I’ve spent the past couple days at the Talk the Future conference in Krems, Austria. I was not suprised that it was well organized, but was pleasantly surprised at how well attended it was. There seems to be sincere interest in today’s technology-enabled business opportunities and challenges. I was asked excellent questions during my talk on Enterprise 2.0 —  ones that reflected a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities brought by emergent social software platforms.

Everyone I talked to at the conference, however, told me that European businesses were lagging American ones in the deployment and use of these new tools. Most of the attendees were from German-speaking countries so I wasn’t hearing voices from throughout the continent, but the ones I did hear were saying that both Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 were gaining steam, but were not as far along as they were in the States.

I didn’t get the idea that these people were just being modest and polite to an American guest. Instead, they sincerely believed that their businesses were behind in this area. I give their opinions a fair amount of weight because many of them worked for or with US-based companies, and so had points of comparison.

So the question is why is this the case? One explanation for a lag is simply that many of the novel technologies and communities (blogs, wikis, Facebook, Ning, Twitter, etc.) were invented in the States, so we’d expect them to accelerate first there as well. 

Is that the whole story? Or do we need to understand other things as well? Particularly for Enterprise 2.0, are there real differences across countries in:

  • Corporate willingness to invest in all forms of IT?
  • Comfort with 2.0 technologies, especially among older workers?
  • National-level corporate cultures? And yes, I hate the phrase ‘corporate culture’ too, but I think it does mean something. And everyone I talk to, both in Europe and the States, keeps talking about the same characteristics of Nordic, Teutonic, and Latin countries, northern vs. southern European ones, etc. If these are baseless stereotypes, it’s bizarre how widespread and durable they are. 

I not asking this question in order to tee up my answer. I honestly don’t know what the answer is, or even what the main contributing factors are. I’m not an expert on country-level differences in corporate cultures and environments, and I’m not even up to speed on best research on the topic. So I don’t know which of the above factors, if any, are legitimate —  which have gone beyond stereotype and held up to rigorous analysis.  

So this post is simply a call (plea) for information. Are there real country-level differences in Enterprise 2.0 — the use of emergent social software platforms?  If so, are these differences enduring?  Will they persist over time?  Will Slovakian companies always lag far behind Estonian ones, or be far ahead of them?  Why is this?

Please feel free to share your personal impressions, but what would be really valuable here is pointers to surveys / research / frameworks that would help us understand this phenomena. Who has done the best work to understand country-level differences in business climate and corporate culture? What work have you found particularly insightful on this topic?  Leave a comment, please, and let us know.