It’s noon, the keynotes have been going on all morning, and I have only just been inspired to blog. I’m not saying that standalone Enterprise 2.0 initiatives have jumped the shark, but there’s only so much rah-rah about enterprise collaboration that I can take before I fall back on three thoughts:
- Collaboration is already going on in enterprises, and always has: all that Enterprise 2.0 does is give us some nicer tools for doing what we’ve already been doing via word of mouth, email, and other methods.
- Collaboration is just not that interesting if it doesn’t directly impact the core business processes.
- The millennials are not going to save us.
People collaborate inside enterprises when they care about what they do. In other words, if you make someone’s job interesting and something that they have passion about, they will naturally collaborate using whatever tools are at hand in order to do it better. Andy McAfee’s keynote included a point about Enterprise 2.0 cargo cults, where organizations believe that deploying some tools will make the magic happen, without understanding all of the underlying things that need to be in place in order to make benefits happen: I strongly believe that you first have to make people care about their work before they will engage in creative collaboration, regardless of the shiny tools that you give them.
That brings me to the second point, that this has to be about the core business, or it’s just not very interesting at the end of the day. It’s not about providing a platform for some fun Facebook-for-the-enterprise; it’s about providing tools that people need in order to do their job better. In the 90’s, I was often involved in projects where people were using Windows for the first time in order to use the systems that we were creating for them. Some companies thought that the best way to train people on Windows was to have them play Solitaire (seriously); I always found it much more effective to train them on Windows using tools that were applicable to their job so that they could make that connection. We risk the same thing today by teaching people about enterprise social software by performing tasks that are, ultimately, meaningless: not only is there no benefit to the enterprise, but people know that what they’re doing is useless beyond a small amount of UI learning. I’m not saying that all non-core enterprise social functionality is useless: building an enterprise social network is important, but it’s ultimately important for purposes that benefit the enterprise, such as connecting people who might collaborate together on projects.
The millennial argument is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit, and I’m tired of hearing it spouted from the stage at conferences. You don’t have to be under 28 to know how to live and breathe social media, or to expect that you should be able to use better-quality consumer tools rather than what a company issues to you, or to find it natural to collaborate online. Many of us who are well north of that age manage it just fine, and I don’t believe that I’m an outlier based on age: I see a large number of under-28’ers who don’t do any of these things, and lots of old fogies like me who do them all the time. It’s more about your attitudes towards contribution and autonomy: I like to give back to the community, I’m an independent thinker, and I work for myself. All of these drive me to contribute widely in social media: here on my business blog (occasionally cross-posted to Intelligent Enterprise and Enterprise Irregulars), my personal blog, on Twitter, on Flickr, on Facebook, on YouTube, on FourSquare… wherever I can either connect with people who I want to be connected with, or where it amuses me to broadcast my thoughts and creations. For those of you who don’t do any of this, wake up! Social networking is your personal brand. You just need to accept that as truth, and take advantage of it. The ones who don’t, and use their age as an excuse for it, just don’t get it, and you shouldn’t be listening to anything that they say about social media.
To wrap it up: enterprise collaboration is good when it has a business purpose, and anyone can do it.