How Beautiful it is, and How Easily it can be Broken

The Enterprise 2.0 conference took place last week in Boston, and was by all accounts a large success (I am on its advisory board).  If you couldn’t make it, a good way to get an idea of what happened is to do twitter searches on #e2conf (the hashtag for the conference as a whole) and on #e2conf1 through #e2conf49 (I think), which correspond to individual sessions. Many attendees were tweeting diligently throughout the event using the above hashtags, and have also used them to point to their blog posts and other related writings. Also valuable are the conference posts by Oliver Marks, Jessica Lipnack, Bill Ives, Susan Scrupski, and Doug Cornelius.

My main contribution was to interview Shawn Dawlin and Chris Keohane, two of the leaders of Lockheed Martin’s highly successful E2.0 deployment. The Lockheeders came to the conference last year, and their presentation was so well received that they were invited back for two sessions this time: one on the details of their current work (#e2conf49) and one where they got to endure being questioned nonstop by me for 45 minutes at 8:30 on Wednesday morning (#e2conf13).

Shawn and Chris did an amazing job. They were articulate, clear, well-informed, and highly enthusiastic about their work, and about Enterprise 2.0 at LM in general. They gave the strong impression that emergent social software platforms are now part of the fabric of work across major parts of the company, and are poised to spread even farther.

I’m not sure they appreciate how rare this is, especially for a large company in a deeply conservative industry like aerospace and defense. I spent much of our interview asking them how they were able to achieve their successes, and what accounted for the broad and deep adoption of 2.0 tools and approaches to collaboration at LM.

As I listened to their thoughtful answers I realized that I was hearing a partiularly thorough set of key success factors —  things that really need to go right or be in place for E2.0 to succeed. And I also realized that I had been hearing the same ones over and over when I talked with people whose organizations had been able to profit from 2.0 tools and approaches.

It’s actually a pretty long list, which helps me understand why Enterprise 2.0 is, in every case I’m familiar with, a long and sometimes difficult effort rather than an overnight success. In addition, I think that the lack of any of the items in the list below will be damaging (not automatically fatal, but damaging) to the effort. Booz Allen’s Megan Murray, who has been an advocate and community manager for that company’s Enterprise 2.0 initiative, talks about the ‘perfect storm’ of factors allowing them to be as successful as they have been.

Here’s my (almost certainly incomplete) list, inspired by Shawn and Chris (S&C) and the other E2.0 evangelists I’ve met, of the elements of an E2.0 perfect storm:

  • The support / blessing of ‘guardian’ functions like legal, compliance, and security. S&C started working with LM’s legal and compliance departments very early on, making sure that they were aware of current and planned activities, and that their concerns were being addressed. For example, in response to concerns from the legal departent, the LM E2.0 team included flagging functionality in at least some of its tools, giving users the ability to highlight inappropriate content. The fact that no content has ever been flagged is interesting, but also somewhat irrelevant. Flagging functionality was included to address the concerns of an important constituency, and has served its purpose well. Co-opting your potential adversaries is always a smart strategy.
  • Steady and patient evangelizing. I’m not aware of any E2.0 deployments that have succeeded entirely because a bunch of people in the organization kind of thought that it would be a good idea. Instead, I keep finding evangelists —  people who are so convinced of the value of the new, technology-enabled modes of collaboration that they devote substantial time and energy to promote me. These people always hearten me and remind me of Margaret Mead’s great quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
  • The right pitch for why E2.0 should be initiated / encouraged. S&C, Don Burke and Sean Dennehy at the CIA, and many of the other successful ESSP evangelists I know talk first to their audiences not about cool new technologies, but instead about the needs of the organization. They then show how some cool new technologies can directly address these needs, preferably using examples from within the organization itself. This sequencing is critical.
  • Useful and usable technologies. I know that E2.0 is not about the technology. But it’s also not not about the technologies deployed. They had better be appropriate to the goal(s) of the initiative, and they had better be freeform, frictionless, and emergent. If the tools offered are clunky or annoying, they will be tossed aside and people will just keep emailing each other.
  • Early successes and demonstrations of value. Successful pilot projects and early wins serve a few purposes. They generate positive momentum and buzz in current and affected constituencies. They also provide examples, case studies, and other fodder for evangelists. They provide opportunities to learn and course correct. And they also build up goodwill so that if and when something goes wrong down the road it’s more likely to be forgiven.
  • Context-appropriate tools, practices, and philosophies. Every presenter I heard at the conference said that E2.0 is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, and that tools, norms, communities, practices, and virtually every other aspect of an effort will be context specific and unique. At LM, for example, the community came to the view that it was not OK for a member to use any of the company’s ESSPs to try to sell his car (many others I’m aware of have come to a different conclusion). Gentry Underwood of IDEO (#e2conf18) said that his company’s deployment would probably not make much sense elsewhere, given that company’s unique requirements as an ‘idea factory.’ I think the principles at work across E2.0 deployments are strikingly consistent, but their specifics vary enormously.
  • Executive awareness and support. An organization’s leaders need to be both aware of today’s technology-enabled opportunities to improve collaborative work, and interested in exploring them. Many of us who have been working 2.0-style for a while now have arrived at a certain blindness: we can’t imagine how any enlightened managers in this day and age could be unenthusiastic about these opportunities. It’s easy to assume that only Luddites, paranoiacs, and hopelessly narrow-minded executives in backwater industries could be unimpressed at the growing body of evidence around E2.0, or so conservative as to be unwilling to experiment. I assure you that this is not the case. I’m meeting in a few weeks with the senior executives of a large, profitable, high tech company, one that’s universally considered to be progressive and well-managed. And yet these managers aren’t convinced that they should proceed with Enterprise 2.0. Before they commit, they want to have E2.0 explained to them in a way that makes sense to them as businesspeople; they want to understand what its benefits are, and whether these outweigh any accompanying risks. They’re not up to speed yet with the phenomenon, and want to get there. I hope I’m up to the task…
  • Executive involvement. Most of the success stories I’m familiar with include examples of executive blog posts, responses to comments, use of social networking software, and other hands-on signals from the top of the company. Such signals serve a few purposes. They demonstrate desired behaviors and actions. They directly communicate the voices and ideas of the company’s leaders. They show that one consistent set of rules and expectations exists about participation —  that 2.0 is for everyone, not just the rank-and-file. And they provide a short, straight line of interaction with executives, and one that runs in both directions. I’ve heard a lot of senior managers worry that E2.0 will take up precious additional hours in their workweek as they have to deal with a flood of comments, friend requests, tweets, etc. Luckily, almost every time this concern comes up there’s an executive in the room who’s adopted 2.0 tools and practices. She tells her colleagues that doing so actually puts hours back in her week. This news is received with a great deal of interest.
  • Alignment with the stated goals and values of the organization. In our interview, S&C stressed how E2.0 was right in line with LM’s stated goals of greater agility and tighter integration across business units. In the US intelligence community, E2.0 fit in perfectly with the explicitly stated need to move from a ‘need to know’ culture to a ‘responsibility to share’ one. When evangelists can show that the tools and approaches they’re advocating dovetail with what the organization is trying to achieve, they have a much easier time.
  • External pressure. S&C talked about the deep changes in LM’s business environment, including the need to respond to governmental requests for proposals in weeks instead of months, the growing popularity of open-source software at many customers, and the current administration’s drive to increase levels of transparency and collaboration in government. I’ve also heard how the demands and preferences of Millennial / Gen Y workers and the general quickening of the pace of business have encouraged E2.0. As the old saying goes, nothing focuses the mind like a hanging, and many companies these days feel that they’ll be left hanging if they just continue with business as usual.

The title of this post is the title of a wonderful book of essays by Daniel Mendelsohn (who in turn took it from Tennessee Williams’s stage directions for “The Glass Menagerie”). It’s a little bit highfalutin for a blog post about software adoption, but I don’t care. I think an advanced E2.0 deployment is a beautiful thing; it benefits both the organization and its people, and is the opposite of a zero-sum game. It’s also pretty delicate, though, especially in its early stages when many (all?) of the items in the list above need to be present.

As this list indicates, there are many ways for an E2.0 initiative to go off track, and it’s easy to look at successful deployments and conclude that they’re pretty easy, rather than quite difficult. Enterprise 2.0 successes look pretty similar because they tend to have the attributes listed above. E2.0 failures, in contrast, are all over the map because they can run aground for so many reasons. Tolstoy’s famous observation was that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way. I think much the same is true for Enterprise 2.0 deployments, and those of us who are interested in seeing them succeed would do well to identify what makes the good ones work, then try to replicate these factors whenever possible. I’d like to thank Shawn, Chris, and all the other advocates and evangelists who shared their insights during the conference. I learned a lot from you.

What do you think?  Is the list above accurate and complete, or are there other critical elements of a successful Enterprise 2.0 initiative that should be included?  Leave a comment, please, and let us know. And stay tuned for the next Enterprise 2.0 conference, which takes place on November 2-5 in San Francisco.