Who Cares What You Think?

I was talking about Enterprise 2.0 with a small group of senior healthcare executives a little while back, and one of them brought up a very interesting and insightful point. We were discussing the right way to encourage participation and contribution in emergent social software platforms, and I told the story of the Intellipedia shovel (which is described in some detail in Intellipedia’s Wikipedia article ).

It’s a plastic shovel sent by Intellipedia central to the boss of a particularly active contributor, along with a request to present it to the contributor.  All members of the military, for example, have access to the secret-level version of Intellipedia, and periodically Intellipedia HQ notices that a low-ranking serviceman or -woman stationed in a hot spot far from home has been making a huge number of edits. HQ then sends a shovel, a citation, and a letter of explanation off to an officer as high up the chain of command as possible, requesting that the officer present the shovel to the prolific editor as a way of saying "job well done."  It turns out that officers are usually more than happy to make a little ceremony out of the shovel presentation, that the whole affair is good marketing for Intellipedia and marketing of E2.0 within the intelligence and warfighting communities, and that it means a LOT to the recipient.

I told this story as an example of an E2.0 best practice,  but one of the healthcare folk wasn’t so sure. "That wouldn’t work for our salespeople," he said. "They don’t care what the bosses think of them. But they care a lot what the rest of the salesforce thinks. If we put an idea like this in practice with them we’d make sure the positive feedback came from peers, not from above."

I thought this was very sharp thinking. It led me to an initial conjecture: if an organization is trying to get E2.0 in place among a bunch of free agents, free thinkers, renegades, or any other distinct and largely closed subculture, it might do well to concentrate on encouraging lateral communication, feedback, recognition, praise, etc. If instead it’s trying to get E2.0 adopted ‘in the mainstream’ it’s a good idea to include proportionally more vertical feedback recognition, etc. 

So this is a conjecture about the edge vs. the center of the network. Is it correct, or useful, or at least on the right track?  Or does it contain a meaningless or counterproductive distinction? If you have any experience in this area please leave a comment and let us know.