Archive for December, 2008

Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organizations?

I have been reflecting lately on how Enterprise 2.0’s experimentations could be introduced in a big organization environment. There is a lot of “change management” thinking there for sure: start small, pick quick wins, build a community of supporters,… But it seems that there is also more profound forces involved as well: Enterprise 2.0 represents a real paradigm shift for process oriented organizations.

I hate to use the term “paradigm shift”, because it has been used so many times, and for quite common situations. But in this case, I’m starting to wonder if there is not indeed a very distinctive approach between the two modes that would require organization to adopt very different ways to think about their internal dynamics.

Let me first give a bit more background on what I mean by process oriented. It is obvious that many big organizations, if not all of them, conceive their production of value (be it an actual product or a service) as a succession of tasks performed by different individual in specific roles. In this approach, the actual individual fulfilling a role is quite irrelevant as long as he or she has the capacity to perform the corresponding operations. The greatness of such a design is that it tends to make production fairly predictable. The downside is that you can not use the complete value of every individual in your organization because you ask them first to fulfill roles and you miss everything they can do outside of this specific role. Plus there is also a natural tendency to accumulate slack: if you use 100% of the time of an individual in a particular role, you create a bigger uncertainty than if you ask him to operate at 70%, plus or minus a couple of percents; and thus, you become less predictable.

On the contrary, if you loosely define Enterprise 2.0 as the adoption in a production context of collaboration modes as found on the Web, you end up with a very different picture. The individuals and their abilities are at the center of this picture. People freely decide to which project they will contribute and on which part. The whole dynamic is anything but predictable. It is on the contrary very efficient to perform many projects at the same time but with no coordination of a central authority that would ex ante define which one are really worth pursuing. Projects happen not because they are dimmed important by a couple of executive roles, but because the necessary skills aggregate through the desire of each participant of contributing. You trade predictibility for an incredible speed of implementation.

Now imagine a big organization that has been defining and refining its internal processes for the past decades. That has established its recruitment and dismissal processes to constantly have a sufficient stock of resources to fill the different roles. Imagine that you ask it to conceive itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects. That you promote the notion that you will, through this, greatly augment the output by loosing control on the nature of this output. Did I mention the term “paradigm shift”?

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BarCampBank as an open incubator for breakthroughs

There is a recurring question about BarCampBanks and what you get there beyond meeting great people, exchanging business cards with them and feeling the dopamine running through your veins hearing what they have to say. If that’s not enough for you, I’d say that in my view there is even more: a powerful accelerator of ideas maturation and pre-innovation incubation.

I’ve been doing the pitch on a couple of occasions and I thought it may be good to write this on paper because it may sound counter-intuitive to some: it’s by sharing your ideas that you get a better chance of implementing them.

First point of the pitch is that “an idea has not value in itself”. I don’t want to run into the debate that it often starts, but just bear with me and take for granted that if you do not implement the idea, you’ll never see any value come out of it; and that for the community, it’s better that an idea is implemented by a good executioner than put in practice by a less able orginator who would have supposedly conceived the breakthrough out of the blue.

Second point is that if you try explaining your idea, you just realize that usually everything does not come out so oderly that you thought it was structured in your head. That people have sometimes intelligent counter-points that you did not think off; and that finally it helped you refine your understanding, opened new horizons and all-in-all accelarated your thinking process.

Third point is that thanks to the BarCamp format and its emergent approach to subject selection, you end up speaking with people who have at the same time very similar interests than those you’re just pursuing, and slightly different as well. Confronting your ideas with them help you understanding in what sense what you think is definitely unique, but also at time how complementary it is to the others’ points.

Finally, I point to the image of conceiving discussions at a BarCampBank like a way for everyone to bring their own pieces of the puzzle, of putting them on a table, of trying for a couple of hours to compare and trying to adjust them together. Then letting everyone go back with a still incomplete picture, but certainly slightly larger and more focused than everyone had when entering the room.

So what’s the deal? For me it is because execution is the real test that you should not spend unnecessary energy in producing ideas on your own. It is much better to speed up the process of idea creation by contributing to a common pool, then let the best implementers bring the result to reality.

There is also the question of knowing if this does not entice a free-ridder attitude: just listen to others’ ideas without giving yours. While everyone is perfectly free to adopt this behavior, I’d say that there are probably those that will get the least out of the deal. I have rarely seen people understanding perfectly what the others say without asking questions, plus I also think that you get the best explanations when you really give the context of your question and you let the train of thoughts run full speed.

Then there is the finaly question if this mechanism is equally interesting for big organizations and entrepreneurs, and if one side should not be wary of having the other one stealing their ideas. And here, people often think of entrepreneurs seeing their great ideas stolen by big organizations. My answer to this is first from the macro level on one-side: if an idea has every chance of better be implemented by a big organization, the community should spare the cost of seeing an entrepreneur duplicate capacities to just do what the big organization could provide at once; plus, if this is really the case, it is more than probable that the above entrepreneur will get squashed by the big organization when it realize that he/she has discovered a lucrative market. Then my answer is on the micro-level on the other side: there are ideas that can better be implemented by big organizations, then there are those that cannot – these are innovations called disruptive because they cannot be carried by current organization the way are operating.

So anyone, from a startup or a big organization, should find interest in participating in a BarCampBank if they are attracted by innovation and the creation of new business models in the world of banking and finance. I hope that I made my point in explaining why in my view the more they bring to it, the more they’ll get out of it.