All Their Base are Belong to Us

Under the auspices of the Management Lab I’m getting together later this week with a group of very sharp people who think about companies and how to change and improve them. We have a pretty specific agenda: to come up with the set of experiments we want to run on corporate guinea pigs. The MLab’s mission is to provide such guinea pigs by putting us in contact with companies whose leaders have both the curiosity required to allow experiments and the clout required to get them up and running. So our sessions this week should be great fun; I’m looking forward to brainstorming with my colleagues about how to tweak organizations and watch what happens.

I’ll be concentrating on technology (duh) and working to design IT-enabled interventions. I’ll be particularly eager to design them around Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches, and to address questions like:

  • Does a salesforce that uses Twitter outperform one that doesn’t?
  • What happens when you start measuring contributions to ESSPs ?  Does hit accelerate or kill participation?
  • If the goal is better output from the R&D department, should the Enterprise 2.0 environment be limited to the department or open to all ?
  • Does a prediction market yield consistently more accurate forecasts of future sales than the forecasting group does?
  • Does it help when the CEO starts to blog?  How much?

All of these experiments involve comparisons (before vs. after, group A vs. group B, method X vs. method Y, etc.) and have relatively ‘hard’ outcomes of interest like productivity, accuracy, and output. This is not an accident; it’s instead a reflection of my training and interests. I teach in an Operations Management department, and am fundamentally interested in how to build more and better widgets. I think the changes in social structure that accompany the introduction of new technologies are also interesting, but less so. For whatever reason my research interests coincide with the concerns of the stereotypical busy, pragmatic, skeptical line executive: is this stuff going to let us get more widgets out the door, win happy customers, and make money?

Given these interests, what experiments should I advocate? How would you design research to determine how much of a positive difference Enterprise 2.0 can make, or research to understand effective adoption strategies? If you had a pristine greenfield site, what experiment(s) would you conduct? This is our chance to play mad scientist; how should we best take advantage of it? Leave a comment, please, and let’s get the brainstorming started.

In addition to the MLab itself, I want to thank Tim Brown and IDEO for hosting our session and Gary Hamel for organizing it. Gary’s enthusiasm for actually changing the way companies are run is palpable and contagious.