Andrew McAfee on Enterprise 2.0

Andrew McAfee spoke today at the IDC Directions 11 event in San Jose as the closing keynote.  It is the first time I have seen him speak live, and came away quite impressed.  Below are my notes on his talk titled “The State of an Art.”

Enterprise 2.0 is the bundle of tools and philosophies that can support communities, and how this is making its ways into enterprise.  He has a lot of opportunities to talk to executives and leaders in organizations about the potential.  At some point they stop him saying: “let’s see, we are talking here about something that makes it easy for people to form groups and shoot their mouths off.  OK, we can come up with a list of problem that would occur if this was in place.  Off the top of our heads: badmouthing the company, harassing, hate speech, important information leaping over walls, flame wars, happy hours being planned, etc.  This will be a lot o f problems.  What, however is the benefit?”  Fair questions because the potential harms are concrete and immediate, while the benefits are vague and long term.

What we need is for organizations to have enough confidence that they will be solving problems instead of creating them.  The technology is critically important for solving one of the largest and longest standing challenges that organizations face. Lou Platt nails the description of this problem with this quote: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”  That is essentially it.  Organizations are not doing a good job of letting people harness the knowledge that they collectively have.  Harnessing this will not be a rounding error, it will be a quantum leap.  They will be substantially more responsive, agile, innovative, pleasing to customers, etc.

In the technology community, we are not ignorant of this problem; we have been throwing technologies at this problem for a long time.   Until fairly recently we have not been doing a great job of responding to this problem. He polled the audience about their Intranet.  NOBODY finds their own intranet easier to find information on, than the global unmanaged Internet.  The people trying to make intranets easy to use are failing at this job.  Bad situation and a deep puzzle.

Euan Semple, knowledge manager at BBS noted that managers talked mostly about “I can’t find anything”.  They have a big content management system.  Most of it was static documents stored in “knowledge coffins”.  One problem is that the structure was determined by someone else.  If user does not have the same mental model as the person who organized it, they can’t find anything.  If they do find something, the resulting document was usually terribly out of date.

Had a good example when he was searching  for the landmark sociology article “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter.  MIT has a large library, but the library search capability can’t find it.  He found many other irrelevant articles instead — very frustrating.  But Google, by comparison, does a very good job generally.

What did the 2.0 technologists get right that make it successful?

  • The phrase “It is not about the technology” is helpful but not entirely helpful.  It is too much emphasized.  A big part really is about the technology.
  • The world does not want 50-button remote controls.  We crave simplicity. When he first got the iPod and found that he could not search for a name of an artist he felt it was probably useless.  But actually, in the end it was really working for him.  “Even I thought I needed search, but I didn’t.”  Virtues of simplicity is hard to overstate.
  • Social.  Let people come together, find each other, and communicate.  Facilitate the part of humanity that likes to do this.
  • We crave all kinds of media – stop making a distinction.
  • Frictionless: lower all the barriers to use.  From time you have an idea to the time you can share to the internet.  This lowers the barrier to altruism as well.
  • Chaos of the web is dead: it is now quite organized and people can find things.  If you look at an ant colony you would conclude that it is controlled by the queen, but in fact there is no single mind.   Ants smell things, and all that drives behavior.  The structure appears over time.  You can absolutely call the self organization of the web  “artificial intelligence.”  Average query length is getting smaller but user is expecting (and getting) good results.  Eventually it might get to the point where we type “gimme” and the right results come back.  Scary, but this might actually come about.

What is the business value of Enterprise 2.0?  First, one needs to draw a picture of what the world of work looks like to a worker.  In the middle is a circle of strong ties. Around that a bigger circle of weak ties.  And an even bigger circle of potential ties.   Intuitively we cluster around the strong ties when designing systems to support work.  But the real benefit is larger at the further out layers of weak or potential ties.  That is where the benefits can come from.    Any work team that has to do an innovative task, the best predictor of success is the number of weak ties.  Weak ties can help you bridge structure holes, and get at what you need.

Historically we have had lousy technology at supporting those weak or potential ties. Sometimes he asks people what they used before Facebook?   Usually the answer is nothing.  One good answer:   “Christmas letters.”   We now have astonishing tools for building, supporting, and maintaining networks of weak ties.   We can get help from them.    If you simply narrate your work on a regular basis, and combine that with good search, we suddenly has a powerful tool for knowing who is working on what.

Unfortunately, we are all trained to not broadcast ignorance.  He was trying to make presentation on Twitter and did not know where to find a particular reference.  He tweeted a question, and quickly the appropriate link was returned from people tied weakly or even not at all to him.  For about 90 seconds of work, spread over a couple of hours, found exactly the thing that was needed.  He was narrating that he did not know something.  This can be uncomfortable.   But this will help the Internet know what it knows.  Put it inside the enterprise and it helps the enterprise know what it knows.

Euan Semple: when people put out questions, they usually got help.  We are wired to help,  if able.

9/11 was a wake-up call.  The intelligence community deployed a bunch of web 2.0 tech.  No opt-out capability, everything is discoverable and searchable (if you have the right clearance).  Asked the question: What can you do that you could not do before?  “These tools have immensely improved my ability to interact with people that I would never have met otherwise.  Enterprise 2.0 tools have helped considerably in exposing new information, new projects, and bringing new thought leaders … to the forefront.”   If you read someone’s blog about what someone is doing, you get the idea of what they can potentially do for you.  It is way too early to say if intelligence community has been changed yet.

Tacit knowledge is a big challenge in organizations.  Explicit knowledge is something that you can write down.  Tacit knowledge is often difficult to express in any form.  Cited “Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation” (1994) about  converting tacit to explicit involving dialogue among members.   An example from Intrawest construction company: they turned on employee blogging capability.  Some employee found a new way to do something that was easier and would save $500K at the same time.   There was a comment from someone else asking how to perfect it.  This is a dialog.  It is tacit knowledge transforming into explicit, and at the same time spontaneously communicating savings across the company.  Who would not want that happening in their organization?

Results of using Enterprise 2.0 (from a poll of users)

  • access to knowledge increased 30%
  • access to internal experts increased 35%
  • employee satisfaction increased 35%
  • increasing innovation increased 25%
  • Increasing customer satisfaction increased 25%

These are of course subjective measure of how the people felt, but even if you temper these results they amount to tremendous improvements in efficiency.

Deloitte did a study where they found that as the number of wiki contributions goes up, there is a decrease in the backlog  of work to do.

What is the end result?  The gaps between high performing organizations and low performing organizations is going to bigger.   Expect more disruption.


  • After this economic crisis, don’t expect a return to business as usual. Unbelievably powerful analytic capability and social technology is changing everything.
  • Re-examine how you tackle tough problems, and make important decisions.  “Decision Making By Hippo”  that is, following the lead of the most highly paid person simply because they are in that position, is a very bad idea.  Instead, the intelligence and capability of all the organization members can, and should, be tapped.
  • Put social and technology at the center of the company.  This may be tough because the execs may not be comfortable with it, and want it to go away, but it won’t.
  • Don’t expect transformation over night.
  • “The real work of a leader is to find everyone’s spark of genius in an organization” – Mandela

Questions / Answers

Did you cover emergent qualities? – Emergent is a term that I use to describe that things are not structured in advance, and the structure comes out of the work itself.

What advice do you have for organizations with a large number of different languages? – Most big organization have an official language, and that is not perfect.  The power of machine translation is pretty good.  The automatically translated text may not be perfect language, but you can usually get the meaning that the original author was trying to convey.

What advice would you give to the current CEO of HP? – Like most CEOs he is probably trying to figure out where the tech sector is going.  Advice is to let the employees help with that.  Any small team of people will miss something.  Need to get more brains involved.

What kinds of resistance will incumbents put up against adoption of Enterprise 2.0? – They are legion.  Many flavors of push back.   Have to do with all the risk and threats of downside are all clear, but the benefits are nebulous.  However, you need to believe that if the wrong thing does happen, you have a lot of eyes looking to find and fix the problems.  He did some searching on a blog with all the corporate mission statements.  Most cite people as being a key resource, and talk about empowering them.  If corporation executives believe what is in their mission statement, then they should seriously consider powerful tools designed to do just that.

How to convince people to avoid the “Decision Making By Hippo” problem? – Hippos do not want to drive themselves to extension.  Evidence is mounting up.  There are more and more people who are living in a post-hippo world.  For example John Chambers.  In the long run competition will weed out the others.

Is there any measured evidence that companies who have done well in innovation space, have been using these technologies effectively? – No.  There is no tight correspondence backed up by data.  We know that people feel like they are being more efficient and effective.   But no quantitative study.

6 thoughts on “Andrew McAfee on Enterprise 2.0

  1. Great post, Keith. And yes, how people feel is more important than what you can measure and prove! And most people want to feel empowered, responsible and valuable. That will be good for the business even if it is hard to conclusively measure the benefits. The only problem is that only a small percentage of people will actively contribute. The size of the organization and the culture makes a big difference.

    But I said yesterday to a CIO in a meeting, that IT is the most important department of any modern business and that it is all about empowerment. Yes, things can be done without IT, but why would you want to? I am told the same thing by some of my boating peers. Boating is not only ‘real boating’ if you guess where you are by triangulation. Boating is about fun, getting there and safely back. Using IT to empower people is the same thing. It is about making work safer and more enjoyable and therefore more profitable.

    Thanks, Max

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  4. If feelings are so important, then why aren’t people’s responses to surveys and in interviews about how important social media have become to their everyday work lives taken seriously? Data, data, data … that’s all executives want. But, talking only to executives about social medial is useless: Most executives don’t even use social media, they have their admins post, so of course they are skeptical. In the real world, not executives’ fantasy worlds, there is almost no badmouthing of the company or bad behavior where social media are used internally, especially in companies where anonymity is prohibited. And if you want to avoid fumbling around with social media, don’t implement or adopt unless you have identified the problems you think it can help solve; that’s just smart planning. Technology itself is not and never has been the answer to the question, How do we improve employee productivity and collaboration? It never has been. Useful social media do not just connect people to information, they connect people to people, who then find ways to collaborate.

    • Excuse the repetition of “It never has been.” I got carried away in my anti-“technology for its own sake” mindset.

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