What’s the Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work?

A little while back, an Enterprise 2.0 evangelist from a huge multinational tech company came to see me. He showed me their tools for social networking, blogging, group formation, tagging, & etc. They all looked pretty good; if they’d made any mistakes in designing the user interface or experience, I couldn’t spot them.

I asked him how the rollout was going. As best I can remember, he said something like “Progress is slower than I’d like. I don’t know why more people aren’t doing more. I think part of it is that we have a huge Intranet, and these tools can be hard to find. I think a lot of our people aren’t even sure they exist.”

That meshed with a lot of what I’ve observed at big organizations. Enterprise 2.0 is sometimes a too-well-kept secret, despite the best efforts of the executives, trainers, curators, and others who want it to succeed.

Most of today’s knowledge workers are somewhere between busy and harried, and they certainly feel that they have better things to do than poke around the Intranet looking for cool new social tools. So in addition to evangelizing, training, leading by example, moving E2.0 technologies into the flow of work, and engaging all the other classic strategies and tactics, I believe that interested organizations need to make their emergent social software platforms (ESSPs) blatantly obvious to their people and encourage usage and experimentation.

So what’s the most straightforward way to do this? To reuse wiki inventor’s Ward Cunningham’s wonderful question: “What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work” to spur Enterprise 2.0?

A couple posts back I suggested a simple, six-step E2.0 rollout plan. Its first step was “Deploy tools that deliver a novel capability, like microblogging, social network formation, or prediction markets. Tools that deliver something novel — that aren’t trying to displace an incumbent — avoid the 9X effect.”

And the simplest way to deploy such tools so that everyone quickly becomes aware of them, I think, is to put one of them on every single page of the Intranet / community site / etc.  Here’s a mockup of what that might look like:

Picture 21

This box would be in the upper left corner of all pages. Its first text box is for site-wide search, reflecting the realization that search is now the dominant navigation paradigm for online content.

The second box encourages people to ask a question via the microblogging tool. The third encourages them to use it to share interesting stuff with others.

Explanations and details of all of this are available by clicking on “What’s this?,” as are any and all necessary guidelines and policy statements. In this implementation each person’s questions and all answers to them are separately viewable by clicking on “Answers to your questions.” Standard views of microblog content are available by clicking on “See what others are sharing and asking.” The rest of the E2.0 toolkit would be available from “Other similar resources.”

This approach would accomplish a few things. It would make one E2.0 tool immediately and universally visible. It would put social verbs like ask and share in front of everyone. It might well pique people’s curiosity about how these activities were being facilitated by technology. It might also cause them to ask around, to click to learn more, and to experiment. And it might start putting people in touch with information, answers, and colleagues that they didn’t have previously.

I think that all of these would be desirable, and they might form a groundswell for more of the same —  more ESSPs and greater usage of them. At a minimum, it would be a cheap and easy experiment to run.

Do you agree? Would putting this kind of content in a corner of every page be a good way to jumpstart Enterprise 2.0, or would it flounder or backfire somehow? Have you seen something similar attempted? If so, how did it work out? What did the organization learn from it? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.