The knowledge worker and Enterprise 2.0

Always good to hear Andrew McAfee in action. He's the guy who coined the Enterprise 2.0 moniker a couple of years ago. He's an associate professor at Harvard Business School and, yesterday, he ran a lunchtime presentation and Q&A on "Enterprise 2.0: How Organizations are Exploiting Web 2.0 Technologies and Philosophies." The audience was a mix of students, faculty, journalists, analysts, bloggers, business folk and venture capitalists.

The subject matter was of particular interest to me this week, having already done a press interview, worked with some potential research clients/partners and prepared for a conference, all on a closely-related topic. It struck me as a good idea to listen in. Not least to get a reality check for my own thoughts. The tip-off, by the way, came through Elsua – an online pal who works for IBM – through Twitter, an increasingly popular web 2.0 micro-blogging tool.

The presentation, with minor adjustments, wasn't so different from what he was saying a couple of years ago. In fact, if this stuff is new to you, you will find value in his How to Hit the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye blog post (November 2007). The bullseye in the headline means targeting the organisation but, in the body, it refers to his model of how a knowledge worker inside an organisation sees their connections to others. Because it focuses on people, it is immune to the shifts in technology. New applications can be added to and removed from the model without wrecking the basic insights it provides.


To keep it simple: at the heart are the people with whom we have strong ties – our colleagues, the people we work with, have lunch with and maybe socialise with; The next lots are those people we know – if we saw them in a pub we'd be happy to have a drink with them; beyond that, and this is where it gets interesting, are the people who would make potential colleagues, if only we knew about each other; and, finally, the outer ring contains the world of helpful people out there whose worlds are unlikely to collide with ours.

The strong tie group is unlikely to be the source of novel information or links to potential colleagues. They know each other too well. The weak ties are those most likely to lead us to new ideas and new opportunities. Enterprise 2.0 technologies don't cause these things to happen, but they can act as amplifiers of these natural processes. Wikis might be popular among strongly tied individuals while Twitter or Facebook might be used in both areas. The next ring cannot really be exploited without some Enterprise 2.0 technology, blogging in particular. McAfee talks about "narrating your work". Do this and with the help of regular search, tags or links from other sources it acts as a magnet to others who are interested in what you do.

The ring with no ties represents strangers. While having nothing to do with collaboration, it is a source of collective intelligence. McAfee ran us through some examples of prediction markets to show the usefulness of this ring. It boils down to aggregating the individuals' predictions of a particular outcome – presidential results, company performance, whatever. Closely linked to betting and not social at all. But remarkably accurate.

Sticking to the social part of the bullseye, McAfee said that the biggest fear of managers is that information would leak that shouldn't. He noted that email, photocopiers and USB sticks, among others, already provide plenty of ways to leak information. However social tools do increase the number of people who can see leaks, so the participative benefits of the Enterprise 2.0 world have to be weighed up against the risks of disclosure. Related to this, he mentioned that some companies 'close down' too much. Their use of social tools might be restricted to strong tie groups, foreclosing the possibility that someone else in the organisation might have something valuable to offer.

He claims to have begged organisations for horror stories relating to these technologies and says "the collection is empty". People inside organisations don't use this stuff to do nasty things. This is partly to do with the fact that they cannot participate anonymously and people already know how to behave.

I'm not sure that this is universally true, so next week I'll take a closer look at the risks and the remedies, especially when the outside world becomes part of the equation.

Through our research and insights, we help bridge the gap between technology buyers and sellers.