Information overload in Enterprise 2.0 and waving a hello to LeWeb

between a rock and a hard placeI’m stuck in the midst of conferences and end-of-year-accelerating projects, both adding to the workload (low-quality rock and the hard place picture of Homer ‘course copyrighted by Fox, obviously).

And next week will be filled to the brim with LeWeb. Still I wanted to conclude with me looking back at the e2conf in San Francisco and the E20SUMMIT in Frankfurt (yes, will post my other promised posts now …). One needs to use a blogging opportunity if it’s there, that is before all the interruptions that result from being better connected in this social web world will result in another dropdown of productivity on Monday morning …

This might well be one of the symptoms Kathleen Culver diagnosed at e20conf – that the attention erosion that comes with mutliple, real-time and intertwined activity streams may result in “an inability to perform deep analysis on whatever it is you’re working on”:

Research is suggesting the Enterprise 2.0 technologies might introduce negative impacts productivity, decision quality and job satisfaction, in addition to the positive ones. What do we need to be aware of as we unleash these solutions on employees?


Join me in challenging companies to address these soft challenges of Enterprise 2.0. Challenges that can potentially dilute the benefit of E2.0 and maybe even make employees less productive and happy. Either take a moment to consider these issues when plunging forward with deployments or add your comments to the blog so we can raise the visibility of these challenges.

On the other hand I am a great fan of Clay Shirky’s meme of “filter failure, not information overload” – thus I am constantly on the search for better tools to filter and sort. That said, this constant search may be adding to the overload again

logoYet I am expecting that the directory wave I prepared for LeWeb can help in collecting, systematizing and refining the various real-time content streams. Wave can be a very capable interactive venue, that’s allowing and enabling freeform collaboration, that is accesible and searchable by all, and that can help us master the “Information Candy Superstore” that LeWeb sure is going to be.

I told you already that I’m one of the official bloggers this year, hence you may find my writings, tweets and posts aggregated on many more places, Steph compiled some of the meta places to follow in here:

[…] You can also follow them all on Twitter with the official bloggers list. During the conference, you will be able to find all their posts about LeWeb’09 on a single page, with a single feed (thanks to Superfeedr). Another way to access their publications is through the LeWeb’09 Pearltree — just click on the Official Bloggers branch.

The digital company – freedom to collaborate

I am closing down some of the open tabs, cleaning up draft versions and stuff I always wanted to blog about. Not all drafts stand the test of time, but some do. On the topic of good organization the report Digital company 2013: Freedom to collaborate written by Kim Thomas for the Economist Intelligence Unit stays interesting. Some of the key themes explored by the report are

  • Technology knowledge will permeate the enterprise.
  • Social networks will be common in the workplace, like it or not.
  • Beware information paralysis.
  • Digital tools will democratise access to information.
  • Digital tools provide employees with greater control over the information they can access.
  • IT will also need to loosen the reins.
  • Ceding technology control will be good medicine.

And they note that in order to realise the benefits of improved collaboration business leaders must come to terms with autonomy: “for employees, in how they access information and spend their work time; and for business units, in what technologies they purchase and how they use them. Above all, it will require from executives a great deal of courage—to allow technology to bring customers and other third parties into the company’s operations—and trust in their employees to access and use information freely.”

In Auto industry and Enterprise 2.0 Andrew McAfee speculated what he would do if appointed “Detroit CIO”. While the set of 10 principles he’s applying is good, I am not too convinced that technology, i.e. rolling out emergent social software platforms (ESSPs) to all employees of the company, starting internal CXO blogs etc. would do the trick. The car industry is a heavy user of IT already, adding to the pile of tools won’t help in overcoming resistance. And that’s where the rub is: implementing Enterprise 2.0 concepts must cope with the people, processes and the tools they employ in these processes (I specifically doubt that Six Sigma or Lean Production processes can benefit much from Enterprise 2.0 concepts, these are repeatbale and highly automated processes, i.e. they don’t need no flexibility, adaptivity or emergence). But some other advanced (knowledge work) processes might benefit a lot – hey, collaboration and social software might even help in turning around a basically flawed business model, so Andrew’s thought experiment is very welcome.

Then, IBM Research is looking at adoption, usage patterns, motivations, and overall impact of Social Software in the Workplace (pdf). The paper focuses on the internal usage of social networking (Beehive) and examines the individual goals people have when utilizing these platforms (like interacting with colleagues, career advancement, convincing and informing others about ideas and projects).

Via Stewart I found Gerard Tellis & Ashish Sood‘s article “How to Back the Right Technology” in the Wall Street Journals and MIT Sloan’s Business Insight – dealing with mistakes organizations often make when choosing which technologies to adopt:

  • They fail to distinguish among different levels of technology, with the result that they focus too much on one level and get tripped up by changes in another level.
  • They assume technological performance follows a standard path — from innovation to obsolescence. It often doesn’t.
  • They fail to recognize that technological innovations shape consumers’ tastes, not mere whims.

Good advice included, like e.g. try multiple things at once and don’t bet too heavily on one choice, on picking a winner:

  • […] Technologies, and the competition among them, evolve in more-complex ways than conventional wisdom suggests. To make the right choices, managers need to understand these patterns of evolution.
  • [so that] executives can avoid some common mistakes: missing a market-changing technological breakthrough, embracing a hot technology too eagerly or abandoning another one too quickly, and underestimating the effect of new technologies on consumers’ tastes.

And if you’re in doubt what technologies to evaluate for 2009 EDS’ Charlie Bess gives you something to think about, see his predictions for 2009 (granted, a mixed bag of IT technologies and/or approaches). To me, most important and most interesting is his starting point:

In this [financial et al. crisis] situation, the investments in technology can actually have more impact than at any other time, since your competitors may be in a purely cost cutting mode. In 2009 organizations must maintain a balance between the new/strategic and the immediate return, between operational cost-cutting and operational excellence. Anytime there is this level of conflict, the situation is ripe for innovation

Well, basically looks like a good situation for social software in the enterprise aka Enterprise 2.0 …

Being Free within Organizational Structures

Next reboot-session where I am again actually taking notes is “Being Free within Organizational Structures – A conversation on achieving “free working” in a more traditional environment” by Robert Slagter:

Within the existing structures of a larger organization it is not trivial to be a “free worker”, even when the organization embraces the idea.

– goal: insights in how to cope with “old school” structures

– what does being free mean for knowledge workers (e.g. when, where and with whom and how; choose topics that align with passions; use tools that work best for me; …)

– organizations aren’t keen on providing freedom (yes, I know that one’s obvious) & freedom comes at a price (more responsibility; less structure and predictability; less guidance; …)

– Robert says that some people seem to be quite comfortable within their “iron cages“, well, yes, in fact living in walled gardens feels safe.

– Simple model of barriers that prevent people from venturing into a more free kind of working: 1. Myself & the people around me 2. Work setting, organization, technology

Now Robert asks us for our experiences and tricks to deal with these barriers, some topics discussed:

– problems stem in part from an outdated understanding of work

– we also need a new role understanding of leadership

– while the need for coordination of big tasks doesn’t disappear (and organizations will continue to thrive) a more 21C-way of working may appear alongside – flexible ad-hoc value networks, business ecosystems, companyconglomerates, etc.

– to leverage the full potential of your knowledge workers you better design for emergence and adaptivity, ie. allow for heterarchic configurations

For me it’s a different kind of game, as an independent consultant your work is life and life is work (still, work-life balance is a problem sometimes). In fact the line between work and leisure time is blurring, but out of free will. Still, as a freelancer you’re less bound and restricted by a boss (no, multiple clients don’t mean multiple bosses …) and most of the barriers I experience are self-set-up and well-thought out 😉

Information technology and productivity

In the NYT, this report claiming that computers (can) give big boosts to productivity.

Money spent on computing technology delivers gains in worker productivity that are three to five times those of other investments, according to a study being published today.

Well, the study (pdf) was initiated by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which is in turn supported by companies like IBM and Cisco, so this outcome should come as no surprise.

Anyway, an interesting approach, even when this calls for more profound research, e.g. to differentiate between the different kinds and sources of these productivity gains. And I have no doubt that Peter Drucker’s famous aphorism (and the challenges it poses) are not really met …

“To make knowledge work productive will be the great management task of this century, just as to make manual work productive was the great management task of the last century.”

Peter Drucker, cited again