Friday, June 24, 2011

Enterprise 2.0 - The Seven Year Itch

2011 marks the seventh year of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, a critical milestone to be sure. The Boston session moved to the Hynes Convention Center and some of the biggest players in technology made their presence felt: Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, & Avaya. There was a common theme around where social enterprise is going and where the focus should be: collaboration feeds the deep human need of being connected and having a voice. And since passionate employees tend to be twice as connected, can the promise of social enterprise’s greater connectivity begin to restore passion in the workplace? And what kind of technologies and leaders do we need to make this happen?
MIT's Andrew McAfee explained in his keynote address that old-fashioned bosses are still the biggest threat to social enterprise advances. To make social enterprise software effective, we need to focus on what computers are bad at: the Eureka! moments. How do we take the flow of information passing through the organization, and develop those differentiating insights that become the future value proposition? The danger, at the end of the day, is not that computers will think like people, but rather, people will start to think like computers and we will lose organizational creativity.
This was certainly echoed later during the Business Leadership Roundtable by Marcia Conner, Fellow, Enterprise Collaboration at Altimeter Group: Enterprise culture has caused us to check our personalities at the door. Those people were just alive just a few moments ago when they were outside the door. What happened? We need to bring our full selves to work! The Dachis Group’s Lee Bryant added during his keynote that social business isn't just about direct collaboration. It's a about dynamic signal & ambient sharing around the enterprise. Organizations must refine the way they interpret data for maximum effect.
Sara Roberts of Roberts Golden pointed out that we can't incentivize employees to horde knowledge and then expect them to share, and the pervasive culture of many organizations has everyone but top management acting as choice-less doers. The reality is that line employees are building mental models for the customer segment, but those insights are often not valued or captured by the organization. And when employees leave the organization, they are taking their best ideas with them if the culture and technology has not been put in place to create an information legacy. A strong case for the value of social CRM.
Successful social enterprise software deployments begin with a simple problem, relevancy and immediacy. Yahoo's Kristen Sanders discussed building "The Source" with Appirio, a replacement for Yahoo’s “stinky, dirty information landfills.” She discussed the importance of both creating a governance model to avoid creating yet more digital landfills, and thoroughly understanding user requirements in order to build a healthy environment. Yahoo’s implementation success was based on two key factors: Salesforce Chatter implementation was straightforward and the initiative was business led and addressed real pain points and use cases. Kristen pointed out that a platform must be agile, mobile and integrated, and the technology must keep up with the conversation and solve globally, something Yahoo was able to achieve with Appirio in implementing Salesforce Chatter.
I spoke on a panel with Sovos Group co-founder Oliver Marks, Moxie’s Megan Murray and Saba’s (and The Career Within You author) Ingrid Stabb on Balancing Business Leadership with Governance, Regulatory and Compliance Realities. Two key takeaways from the session were to engage compliance early and often when implementing collaborative technologies, and that the future of HR is to take a stronger, leading roll in designing the employee experience. And part of that design must include embracing social enterprise software to not only understand what is driving employee behavior, but to direct behaviors in ways that are mutually beneficial to the individual and the organization.
Jive’s Chris Morace reminded us that 70% of enterprise employees are using unsanctioned cloud apps. In fact, evidence shows 35% of employees are spending their own money on social software at work so they can get things done when corporate systems fail to deliver. People want the same tools they have access to outside of work inside of work, and so they will find a way to get them even when it violates policy. This creates a huge compliance headache and ultimately impacts HR’s ability to recruit and retain employees when these tools and behaviors are absent.
EA’s Bert Sandi identified three elements critical to collaboration: head, hearts & hands. He challenged the audience: is your physical environment collaborative? And once you are more than 35ft. apart, you might as well be in a different building, so what does social enterprise collaboration look like in your organization? And so Bert really addressed what is the social enterprise itch... Can we access the tacit knowledge contained in the heads of employees, engage their hearts and make them passionate once again about walking through the door, and can we put in their hands the tools necessary to get the job done and create institutional memory? After seven years the E2.0 Conference is showing us how to scratch that itch.

Dr. Steve Elmore is Business Architect for Collaboration at Appirio and develops organizational blueprints for the launch of collaborative initiatives. Steve serves on the faculties of University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University and sits on the board of the Central Texas SPCA. In addition to a Doctor of Business Administration, Steve holds an MBA in Global Management and a BS in Business Management. Steve has been published in the Journal of Leadership Studies, co-authored with best-selling business writer Don Tapscott, and is a regular conference speaker. You can follow him on Twitter @steveelmore.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It Takes a Village... Idiot

We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal. - Carl Bernstein (b. 1944), U.S. journalist. Guardian (London, June 3, 1992).

In software development the joke goes that it is pointless to spend too much time idiot-proofing a product, as you'll soon just be confronted by a better idiot. Idiocy takes many forms, and finds its origins in everything from a lack of mental capacity to a lack of applying mental capacity. Thinking like an idiot for the non-idiot developer or community manager is an art form, and begs the question, how idiotic should your prevention get?

Foundational norms that address idiocy tend to be old and proactive: we guarantee certain freedoms to prevent some idiot from trampling them. By contrast, new constraints are generally created reactively, and for the simple reason that we cannot possibly imagine all the things idiots might do to hurt themselves and others. Even if we could imagine with the greatest of idiots, there is usually insufficient probability - no one could be that stupid! [enter new idiot, stage left]. 

So, we create new constraints in nearsighted hindsight. And when the actions of village idiots like Richard Reid cause us to change laws and behaviors (taking our shoes off during airport screening), we also create a greenfield for unintended consequences: increasing the level of frustration with air travel security and concern over the increasing intrusion of government and erosion of personal liberties. And this certainly applies to social media. There is nothing more irritating than filling out some impossible to read Captcha just to be able to post a public response because some idiot created a spam robot.

Village Life
Villages need rules constructed on foundations that are timeless and universal (a consequence of prior idiots): self-determination, equality, freedom of thought...

Ecclesiastes 8:8: There is no man that has power over the spirit, to retain it; neither has he power in the day of death.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Words written thousands of years apart, but based on common, enduring precepts.

There are similar, enduring (hopefully) foundations for social media:

  • Participation - harnessing the power of mass collaboration through user participation.
  • Collective - participants gathering around a unifying entity (i.e Facebook).
  • Transparency - participants get to see, use, reuse, augment, validate, critique and rate each other’s contributions.
  • Independence - any participant can contribute completely independent of any other participant, time, place, or technology.
  • Persistence - participant contributions are captured in a persistent state for others to view, share and augment.
  • Emergence - you can’t predict, model, design and control all human collaborative interactions and optimize them as you would a fixed business process.
Without a foundational underpinning for interaction, it is nearly impossible to maintain current norms or address emerging ones. Additionally, there is no way to adequately architect a future state without a deep, historical understanding and appreciation for the current state. 

This is why sometimes it takes an idiot to better know the village.

Village Idiots
We face the fundamental challenge of the village idiot: how do we maintain our foundational underpinnings in the face of new and improved idiots? There are certainly a number of ways designers of social media technology protect the non-idiot from idiots: authentication, access, moderation, organization. Those responsible for managing social media platforms take great pains to moderate their environments, and even communities themselves can be highly effective at self-moderation. But the relative anonymity afforded by social media makes the idiot a moving if not invisible target, and sometimes idiocy within a community is the norm.

Truly, the greatest threat to the village is overreacting to the idiot. This applies to the developers as well as the villagers. This is not to say the idiot simply should be ignored, but a balance must be struck between discouraging unwanted behavior and creating a punishing experience for everyone. Punishing aspects of social media already appear in the onerous steps some platforms add in order for users to participate, such as convoluted registration processes (a reason Google and Facebook Connect have gained so much traction), or rigid, permission-based architectures (read enterprise) that stifle creativity and participation.

Additionally, the villagers themselves can be punishing: heavy handed moderation by community managers, ostracizing users, and overreacting to any content that irritates anyone's thin skin. Community managers must study and understand elements of group psychology (i.e. polarization, social loafing, bystander effect) and negotiation (depersonalize issues, soften entrenched positions, create options, etc.).

Villagers should:

  • Promote a wide spectrum of ideas
  • Depersonalize issues
  • Maintain a friendly tone
  • Use non-punishing language
  • Encourage honest debate
  • Stay on point
  • Never leave mad
So, let the village treat the idiot with grace... lest we become idiots ourselves.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Alter ipse amicus

Alter ipse amicus: A friend is another self

Is that a friend or contact? We must discern between the two, as social media has made the act of friending into a meaningless competition that often deludes people into a false sense of self. A few years ago, a colleague and I conducted an experiment on a now defunct social platform to better understand the role of social influencers (highly connected people) in building a personal network. We found that by using a persona to only friend complete strangers with 500 or more friends, we were able to quickly build a network of over 1000 friends in a matter of weeks. We also studied how some superficial changes in that persona became highly magnetic and dramatically increased the rate of friend requests. After finally destroying the persona, we concluded that we had to clearly define friend and contact, differentiate the two, and create distinct weightings when determining their level of influence in the social graph.

On Christmas Day, 2010, Simone Black posted on her Facebook page that she was taking her own life. None of her 1082 friends did anything to stop it, and some even mocked her. This is not the first time someone used a social platform to broadcast their intent to do harm and there was total inaction by that individual's social network. We do not know enough of Ms. Black or her friends to launch any kind of blanket indictment, but this tragedy speaks to several issues:

People can be incredibly callous to the pain and suffering of others
The current state of humankind leaves much to be desired. There is room for much improvement in our regard for one another, as evident by increasing attacks on the most vulnerable. Ian Birrell of Mail Online writes:
Every day, people with disabilities are attacked in their homes, spat on in the street and taunted in their towns. And every year, this torrent of abuse, bullying and torture ends with more and more names on the list of those who die in terrible circumstances simply because they are disabled.
It is symptomatic of a larger emotional disconnect to our fellow man. But it is not just the clearly disabled who are at risk, it is anyone who demonstrates or perceives that they have any level of weakness or vulnerability. And so people develop a range of defense mechanisms, from preemptive behaviors marked by unusual aggression, to building extensive but shallow social networks that provide a false sense of community or mutual consideration. This movement from fostering meaningful, permanent friendships to casual, temporal friendships is often based on the mistaken sense that they carry the same weight. They generally do not.

There often remains a fundamental emotional disconnect when using technology for asynchronous communication and social interaction
In the 1990's email emerged as the communication medium of choice, but there arose the issue of flame mails: communication that was hostile, inflammatory and generally counterproductive. At the heart of the issue was a new communication medium that had not yet developed its own rules of decorum, and people mistook the ability to write with ease, relative anonymity and immediacy as a parallel for handwritten communication. It became apparent that the thought and deliberation that went into letter writing did not carry over as often to email, and the ease of distribution and redistribution introduced an entirely new and problematic dynamic. Over time best practices emerged to address the issued created by electronic communication. As with the mass adoption of email, we now see the same period of whitewater from the disruptive qualities of new social media technologies and the corresponding lack of best practices.

We are experiencing a rapid increase in technology-driven social engineering, and we should be cautious of what are essentially untested ideas and new behaviors that do not always transcend generations, cultures or even exhibit common sense. As someone behind the development of new collaborative technologies, I constantly ask myself, is this a good idea? Sometimes it is not. And sometimes it is not for me, but it may be for others and so it is built. But the rule of unintended consequences should always be considered, and where technology fails to consider social consequences, we must develop our own methods and best practices for dealing with them, or simply opt out.

There needs to be differentiation between friends and contacts - they are not the same
Recently I unfriended almost 200 people on Facebook. It was not that I didn't like them, but they were not what I could define as friends for a number of reasons:
  • I never have or will meet them in person
  • They friend me and then don't interact with me afterwards
  • They are completely inactive
  • They are strictly a business contact
  • I feel uncomfortable due to their lack of personal familiarity and that they can see into my personal world
  • They have creepy friends
There is a certain irony in the occasional uproar over personal security on Facebook. What most users fail to consider is that the accounts of their friends are the critical point of vulnerability. You can easily hide all of you personal information from the public, but if someone hacks your friends' account you have created a trusted pathway to the very people you were trying to avoid. As a result, I do not keep inactive friends on Facebook.

Aristotle declares, alter ipse amicus: a friend is another self. I must recognize my self in my friend and my friend in me. Genuine friendship is defined not only by a friend who acts for his friend's sake, but is also aware of his friend by knowing him. I think this is why we need to make the distinction between friends and contacts and use the appropriate technologies for each:
 friends - Facebook, contacts - LinkedIn. 
And so there may be this grey area for some that straddle the friend v. contact chasm, and this is where we need to develop new norms and behaviors to distinguish between each in an era of social media that frequently has difficulty in recognizing the difference.

Monday, January 3, 2011

L’arte di non fare niente

L’arte di non fare niente: the art of doing nothing.

I first heard this expression in Eat, Love, Pray, and it really resonated. I am hyper-connected for better or for worse, and multitask with the best of them. The iPhone and iPad, in particular, make it possible to watch TV, respond to emails, follow the news, FB (yes, it is now a verb), and play Angry Birds all at the same time. I can't say that this is actually good for my brain and I wonder how perpetual hyperactivity affects my emotions and response mechanisms.

I noticed towards the end of 2010 that I had become increasingly agitated, and so I used the Holiday break to throttle back my social media interaction, email and other forms of electronic communication. I will admit I raised my Angry Birds score over 16 million, and I watched the most football ever, but much of my time was spent vegging and just enjoying my kids. I was very unproductive, but it was one of the most relaxing breaks I've had and my batteries are certainly recharged.

I think certain cultures lend themselves more easily to l’arte di non fare niente, especially those that originated in warm climates where midday inactivity is necessary to survive or at least remain productive. Like ethnic cultures, organizational cultures develop in response to their environments and create corresponding survival habits. Perhaps its time to examine the habits we are fostering in a Web 2.0 world and ask ourselves if we are spending enough time (if any) disconnecting from electronic communication and social media. It might be prescriptive to sometimes just experience life rather than share every moment of it. And it might be good for your soul.