Defrag: The theory behind 2.0 tool adoption in enterprises

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Andrew McAfee started off the day talking about the management theory behind web 2.0 technology adoption in large enterprises. His foundation was the bullseye diagram shown above, where a knowledge worker’s colleagues are divided into concentric circles based on their relationship. Strong ties bind the worker with the people she works with every day, there’s constant communication. She has weak ties with colleagues that she only speaks to occasionally, and then there’s a large pool of potential colleagues who she could benefit from communicating with, but doesn’t, the ‘potentials’. Outside of that is the rest of the company, who there’d be no business reason to talk to.

Using this system, Andrew outlined his thoughts on what 2.0 tools were useful for each tier. For the strong ties, the team you already work closely with, he suggested that wikis were the most useful technology. People are already engaged with each other, and a wiki offered the obvious benefits of productivity and agility in collaboration.

For those you have weak ties with, he offered the less obvious suggestion of social networks. He explained the initial negative reaction most decision-makers have to the idea of a social network in their organization, where they imagine it will just be used to organize friday-night happy hours. In fact, social networks can give people with weak ties to each other the ability to keep in touch with little effort, and discover important information about each other’s activities. This is crucially important because these weak ties are he ones who have access to radically different pools of information than your close team. The have access to non-redundant information, and can act as bridges to other networks. Using social networks, useful information emerges that would otherwise have been hidden.

The least attractive technology to executives is blogging, but this is the most useful one for reaching out to the large sphere of potential colleagues. He described the role of brokers in networks, people who act as bridges between otherwise isolated sub-groups within the organization. I always like to imagine these people as similar to village gossips, and have to admit I sometimes enjoy that role within my team. Once you get these uncommon but prolific people blogging internally, you start to see unexpected connections being made within the organization. The benefits are innovation, serendipity and network bridging, and what you start to see is teams emerging from shared interests.

As a non-tech example, he picked IntraWest, a company that builds resorts. They have an intranet that includes the ability to blog, and one of their employees posted his discovery of how to save $500,000 with a new technique for pouring heated concrete flooring. For a technology company, he pointed to Avenue A/Razorfish, a web design firm that heavily uses internal blogging and RSS feeds.

It seems like their ‘no connection’ people in an organization shouldn’t be useful to a knowledge worker, but Andrew brought up the interesting example of prediction markets. In real-world stock markets, they’re the way that strangers who never talk to each other arrive at accurate valuations. The benefits are that you tap into the collective intelligence of the company, and answers emerge. He discussed how traditional models fail to predict movie opening day takes, but the hollywood stock exchange gave startlingly accurate assessments.

Using this model of ties gives us a whole lot of benefits. You can conceptualize and articulate the value that the technologies bring. It helps decision-makers to choose the tools to match their goals. It can also be useful for drawing borders around which tools should be used in which places, for example whether a wiki is appropriate for a group with weak ties. The model also gives some clues and suggestions for how people can adopt and exploit the tools optimally.

He also warned the audience not to expect all the ties in an organization to be made equal, but to hope for these tools to help build some new ties.

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