Pursuit of busyness (and customized implementation)

Andrew McAfee on the adoption challenges of enterprise 2.0, when web2.0-style tools are seen as superfluous, must-not-have and an “unproductive thing to do”:

people who use the new tools heavily – who post frequently to an internal blog, edit the corporate wiki a lot, or trade heavily in the internal prediction market — will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs
In environments that value ‘busyness’ enterprise 2.0 enthusiasts can be seen as laggards, goof-offs, and people who don’t have either enough to do or enough initiative to find more real work to do.

This is not surprising, as we all know that this organizational pathology of “you’ve got to be busy” is both widespread and (ironically) utterly unproductive …

Yet, he makes perfectly clear that especially knowledge based organizations can profit from enterprise 2.0 oriented collaboration support, so when introduction is not easy, management guidance and leadership is are even more essential.

Companies that are full of knowledge workers and that have built cultures that value busyness face a potentially sharp dilemma when it comes to E2.0. These companies stand to benefit a great deal if they can build emergent platforms for collaboration, information sharing, and knowledge creation. But they may be in a particularly bad position to build such platforms not because potential contributors are too busy, but because they don’t want to be seen as not busy enough.

And even if the leaders in such companies sincerely want to exploit the new tools and harness the collective intelligence of their people, they might have a tough time convincing the workforce that busyness is no longer the ne plus ultra. Corporate cultures move slowly and with difficulty, and it will take a lot more than a few memos, speeches, and company retreats to convince people that it’s a smart career idea, rather than a poor one, to contribute regularly and earnestly to E2.0 platforms.

Besides, this illustrates that enterprise 2.0 tools and methods must be intertwined and knitted into daily work processes and routines to ease adoption – when they are added-on superficially, one runs into exactly the problems Andrew notes.

Update: Marcel de Ruiter adds his thoughts to the “no time” excuse that threatens to keep participation low, arguing that the benefits of social software for an individual knowledge-worker should be pointed out more. I second that and observed that similar issues have been part of failed past knowledge management efforts, mainly those that focussed on corporate (and down to group) uses, both in the design of knowledge management solutions and in the design of implementation and change projects (“we the company know what is needed”).

So, please, don’t let us make the same mistakes again, start bottom-up (and add top-down support as much as possible). This CEO and CIO support is essential, because strategic issues are touched and need to be sorted out. One example is that it’s mandatory for the acceptance of internal social networking, to facilitate the transfer and exchange of corporate social networks between different employers (you know, this is no longer a world of “IBM now, IBM forever”). While this is all about individual benefit trumping official corporate policy, it’s also deeply logical as value creation processes cross inter-organizational frontiers anyway all the time.

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