Enterprise 2.0 Schism

November 9, 2009 | | Posted by Greg Lloyd

I have to confess that I've enjoyed watching recent rounds of Enterprise 2.0 discussion and mud wrestling. The fact that so many people enjoy debating definitions, values, doctrinal principals - even the existence of Enterprise 2.0 - makes me think that E2.0 might best be framed as a religious debate. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce a new and exciting element: schism.

I hereby declare myself an Enterprise 2.0 Strict Druckerian. I believe that "2.0" should be considered a modifier of Enterprise rather than an allusion to mere Web 2.0 technology - which is what an Enterprise 2.0 Strict Solutionist would have you believe.

I further declare: No, it is not "all about the people" - which is what an Enterprise 2.0 Strict Proletarian would have you believe. Without the enabling technology of the Web, plus search engines and other affordances based on Sir Tim Berners-Lee's innovation, the Strict Proletarian would find it difficult to fit the inhabitants of McAfee's inner, middle and outer rings into the same room, get them to participate in the same conference call, or exhibit their "emergent" behaviors using typewriters, copy machines, faxes and email. Speed, scale and connection patterns matter and the technology that spans these barriers is neither trivial nor insignificant to the phenomena Strict Proletarians value.

I believe that although both technology and broad bottom-up participation are necessary to achieve the Drukerian vision, neither element alone is sufficient to achieve the noble end of re-engineering how ordinary people work together to achieve the ends of enterprises they choose to affiliate with.

As Peter Drucker said: "The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things." Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices Chapter 28, The Spirit of Performance, p. 361 (1974)

I nominate Peter Drucker and Douglas Engelbart as Patron Saints of Enterprise 2.0 (Strict Druckerian). If you don't know who either of these gentlemen are, I suggest you click their Wikipedia links for two pretty good short biographies.

Peter Drucker constantly advised businesses to give employees direct control over their own work and environment, with teams of "knowledge workers" responsible for work toward goals stated as broad business objectives rather than prescriptive plans. Drucker stated that management could only achieve sustainable profits by treating people as an enterprise's most valued resources, not as costs. In later years he described his role as "social ecologist" rather than management consultant.

"Marketing alone does not make a business enterprise. In a static economy there are no business enterprises. There are not even businesspeople. The middleman of a static society is a broker who receives his compensation in the form of a fee, or a spectator who creates no value.

A business enterprise can exist only in an expanding economy, or at least in one that considers change both natural and acceptable. And business is the specific organ of growth, expansion and change.

The second function of a business is, therefore innovation - the provision of different economic satisfactions. It is not enough for the business to provide just any economic good and services; it must provide better and more economic ones. It is not necessary for a business to grow bigger; but it is necessary that it constantly grow better...

Above all innovation is not invention. It is a term of economics rather than technology. Non technological innovations - social or economic innovations - are at least as important as technological ones.

In the organization of a business enterprise, innovation can no more be considered a separate function than marketing. It is not confined to engineering or research, but extends across all parts of the business, all functions, all activities." Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1974)

At a 1934 Cambridge seminar by John Maynard Keynes, "I suddenly realized that Keynes and all the brilliant economic students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities, while I was interested in the behavior of people." Peter Drucker, The Ecological Vision, p. 75-76, (1993)

"A manager's task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weakness irrelevant--and that applies fully as much to the manager's boss as it applies to the manager's subordinates." Peter Drucker, Managing for the Future: The 1990's and Beyond (1992)

In an equally distinguished career, Douglas Engelbart has been enormously influential in creating and inspiring the creation of technology we use today (far beyond his invention of the mouse), but Doug's goals have always been expressed in terms of improving the abilities of groups to address complex, difficult and important problems:

"By 'augmenting human intellect' we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by 'complex situations' we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers--whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human 'feel for a situation' usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids." Douglas Engelbart Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Introduction, (1962)

On the term "social software", I believe it's fair to blame it on Clay Shirky - who had the misfortune to introduce a term that's perfectly respectable for a sociologist who studies how technology influences group behavior:

“It's software that supports group interaction. I also want to emphasize, although that's a fairly simple definition, how radical that pattern is. The Internet supports lots of communications patterns, principally point-to-point and two-way, one-to-many outbound, and many-to-many two-way.” − Clay Shirky, A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy O’Reilly Conference (April 2003)

If the term "social" must be deprecated, I hope its banishment takes with it all Social X marketing buzzwords, job titles, twitter tags, and the well-earned disco ball reputations of the so-called Social Media gurus.

On "Return on investment" debates, I believe that Taylorist time-and-motion studies would show gains that exceed the modest costs of introducing and using Enterprise 2.0 software. However, for knowledge work where the potential business value is much greater than transactional (e.g. reduced time to handle a purchase order) value studies are difficult to design and far too easy to fudge. Long term experimental studies measuring business improvement are even more difficult:

"A very important surgeon delivered a talk on the large number of successful procedures for vascular reconstruction. At the end of the lecture, a young student at the back of the room timidly asked, 'Do you have any controls?' The great man hit the podium and said, 'Do you mean, "Did I not operate on half the patients?"' ... The hall grew very quiet and the voice at the back of the room very hesitantly replied, 'Yes, that's what I had in mind.' The surgeon's fist really came down as he thundered, 'Of course not, that would have doomed half of them to their death!'...The room was then quiet, and one could scarcely hear the small voice ask, 'Which half?'" - Dr. E. E. Peacock, Jr., University of Arizona College of Medicine; quoted in Medical World News, p. 45 (September 1, 1972) quoted by Edward Tufte in Beautiful Evidence (2006)

I believe the value of Enterprise 2.0 techniques comes from small to mid size groups within an organization who intentionally strive to improve their own ability to get work done, while opening the direct and indirect record of their work to others who then may become better aware of what their enterprise plans to do, is doing or has done - and who knows what.

Finally - having demonstrated the unerring truth of the Strict Druckerian position regarding the nature of Enterprise 2.0, I declare both the Strict Solutionist and Strict Proletarian interpretations to be false, heretical, and anathema. Living in our tolerant and civilized times, I found it difficult to imagine an appropriate way to separate those who obstinately cling to these heretical beliefs, until I ran across this nugget:

Nike does "email archeology" to decompose email thread to expose one part of a specific collaboration. :>) @lehawselive (4:20pm Nov 4, 2009)

So if you don't agree with me, I hope you spend the the rest of your corporate life decomposing email threads from your corporate archive into Google Waves or Traction TeamPage comments where others can benefit from your labor if not from your ideas.

See Enterprise 2.0: What a Crock - Dennis Howlett Aug 26, 2009

Denial is a river full of crocks - Gil Yehuda August 31, 2009

Enterprise 2.0 is a Crock: Discuss - Andrew McAfee Sep 2, 2009

[ And so much more. It's the Web - you could look it up - or follow the fun on Twitter ]

See also How big a deal is Enterprise 2.0? What do you mean by "Big"?
Peter Drucker and Enterprise 2.0 | Drucker Centenary
Doug Engelbart | 85th Birthday Jan 30, 2010
Having versus Using Enterprise 2.0 Software
Reinventing the Web
Tuesday Dec 9, 2008 | Forty years after the Mother of All Demos - Doug Engelbart
Connections - Clay Shirky and Social Software
The Rise of Enterprise 2.0, Andrew McAfee | Video | Enterprise 2.0 Summit 2008 Tokyo

Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter Drucker, Forbes magazine (cover story) May 23, 1983 - This is great!

Afterword: This was far too much fun to write. I hope I haven't needlessly offended anyone, but I'm also happy to defend the essence of the Druckerian position in more serious terms; Enterprise 2.0 is a big tent and I hope it stays that way.

I also value the term Enterprise 2.0 for a reason over and above the Druckerian fantasy. Unlike terms invented to express a desire to sell software to managers (X Management - you do want to manage X don't you?), Enterprise 2.0 expresses a simple, grounded wish:

"I wish the software I used every day at work allowed me to find what I want; discover what I need to know - along with surprises; and connect with people I don't even know to get my job done, learn more, and work in an enjoyable place." or much more narrowly: "Why can I find what I need with Google on the Web, but have to pull teeth to find anything useful when I go to work?"

This is a grounded wish since everyone in business has a direct basis for comparison - what they or their children see, use and enjoy on the public Web every day. This doesn't mean that expectations, behavior, and (uh sociology) of the public Web and the internal/external web of connections used in an enterprise are the same - but they are comparable with respect to desired experience.

To the extent that corporate barriers dash expectations, read Peter Drucker on how to get rid of those barriers or find a better employer.

To the extent that enterprise technology differs with respect to needs for privacy, finding information in a link-deprived environment and sharing access to confidential sources or legacy applications, Enterprise 2.0 offers the opportunity for vendors and community projects to create products that respond to that simple, grounded wish and measure the difference.

I'm not sure where Professor Andrew McAfee sees himself in this ecclesiastical model. I'd be happy to support his claim to any sub-numinous position.

Update Remembering Doug Engelbart, 30 January 1925 - 2 July 2013

Update 6 Jun 2013: In the original version of this post I used Strict Technarian to refer to those who believe there is a purely technical - specifically Web or Internet - solution to every problem. Since then the term solutionist has gained popularity, generally through the acerbic criticism of Evgeny Morozov. I switched the awkward Technarian to Solutionist.

Although I don't agree with all of what Morozov says - or the way he says it - I believe solutionist is a useful term. See James Temple's 3 April 2013 SFChronical.com column Why Silicon Valley needs critics like Morozov