you would like to include. I made a glancing reference to Twitter for example, and if I was sitting down to re-write the book today, that would be a much more important part of the conversation.
Jevon: If you were re-writing the book right now, what would you include that has happened since you did the writing?
Andrew: Microblogging has illuminated some important things that I wish I had been able to talk more about, and you always come across more and better case studies and sharper examples of stuff you are talking about. For example I wrote a blog post about how you recognize if a piece of software is Enterprise 2.0 or not, and I would have loved to include that in the book as well.
Jevon: The new book is sub-titled “New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges”. Is collaboration really the end-game for Enterprise 2.0, or is it a means for something more? What about non-collaborative value adds such as organizational learning, informal sharing, and emergent outcomes?
Andrew: Enterprise 2.0 is absolutely a means to an end. Solving your business problems is what’s important. There are some vexing business problems: Finding who knows what, making sure you aren’t re-inventing the wheel, connecting the dots among pieces of information, harnessing collective intelligence, getting more out of the brains in your enterprise, these are serious business challenges. I don’t think that any executives would brush those away as peripheral or trivial, but my point with the book is that the toolkit available to address those challenges, at a base technology level, is leaps and bounds better than it was just a few years ago, and what we’re seeing leading organizations do is bring those tools in and modify some of the ways that they interact with each other.
If I had it to do over again, I don’t know if I would use the word “collaborative.” To me that implies working with people you already know to a defined end. Enterprise 2.0 is about finding new people to work with, as a preamble to collaboration.
Jevon: You still teach every year. Has it become any easier to communicate what Enterprise 2.0 is to an incoming class, and do you see any increase or decrease in interest in the concepts with each new year?
Andrew: My problem now is that when I first started talking about it, I knew the tools and the phenomena better than they did. If I were to walk into a classroom now and talk about how cool Facebook is, I would get laughed out of the room. The actual stuff that they are using on the ground is stuff that I am probably not familiar with right now.
Jevon: You have said recently that the word “social” is being overused and that it should be tempered, because some executives don’t like it. To me it feels a bit like we are waving the white flag. Shouldn’t we be challenging the status quo?
Andrew: I am not sure that “social” is the right word if we want them to look at things in a new way. Most executives realize that their business is social, so that is not new to them. “Social” to many of them is what you do after work is done, which is why I put up the picture of hippies at woodstock. “Social” isn’t inaccurate, and I don’t dislike the word, but it just brings up too many negative connotations in the minds of decision makers in companies.
Jevon: So what sort of term would demonstrate the newness of what we are doing. “Collaboration” has been around for centuries, but it represents incremental gains, not the radical shift we are hoping to achieve with Enterprise 2.0, so what word would make sense?
Andrew: The word I keep hammering is Emergent. It has a few nice properties. It sounds vaguely sexy, but a lot of people don’t know what it means, so if you can define it and show examples, you will get people to listen you. It doesn’t come with a lot of baggage. I think it captures the difference between the toolkit we have now and the one we had 5 years ago. Email is an incredibly social technology, but it isn’t emergent at all. We can’t harvest patterns and structure out of it, we can’t find new people to work with. The cream doesn’t rise to the top spontaneously over time with technologies like email.
When I was thinking what all these 2.0 technologies had in common, the thing that always struck me is that initially they are all egalitarian, freeform and structureless, but over time, structure appears. “Emergence” is a term that captures that phenomenon.
Jevon: What about taking Enterprise 2.0 and applying it to existing business processes, and delivering leveraged outcomes? Which is different from “emergence”.
Andrew: I don’t think it completely removes all the emergent properties. The Booze Allen guys yesterday talked about jointly authoring a document for a deliverable. What they learned was that someone in another part of the organization had some expertise to contribute, and sort of piled on and helped them deliver. I consider writing a document an old fashioned business process, but because they did it on an Enterprise 2.0 platform, they got the benefits of emergence.
Jevon: In the first few lines of the book you say that “It’s a book about how businesses are using a new set of technologies that appeared over the past few years on the Internet.” Many businesses find that investing in these new technologies means that they need to invest in change management and strategic services as well. How do you see this marketplace maturing in the next few years?
Andrew: I think it is going to be a spontaneous part of the industry. There are a lot of professional services that need to go along with Enterprise 2.0. None of us think that if you turn on a bunch of new tools that everyone in the organization is going to beat a path to them and the organization is going to morph in to something different in a few short months. When I listen to all the evangelists talk, they talk about what hard work it is and how much training and education you have to do. People who are expert at that are going to be an important part of making change happen much more quickly.
The real work with Enterprise 2.0 tools comes after they are deployed.
Jevon: Will this bring scale problems to Enterprise 2.0 deployments?
Andrew: To some extent, sure, but I also think that if we can get positive momentum going, even in a large organization, we will get the phenomena of people looking over a colleagues shoulder saying “that’s pretty cool, how did you do that?” The nice thing about these tools is that you don’t always need to formally bring people in, they often sit there and wait for people to show up.
I do think that experienced professional help with this is going to be a big part of the industry going forward, and that is a good thing, not a bad thing. As big organizations get interested with this, there are going to be calls going out to help answer the questions “how do we do that,” and as we are getting people on board we are going to have to teach them how to use some of these things.
Even though they are much easier to use than other enterprise tools, it isn’t always a no-brainer.