Watching the Film of the Fight

I’ve just been looking over the (very high quality) video archive of the debate this morning between Tom Davenport and me over Enterprise 2.0, and I have to say it’s pretty good! Most of the credit for this goes to our moderator Dan Farber, who asked exactly the right questions at the right times and kept the event flowing, and to Tom himself. He stepped into a room full of E2.0 partisans and engaged with us instead of retreating to talking points or blanket dismissals. This is far from easy to do, and we all owe Tom a debt of thanks for encouraging us, at the high water mark of our enthusiasm, to stop and think carefully about why we’re enthusiastic, and to make sure that we’re not just enamored of a new set of cool technologies. To the surprise of no one who knows him at all, he was a gentleman and a scholar, and a pleasure both to agree and disagree with.  Thanks, Tom. 

And thanks also to event sponsors BSG Alliance and Veodia.

After one review of the video, it seems to me that our main point of disagreement concerned the extent to which the E2.0 toolkit really is something new, or whether it’s just an incremental extension to the longstanding set of technologies for collaboration, interaction, and information sharing. Tom stressed repeatedly that companies have been deploying such tools for decades, and he kept explicitly and implicitly asking the important question:  what, if anything, is new now?

In my opening remarks and a few times subsequently, I tried to articulate my answer to this question: that digital platforms that initially impose little or no structure on interactions, but that contain mechanisms to let patterns and structure emerge over time, are actually quite new. I’ve written about this a few times before, and for me it’s the key to understand what’s going on currently, and why so many of us are hopeful that the new toolkit will take off within companies. The idea of using group-level technologies not to impose structure (roles, identities, hierarchy, workflow, data formats, taxonomies, etc.) but instead to try hard to get out of the way and let structure emerge is, I maintain, a pretty novel one. And, I further maintain, a pretty important one.

What do you think? As you watched the debate, what struck you? Where else did Tom and I truly seem to be disagreeing, and what side do you come down on?  Leave a comment and let us know.