03
Aug

E2: Go Social or Go Home?

Thoughts on the Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

On June 18-21 I attended the Enterprise 2.0 (E2) conference in Boston.

Was it just another social media Kool-Aid festival?

The good news is that I saw a lot of opportunity space at Enterprise 2.0. Much of it was between the official narratives.

Here are a few observations for those who might have missed our earlier tweets:

1. What struck me most about the conference was the remarkable sense of energy and optimism around the social media phenomenon. Most conferences present limited views into a subject, typically based around the organizers’ and speakers’ perspectives. In this regard, Enterprise 2.0 was no exception. Clearly the Boston conference presented an edited view into the rapidly moving subject of social media and its many implications for enterprises today. For many attending E2, it seemed to be the technological and organizational business revolution of the moment. Similar to previous technology-driven revolutions, there was a lot of “Get it…you prosper”, “Don’t get it…you’re dead” rhetoric floating around.

2. On the question of whether or not the social media revolution has reached a tipping point in terms of its application to enterprises, the vibe at Enterprise 2.0 reflected a resounding “YES!” Like in other heavily promoted revolutions there were abundant pronouncements that it is a done deal and already late in the game. According to the prevailing folklore of the revolution, it is no longer a question of “if” but rather “how.”

3. My favorite speakers at E2 were Michael Wu from Lithium Technologies, who demonstrated one view into real time analytics, and Andrew Carusone from Lowes, who spoke on enabling change in his organization. Both had real insights to offer.

4. For those with more than a one business cycle perspective, numerous shades of the previous eCommerce revolution could be seen at the E2 conference, including early stage presumption/misunderstanding, that what all leaders need to do to make their organizations more collaborative, more innovative, is buy more IT, this time repurposed as social media. It is going to be interesting to see how such re-spun enthusiasms play out in the much more IT savvy marketplace of today. For Cisco, IBM and various consultancies, the packaging of this wave as social media has been heaven sent.

5. The portion of the social media revolution that appeared at E2 was seen to be less about connecting brains to work on world peace, and more about selling more cornflakes and running shoes faster. It was a little like someone asked an MBA student what could business organizations do with social media and the result was the creation of the E2 conference. There seemed to be very little awareness that a parallel “social universe” already exists, that has, for some time, been focused on social innovation, i.e., innovation in a societal context, rather than business organization context: same “social” term but very different meaning. For those who are familiar with both “social universes,” there was a sense at E2 that half the social universe was missing. It seems likely that, in the near future, Enterprise 2.0 will catch up to the realization that there is a lot more going on in other parts of the social media social universe. Other social media for good conferences seem likely.

6. Adopting social media dynamics to creatively increase consumer spending as the next big survival/growth strategy for corporations was the primary focus of E2.  In many cases what that meant was that underneath all the social technology and social analytics talk was the rather unremarkable, some might say, old world order goal of driving more consumerism. There seem to be no seasoned intellectual heavy hitters on stage, interested in or inclined towards pointing this out, or offering alternates to this singular narrative. Drink the “Lets go do this” Kool-Aid or die seemed to be a central vibe of E2. Of course the idea that this massive, emerging capability should be used solely for driving sales, would represent a significant missed opportunity for a new generation of leaders in the new world. The mind bender was that others in the social innovation space have already figured this out. Many alternate narratives and purposes already exist, which were not discussed or shown at the social media focused Enterprise 2. It took awhile to get the brain around that presence and that absence.

7. Overflowing with references to new analytics, there seem to be none regarding the percentage of the social media movement focused on enhancing consumerism, and the percentage focused on the social innovation for good sector. Considering the bigger picture, rather than the one on view at E2, I would guess presently those numbers look something like this: 50% enhancing consumerism, 50% enhancing social innovation for good.

8. Interconnected with the social media revolution is the parallel revolution in so-called Big Data that is being generated by social media. On the question of—what should humans do with such never before seen data? —again the E2 answer is—use it to sell more stuff to each other. Not present was all the great work being done in the realms of data analytics for good, social sensemaking for good, etc. In addition the focus of presenters at E2 talking on the subject of Big Data was on conveying how easy it has become for amateurs to use open software to generate data visualizations. The process of making sense of all the stuff being generated, good and bad, was not even mentioned. The process of understanding when a visualization is junk or effective was not even mentioned at E2 as the speakers themselves seem to have no idea. It does appear that the various communities assembling around Big Data visualization, including the presenters at E2 are in the very, very early stages of realizing that more is required in change making than visualizations.

9. The Enterprise 2.0 community presently seems to be rather unconnected from the design thinking, innovation, sensemaking and changemaking communities from which they could learn a lot. Considering all the possibilities, the aperture of E2 seemed to be rather narrow. Widening the aperture, it is not difficult to see that deep knowledge exists in many communities connected to the underlying themes of the social revolution, including collaboration, design thinking, sensemaking, analytics, integrative thinking, cocreation, innovation capacity building, etc.  Barely a tiny slice was seen of these knowledge domains at E2.

10. If you are looking for nuanced appreciation of how your business organization has changed and progressed in the last few years, you would not have found it at the binary oriented E2. At the core of the Enterprise 2.0 concept is a giant and rather out of the loop assumption that organizations today remain stuck in old 1950s style command and control structures depicted as Enterprise 1.0. If your organization has already progressed beyond command and control, and you have already enabled collaboration, you might find some of the social media assumptions a little perplexing. The logic seen at E2 works best if you have been drinking the E1 Kool-Aid from 1950 up until last week. Of course many organizational leaders have made significant strides in building innovative collaboration cultures long before social media arrived. That kind of picture was never acknowledged or referenced at E2. With the addition of social media to such organizations, does that acceleration make them E3 organizations? The underlying 2 step logic of E2 seemed to vastly oversimplify the organizational change revolution that has been going on for years. Ordering up some McVisualization, some McChange, some McInnovation was a notion that crossed my mind while watching some of the speakers.

11. Of course mobility and gamification were presented as key trends at E2. The former obviously has deep long legs with enormous implications. Mobile first, desktop second was an often-heard refrain. While gamification was presented as a key performance enabling concept it still seems more like a flavor of the month to me. There is no question that gamification has packaged into a technique for marketers or others looking for new services to offer organizational clients. Did you get your teddy bear today? While I can certainly see situations where gamification can be useful being applied internally with employees and or externally with customers, I wondered about its shelf-life. When will customers grow weary of gaming pitches? Smart senior employees are going to line up to be gamed with 50 colors of teddy bear badges? Once gamification dynamics become widely transparent, how long can that infatuation last? It seems probable that the “Beyond Gamification Era” has already begun somewhere. That would be no surprise.

12. Perhaps the biggest underlying theme at Enterprise 2.0, that seemed to be everywhere, was collaboration. For some it seemed to be a new subject..:-) There was a wide range of interpretations on what the term “collaboration” actually means ranging from simply getting connected, to casual conversation, to more deliberate focused problem solving. Is subscribing to a discussion list now collaboration? As in the earlier eCommerce era, there were lots of IT folks on hand at E2 suggesting (again) that collaboration was going to be as easy as plug and play. It never is. Other than plugging into social media technology and monitoring data analytics, few presenters at E2 seemed to have the foggiest idea how to build collaborative capacity in organizational contexts. The prevailing philosophy seemed to be that the technology itself will get the job done as long as managers stay out of the way. What I saw at E2 could best be described as very early stage awareness of how to cultivate collaboration and innovation in the context of organizations. In terms of an opportunity space, there would seem to be no question that the social media era is a ripe opportunity space for those with deep collaboration enabling knowledge.

13. It was interesting to see that behavior was an often-discussed subject at the E2 conference, but often what was meant by the term was technology adoption- not innovation. Evidently innovation behavior, what it is and how to enable it as a core capability within collaboration, is a subject not yet on many E2 radar screens.

14. Time has returned as an important ingredient in this revolution. The ecommerce era siren call that: “organizations have more money than time”, was replaced with the Nike proclamation: “fast is not enough you need faster”. Accelerating data collection and data visualization are quite different from accelerating the sensemaking and the related changemaking. These more action oriented connections seem to be not yet on radar screens at E2. Of course cognitive acceleration in a business context has a long history but none of that made any kind of appearance at E2. It was like acceleration started when social media arrived. After a while such foreshortened one cycle perspectives grow a little weary.

15. Making sense of the Enterprise 2.0 event in general was not helped by a package of way-finding and catalogue navigation materials, which were, shall we say, a tad under designed from a sensemaking perspective. Running what amounted to a vender event in parallel to the conference, using similar signage added considerable confusion. Such details, as not listing the speaker names beside the event names in the conference catalogue made figuring out who was speaking when and where more difficult than it needed to be. These are rather basic human-centered event and experience design considerations, so I was quite surprised to see them executed in such a mediocre way. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being exceptional from a sensemaking perspective, I would give the E2 way-finding system a 1.5 and the conference catalogue a 1.0. Combine those two elements with a vastly over-scaled event facility and the result was a challenging event landscape for participants.

16. Overall, the Enterprise 2.0 provided an interesting window into the business enterprise side of social media, where that part of the community is and is not, as well as where it is likely going. It does not take a rocket designer to see that where it is not (yet) represents rich opportunity space for others.

I might go back to E2 if they significantly widen the conceptual aperture, redesign it at a more strategic level, have less IT focused presenters, connect it to other communities and revolutions already in motion, fix the navigation and find a venue scaled to the event..:-)

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