The Age of Spiritual Machines

In the year 2009 . . . “The United States continues to be the world’s dominant military power, which is largely accepted by the rest of the world, as most countries concentrate on economic competition.

Military conflicts between nations are rare, and most conflicts are between nations and smaller bands of terrorists.”

Ray Kurzweil wrote that in 1999, two years before September 11th and at a time when terrorism was not on the world’s radar the way it is today.

I’m not sure what it means, but the nature of so many of our systems is changing so rapidly, I am not sure what to depend on anymore.

Old models of warfare are truly broken, old models of communication are gone, media and music distribution has been gutted and left as a shadow of itself, and now we are seeing the destruction of our corporate model. I am not some poor soul hanging on to an old model, I am at the sharp end and moving forward, but so much of what I depend on is rooted in the old model, I hope it can hold on just long enough.

If a model fails at its large scale, is it worth saving on a smaller scale? If GM fails, is it a commentary on the very nature of how we do business? Most will argue no, because we have to, but the question can’t really be answered can it?

We often see things in the context that suits us best. We look at problems in ways that address our own problems, and we frame accomplishment in the light of our own needs. More than ever though, we need to step back and evaluate the the foundations of this house we put so much faith in. Is the floor rotting out from under us, or is there just a draft we need to cover up?

It is a task of biblical proportions (in the most literal sense) and I wonder if we are up to it. The one thing I am sure of however, is that no matter how many times we paint the siding, it’s still the same damn house.

In uncertain times, Enterprise 2.0 takes the stage

For many people the positioning of Enterprise 2.0 as a cost reduction engine is not new. Complexity reduction, efficiency increases and fast response times have been the cornerstone of many Enterprise Social Software pitches in the last 5 years.

Enterprise software spending has recently crashed. Companies such as SAP, headquartered in Waldorf Germany, have recently issued earnings warnings, which illustrate how dramatically enterprise application spending has dipped in just a few weeks. These organizations can no doubt weather this storm, but with this shift, opportunity is found.

Read the Full post »

Enterprise 2.0 Vendors need to get serious about mobile

Unlike just a few years ago, there are no shortage of Web 2.0 applications for the Enterprise. There are widget frameworks, platforms, realtime collaboration, blogging tools, social networks and more.

There is one major common denominator that I see between the current Enterprise 2.0 offerings, and that is the obsession with the desktop webbrowser as the major source of interaction with the application.

The truth is that the most successful Enterprise 2.0 applications will focus heavily on mobile and will take in to consideration the considerable different use cases related to how different functions use mobile devices.

Read the rest on the FastForwardBlog

SAP using Innocentive to source innovation

SAP is announcing a new relationship with Innocentive today focused on helping SAP get creative about how they can create new products.

SAP is sponsoring a part of the Innocentive site where both SAP and other SAP users such as customers, can post problems. SAP considers this to be an open marketplace for their customers can go to get solutions. The organization posting the problem also posts a bounty of how much they are willing to pay for the solution.

Innocentive has worked with other large organizations like Proctor and Gamble, but they have not worked directly in software before, and this will present an entirely new set of Intellectual Property issues. 

The first bounty SAP has posted? Help them figure out how to use Social Networking in the Enterprise. 

The future of social networking inside SAP may have been foretold best by Mark Yolton, Senior VP of the SAP community network, when he said “We will only be posting problems which are not core to our business”.

Larry beat me to the punch with a post on Between The Lines.

Will LifeStreams replace the dashboard?

Streaming, lifestreams, News Feeds, they have all felt just a little bit revolutionary.

Facebook was one of the first applications that produced such a wide variety of information, both in volume and in terms of relevancy, that their introduction of the News Feed felt like the one thing they needed to make a leap ahead of the competition. I believe the News Feed saved Facebook.

Any time enterprise software needs to deal with large amounts of display data, the typical paradigm that we turn to is the Dashboard. A set of data display and input widgets that, bundled together, can provide a view of a large amount of data.

The problem with dashboards, full of widgets and throbbing with data, are that while they may offer an up-to-the-second view of their target data set, they do not offer a sense of change. Who or what created new data? Why? Can I communicate with them?

We need to experiment with streams and how and when they should replace dashboard components. Last summer we did an experiment with a US Aerospace company and when the dust settled, we had created something that looked a lot like this. We did, however, make some mistakes. We bundled all social interactions together and displayed those in the stream, but we did not integrate information about data set activity. That would be a powerful combination.

Will LifeStreams replace the dashboard? Will Streams just be widgets? Are there current Business Intelligence tools that integrate streaming? I want to know.

Interview with Shel Israel on Enterprise Social Media

Shel just published an interview he did with me about using Social Software inside the enterprise.

For all the shit he has taken lately, I have to say that Shel is a great interviewer who did his homework first and certainly made me feel comfortable and in control through the process. None of the usual stuff where the reporter is just fishing for a particular angle.

Go read it if you dare, it was fun to do some reflecting on the past and thinking about the future again.

Break the Silence: Could silence be threatening even our strongest organizations

This is a repost, for posterity, so I don’t lose it.

Break The Silence, August 2003

The fact is that silence is strangling many organizations today. Employees and management are encouraged to speak out at only the most opportune time, after the appropriate lobbying has been done and they have their ducks in a row. This cultural quirk is often good for everyone as the person bringing the idea forward can avoid the embarrassment of having an idea “shot down” in a meeting or formal setting, and anyone above them on the hierarchy can feel as though they have already contributed to the idea, even if only by having known of it before it was presented.

“Consider what happened to one off-site meeting of top management at a web-based education company. Concerned about the company’s vision, the managers met to share and discuss different perspectives. But one speaker after another just echoed what the previous speaker had said. When any manager did dare to dissent, a colleague would quickly dismiss his idea. Having effectively tabled every discussion in which disagreement surfaced, the management team crowed about the level of “consensus” they had achieved. One by one they celebrated their achievements.” – HBR/May 2003

What is wrong with this picture? Even at an even peer level, members of an organization will keep remarkably silent in order to avoid confrontation. Often we will find one or two dissenters in a meeting, but a large proportion of attendees will keep silent.

Not only do we feel uncomfortable with communication on a peer level, but these problems are even more powerful between two levels of an organizational hierarchy. Consider how easy it is for a boss to send a “be quiet” signal to a subordinate. With minimal body language, a manager may not even realize what he/she is doing – but the signal is quite clear to the receiver, and the reverse is true as well. A boss will often be uncomfortable expressing new, but untested, ideas to a subordinate.

Where does this disconnect come from?
The exchange of ideas in many present day organizations is quite dysfunctional. The mere act of sharing an idea between levels on the hierarchy is akin to a direct command, and sharing ideas on the peer level will often result in complete silence around the table. We develop “spirals of silence” in which we create norms, procedures and ideologies all centered around having a gentlemanly silence.

The disconnect between members of an organization comes from the desire to avoid conflict and to accept, not affect, change only when needed.

What are the costs of organizational silence and disconnect?
The costs are very real. Resentment can grow and false social economies will foster a low status quo. When an organization needs to grow, or shift itself in some direction, it becomes unable to do so in any real way and change comes in very superficial manifestations. We begin to try to solve problems by altering rather than creating, and by keeping some old idea rather than tossing it. We are still able to accomplish things for ourselves as we can thrive on being agreeable within our hierarchies, but organizationally we are stalled and unable to affect change. Is there a solution?

How can we foster cultural change and open new lines of discourse?
An example from a Harvard Business Review article “Is silence killing your company?”


“Harry was a battalion commander, whose unit of more than 500 soldiers had just been miserably defeated in a mock battle . . . At first no one said a word. Then Nick, a very junior scout who was responsible for detecting and alerting the battalion to the enemy’s movements said “No, Sir, it wasn’t your fault. I fell asleep on duty.” Harry was shocked. But rather than focus on Nick’s failure, great as it was, Harry immediately redirected the unit’s attention to uncovering the underlying problem – the exhaustion the men were suffering.”

By avoiding putting the focus of the discussion on the person who spoke up, and concentrating on solving the problem at hand, Harry has rejected the norms of a military (organizational) model of communication. Not only has a meaningful discourse taken place, but the process was open and without that openness, Harry would never have known the true problems behind the failure. Had Nick not spoken up, Harry would have been forced to find the problems in other places and no useful change would take place.

A change in the prevailing culture of an established organization cannot come from the very top-down approach that is being reevaluated. It must come from people, like Harry in our previous story, who will lead by example. Facilitators and early adopters are key to the success of personal publishing in your organization. By bringing key figures into the picture, such as Presidents, Vice Presidents, and prominent people within departments, on board early on, the real need for openness and communication will be understood by the rest of the involved community.

Our new focus must move from the problem to the person. Much like Harry, we must empower people (or allow them to empower themselves) at all levels of our organization. By recognizing the power of discourse, we can encourage all levels within the hierarchy to speak freely. When “Breaking the ice” becomes a cultural norm, a powerful new way of working emerges. No longer are we stuck in a world where we can’t act creatively.

Creating a space where this kind of interaction can take place becomes a high priority. The problem with this type of change is that a Memorandum regarding a corporate cultural change would be the antithesis of itself. We must foster this change carefully, in a safe and comfortable space for everyone.

Why implement and invest in these new ideas?
Organizational communications are at the mercy of corporate culture. The more top-down our methods (newsletters, presidents reports, corporate newspapers) of communicating and directing, the more we formalize (by implication) our less structured interpersonal communications. Even the validity of our consensus building exercises comes in to question when we realize that our corporate culture may be fostering silence within the hierarchy.

Circles of 2.0

Susan and I have been working on articulating how the different worlds of “2.0” fit together, or don’t, from the point of view of the enterprise.

All the credit really goes to Susan on this one.

We aren’t claiming that this is complete, or even correct as it is, but we think we are getting close. There is a lot of confusion out there about what is Enterprise 2.0, what is Social Media Marketing, what is Collaboration and what is just marketing.

I can’t tell you how often people mix a few together in a conversation, and next time I will have a better framework to explain some of the differences.

Why?

The biggest reason to break out the different components of 2.0 for business is that each has a distinct value that it delivers to the business.

When we mix these pieces, we obscure the value that we are seeking, and that makes it harder to measure results, define projects and to sell the idea in to the organization properly.

I will be writing a small series of posts exploring each aspect of the cornucopia over at the FastForwardBlog. Tune in.