How to Hit the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye

by Andrew McAfee on November 3, 2007

My colleague Clay Christensen stresses that managers are voracious consumers of theory. In other words, they value ways to think about their world, and mental tools that will let them make decisions and predictions with a level of confidence higher than they get from experience and intuition alone.

I’ve been reminded of Clay’s insight because I’ve recently had some success using a longstanding theory to explain to executives the value of social networking software (SNS) like Facebook. As I wrote earlier, the sociologist Mark Granovetter’s theory of the ‘strength of weak ties‘ provides a great way to conceptualize the value of  SNS.  These technologies increase a knowledge workers’ number of weak ties (and hence access to non-redundant information and bridges to other networks), and also provide an easy and convenient way to exploit these ties from within the tool itself.

But the intersection of ties and Enterprise 2.0 technologies goes much farther than this. In fact, ties provide a great base for understanding the benefits provided by many E2.0 technologies, and for understanding when each one should be deployed. Thinking in terms of ties, in other words, let managers select from among the grabbag of available technologies and also anticipate the benefits they’ll get after successful deployment.

Consider the prototypical knowledge worker inside a large, geographically distributed organization (all of what follows also applies for smaller and more centralized organizations, but probably to a lesser extent). She has a relatively small group of close collaborators; these are people with whom she has strong professional ties. Beyond this group, there’s also a set that includes people she with worked on a project with in the past, coworkers who she interacts with  periodically, colleagues she knows via an introduction, and the many other varieties of ‘professional acquaintance.’ In Granovetter’s language, she has weak ties to these people.

Beyond this group there’s a still-larger set of fellow employees who could be valuable to our prototypical knowledge worker if only she knew about them. These are people who could keep her from re-inventing the wheel, answer one of her pressing questions, point her to exactly the right resource, tell her about a really good vendor, consultant, or other external partner, let her know that they were working on a similar problem and had made some encouraging progress, or do any of the other scores of good things that come from a well-functioning tie. By the same token, if our focal worker is a person of good will, there are many other people in the company she could help if her existence, work experiences, and abilities were more widely known.

Of course, there’s also a large group in the organization who are just not going to be of much use to our prototypical worker, and vice versa. These people will not form ties. They’re simply co-workers, not actual or potential colleagues. It seems at first glance as if it wouldn’t be valuable to use any type of technology to bring these people together. This, however, is too hasty a conclusion, as I’ll discuss.

The bullseye figure below is an extremely simple and not-to-scale representation of the relative size of these groups, from the perspective of our focal knowledge worker. The small core of people with whom she has strong ties is at the center, surrounded by her larger group of weakly-tied colleagues. Potential ties are in the next ring, and co-workers —  people with whom valuable ties do not and will not exist —  make up the outermost ring. My intuition is that for most knowledge workers the four circles in the figure are nested accurately  —  that the number of potential ties, for example, is greater than the number of weak ties —  even if their relative sizes are way off.

bullseye graph of ties

What does all this have to do with the emergent social software platforms of Enterprise 2.0? Well, there are several such platforms, each of which is valuable in a different way. Wikis, a blogosphere, social networking software, and prediction markets all facilitate Enterprise 2.0 as I’ve defined it, but they’re clearly not identical technologies, or even closely similar ones.

But how are they different? Do they to dissimilar things for companies, and to them? And when is each the ‘right answer?’ Answers to these questions arise from the realization that a knowledge worker will want to use a different E2.0 technology at each ring in the bullseye.

A wiki is the classic Enterprise 2.0 technology for a core of strongly tied knowledge workers who are collaborating on a deliverable. They can use it to generate documents, to debate their contents and structure, track project status, link to other resources, etc. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Zoho, and other online office productivity suites are similar to wikis in that they allow egalitarian editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations by all group members; they’re just not currently as extensible as a full wiki.

Evidence suggests that wikis let strongly-tied collaborators get their work done better, faster, and with more agility than was previous possible. With a wiki, what’s emergent is the document itself, with ‘document’ defined broadly.

As I wrote earlier, enterprise social networking software lets our prototypical knowledge worker stay in touch with a large network of colleagues, allowing her to keep up to date with that they’re doing, working on, and producing. It also lets her tell this network what she’s up to.

This might sound like an only marginally useful exercise, but it can in fact be quite powerful because it’s a quick and easy way to form connections and make associations that might not ever occur otherwise. I saw this firsthand a couple days ago when one of my Facebook friends told his network via his status message that he was going to accompany a foreign head of state to a high-level meeting on technology issues. Because I was only weakly tied to this person I had no idea that he was that well connected or interested in public policy. But as a result of his Facebook update, which took him about ten seconds to type and me one second to read, I now know who to reach out to should I ever want to dive into European IT issues, or desire an invitation to the Elysee Palace ;). SNS lets its users build bridges to new human networks, and to let non-redundant information emerge.

Facebook currently lets members ask their network a question, then collects their answers on one globally-visible page. I imagine that successful enterprise Facebook equivalents will have much more advanced tools to allow members to actively exploit their networks by asking them for assistance, pumping them for information, etc. I also imagine that they’ll let users post answers to their most frequently-asked questions, then simply point seekers to this resource. The facts that Facebook has opened its platform to outside applications, and that a consortium of social media providers anchored by Google and MySpace has just announced a common specification for developers, will no doubt hasten the arrival of robust enterprise SNS.

And what about all the people in the third ring of the circle in the figure —  the potentially valuable colleagues who our knowledge worker just hasn’t met yet? Wikis and SNS in their current configurations don’t help her learn of the existence of such people, but an internal corporate blogosphere could. Imagine a large company in which most workgroups (divisions, labs, departments, project teams, etc.) blogged, as did many individuals. No one would have time to read all the resulting blogs, of course, and most employees would probably read few of them regularly. But I imagine lots of people would set up searches for words, phrases, or topics of interest (as is possible with Bloglines, Google blog search, and other tools), then check in frequently to see what recent posts show up in their search results. This is the main way that I keep up with the latest writing on “Enterprise 2.0.” Even articles in print publications get discussed almost immediately in the blogosphere, so I learn about them, too.

I’ve seen a few surveys indicating that blogs are currently one of the least popular E2.0 technologies among CIOs and other decision makers, probably because the business value of internal blogging isn’t always clear. Maintaining a blog can seem like shouting into a void, and we all certainly have better things to do than that. The benefit of blogs becomes much more clear when they’re seen as tools to convert potential ties, strong or weak, into actual ones. Prior to the Web 2.0 era I don’t believe that good technologies existed to help with this conversion, and the overall toolkit for making employees aware of potentially valuable ties — including newsletters, ‘science fairs,’ seminar series, etc. –  was pretty small. A lively internal blogosphere that includes good search and notification mechanisms represents a significant addition to this toolkit, and can allow productive ties and teams to emerge over time.

The outermost ring of the bullseye seems like the least amenable to technology —  how can the new crop of digital tools productively interconnect people who really don’t have anything to say to contribute to each other? Prediction markets do exactly this. Prediction markets are very much like stock markets. They contain securities, each of which has a price. People used the market to trade with each other by buying and selling these securities. Because traders have differing beliefs about what the securities are worth, and because events occur over time that altered these beliefs, the prices of securities also vary over time.

In a stock market like the New York Stock Exchange the securities being traded are shares in companies, the price of which reflects beliefs about the value of the company. In a corporate prediction market, in contrast, the securities being traded are related to future events such as “How many units of this product will we sell next quarter?” “What will our market share be at the end of the quarter?” “Will our competitor release their product on time?” “Will we release our product on time?” Such markets can be designed so that security prices are the same as the estimated probability that the event will occur, according to the markets’ traders.

Prediction markets provide benefits to the traders in the form of ego boosts and monetary rewards (if a company decides to reward successful trading that way), and they bring substantial benefits to sponsoring companies by providing accurate and decisive answers to important questions. As James Surowiecki wrote in The Wisdom of Crowds, ”Corporate strategy is all about collecting information from many different sources, evaluating the probabilities of potential outcomes, and making decisions in the face of an uncertain future.  These are tasks for which [prediction] markets are tailor-made.”

The participants in a prediction market don’t have to have any dealings with each other beyond their trades, and often don’t even know who they’re trading with. So these markets aren’t tools to help human networks coalesce; they’re just ways to have answers emerge from the self-interested, profit-maximizing activities of a population of traders.

The table below summarizes the potential benefits, candidate technologies, and type of emergence at each ring of the bullseye (in other words, for each type of tie). Like the bullseye figure itself, it is a drastic simplification of a large and complex set of phenomena. In particular, the entries in the three rightmost columns of the table aren’t meant to be mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive. They simply highlight some important differences at each of the four levels.

Tie Strength Potential Benefits Technology Example What is Emergent?
Strong Collaboration, Productivity, Agility Wiki Document
Weak Innovation, Non-redundant information, Network bridging Social Networking Software Information
Potential Efficient search, Tie formation Blogosphere Team
None Collective Intelligence Prediction Market Answer

I’m hearing from a lot of people that late 2007 is much like late 1997, when technology specialists were getting asked by senior executives “What is the Internet, exactly, why is it a big deal, and what’s our Internet strategy?” The question now is “What’s Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 / social media, exactly, why is it a big deal, and what’s our W2.0 / E2.0 / social media strategy?” The table, bullseye figure, and arguments presented here can help frame discussions around these questions by encouraging decision makers to first focus on what ring(s) of the bullseye they’re most interested in targeting. Lots of subsequent decisions and actitivies flow from the answer to this question, and from applying a bit of well-established theory (the theory of strong and weak ties) to technology considerations.

  • Carl

    One of the real problems I see with all these great communication technologies is that we seem to focus only on the benefits to the RECIPIENTS of information. Sure, if I can get a question answered correctly from some person I never met before, that’s a great benefit.

    But there’s often real problems for the people on the other end. If I send a question out to 100 of my closest :-) friends, now I’ve taken up some time from each of them. What we’re ending up with is incredible overload in e-mail and IM channels. Great if it saves YOU some work, but what about the 100 of us you grabbed time from? That’s not trivial.

    You can help us out, Andrew, by helping to articulate impact on everyone, and to see how we can address that. Otherwise we’ll forever be adopting these new technologies and then abandoning them in an ever-shortening cycle.

  • http://security-basics.blogspot.com/ Saqib Ali

    Profession McAfee, A very interesting blog post indeed. I enjoyed reading it.

    Can you give examples of Web 2.0 technologies that help Prediction Markets? Recently I ran into http://ideajam.net/. Would this be a Web 2.0 technology that help in gaining Collective Intelligence?

    Thanks

  • http://www.tommandel.com Tom Mandel

    This is just terrific; the four circles metaphor is of immediate utility in talking with clients and even in thinking about where the needs are in this market for new functionality and new software.

    Two additional points: a) in addition to prediction markets, the outer circle is made valuable via enterprise social bookmarking and tagging, especially when integrated with social search; and b) unmentioned but clearly critical is the *dynamic nature* of these circles. In particular, colleagues surely must get into the 3d circle from the 4th circle and so forth towards the inner circle (though of course there are other routes as well). Your brief story of the Elysee Palace is an example. Here too, social bookmarking and tagging provides a rich field for new forms of stronger interaction.

    Great stuff!

  • Kerry A Nitz

    So where would you place Second Life in this framework? It seems to be getting a bit of a push in this area from IBM.

  • http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/ Chris McGrath

    A table *and* concentric circles in a single blog post. Always a good formula. ;-) Thanks for the usual clear thinking, and you’re right — this will absolutely help me and others to frame discussions on E2.0.

  • http://www.leeclemmer.com Lee

    Hi Andrew, first off, thank you for this blog, I really enjoy your in-depth thinking about this topics discussed.

    One point I wanted to raise is that although I see where you’re coming from in regards to wikis being the technology of choice for “strongly-tied collaborators,” I think that Wikipedia is a great example of strangers coming together to produce something extremely useful. How do you reconcile this seeming contradiction, or does this use of wikis apply more specifically to Enterprise 2.0 vis-a-vis the net at large?

    Thanks again for this welcome refuge amidst a sea of whitenoise,

    - Lee

  • http://security-basics.blogspot.com/ Saqib Ali

    The problems still remains is that employees haven’t yet latched onto the idea that all this Enterprise 2.0 stuff is about enhancing relationships in a business.

    In fact, Berlecon Research recently conducted an study of Web 2.0 adoption in Enterprise. They surveyed high racking officials from various companies in Germany with 100 or more employees. The results are very grim:

    * 1/4th answered they don’t know what web 2.0 is; and
    * 1/4th don’t think that enterprise 2.0 will have any positive impact on their businesses.

    A representative of Berlecon Research discusses their finding in the following video presentation:
    http://security-basics.blogspot.com/2007/11/berlecon-research-recently-conducted.html

    So my question to Professor McAfee is how can we change this? Usually the Business Unit want the newer technology, while IT dept tries to hold back. But in this case, BUs are not latching on to a good technology, while IT is trying to push the technology.

  • http://www.ikiw.org Stewart Mader

    Andrew,
    This is excellent! One added point about wikis from my experience: if organizations keep them as open as possible, then not only will they reinforce strong connections, but they can help potential connections too if a person does a topic search and relevant wiki content is returned in the results.

    This can ultimately help break down the barriers that have kept groups isolated from each other and unable to find out what other groups are working on and what tools they’re using.

    Incidentally, these are the same barriers that result in some organizations finding out they already have multiple wikis that have been set up by individual groups unbeknownst to each other. Because they understand the value of collaboration and emerging connections, these groups are often eager to move from their separate wikis to a single instance that flattens barriers and makes discovery easier.

    Stewart

  • http://tanzyresan.blogspot.com Jonas

    Very interesting post, the bulls eye approach is very appetizing and it gives some structure to a field that has evolved from grassroot level without structure.

    I do believe that comment #1 has an important point, an this relates to earlier research on Groupware made by Jonathan Grudin: Groupware and Social dynamics. There might be a disparity between work and benefit for example with web 2.0 tools. If critical mass isn’t built up, the tools will lose in power etc.

    Discussions on that would be interesting to see. They are maybe to found in earlier posts, just direct me there if that has alreday been covered.

  • http://security-basics.blogspot.com Saqib Ali

    @Lee:
    It is true that strangers have come together to produce the wikipedia. However in my experience most wikipedia contributors have restricted their contributions in their areas of expertise. There is no cross-pollination. And I am guilty of the same. I have contributed to the Cryptography section of Wikipedia. However I rarely see people from other Computer Security related area contributing to Cryptography, even though these fields are closely related. I think collaboration between similar fields will be helpful. And I think a blog for each major section will help in getting the contributors to collaborate.

    Just a thought…

  • Geoff Ward

    agree with all above, great piece. I like the bullseye and table too.
    A couple of things occur to me that helps people understand how to create and maintain a E2.0 organisation.
    1. Make these social networks sustainable. Take team emergence (virtual teams)for instance, to maintain a virtual team, it may be required that team activities be made visible – emergent information. Also, the knock on benefits of this are productivity and innovation across teams.
    2. Getting the underlying technology to a state that does not prevent/discourage working across org boundaries.

  • http://www.michaelramses.com Ramses

    In particulars colleagues surely must get into the 3D circle from the 5th circle and so forth towards the inner circle.

  • http://www.globallinknetworks.com Terry

    Very interesting and informative post, the bulls eye approach is very enlightening and it gives some structure to a field that has evolved from grassroot level without structure.
    I really enjoy your in-depth thinking about this topics discussed.

  • Michael Fulton

    Very interesting post. I think you unknowingly hit on the answer to one of the common questions I have seen around the web lately.

    I have seen lots of talk about the Dunbar Friend Limit of 150. People arguing that the Friend Limit is no longer in place because of Web 2.0 technologies, others arguing against that. But in my view, the 150 friend limit probably is still in place with Web 2.0, but it is in place for Strong connections. Where the technologies allow us to broaden our base exponentially in ways we never could before as you mention is in the weak and potential connections areas. Now we can quickly go way over 150 when it comes to weak connections that still add value.

    Thanks for the writeup and the concept.

  • http://socialnetworkroadmap.com Christopher S. Rollyson

    Andrew, thank you for a very insightful and useful post. I think one element that might be an interesting overlay is movement within the rings. IOW, based on the knowledge worker’s personal interests or assignment, there will be constant movement of people (ties) from one ring to another. Let’s say I’m a management consultant with a focus on social network strategy in a global firm. I have a new assignment in downstream petroleum, so I will be seeking people with oil/gas expertise or access (they will migrate inward). I just completed an engagement for a carmaker, so some of those ties will slip outward. Maybe another model could be the Bohr atom and electron energy levels.

    Here’s another idea: I think of two key elements in business relationships: the trunk and the leaves of the tree. The trunk is based on trust; these are relationships one keeps because high trust helps us to reduce risk. The leaves are expertise; we interact with these people because we request of fulfill the demand for expertise; this is a big part of the fluidity factor. This is more opportunistic. Each relationship in the grid (of rings) contains trust and expertise; trust is sticky.

    Anyway, hope this might be useful to you.

    Thanks again and cheers-

  • Anthony Bradley

    Amidst all the approbation I’ll inject some criticism (constructive I hope). In my experience there are a few flaws in the model. First, it is an oversimplification (which admittedly fits well in a blog post and easy to digest graphic) of relationships. There should be a mention of unbalanced relationships (which should be a goal of many E2.0 implementations). For example, with my blog I hope to build a strong between them and me (meaning they feel they know me well)but a very weak tie between me and them (I may not know them at all). This delivers the coveted leverage that E2.0 can deliver. It also doesn’t distiguish between direct and indirect ties and the different behavioral dynamics of interactions (familiarization, handoffs, positioning, shared contribution, transactions, etc.) which have a greater impact on delivering an effective social solution. Third, I have not seen an exclusive relationship between the nature of the technology and the nature of the tie. The relationship is more between the nature of the implementation (purpose) and the tie.

  • Kristy

    This is a very important point – I find the one thing that determines whether a new tool thrives or not is whether the critical mass accepts it, understands it, and uses it. Some of the best tools are still in infancy because many people just don't know about them, how to use them, or see the benefit in spending an hour of time with it. I think what needs to be discussed here is how (once the proper web 2.0 tool has been chosen) to get the population to know about it and use it.

  • srikantsharma

    Andrew,

    This is an excellent post – one point I would like to make is that I see the market well into the “hump” of the Web 2.0 / enterprise 2.0 adoption cycle (refer my blog post at http://www.srikantsharma.com). In fact, I am beginning to think that we may have no more than 8-10 months before E2.0 becomes passe' – and we start talking Web 3.0 – with advanced functionality such as the semantic web, individual-level personalization, etc.

    Thanks for an excellent post!

  • http://andrewmcafee.org/blog/?p=654 Is craigslist or eHarmony the Right Model for Enterprise 2.0? : Andrew McAfee’s Blog

    [...] what I’ve learned about the strength of weak ties and the value of converting potential ties into actual ones, if PP’s approach is better than CL’s for interconnecting people than it’s the [...]

  • http://www.managementparadise.com/ Jim D'Souza

    the article on how to hit the enterprise bulls eye with simple examples is easy to understand and grasp. the language used is very simple and i am really greateful to Mr Andrew Sir for not using jargon or technical words due to which a complex subject like this is simple to understand ,grasp and retain.

    At the same time Sir I would request you to write similar articles on http://www.managementparadise.com. As it would be read by millions of viewers especially students as i and my friends always log to that site and it will be useful for us to get all information from one place

    thanking you
    yours faithfully
    Jim D'Souza
    student

  • onlineprinting

    This is a very interesting argument in favor of social networking software being used in the workplace. I have been invited to join one of these sites for professional networking purposes as have my colleagues, but our company has put a block on such websites. From reading this, I can see the potential usefulness. My question is how big does a company need to be for this to be beneficial? Unless much can be accomplished in a very short time, the company would need to be large or profitable enough to pay for the additional time required.

  • http://www.hyperoffice.com/ Pankaj

    Wonderful article. Professional discussion forums could be seen as another good way to exploit “Weak ties”. You don't necessarily need to have a personal equation to simply go in there and add your input.

  • https://gstrzok.wordpress.com/ G. Lance Strzok

    @McAfee,

    I find your article largely in agreement with my own observations. I have recently tried to describe some of this concept in http://gstrzok.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/forming

    I like your image, and your thoughts are very insightful. If I were to point out a difference between our thoughts, (you presented this issue in your blog well before I began thinking about it) it would be that I encourage knowledge workers to use the wikis at their disposal to find potential colleagues. I suggest scrubbing the history page, who is watching (if available), and who is making frequent, large, and accurate edits. Those people are potentially worth reaching out too.

    As always, thanks for taking the time to blog your thoughts and share. – GLS

  • https://gstrzok.wordpress.com/ G. Lance Strzok

    @McAfee, @Michael Fulton,

    Reading through some of the comments, I noticed the Dunbar debate, and wanted to weigh in on that. I would say that in a similar way that the hippocampus has been proven to enlarge in size with mental exercise, so too would our capacity to meaningfully connect with a larger number of people as we use Social Media tools to exercise that capacity.

    - GLS

  • https://gstrzok.wordpress.com/ G. Lance Strzok

    This looks like an interesting comment, is there an update since this was about a year ago? I would love to see what the same survey would say or show now.
    -GLS

  • http://www.forexsystema.com/blog/ foreign exchange system

    cool conceptual-music projects always wind up producing unhummably shapeless background static.

  • tonybuy

    I Found a Good Link Exchange Website that only 1 USD you can add 1 home page and 5 deeplinks with different title.
    and Paypal acceptable instant online.1 USD Bid Link,Business Directory,Bid Directory,Deep Link Bid Directory.

    http://www.1usdbidlink.net
    http://www.1usdbidlink.com/

    also http://www.media-packs.com is a good link exchange source,if you want to link exchange pls consider this site PR3 and

    24hours link exchange promiss.

  • http://gisnap.com gisnap

    Its really cool, I came to know this really worth visiting, just bookmarked your site.

    http://gisnap.com/
    The place where fun never ends

  • http://www.searchofficespace.com/usa/office-space/new-york-city-executive-suites.html Executive Suites New York City

    Normally I wouldn’t comment on posts but I felt that I had to as your writing style is actually good. You have broken down a tough area so that it easy to understand.

  • http://zixmailencryption.com/ zixmail pricing

    well, After reading Something New Under the Sun and How to Hit the Enterprise !

  • http://sproejtepudser.dk Pudsning

    It might not be as important as you believe. It's one thing to have a nice theory but often it works completely different when using it in practice. Still i like the theory though and it might be useful for some.

  • http://sproejtepudser.dk Pudsning

    It might not be as important as you believe. It's one thing to have a nice theory but often it works completely different when using it in practice. Still i like the theory though and it might be useful for some.

  • Tobias

    Those statistics actually sound very encouraging to me. 3/4 of people know what web 2.0 is and 3/4 of people think it will have a positive impact on their business. Great!

  • Alice Cole

    Thanks for this blog, I suggest scrubbing the history page.

  • BUZZINGSTREET

    Dear Visitor,
    Market is showing some good move. Nifty traders are now confused if they should go short in Nifty from current level of 5400 or should go further long. NSE and BSE are the two major stock exchanges of Indian stock market. Keeping in mind that many investors and traders are very much confused with the current market move, we have stared posting ” title=”technical research reports”> technical research reports These reports are highly accurate and are available for free.

    Regards
    Stock market investment if done with proper research and updated knowledge than it can give very lucrative results. There are four basic golden rules of stock market which are to be followed. (thebuzzingstreet1@gmail.com)www.buzzingstreet.com

    Nifty is on its peak now and is turning volatile. Investors are suggested to book long delivery positions soon. As after some more upmove we can see profit booking in the market soon. Investors are suggested to grab quality stocks at lower level again.

  • http://www.canlialem.com canl? sohbet

    Make these social networks sustainable. Take team emergence (virtual
    teams)for instance, to maintain a virtual team, it may be required that
    team activities be made visible – emergent information. Also, the knock
    on benefits of this are productivity and innovation across teams.

  • Sandeep Soni

    This is great…

  • Anonymous

    This is good…

  • Anonymous

    this is great = i am the owner of http://www.projects4mba.com 

Previous post:

Next post: