Who are the people in your neighborhood – redux

UXDers often rely on personas to build a more complete understanding of the types of users that will interact with the applications they are working on. Writing the stories for those personas used to be hard for me until I started using other stories as inspiration for them.

This is a completely unscientific, highly incomplete and deliberately light-hearted look at some of the personality types you find in communities, online and off. Think about how these and other stories might be used as the basis for your persona development.

This was a 5-minute lightning talk for Webstock Mini and updated to a 10-minute talk for UX Australia 2009.

Culture change for Government 2.0

The text and slides below are for my session at Public Sphere #2 – Government 2.0: Policy and Practice which is being held at Parliament House tomorrow. The talk is just 10 minutes long, so I don’t go into any real depth – but it is a nice, quick overview.

For something organised quickly and on the enthusiasm of volunteers and the power of whuffie, it’s going to be quite the event! Make sure you watch the twitter stream for #publicsphere, the live blog and the video stream (all details at the link above).

UPDATE: Video now available.

In our modern democracy, the ability for members of society to participate in some way is a fundamental and accepted right. Indeed, we use the term participatory democracy to describe one in which constituents are empowered to engage in the political decision-making process.

There has until recent times, been a burden of activity and wherewithal required that has meant only those with a singular desire to engage with the process of democracy – either at the legislative or executive level – have truly been empowered to do so. Whether that has meant by lobbying, protest or civil unrest, letter-writing or even the burdensome process of being elected to some form of legislature, it has been a task that took real effort.

How things have changed.

In the 21st Century the old, largely broadcast model has been broken. The ability for people, anywhere, to participate has shifted thanks to a medium, the Internet, that is ever more ubiquitous, more social, and relatively cheap. We really are all a part of a huge melting pot posessed of the capability to participate. One-to-one and one-to-many communications are no longer the optimum modalities. We are now the inhabitants of a many-to-many world.

In recent times, as we have seen in the near-instant distribution of news in China after the Sichuan earthquake and in the coordination of political action in Moldova, Egypt and most recently, Iran, the capability for production and participation has been bolstered by the easy availability of networks where each participant is both broadcaster and receiver. A desire to participate, an increase in real or sought-after freedoms, relative ease and low cost of connectedness and the ever-accelerating power of tools that connect people online now means that there is a massive supply-side surplus to the ability of people everywhere to engage actively and meaningfully in the political process.

The power of networks is such that for every new node – each new person – the power of the network increases exponentially. We are hyperconnected and there is no going back. In fact, we are leaping ahead at pace.

It is more than time for our social institutions – for government – to join in. They are no longer the broadcasters, apart from the conversation. They, and we, are of the conversation.

But there is a problem.

Governments are largely used to mostly talking at the constituency rather than with the constituency. It’s not their fault. It’s simply the way things have always been.

So why is it a problem?

It’s a problem because in today’s hyperconnected world, a legislature and an executive that isn’t engaged in a close, many-way conversation with the public it serves is no longer fit for purpose. Both risk rapidly increasing irrelevance if they fail to adapt to the new world; one in which the public can, will and has done for itself where bureaucracies are too slow to respond to emergent needs and changes in opinion. In a hyperconnected world, to invoke Gilmore’s Law is easy – the connected community will route around the damage and do what needs to be done without the help of government.

There are attendees here today whose organisations are living, breathing examples of this very action – OpenAustralia, the Centre for Policy Development, TweetMP. We’re all empowered to do more than we could be in the past by our communities and our connectedness.

Today’s event is called The Public Sphere. The term, coined by German philosopher and sociologist, Jürgen Habermas, defines a place, physical or virtual, where open discussion of issues prevalent in society can take place and political action to remedy those issues can be formed. A strong, civil public sphere is a fundamental underpinning for a functional and successful liberal democracy.

Members of governments here, in the UK, in New Zealand and most particularly and publicly in the US, say many of the right things about participatory government underpinned by a connected and engaged society. This is a much needed first move. But it is only the first. It is far from the end game.

In a society as connected as Australia, where according to recent research from Forrester, 3/4 of Australian adults online use social tools, 1/4 create their own content, around half are members of social networks, government needs to be present in online communities, listening and responding and sometimes talking. A public service that is disconnected from the public it serves through the government of the day is no public service at all. Rather, it is a bureaucracy. Impenetrable. Byzantine. Inscrutable.

The legislature and the public service need to take action to participate online in a more sophisticated way than previously. This will require a fundamental shift in views on openness, risk, conversation, community, collaboration. A shift in the who, the what and the where. This will be a difficult task. But it is one that we must do soon if Australia is to be truly the clever country we have claimed to be for so long. There are well-evidenced benefits to innovation and creativity from collaboration of all kinds.

It is a misquotation to use it here, Churchill will no doubt spin in his grave, but it seems apt. A public service not engaged in active, ongoing conversation with the public “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.”

That key is a change in culture.

Australia is arguably a few steps off the pace with respect to the public sector being comfortable, and often, even prepared to engage with the community in a conversation aimed at collaborating on making our democracy better.

In this case, one of two things happen, and occasionally both. First, the public sector risks being inadequately informed of the needs and wants of the public and risks giving bad advice to government resulting in bad policy, programs and legislation. And second, the public may grow increasingly frustrated with the public sector, and through it, the government, for not heeding their mood.

I doubt anyone here today considers either of those outcomes desirable.

The right moves are being made at high level. But too slowly and not publicly enough.

The APSC has had a document in draft, Circular 2008/8, since December last year that lays out a largely workable set of guidelines for online engagement of public servants. But why is it still a draft seven months on? The APS Commissioner who is speaking here later today, recently gave a speech to the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy that laid a framework for a much richer engagement with the public that squarely places the citizen at the center of government. And the most recent State of the Service Report makes specific mention of the need for government and the public to engage more closely.

When I speak with public servants as I often do, too few of them at any level, are aware of these documents, the policies they embody, and the strong push for this new openness and engagement. In conversation, I hear many arguments against open engagement between government and the public. Too hard. No skills. Management resistance. Not allowed. It’s not the way we do things.

We need to take action to remove whatever it is that causes these blocks.

There are many public servants at all levels of government who stand ready, willing and able to engage directly with the public if only you will let them. They are knowledgeable and capable and proud of their work. They will help you govern and help you develop and deliver better government by being deeply connected into the communities they serve. By being a trusted, real and human part of those communities. If only you will let them.

We need to actively encourage change within our parliaments and our public sector that removes the resistance to this engagement. It is far easier to point out the size of the chasm than to start building a bridge over it.

As politicians and public servants we should be ensuring our colleagues and our staff at all levels are empowered to participate and provided with the skills they need to engage with the public openly and on an as-needed basis within their spheres of expertise.

And we need to do it urgently. Urgency does not imply haste, it simply implies rapidity.

And this culture change is urgent. Of this have no doubt.

As a former public servant, as someone who works with the public service today and as a member of the public, I, and others like me, believe this is a matter of national importance and that we must act soon and decisively.

And, as people who understand how both the public sector and the online world work, we want to help.

Together, we must reboot the model for engagement between government and the public to make it more open, more human, more frequent, more of a regular conversation focused on listening. And we must empower public servants at all levels and not just official communicators to be those that engage.

If we make that change, our governments and our public sector can be more relevant to the people; enacting policy and programs and delivering services that really matter and working hand-in-hand with an engaged, informed public participating in government.

Not only Yes We Can, but Yes We Must.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I’m in Wellington, New Zealand to give a keynote at GOVIS 2009. I’m really looking forward to it, as I think I’ll hit some notes that will resonate with the audience. Of course, one of the best parts of coming to conferences is the opportunity to socialise with interesting people and meet a few of the folks you only know online.

My friend Jason Ryan suggested we go along to the Webstock 3rd Birthday Party. Who was I to say no? Opportunity as discussed, right?

Mike from Webstock flicked me an email after I registered and asked if I could do one of the 5-minute lightning talks on the night. Perhaps foolishly, I agreed.

I decided to talk about communities, and the types of people in them. I struggled with this for a few days and then, on the flight over, it came to me… Sesame Street!

“WTF?” I hear you say. Well, have a look below. A completely unscientific, highly incomplete look at some of the personality types you find in communities, online  and off. It wouldn’t be hard to add many more.

It’s designed to do nothing more than give you a slightly different take on a subject that’s been discussed many time, and hopefully make you smile as you read.

Pretty much everything I know about community I learned from watching Sesame Street as a kid. Here’s why.

Sesame Street has something for everyone. And everyone has a place.

So, too, on our communities – online and off – there are a number of stereotypes that get filled. All of them add some value. All of them have a role.

First, we have our community leaders – Luis, Maria, Susan, Gordon and Bob. They guide and lead the old and new members of the community through the conversations they have and the activities they do. They’ve usually been there for a while. They know how things work. They’re the person you turn to when you’re having a problem and need some advice. They teach us the rules and show us the way.

Then, we have our regulars. They come in a bunch of flavors.

The helpful, but occasionally misguided Big Bird. He seems to love everyone and everything about his community. He doesn’t always get it all right, but he means incredibly well. Don’t disrespect him. You make him sad, and he can get depressed. If you treat him well, he’ll be your friend forever and he’ll make your experience in the community a rewarding one.

The overly involved types like Cookie Monster. They use CAPS LOCK A LOT. And they occasionally go off on rants. They always come back though. And nobody really dislikes them, even if they’re a touch strange.

The long-term, but still a little out there Grover. They’re in every community. They’re the enthusiasts. They do tend to ramble sometimes, or get wrapped up in off-topic subjects. But they’re harmless. And they have a good heart.

There’s the welcoming, but kind of freaky Count. He’s a one-topic guy. But his knowledge is deep. He’s the guy you turn to when you need specialist information.

And we have Bert and Ernie. They always appear at the same time. They obviously have deep affection for each other, but they nitpick like an old married couple. Avoid their arguments. Join in with them when they’re helpful. They add massive value.

We have the community curmudgeon, Oscar the Grouch. Voted most likely to use the phrase, “get off my lawn”, he’ll give the newbies a hard time unless someone’s around to watch their back. Deep down, though, Oscar sometimes has a heart of gold. You just need to find it.

Last, but not least, we have our newbies. People like Elmo. Naive, open minded, not sure how things work. We need the Luis’ of the world and his friends to show the way to our Elmo-like friends. Without guidance and a welcoming hand, our newbies end up confused, lost and disillusioned. You don’t want that, because the newbies, guided well, introduce new ideas and fresh personality to our communities.

So, who are the people in your neighborhood?

Rethink. Reimagine.

I gave the opening keynote yesterday at Michael Specht’s HR Futures conference. Michael asked me to speak on the recent trip I made to the US to attend TED and reflect of the experience, what I learned there and it’s applicability to business and HR. I was only too happy to help Michael out. He’s a friend, a great guy and I was interested in the subject matter.

While I’ve given a closing keynote before, I’ve never opened a conference. I felt more than a little challenged and worked really hard on the presentation. A Slideshare embed doesn’t do it justice.

Unlike previous talks I’ve done, I didn’t tightly script this one. Instead I used thematic notes. I had many themes I wanted to touch on, an activity I wanted to do with the audience, and the ability to riff off their reaction to what I was saying. I think this arguably worked better than previous talks I’ve done.

So, the “transcript” below doesn’t really reflect exactly what I said, more the themes I talked about.

In the world of business, we’re facing some major dilemmas. Openness, engagement, trust, motivation – these are big issues. Today is about these things. Today, during every talk, I want you to do something you don’t always do – in work or in life. I want you to be present. To the speakers. To the subject matter being discussed. To each other.

So, it’s time to…

Think and then rethink. Imagine and then reimagine.

From the TED web site:

“TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.
The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

Let’s take a look at a video showing what TED is all about. You can’t have these 4 minutes back, but you won’t regret it either.

The apparently unreasonable expectation you build in your mind about the power and buzz at TED actually isn’t close. It’s incredibly empowering to spend four days immersed in people that believe all things are possible, that “no” is not an option, that all problems are fixable. And the attendees are diverse – scientists, politicians, artists, actors, marketers, environmentalists, philanthropists, techies and yes, HR practitioners.

These people are switched on to something important, and what it is is a belief in their own power and the power they have as a group to effect change.

They are also notable for one other thing – they are present. To each other, the topic and something else (but we’ll get to that shortly).

Now, let’s look at three of what I consider the most important talks at TED this year…

First, Juan Enriquez on The Ultimate Reboot. How is a life scientist relevant to business, you ask? It’s about this.

We live in a time of massive, rapid, nearly unmanageable change. Politics. War. Markets. Climate. How do we cope? We change too. We reboot. Everything – law, policy, business, family, government. Everything. But how do we cope?

Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, offers hope.

(At this point, I did the Happy Birthday to You exercise we did at TED. Lucky it was nearly Miriam‘s birthday. Smiles all around.)

What is this all about? What does it teach us? What it teaches us is about choice. In all situations in life, says Benjamin Zander, we essentially have three choices. The first is anger. It’s not constructive. It’s immensely destructive. As is the second option, resignation. There is in fact, only one positive choice we can make, and it’s this…

Possibility. In all things, to be successful, we must see the possibility. We must ask, “what can I do to make the situation better?” To improve the world. Help someone. Achieve a result.

Anger and resignation seem to rule much of the world of business. The carrot option is far too rare – reward, achievement, recognition, outcome. The default is stick – penalty, put-down, layoffs. Or possibly worse – the curse of business as usual, where we just step along, never seekeing to be better, or change what we do. They are the wrong choices in almost every case.

Barry Schwartz delivered one of the final talks of TED 2009. It was my favorite talk of the entire conference. He also proposed a reboot. A reboot of business.

We’ve all heard that common sense is not so common. And so it is with business. We operate in an environment where bureaucracy rules. Largely for the sake of bureaucracy and to perpetuate control in the hands of irrelevant feifdoms – of petty controlling fools who control for the sake of their own fragile egos.

Barry Schwartz says we need to reboot all our businesses to operate with a new morality. One where bureaucracy no longer reigns. Where a kinder, practical wisdom guides us to the right decision, not the decision the policies say we should make. Practical wisdom, as defined by Aristotle, is:

“The capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life.”

What is policy but a guiding framework? There are always exceptions to rules. With our newfound practical wisdom, we do the right thing before we do what the policy says.

We must change the rules of the way we do business. Pacific Brands showed this week they do not understand this. A $150M loss and 1850 jobs and lives flushed down the toilet. It’s not just the global financial crisis. Something has been rotten for a long time for those number to come into play. Where was the practical wisdom?

So what does this mean for you? For your business? You probably need a reboot as well.

Engagement is key. You. Your people. The work your company does. Engaged and making decisions tempered by practical wisdom. And here’s why.

So what attributes do we need in our businesses to make this a reality?

We need leadership. Impassioned, visionary leadership. Leadership that takes us on a journey with them to a place the entire organisation can share. It’s much more then the ducks in a row management (somethimes that’s badly done, too) that many mistake for leadership. I want a Gary Vaynerchuk or a Sir Richard Branson far more than I want a Jack Welch.

We must empower our people to make decisions, to take actions and to resolve issues without having to negotiate a maze of pointless rules. We must trust them to behave like adults and not treat them like children. Treating people like children – blocking actions, imposing needless rules – encourages them to behave like children.

We must make work deeply meaningful. Both in terms of it’s larger meaning in the world as well as on the micro scale of the job. Context in and context out. In isolation, nothing works properly. The pre-9/11 intelligence community and the discoveries since are a prime example of decontextualised busy work leading nowhere (or, indeed, to disaster).

We have undergone a fundamental economic shift from making to knowing. We need creative ideas to continue to improve. We need to look at ourselves and our employees in terms of the value they are yet to create, not the value they have already created (and has been paid for). We need to reach the edges and explore our organisations for undiscovered ideas and insight.

We must remove “dumbplexity” from business. Most meetings and even projects have no defined resolution or action – except to have another meeting. This is not wise. Nor purposeful or useful. Change it.

The greatest hurdle to progressive business today are siloed organisations and kingdom keepers. Get rid of them. And you will if you shift your business. Change your DNA. Make openness a feature. Allow connection to take place. Inside and outside.

We are trained to fear failure and don’t experiment at work. But what if the next idea was the best one ever. The aprocyphal story goes that the successful version of the incandescent light globe was Edison’s 1000th attempt. In business, we must be like Edison and fail gloriously many times.

Never, ever forget that people are your greatest asset. Pacific Brands did. As have every other organisation working only for the mighty dollar and laying off large numbers during current times. So what do we do?…

We must do everything in our power to empower and encourage the conversation. Without it, we lose our humanity. With conversation, we can come together in small numbers and collaborate. We work together for a better outcome today. A better project tomorrow. A better company next month. A better world.

Once we collaborate, we can learn to live in that world and have community. People working together. Playing together. Wanting to be together. Motivated, engaged, loyal. It’s always about people.

Without people, the community that is our workplaces fail and we have no companies. Without our people, we can’t serve our clients or stakeholders. Without our people. Our community. We fail. At everything.

I want you to take everything I’ve spoken about today and return to work with it in your minds. Nothing is unfixable. We don’t always need to retrench, we need to operate morally. Anything is possible if we care about it enough.

What I want you to do in every situation is imagine then reimagine. Think and then rethink.

Connect.ed – The story of a girl

My closing keynote from eLearning08, the primary event on the NSW Australian Flexible Learning Framework calendar.

I want today to tell you a story. Like many stories, our hero is a young girl. She will face challenges and adversity. But she will also achieve great things. She might even find herself a humorous sidekick.

So who is this girl? And what is her journey? She is girl on the verge of the journey into adulthood. A journey that will take her through high school and perhaps to university or vocational training of some sort.

That girl is my daughter, Hannah. She is 11 years old. She is about to finish 5th Grade. In 2010, Hannah will enter high school. It will be the six years she spends there that are perhaps the most important years of her time in formal education, for they will establish the foundation of the skills she will need to carry into further education, into the world of work and beyond into her career and any additional education she might choose to undertake.

As Hannah’s parent, as a business person with more than 20 years of work experience, and as a potential employer, I am only too aware of a number of issues surrounding her education and the working world she will ultimately join that concern me greatly.

Not least of those issues is how the education system and governments in Australia – Federal and State – are dealing, or indeed not dealing, with the increasing need for students of today to have an education that is connected. An education that focuses on the tectonic shift in the nature of society transformed by the emergence of the World Wide Web. An education that understands that the global economy and work were transformed fundamentally in the late 20th Century from an economy of making things to an economy of knowing things. An economy of conversation, collaboration and community.

Society is now connected in a way that changes the game. The village is truly global and even in the Third World hyperconnectedness is making waves. More than this, the classroom and the material taught there is losing relevance as students everywhere, from primary through to post-graduate and vocational education take control of their own learning experiences, collaborating with each other and in social networks that foster creativity, innovation, big thinking and independence of viewpoint.

Educators and education policymakers risk increased marginalisation and further irrelevance if they fail to move quickly. To adapt and adopt to a world that is streaking away from them as the connected – from primary school students to Indian Ocean fishermen – follow the links and learn from each other in a true global village that empowers and permits them to be as productive and innovative as they can and forgives or even ignores the notion of being wrong in favor of the idea of failing fast, cheap and often.

At Kansas State University, Professor Michael Wesch runs a digital ethnography program that explores the changes being wrought upon our culture by the Internet. Let’s take a look at something he and his students made about a year ago.

The quote from Marshall McLuhan at the start of the video is particularly relevant. Let’s look at it.

“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th Century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects and schedules.”
Marshall McLuhan, 1967

1967… That’s the year before I was born. So what’s going wrong and what’s happening now?

When Hannah went into class this morning, the environment she entered was fundamentally little different to that which my grandfather experienced in his first day of school in Wellington, nearly 100 years ago. Or that of my father in Devonport 60 years ago. Or mine, in 1974. Chairs, desks, silence, the tools that keep you connected turned off or at best scarce, the teacher in front of the class.

It was then and is now a largely disjointed, form-and-function driven environment where at best, only the very finest teaching draws a few of the virtually countless contextual threads together. It’s an environment designed to produce compliant, 19th Century factory workers. Workers who were a part of a model where one held the same job for life, where creative and lateral thinking were discouraged and where you were expected to simply do and follow orders.

But the world doesn’t work that way any more.

Today, Hannah’s learning environment is the entire world. Arguably it’s larger than that. More specifically, it’s this – Hannah’s learning environment is the hyperconnected world she finds herself a part of on a constant basis. She’s connected continually to experiences and groups from which she learns and contextualizes. Most of those are not mediated in a classroom environment, and many of them are amongst her peers. This will become more so as her ability to socialise and collaborate with her peers increases in complexity and becomes more refined.

As a group they, and others like them, are entirely collaborative, conversational and community focused. She’s connected into these learning experiences on a constant basis through mobile phones, her iPod, the tools she uses like wikis, blogs, online bookmarking and social networks, and any one of the several ‘Net-connected devices she encounters during the course of her day. Often, those experiences are massively parallel – IM and text, while reading or editing something online and listening to something else or conversing with the group in the room. Hannah and her peers are a part of an environment beyond the classroom that empowers them and puts them in control. That allows them to follow the white rabbit down the hole of connectedness until their curiosity is sated. This form of learning is also multi-directional. Hannah teaches as much as she learns. The network responds to her as much as she to it. They are, as Don Tapscott puts it, “the ‘Net Generation”.

Arguably, her learning experiences in the classroom are becoming progressively more irrelevant as the learning experiences she undertakes beyond the class – deliberately or coincidentally – more directly prepare her and equip her with the skills she will need to successfully tackle the 21st Century. She is more connected to, and more contextually so, to what digital ethnographer Kevin Kelly termed “The One” than any generation before her. In generations to come, this will be seen as natural. Right now, it presents an enormous challenge to many educators and education policymakers in the political arena as they struggle to keep up with those wacky kids.

It is a challenge for which they seem ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Consequently, we are seeing significant resistance amongst some educators and politicians to the paradigm shift that must take place in order to build the education system we need. Just this week, we saw further evidence from government and educators of the chasm of misunderstanding of the new paradigm for learning.

With new funding approved, the NSW Government is only too happy to give a laptop to every child in years 7 to 12, taking advantage of the Federal Government’s laughably misnamed Education Revolution. But what is NSW Education Minister Verity Firth crowing about? She’s crowing about the fact that these machines will, in effect, be crippled by preventing the students who have them from connecting to their peers and social groups – where they do the vast majority of their learning. She took singular delight in noting:

“We don’t want these kids to be using these computers for the not-so-wholesome things that can be on the net. And they won’t be able to because essentially the whole server is coming through the Department of Education.”

How wrong Ms Firth is. And how deliciously ill-informed.

Of course, this will fail. The blocking systems will be subject to Gilmore’s Law within days, if not hours. The kids will figure out a way to route around the damage so that they remain connected. And what about when they are in cafés, or at home, or public institutions beyond school walls?

And people like me? We’ll encourage and help the kids break the security. Why? Because it’s when we are connected to each other that we are at our best as a species. When we are engaged in a conversation with our communities, our collaborators, that we are able to most actively seed fertile minds. To reach into the hidden spaces and draw forth the intangible and form it like clay into ideas, and innovations, and the next big thing.

Let’s look to our young hero, Hannah, again for a moment. Hannah began using the Internet at two years of age. She has had her own email address, unchecked by me or her mother, since she was eight. She has administrator level access to the network at home and unfiltered connection to the Internet. And she knows how to use that access.

Contrary to the rantings of Stephen Conroy, of the views of moral stormtroopers like Clive Hamilton, former Executive Director of The Australia Institute, or of Minister Firth, Hannah has never encountered any of this “not-so-wholesome” content on the Internet. She has never downloaded a virus, encountered an unwanted person, viewed porn inadvertently or deliberately. Yet she uses the Internet every day, so by the estimation of some, she should be repeatedly traumatised by inappropriate material, be stalked by a veritable crowd of unsuitable individuals and be someone who is incapable of coherent thought, of spelling or stringing a sentence together and of engaging with others in face-to-face situations.

Of course, this is demonstrably not the case. Hannah is an engaging young person, able to hold her own in conversation with adults and her peers alike. She speaks, spells and writes and does math above her grade level. She enjoys socialising – online and off. Her ability to do most of these things has less to do with her classroom (although many of the fundamentals were taught there) and more to do with her natural affinity, like many people of her generation, to engage with each other in a more human, more village-centric style of conversation, collaboration and community.

Of course, this engagement is mediated via a different tool set than it was before the Industrial Revolution, when humans last really engaged this way. Back then, it was the mead hall or the village green. Now, it’s a much larger place – the Internet.

It’s my view that, generally speaking, the education system is falling a long way behind in terms of providing learners of any age with the type of education they need. I’d like to look specifically at a number of the issues I believe need resolution.

Connected and unfiltered.

From the time the World Wide Web became a public reality rather than a cool toy of the military research establishment, education has become progressively more connected. Yes, our schools are largely online, but the interpretation of online used in education is pretty much a joke.

When our kids walk into the class, what do we do? We tell them to disconnect! We make them turn off their mobile phones and give them limited access to a network that is so tightly filtered it verges on censorship. We force them into a structure that no longer reflects the way society operates. This approach fails to use the way students today learn to enhance the learning process. Rather, it disconnects and decontextualizes the experience.

We take away that which defines our students and the way they live – their hyperconnectedness. Legitimate resources are blocked because they contain words referring to genitalia, or are blocked because they fail to pass someone’s appropriateness filter. What if I want to study the ethnography of White Supremacists? What if I need to research sexual health issues?

Educators often seem to find themselves behind the 8-ball. It appears that there is a serious lack of the right sort of teacher training in using online resources. I don’t believe this is deliberate; more a matter of knowledge, time and understanding. But it is an issue of note.

It’s often the case that the kids are ahead of the teachers in their skill level at finding and exploiting online resources. This was driven home to me this year when it was made apparent at parent-teacher interviews by Hannah’s teacher that she was far and away amongst the most online- and tech-savvy students in the school. None of those skills were learned in class.

Use of online resources is limited by computer availability. Students are afforded time online or even just on a computer in a strictly limited way. In the worst of cases, there are too few computers in a school for there to be several in every class. This execrable situation is arguably the stuff that should be solved by the Federal Government’s Education Revolution. Only, with approaches like those of Stephen Conroy and Verity Firth, it doesn’t look too revolutionary to me. It’s barely evolutionary.

Putting this into perspective for Hannah, she and her peers are being denied frequent enough access to what may be the most revolutionary, most paradigm-shifting cultural change in human history – hyperconnectedness. Without adequate access to online information and connectedness between individuals and groups, they risk emerging into the workforce lacking core skills in discovering and consuming knowledge, in collaboration and in wide-ranging critical thinking.


In a world where knowledge is the stuff of most jobs – including jobs like artist, farmer, fisherman and coal miner – the ability to rapidly contextualize and draw wide-ranging conclusions about information is critical. We need to see the big picture

We must be willing to be and accept others like Alice – insatiably curious followers of the white rabbit down the hole. For it is down the rabbit hole where the bigger picture that will really build our understanding of problems lies. It is there, amongst the talking flowers, the Cheshire Cat and all the madness of the Tea Party and the Queen that the exploratory learners will see the bigger picture and draw in the diverse threads that let them discover the next big idea.

Knowledge workers in today’s world need to be fuzzy and T-shaped. That is, having a core of strong, deep skills, but having a wide ranging and insatiable thirst for more information, wider-ranging skills and more context and meaning for what they do. These skills, fundamental to the new economy of the 21st Century, aren’t being taught enough. Granted, the question of how to make a fuzzy person is a tricky one to solve, but immersive, contextual, connected education is a starting point for making it happen.

I want Hannah to be as fuzzy and T-shaped as she can be. I want her to be able to look at a problem and see the 10 other problems that define it. To try things just so she can get what a problem or person is all about. For her to be able to gather the threads together in a storm of fuzzy, apparently illogical thinking to solve problems in an innovative and creative way, unfettered by thinking either inside or outside of any theoretical box. In fact, she should throw the box away entirely as Step 1!


The classroom, tutorial or lecture theatre is still largely run on an Industrial Age model where learners are taught to behave like factory automatons. The classroom environment makes them ready for a job on the production line, or in a faceless cube farm. It’s anti-creative and busywork focused and not at all designed to equip our children for a world where bursty thinking, creative knowledge work is ever-increasingly the norm. Take a look at Sir Ken Robinson’s talk from TED 2006 if you’re not convinced.

A parallel issue with classroom engagement is that of kids who are unsuited for one reason or another to structured, classroom learning.

My friend, Harriet’s son is gifted. Not dramatically different from other kids, he is able to attend a normal school, has friends, engages with people quite normally most of the time. Yet, in a blog post she wrote responding to an early version of the thoughts in this talk, she describes a child nearly destroyed by an education system that fails to engage him or engage with him:

“The… imagination which creates such complex images, stories, songs and machines is becoming a problem. If you can’t fill in worksheets then you can’t be intelligent. As a result, the small sparkly boy  escapes to more interesting places in his imagination.

He is officially becoming a ‘problem’.”

“…parents “INFORMED” that sparkly boy is eligible for gifted education – but there’s a small problem… disorganisation. It is apparently impossible to be intelligent without being super organized, being able to multi-task, track multiple subject areas, and reference officially.”

“By learning to build bridges he is able to use his intelligence and skills to connect people.  The world is once again an intriguing and fascinating place. He has confidence in his ability to make a difference.  He feels his own place in the world and works collaboratively on issues which he feels are important to his world and himself… His adventures and his risks are real, exciting and relate to the future he is constructing for himself.”

But it’s not just our kids, it’s us too. I began and abandoned Masters’ studies this year because the classes failed to engage me adequately. By being connected and engaged beyond the formal frame of the course, I already had more information of more relevance and more currency, direct from world-recognised subject experts, available to me than that which was being presented in class. And when I attempted to introduce the leading thinkers and their work to the class, I was met with stunned silence or an “I don’t quite get it” response.

I’m not the only one. I know several people for whom the formal education process, either at school or in tertiary study, simply wasn’t viable. They were or are too curious, too well-read, “unstructured in their thinking”, unable to complete written tests, disorganised in a classroom situation. Too fuzzy. At least one of those people is now a an internationally known academic in his field.

To quote another of my colleagues, Nathanael, who is one of the smartest web development minds I know:

“I did Year 8 to 11. [I was] home-schooled for the first seven years. [I was] mostly self-taught; microbiology, quantum mechanics, [and lots more]. My four years at school and college made me dumber, stunted my creative growth and blunted my potential.”

So once more to Hannah. What does engaging mean for her? I can’t think of the number of afternoon’s I’ve asked, “Tell me about school today,” only to be answered with, “Normal,” or a low-detail description of a few activities. Yet, there are also times when I get a detailed, blow-by-blow description of everything! That should be the norm. Education needs to be exciting and relevant to each and every student. In the collaborative, hyperconnected world, everything is relevant, because everything encountered and learned from is a deliberate choice.

Dynamic, diverse and passionate.

Literacy and numeracy are unarguably critical components in a well-rounded education. But it’s not enough for several reasons. The target shouldn’t be functional literacy and numeracy, it should be deep, contextualised expertise.

As well, the notion of creative and arts subjects as lesser to literacy and numeracy is madness. In all schools, the aim should be to produce graduating students that are not only appropriately educated in many subjects, but to do so in such a way as the students are invigorated and excited by the things they are taught. And taught in such a way that during and after school, they remain insatiably curious about their worlds and what their place in it could mean.

We need more Leonardos, more Isaac Newtons, more Jared Diamonds. We need to graduate more people like polymath, Ben Dunlap, President of Wofford College in the US. Ben is a man so passionate about the diversity of the experiences he has had and learned from that you can’t help but be inspired by him. His talk at TED 2007 is truly incredible and something that all educators should watch.

It’s no longer enough to graduate people from education at any level who just get through. The world today, even in business-as-usual, needs more passionate, driven, widely experienced, contextualized life-long learners to drive the agenda – politically, socially and creatively.

Hannah’s interests are diverse. Like many 11 year old girls, she’s a fan of the Veronicas, loves cats and dresses like her friends. But she’s also an emerging explorer. I see in her a growing curiosity about the world. And I actively encourage her to follow the white rabbit wherever it may lead her.

Collaborative on as many levels as possible.

The notion of truly collaborative learning – between students, between teachers and students, between classrooms, between different schools, between different countries – began to emerge when I was at school. We had the concepts, we had the ideas, but the technology was a massive hurdle. Now, the technology has caught up and exceeded those ideas. A massively collaborative, constantly hyperconnected education is a practical and technical reality.

So why isn’t education like this completely pervasive? Why are we still mostly stuck in the classroom? Why is the entire experience not a multifaceted, collaborative, global village of contextualised learning within individual institutions and across any grouping that might be worthwhile? I think it is the very concept of education as an institutionalised practice that holds us back.

It’s things like online gaming that is teaching us leadership and team building skills. It’s editing pages on Wikipedia that help us to learn to reach consensus. It’s the always-on network of text messages, email, social networks that is helping us to build a village where everyone is our immediate neighbor. The power to collaborate easily with anyone and to make it a viable and valuable cultural and learning experience is here. Now.

For Hannah, this world just is. For the rest of us, it’s sink or swim. Too many of us, too comfortable with a world where hyperconnectedness didn’t exist seem to be choosing the sink option, or we are trying to ignore a problem we hope will go away. It’s too late. Society is connected and changed already. It’s time to join in.

My final thought is that education needs to be targeted at producing graduates equipped for 21st Century society.

In Australia and many other places, there is a massive skills shortage across many industries. It’s arguable our schools, from primary school to universities, are not adequately considering the needs of society in preparing graduates for work and worthwhile, functional participation. Issues such as the shift to knowledge work in much of business, the need for creativity and innovation, the apparent schisms between worker generations are all issues I feel are at times inadequately dealt with.

As a potential employer and more importantly as a human, I am less interested in whether someone has formal training in a particular field than if they are engaged and engaging, a big thinker, excited about their world, insatiably curious and prepared to jump in and try something new. It is far better to fail and learn from the experience than to not try and play it safe.

In today’s world, willingness to take a risk in the name of learning and broadening experience is a key factor in building a successful life and business. Too many rest on their past success and hope that this will maintain them. Meantime, the hyperconnected continue to pull ever more rapidly away as our lives become an experience in constant, connected learning and personal and cultural growth.

I want Hannah to take risks. To learn and grow from them whether those risks were successful or not. She will never be told “no” by me if she wants to try something and has a well-reasoned argument for doing it (provided it’s not illegal or a risk to her health).

My view is that there is just one critical question we should be asking our educators and the politicians responsible for education policy and programs:

“What are you actually doing – now, tomorrow, next year – that will ensure our children are equipped with the best connected tools, inspired and engaged by the diversity of their education, taught by the best possible teachers and equipped with all the right skills to enter society as a valuable, contributing, collaborative member?”

For Hannah’s sake, for the future of the type of education I believe she needs to thrive, I’m not interested in policy exploration, white papers, committees and the like. I’m interested in positive, measurable action.


Enterprise 2.0 – A new Age of Aquarius?

It’s two weeks after the event, but here are my slides and notes from my presentation at Edge of the Web. Apologies for the delay.

To those for whom some of this looks familiar, it shares an amount of common content with my recent paper at the BTELL EA conference. The audiences were very different, so the common content wasn’t an issue. I actually think this version is a little clearer and more succinct (for a very loose definition of succinct).

The world of business is experiencing a groundswell of near tectonic change. Products must be better and more competitively priced, faster to market and available to a wider customer base than ever before. All of this in a world that haas seen a shift in financial markets away from the boom of the early 21st Century to a position far more like that of business nearly a generation ago – a world of uncertainty and potentially dire economic times.

Today, economic Darwinism is becoming a reality. Only the strong, the adaptable and the quick will survive. That survival will depend on your business and its relationships with employees, stakeholders, clients and customers being strong, human, open and real.

Customers, stakeholders, consumers, clients and particularly our employees expect, quite rightly, to have a hand in the way your organisation operates. We need to be aware of that, and of the growing power of each of those groups as consumer activism and personal branding become significant considerations in our interactions with them.

The consumer base is no longer passive. They’ve read The Cluetrain Manifesto and expect to have a conversation with you. Your push messages no longer hold sway in their minds. You do not control the message or the medium. The life and reputation of your business if very much in your customers hands. And they want a voice.

Quite rightly, they expect your products to be the embodiment of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

Your up and coming managers and your smartest employees have voraciously consumed the words of Fish!, of Wikinomics, of Made to Stick and of The Starfish and the Spider. They expect their workplaces to be engaging, innovative, open to input and new ideas and to give them appropriate autonomy to get the job done in a way that suits them. Which isn’t necessarily 40 hours a week in a cube farm.

The need for revolutionary innovation and collaboration throughout our organisations and effective management of knowledge workers is a driving force for change. As is the need to attract, engage in meaningful work and retain over time a skilled (and skilled in the right things) workforce.

Taylor’s 19th Century model, designed for Industrial Revolution factories – where the employee is a simple and uninformed cog in the machine – is dead. Efficiency is not gained through presence at a desk. Indeed, efficiency is hardly the right focus. Rather, effectiveness ought to be your goal.

Is your business designed for effectiveness? Are your people able to work whhen and how suits them, keeping them engaged in exciting, meaningful work and connected and collaborating with like minds right to the edges of your business?

We are at a tipping point. One where we have just two choices; business as usual and the accompanying inevitable crash, or a reboot.

That reboot will change our businesses dramatically.

That change will bring about organisations where empowerment, sharing, open communication and a preparedness to fail openly, fast, cheaply and often are the core for a model of success. These businesses will be a more human place that envisages workplaces, both formal and informal, as exciting, collaborative, engaging places to be. Old world businesses, where walls, gates, silos and unnecessary control are already dead. They just don’t realise it yet.

But what will bring about this change? What’s doing it already?

What we’re talking about is a set of cultural, organisational, leadership and technological changes that are usually termed Enterprise 2.0. Comfortable, or at the very least more capable of managing technological change, rather than understanding and empowering people, many businesses are coming at this problem from the technology angle. It’s the wrong place to start.

Enterprise 2.0, or enterprise social computing, is more about enabling your business to be swift and adaptable, to have open, empowering communication and collaboration and to be innovative in dealing with product and service offerings. These are very human problems. The most successful businesses were already doing this stuff. It’s only now the technology has caught up to the need that we’re seeing the ability for business to change in a revolutionary way.

We keep hearing that these practices and tools are social in nature. About a more human-centric way of doing things. About a return to the village and networks where wisdom, expertise and knowledge count for more than some box on the org chart.

There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about what Enterprise 2.0 actually means. So let’s clarify some of that meaning.

First, adoption of Enterprise 2.0 culture, processes and tools in your organisation is no panacea for the problems you may be facing. And it won’t bring about an epiphany in your business tomorrow. This path is fraught with risk. There is a potentially huge amount of organisational change to be led and managed.

That change will inevitably touch almost every part of your business – HR, Marketing, Sales, Comms, Finance, Production, IT and the C-suites on the top floor. You need a thorough strategy and implementation plan in place. Adopting Enterprise 2.0 approaches in your organisation is something that affects management and people strategy, technology strategy and almost everything else you do.

That said, while you should be careful in your Enterprise 2.0 adventure, it’s no cause for panic. The sky is very definitely not falling. This will not bring about unfettered leaks of corporate data through the firewall, nor will it mean people sit around all day wasting time grooming their Facebook profiles.

Those not ready for this change – the micromanagers, those for whom heads-down-backside-up work is the only way, the fat cats and tenured managers comfortable in their corner offices – they  will have you believe that it’s the end of civilisation itself. Dogs and cats living together in harmony stuff.


Yes, adopting Enterprise 2.0 tools and techniques will bring about some major changes – culturally, organisationally and technically. But well thought out strategy and equally careful implementation will make it entirely doable.

We’ve all heard of Web 2.0. Some of us even think we know how to define it.

Let’s look at what is considered one one of the most definitive explanations of Web 2.0 – the one laid out by publisher and analyst Tim O’Reilly way back in October 2005 in his article What Is Web 2.0?

Tim’s first assertion is that for Web 2.0 applications, the Web is the platform. What this means is that we’re no longer in client-server land.

But it’s more powerful that that. By using the Web as the deployment platform, as the carrier for the signals the applications generate, you can, as Tim O’Reilly says, “Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.”

This is an incredibly big assertion, and it carries an equally big, and perhaps more powerful effect. By using the Web as delivery platform – whether the World Wide Web, or just the internal web provided by your corporate network, you expose opportunities and information to a far richer ecosystem; one where users are self-organising and self empowering, one where your ideas, and the ideas of others, and the knowledge you collectively generate are available to the very edges of the network.

Indeed this approach is something we’re seeing more and more.

Let’s look briefly at the web-based ecosystem for acidlabs

I use applications on the Web every day for a multitude of things – my email is hosted on Google Apps, as is my calendar. I host photos with Flickr. I manage my travel with TripAdvisor, TripIt and Dopplr all working together harmoniously. I do project management with BaseCamp. I’m permanently connected to my accounts – and my accountant through Saasu and track my time use with 88 Miles. I keep all my conference presentations at Slideshare. I host videos of my conference talks on my own YouTube channel. I keep up with events on Upcoming and Facebook. I don’t bother keeping a CV or Rolodex anymore – LinkedIn, Soocial and HighRise do a much better job of both those tasks than I ever did. And to keep in touch with my network – professional and personal – I use Facebook, Twitter Friendfeed and Brightkite.

Few of these tools even existed five years ago. And none of them in their present form.

What’s more, most of them are free or cheap. Looking at these tools, I spend a total of less than $1200 a year on all of them.

The second of Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 factors is the notion of the harnessing of collective intelligence. Indeed, it’s a core premise of Web 2.0 applications that there is an exponential increase in the value of both the network of contributor-users and the information in the network as new information and users are added.

As O’Reilly puts it, “Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era.”

The third of O’Reilly’s factors is data as the DNA of the application. Without good data, no application, Web 2.0 or otherwise, is of much value. Garbage in definitely equals garbage out. But quality data in is a very different beast indeed when leveraged well by the network of users.

Flexibility of data, too, is a core aspect of this competency. Data needs to be freed for consumption via APIs so that it can be mashed up and repurposed by other applications and the multitude of end users. As O’Reilly says, “Database management is a core competency of Web 2.0 companies… [but often] allow users to take control of how data is displayed on their computer.”

Monolithic projects with two-year lifecycles are dead. The groundswell emerges, matures and evolves so quickly that an agile (not necessarily in the development methodology sense) and innovative approach to understanding the marketplace and the needs of business is a prerequisite to building and developing applications in a 2.0 world.

Applications need to be launched with core functionality quickly and evolved and matured just as quickly. All the time taking into consideration the needs of the user base as a key factor.

Failure to consider users and their explicit needs is guarantee of failure and is a frequently identified key factor in those IT projects that in Australia and around the world, fail as much as 70 per cent of the time. How many bad implementations of grand scale enterprise applications have you seen? I’ve seen plenty.

My friend and Bostonian, Michael Krigsman of Asuret runs a well-read blog at tech web site ZDNet dedicated to exposure and analysis of such failures.

To quote O’Reilly once more, “Operations must become a core competency… Users must be treated as co-developers.”

O’Reilly touches again on the models for Web 2.0 success, big-bang projects are once again having the death knell sounded upon them. He says, “Support lightweight programming models that allow for loosely coupled systems… Think syndication, not coordination… Design for “hackability” and remixability.”

Business practices, release cycles, programming approaches, platform choices all must undergo significant change in order to achieve success. An approach that abandons slow, management-heavy practices needs to be substituted with more lightweight approaches that allow for flexibility, frequent change and release, breadth and depth of stakeholder input and light-touch management where development and business teams are allowed to get on with the job.

The notion of a single choice of platform, or even a single browser for web application delivery was always a bad idea. Today, it’s suicide.

In Africa and Asia, and increasingly in the West, mobile devices are the go-to platform for consumption of applications. Failing to account for multi-platform, multi-device, multi-browser delivery of your application is at best, unwise, at worst, a guarantee of failure.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that your application could be consumed by an iPhone user, or on a Blackberry, an Eee PC, a TiVo, a PlayStation 3, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, or even machine-to-machine using RSS or some other form of syndication.

Equally, those same platforms could be providing data back to your applications. Are you ready for that? You should be.

Another quote, then, from Tim O’Reilly, “What applications become possible when our phones and our cars are not consuming data but reporting it? Real time traffic monitoring, flash mobs, and citizen journalism are only a few of the early warning signs of the capabilities of the new platform.”

Tim O’Reilly’s final factor for Web 2.0 applications is one of aesthetics and good user experience. I can’t think of the number of times I’ve been forced to use an awful interface or workflow because the user experience and actual user needs weren’t a core consideration of the development process.

No wonder your projects fail when they are deployed and nobody uses them because they are, frankly, unusable. Did you actually ask the users what they wanted or needed? Did you actually articulate their problems and solve them in the application? Or did you bypass that because “the users will do what they’re told” or you ran out of time to hire a decent information architect and usability expert.

Sorry, but the days of passive users that will accept the crap shovelled at them in the name of enterprise applications is over. The sooner that’s realised in many organisations, the better.

Tim’s last quote on the matter; “Companies that succeed will create applications that learn from their users, using an architecture of participation to build a commanding advantage not just in the software interface, but in the richness of the shared data.”
What all of these applications do is focus on people over process. They bring people together in a community. They empower them to communicate and collaborate in new and engaging ways.

There are a multitude of measurable benefits to working this way – a higher inclination to innovation, higher engagement and motivation of the people involved, increased ability to capture data and apply meaning to it as knowledge, greater discoverability of expertise and information. There are already several case studies showing these benefits and others.

Alongside the increased human way of working, O’Reilly talks a great deal about network effects. So what’s he on about?

A network effect describes the increase in value in a system the more users join in on it. As every new user joins, there’s an exponential increase in the value of the network for both the new user and the existing user base.

There are good mathematical and observational models to prove this. Perhaps the most important is David P Reed’s 2001 observation in Harvard Business Review on the increase in utility, particularly in social networks, when the number of two, three and larger groups are extrapolated out of a larger network.

“The value of a group-forming network increases exponentially… its implications are profound.”
David P Reed

Reed argues convincingly that eventually the network effect of potential group membership can dominate the overall economics of the system, regardless of the smallness of the network. This has big implications for the implementation of social technologies in business where knowledge networks are core to successful operation.

Web 2.0 is not Enterprise 2.0, but they are siblings. It’s a little like one being artistic, creative and a bit of a hippie, and the other being meticulous, orderly and kind of nerdy (but in a good way).

Arguably, the first mention of Enterprise 2.0 as a coherent set of tools and technologies was by Harvard Business School’s, Professor Andrew McAfee in the Spring 2006 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review; one of the world’s leading management best practice publications.

Andrew, who I had the pleasure of meeting in June this year, is a world-recognised expert on management best practice and the enterprise use of social technologies to boost innovation, implement leadership best practice and build new-world collaborative businesses.

Since the Sloan article, Andrew has continued to set the standard for analysis and thought leadership in enterprise social tool analysis.

So, what is Enterprise 2.0? What are the tools, processes, cultural factors and practices that make up this potentially revolutionary change for business in the 21st Century? How are the tools used? Where? By whom?

And what results might we see?

Put simply, Enterprise 2.0 implementations use the tools of Web 2.0 in a business-appropriate context Wikis, blogs, social networks, and other Web 2.0 applications are used inside the wall, amongst employees, to enable low-barrier collaboration across the enterprise.

A number of research projects, including most recently the McKinsey Global Survey, Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise, published in July 2008, have found an increasing use of both tools and the type of tools, the willingness to adopt across all parts of business, the range of activities being undertaken using the tools and the range of beneficial effects on business, management and leadership practices the tools are facilitating.

Enterprise 2.0, like its sibling Web 2.0, brings a more human focus to collaboration and knowledge management. The open, barrier-reducing leadership practices required for success are also strongly centered on people rather than traditional command-and-control management.

The McKinsey Global Survey also identifies a number of business and cultural changes of benefit that Enterprise 2.0 programs can bring including customer and supplier communications, recruitment, engagement and retention strategy and practice, the introduction of new roles focussed on supporting, enabling and evangelising programs and flattening of organisational hierarchies to the end of improving intra-organisational communications and collaboration.

Visibility to activity across business – effectively, removal of siloed activity – is a key factor in Enterprise 2.0 implementations. Resulting in increased discoverability of both expertise and information, visible, in-context activity streams for individuals and projects have a measurable effect on improving corporate and individual communications, increasing employee engagement and breaking down departmental walls.

With all of this activity going on, realising real benefits takes only a short time.

Several research projects as well as real-world successes have found Enterprise 2.0 projects can boost an organisation’s ability to collect and retain information. And, in particular, to contextualise that information into knowledge and to facilitate the gathering of knowledge that had previously remained tacit, stuck in people’s heads until just the right questions were asked.

Training is a virtual non-issue. Most people can become comfortably adept at using these tools with less than a hour of training. There’s actually an ongoing case study in Canada with 5th Graders. They are taught to use a wiki, as a tool for a group project involving writing, video, audio and other multimedia in less than 30 minutes of training. Are you and your staff smarter than a 5th Grader?

The human-centric approach to using Enterprise 2.0 tools allows patterns of work and processes to be emergent, introducing efficiencies that aren’t otherwise realised in a workplace where “the way we do things” is predefined and laid down.

One of the greatest impediments to productivity, innovation and program success in organisations of all types is lack of visibility to activity by the entire business. Whether it’s the result of a deliberate culture of secrecy and siloing to protect some theoretical patch, or simply a lack of communication through inaction or undeveloped skills and activity makes no difference.

The implementation of Enterprise 2.0 programs, adopting both the cultural and technical components, brings forth an opportunity to radically rethink notions of openness and visibility for work. The accompanying spread to the edges effect of openness also gives activity the opportunity to receive input from otherwise uninvolved parts of the organisation.

With open exposure of activity in programs and projects, the likelihood of duplicated effort – a huge source of wasted dollars in many businesses – is reduced. In fact, projects approaching similar problems are given the opportunity to collaborate and join far more easily.

With all of this exposure, input, innovation and reduction of waste, the opportunity to see real ROI on Enterprise 2.0 projects can be realised. It’s not immediate, but it is measurable over useful timelines.

Also, this pattern of working and the tools allow people to be more productive generally, as they work in a more natural style and, when done right, are able to be more engaged in their work. There is a significant and growing pool of research and case study evidence pointing to productivity gains through well-implemented Enterprise 2.0 programs.

Andrew McAfee’s original article came up with the mnemonic SLATES. Let’s take a quick look at each of the components.

Here’s a quick quote from Andrew’s article. Just something to chew on.

“These [tools] are part of a platform that’s readable by anyone in the company, and they’re persistent. They make an episode of knowledge work widely and permanently visible.”
Andrew McAfee

The first core component of Enterprise 2.0 is Search. Enterprise search is a frequent bugbear in many organisations. No doubt many of you will have heard cries of, “I can’t find anything on the intranet.” Good Enterprise 2.0 tools facilitate discoverability of information.

Linking – we all know the hyperlink is the heart of the World Wide Web. The same goes for your internal tools. Everything should link together so that related projects, tools, topics, people, business units or whatever are discoverable in the context of everyday activity.

Authorship -identifying the source of a piece of information or knowledge is key. How else do you know who and where to turn to when you need the next piece of the puzzle? No more anonymous white papers. Authorship also grants ownership for the creation of material to individuals, providing self-actualising factors that aid in their establishing themselves as organisation resources on their subject matter.

Tags – many of us have probably seen tools like del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia and StumbleUpon in the outside world. They allow end users to apply their own meaning to information, over and above the more considered corporate taxonomies we work with.Tagging has been found, in at least one study, to offer in excess of 70 per cent greater discoverability for information. Imagine people in your organisation finding things easily because they were tagged with words and phrases meaningful to them and the other people they work with.

Extensions – we’re talking here about the ability of smart systems and smart users to surface up the long tail of content through features such as reputation systems and “other material like this” or “people like you” algorithms.
Extension of the threads out to other sources increases the likelihood of discoverability of your information.

Signals – we’re all overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content available to us, and sifting through it can be a task so onerous as to discourage action.

Enterprise 2.0 implementations adopt inbound signaling as a way of alerting users to new and changed material that has been identified explicitly as f relevance to them. Use of email is the most basic form, but is inefficient and far less powerful than technologies like RSS.

We can see by combining the forces of Enterprise 2.0, we can build an ecosystem where users are connected to information and each other, can find it easily and are made aware of change.

Successful programs implementing Enterprise 2.0 tools can give us a radically shifted workplace where we get better, richer outcomes. But what outcomes?

The systems, the tools, push new material to users. The need to go looking is reduced.

Just as easily, users are empowered to pull data to themselves through RSS or other notification systems.

Flow, in the psychological sense is potentially increased, as employees suffer fewer distractions and interruptions, leading to higher productivity and higher engagement.

How do we make it happen?

Let’s look very briefly at some of the key findings from the McKinsey Global Survey mentioned earlier.

The Survey found that businesses that focussed tool choices around real, well-described user needs rather than reliance on a vendor or perceived need that didn’t address real user requirements had measurably greater success with their Enterprise 2.0 programs.

To quote the survey, these organisations realised “increased productivity and enablement of tacit interactions on a previously unknown scale.”

That’s compelling stuff.

The same analysis identified that businesses seeing success were also enagaging customers and suppliers in their product development. This led to better-realised products and offerings. They drew feedback from outside the organisation that the business was paying attention to customer and supplier needs, driving return business and new business by referral as well as a number of other benefits around cost-savings and client and supplier interactions.

The best knowledge or innovative ideas about something may not always reside in the product team, or marketing, or R&D. Successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations, again according to the McKinsey Global Survey, tapped into a rich ecosystem of ideas and input, both within the wall and from customers.

The final key finding to look at is a transformational change the businesses seeing success in their Enterprise 2.0 programs are realising.

These companies are not only rapidly adopting additional Enterprise 2.0 technologies over and above their original efforts, but they are using them to aid in organisational and management change – flattening structures, opening lines of communication and breaking down barriers.

None of these ideas is new. As mentioned earlier, we’re simply now at a point where the tools have finally caught up to the theory, the practices, the culture.

How many of us have read, or know of The Cluetrain Manifesto? Next year, Cluetrain will be 10 years old.

That’s right. 10 years ago we were all made aware of how changing our businesses to operate this way would bring more customers who were more satisfied with what we are doing, would attract more of the right staff who would be more motivated and engaged in their work and would transform management and leadership practice.

So what’s our problem? Why aren’t we all doing this? Why are so many of our businesses still 9-5 (or later) sausage factories where we work head-down backside-up in a state of blissful, decontextualised ignorance?

Why is it that century-old practices devised to operate factories rather than innovative, knowledge-centric businesses still predominate?

Your business and every other business you work with, have a stake in, or are a customer of, actually needs to operate focussed on people and the conversations they have.

As leaders in your organisations, it’s up to you to provide the right tools at the right time in the right context to make the jobs of the people you work with easier and more productive. You may need to change the culture, or the  management approach, or work practices and almost certainly the tools you use and how you use them.

Now, finally, we’re in a position to talk about technology and tools. Let’s take a brief look at the core pieces of the Enterprise 2.0 toolkit.

Wikis are often seen as the big bang product. A place where everyone in the organisation can get involved as much or as little as they see fit.

There are several case studies in Australia and overseas where successful wiki implementations have replaced an otherwise unused and unusable corporate intranet and, in a very exciting new case, the Australian Navy have just implemented a brand new public website using MediaWiki; the same free, Open Source, extensible platform that runs Wikipedia.

Not just the fevered rantings of millions of self-reflective, self-indulgent emo kids, blogs are a great way to actually communicate the progress and activity of your project or business unit out to your colleagues, or implement a useful customer relations channel.

The open data APIs offered by many Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 tools make mashups a reality. Far more than the dashboards of the 90s, mashups can offer real-time two-way looks into business activity, system status and corporate and market trends.

We all live in communities and engage in them. Yet we come into work and hide away in our 10m2 or less of floor space and never communicate with the rich community of thinkers and doers we work with. Enterprise 2.0 tools offering community aspects can help build the collegiate, village feel we crave for – whether it’s the lunchtime soccer club or the CEO’s Feedback Forum.

We all have favorites in our browsers, but they’re locked away and unusable by our colleagues. Bookmarking tools inside the wall – a corporate del.icio.us or ma.gnolia – can expose a vast world of information to ourselves and our colleagues as each of us discovers new and valuable knowledge we want to share.

Not quite the same as communities, but sharing aspects of them, social networks inside the wall, and across them out to our customers and suppliers, can facilitate the discovery of talent and expertise, sources of information and connections we can exploit to do our jobs better.

Let’s look at some of what are often considered “soft” benefits that can be realised by successful implementations of Enterprise 2.0 tools and practices.

Enterprise 2.0 culture and tools are equally accepting of variant work styles. The busy, 8-hours-a-day worker who likes to be head-down backside-up is just as easily accommodated as the bursty, creative worker who spends time in conversations, or collaborating on many projects.

That doesn’t set aside the potential cultural clash between these worker types, that’s altogether another issue. But it is one that is addressed by the overall cultural changes that come along with successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations.

Back in April 2007, my friend and colleague Anne Zelenka published something of a manifesto regarding the busy/burst dichotomy, falling strongly on the side of burst.  Same place as I am.

“The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity.”
Anne Zelenka, Web Worker Daily

Recent research published shows a strong tendency, greater than 90 per cent in fact, for new hires under 40 years of age (and frankly, that’s most of your new hires) to pick roles where they are facilitated in engaging in open, collaborative work environments.

Given the choice of two otherwise equal roles, these people will choose the role where the corporate culture and the tools available make it easy for them to engage in the conversation, collaboration and community they want in their work.

Given employee turnover and attraction of new hires is an extremely expensive business – on average at least $10000 on the first year’s other costs – aren’t you better off making sure you have the right tools and culture in place to keep your people motivated and doing a great job?

“Employee recruitment and retention could become one motivator and one very significant ROI.”
Bill Ives, FASTForward

There’s a lot of talk going on about the schism between various worker generations – the near-to-retirement Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers like me, and the brash young Gen Ys who want to rise rapidly up the corporate ladder without paying their dues.

And yes, these generalisations apply across large sample populations. But solid research out of the HR industry suggests very strongly that this divide is false. People are far more influenced by life events and personal preferences in the way they work, in the roles they seek and in the attitudes they bring than by any arbitrary generation they are supposed to belong to.

The capability that a successful Enterprise 2.0 implementation brings to an organisation to engage employees across generational lines and to get them working together is a strong motivator for success.

Let’s take a very quick look at two Enterprise 2.0 success stories.

The CIA. Of all places. Don’t tell me doing this stuff in your organisation is too risky if this organisation can do it.

In June this year I had the privilege of meeting two of the CIA’s leading players in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts, Don Burke and Sean Dennehy at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Since 2005, the CIA have implemented a suite of tools as well as a number of core cultural changes in order to bring about a new best-of-breed practices. They’re collaborating at several levels of classified material with 15 other agencies in what is referred to as the “Intelligence Community”. That suite of tools includes:

  • Intellipedia for aggregation
  • Intelink blogs for communication
  • Tag|Connect (similar to the Internet’s del.icio.us) for organization
  • Inteldocs (a document management system for file sharing community-wide)
  • Gallery (similar to the Internet’s flickr)
  • iVideo (similar to YouTube)
  • Intelink Instant Messaging (IIM)
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Janssen-Cilag are an Australian pharmaceutical company that undertakes significant research programs and product development. With around 350 employees, like many organisations, they had an underused, often out of date intranet until mid-2006 when they replaced it all with a wiki. The wiki was implemented after a careful examination of and research into actual user needs and was switched live during a demo in a large staff meeting. Gutsy.

Nathan Wallace, one of the driving forces for JCintra, estimates that a large percentage – in excess of 70 percent – of staff now actively contribute to or update content on the wiki. Nathan puts the following four points forth as a manifesto for successful implementation:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Ease of use over comprehensive training.
  3. Flexible tools over completeness.
  4. Responding to needs over creating demand.

Janssen-Cilag are now taking further steps in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts, introducing blogging to any staff member who want to do so and Jitter, an internal equivalent to Twitter.

We’ve seen fairly comprehensively the benefits that a well-considered, people- and problem-centric approach to Enterprise 2.0 programs can offer.

As more and more businesses undergo the shift to operating this way, your business risks being left behind, flailing, as it fails to adapt to the changed way of doing business in the 21st Century.

James Governor from RedMonk threw this one at us back in April 2007.  He’s right.

“Networked, social-based opportunities are so explosive today that when we pursue them we’re flung forward at pace.”
James Governor, RedMonk

Your organisations stand upon ground that offers you an opportunity to take leaps forward in innovation, collaboration and productivity that they’ve never been offered before.

Imagine your organisation if this was the way things were done.

Why are we even arguing about this?

Presented to the AGM of the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship and for the product launch of IntranetManager.NET.

It was just lucky that two groups asked me to present on essentially the same content on consecutive days.

Just 10 or so years ago, we were arguing whether email was necessary for our staff to do their work.

Not long before that we were arguing over the value of giving them phones on their desks. And Heaven forbid we give them long distance access!

At the same time, I doubt any of us even considered the corporate web site as a critical business asset.

15 years ago, the public Internet and the web were in their infancy, and we weren’t certain at all what we should be doing with them.

So why now, are we arguing about the value of social media for our businesses? There’s a wealth of good research on the returns for business on factors such as customer service, product development, innovation, findability of information and brand reputation.

For no good reason many businesses seem highly reluctant to allow staff to participate in social media activity – either internally or in public. I doubt there’s anyone in the room today that gives a second thought to the importance of the corporate web site, staff email and personal phones for all staff.

Why is this?

Today, we live in a world where almost everything about your business is public information. Not only that, the world is now hyperconnected in a way that makes discoverability and conversation about you a trivial exercise.

A few seconds of effort at Google and I can discover who your management team are. Shortly after that, a slightly more diverse search on Google, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Facebook and perhaps MySpace will give me a pretty intimate window into the business.

It’s quite possible that I’ll have a window into personal lives of many of your employees and probably your management team and board of directors. I’ll know where they’ve worked and when. What people thought of them. I might even know what they wore to the last New Years’ Eve fancy dress party and whether I think they have a sense of humor.

With not much more additional effort, I’ll know what your customers think of your products and of your business. What’s good, and what’s bad. And why.

I’ll be able to consume a vast range of opinions – a conversation – around your offerings.

Are you participating in that conversation? If you’re not, there’s nothing you can do about it. It will go on regardless.

In the end, you have two choices, and I’m not being extreme here – join the conversation and thrive, or die.

And to join the conversation you need to cede some control. Not all of it. Just some.

It’s actually highly likely that your staff are already taking part in this conversation on your behalf. Wouldn’t it be better if they had your backing?

The emergence in the past five years of blogs and wikis, of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and of empowering publishing platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and similar tools have fundamentally changed the way you and your business need to interact with your customer base.

They have also shifted the power base – away from the PR flacks, the marketers and the heritage media into the hands of the people formerly known as the audience. Today, the audience is no more. They are your collaborators and your users. Whether you like it or not.

The Obama campaign used these tools – the tools of social media – to groundbreaking and groundswelling effect. Have no doubt that a significant and measurable part of the success of the Obama campaign was due to the grassroots empowerment of the volunteer community through the use of social media. Let’s look at some of the numbers:

Platform Obama McCain Difference
Facebook 2379102 supporters 620359 supporters 380%
MySpace 833161 friends 217811 friends 380%
YouTube 1792 videos since Nov 2006
114599 subscribers
Channel views 18413110
329 videos since Feb 2007
28419 subscribers
Channel views 2032993
403% more subscribers
905% more viewers
Twitter 112474 followers 4603 followers 2400%
Branded social network mybarackobama.com
Numbers not available but estimated in millions
McCain Space
Numbers not available

The use of social media for both Presidential candidates was significant, yet the Obama campaign, appealing directly to a part of the constituency that voted strongly for it, leveraged social media as an incredibly powerful medium to reach out, appeal to voters and garner both contribution and volunteer support.

And now that he has been elected, President-Elect Obama isn’t dropping the ball on social media. He has already released the first of what is to be weekly updates via YouTube.

And now, we have the Greens, Malcolm Turnbull himself, and just last week, the Prime Minister’s office using these tools to conduct an ongoing conversation with their constituency. Canvassing opinion. Discovering previously unknown issues. Connecting and having a meaningful, rich and human conversation.

In Australia though, we’re lagging behind the rest of the world in business adoption of these tools. And even further behind in government use of them.

In the UK for example, Downing Street uses social media tools to allow the PM’s office to speak directly to the constituency. And public sector workers, at an individual level, are expected to engage on subject matter within their are of expertise.

The same approach is being used by a number of successful businesses.

In Australia, Telstra has taken significant steps in the right direction this year after paying attention to the connected, social media using community. Formerly very old-school push-message focused, Telstra has fundamentally changed. Their customer service channel via social media such as Twitter and their Now We Are Talking blogs is arguably a more responsive, easier, more direct and most notably, more human way to get problems fixed than the robot call center that must be navigated in order to talk to someone on the phone.

Beyond our shores, brands such as SAP, IBM, Dell (Dell Community, Twitter), Comcast (video interview, Twitter) and the worlds largest online shoe retailer, Zappos (blogs, Twitter), rely on the reputation and innovation channels they have established via social media channels to get things done quickly, canvas opinion on product development, learn about issues and solve problems easily and in a way that builds reputation rather than customer dissatisfaction.

It’s critical that you empower your staff to be communicators and evangelists for your business. Understand and expect them to take part online in conversations about you and let them do so as a part of their jobs. Right now, stop passing everything through Legal and the Marketing Department and allow the conversation to be real, responsive and human. Your customers and staff will respect you for it.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. Mistakes are human. In today’s social media empowered world, mistakes are expected. So make them fast, cheap and early, and then be real about admitting them and fixing them.

All of this applies equally to efforts inside the wall as it does to external communication. The use of social media tools within your walls provides your business with a wealth of opportunities you simply did not have access to five years ago.

A recent study by McKinsey found that deploying the tools of social media within businesses can be used successfully to address issues such as attraction, engagment and retention, locating expertise, building teams, enhancing flow, understanding workload, flattening communication and organisation structures, transforming leadership and management practice and increasing ability to innovate and change according to market demands.

Significant numbers of businesses are transforming their ability to communicate across the organisation, marshal staff, drive innovation and discover previously unknown expertise within their organisation by using social media tools within their walls.

In Australia, companies such as Janssen-Cilag, Cochlear and Westpac have made significant investment in social media tools to empower their staff to be more efficient and productive.

In today’s financial climate, where customer spending is trending sharply down and the need to be increasingly innovative and competitive is rising, can your business afford not to look closely at these tools? To identify issues that might be solved by them and build and implement a strategy that introduces these tools to make your job easier to do?

A word of warning.

These tools can’t be a bolt-on and nor can they be implemented without some strong strategic analysis.

You need to consider them as an integral part of your strategic plan and of the working life of you and your staff. You must evolve from bureaucracy to infocracy. This move is fundamental to building the conversation, collaboration and community your business needs to ensure ongoing success in the 21st Century. Social tools are not going away and your competitors are adopting them now.

Imagine your business if this was the way you worked.

Enterprise 2.0 – Enabling change or part of the problem?

This is my slide deck and script for the The 6th Annual Enterprise Architecture Conference in Sydney on 3 September 2008.

We all know the world of business is experiencing massive change. The nature of how we do business itself is undergoing a groundswell that redefines work for the early part of the 21st Century.

We can no longer push messages to a passive consumer base, or an equally passive workforce. Customers, stakeholders, consumers, clients and particularly our employees expect, quite rightly, to have a hand in the way your organisation operates. We need to be aware of that, and of the growing power of each of those groups as consumer activism and personal branding become significant considerations in our interactions with them.

The need for collaboration throughout our organisations and effective management of knowledge workers is a driving force for change and innovation. As is the need to attract, engage in meaningful work and retain over time a skilled (and skilled in the right things) workforce.

Continuing to operate by Taylor’s outmoded rules – where the employee is a simple and uninformed cog in the machine – is setting ourselves up for failure and a spectacular and messy crash as we rush headlong into what looks like the light but is actually the onrushing train of progress.

We are at a tipping point. One where we have just two choices; business as usual and the accompanying inevitable crash, or a reboot.

That reboot will change our businesses dramatically.

That change will bring about organisations where empowerment, sharing and open communication are watchwords for this new world. Where walls, gates, silos and unnecessary control are collapsed in favor of a more human place that envisages our businesses as exciting, collaborative, engaging places to be.

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