What’s the Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work?

by Andrew McAfee on May 24, 2010

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.

  • http://www.duperrin.com/english Bertrand Duperrin

    What I like in your idea is that things are not named as functionalities but as actions. Facing a given situation people don't wonder “should I blog ? should I browse the knowledge base..” but tell to themselves “I need to ask”, “Maybe I should share”. So that's senseful.

    But that won't work alone. The second point, and you mentioned it too, is to bring things into the flow. Even if continuously dealing with exceptions, poeple spend their days executing processes that need them to solve problems / answer questions to go from one step to another. That's when and why they need to share/ask…. but it's not that obvious to them because they've not been used to do things this way. They need some help to implement their own social routine around the flow to know what they should do to progress (and that they are allowed to do that).

    So let's sum it up :
    - a simple routine that makes social behaviors senseful in the flow
    - a simple interface with an “action oriented” wording that makes sense according to the routine.

    ==> Help people to solve their own problems and don't make UI an inhibitor.

  • http://andrewmcafee.org/blog amcafee

    Bertrand, you make excellent points. I find that searching, asking, and sharing actually ARE in the flow of work for most knowledge workers, so these three text boxes should support 'in the flow' activities. My intent with the mocked-up screen shot is to show one way that an org. can highlight the new technologies available to help knowledge workers.

  • Pawel Trebicki

    we’re working now with my team on a social transaction platform which takes advantage of most of the enterprise 2.0 tools. The platform is focused on ordering process between suppliers and its customers but should provide proper enviroment to engage internal and external communication. We believe that it will be the right way to work on innovations together and develop different kind of relationships. Do you think that the enterprise 2.0 tools can be used as an extention of specific business activity?

  • http://www.learningapi.com Larry Bouthillier

    Making ESSP functionality as obvious as possible, in the places where people go and work, is critical, I think. And the use of simple call-to-action wording is a brilliant and effective idea borrowed straight from effective marketing copy.

    While I agree 100% with these steps to success that you suggest, I think whether they are the “simplest thing that could possibly work” depends on your vantage point. Making it that easy from the user perspective might actually involve some amount of integration by IT, which has implications for which ESSPs you can select, and how complicated the deployment will be.

    For example, if you’re deploying Wiki tools inside an intranet, and hoping to support workgroup and project team collaboration, it may be desirable to have the ESSP support access control and permissions of some kind (ideally, mapping to other access/permissions infrastructure that may already be in-place).

    The integration into daily work environments that makes the use of these tools obvious and drop-dead easy is, to me, the “killer feature” of the best of these implementations. Finding products designed for interoperability at different levels of the technology stack, and having people that can implement & integrate them is key.

  • http://enterprise20.squarespace.com Saqib Ali

    Google Buzz is integrated into Gmail Inbox, which makes it super easy to access and very visible. Visibility and ease of access is key to success of a micro-blogging platform. Having the Buzz link right in the Inbox makes the user think twice of whether to send an email or just micro-blog with the @mention. If the micro-blogging link is right in their face they are more likely to use it.

    Relying on email notifications for active participation in a micro-blogging app is like calling the recipient of the email on the phone to remind them to check their email, everytime you email them.

  • Bruce Galinsky

    I too like this idea and we have thinking about this approach to ” open up” our Sharepoint implementation because we want to move from ” go to the x tool” to performing a specific in the flow business function. I don't have much to add beyond validating this approach based upon our internal feedback. Thanks.

  • http://www.steptwo.com.au/columntwo James Robertson

    My observation about the challenges of adoption is this:

    “Only 5-10% of staff will make use of personalisation or enterprise 2.0 features.”

    While there are a few notable exceptions, they are exactly that: notable. Having integrated the new features into “the way we work”, they stand out in strong contrast to the majority of other deployments.

    I like the idea of making the tools simple, and having them universally available. That being said, having them on every page is problematic. I'm just putting the finishing touches to my next book “Designing intranets: make sites that work”, and one of the guidelines is “don't have the same thing on every page”.

    Nowdays, people are extremely good at filtering out the “margins” of pages, making a lot of these features invisible (blame banner ads). The problem is that there isn't an obvious alternative for providing universal access to this functionality.

    I'm also not sure that the functionality is sufficiently compelling or obvious for the 90-95% of staff to make use of it…

    Cheers, James

  • http://www.tractionsoftware.com Jordan Frank

    Having weathered 8 years of supporting deployments I've seen and had a very direct hand in many attempts from every which E2.0 angle.

    There are two divergent methods to spur adoption. I'll assume the method described here works. I've seen similar attempts succeed and, more often, I've seen them fail.

    The attempts I've seen consistently do best are cases where business leaders (at all levels) consider existing processes which may be ad hoc (via email) or established (via some form of system or documented protocol) and replace them with a defined E2.0 approach which offers a basic and simple structure that offers guidance on the use case but offers the flexibility we humans need.

    Processes range from request/approval to market/competitive intelligence, project teamwork and process documentation. A simple framework can be established and emergence can take over as people are liberated from email or structured process systems.

    As such, the E2.0 approach occurs entirely in-the-flow as a means to improve process rather than be seen as disruptive to work or that simply lacks a productive outcome.

    See the link here for more on the topic of Structuring for Emergence
    http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/p

  • http://twitter.com/KALhusin Heikal Husin

    This is just my comments as a research student but I agree with what James (Robertson) has mentioned. Repetition is not ideal especially when it involves information on the intranet. Employees tend to just skim through the pages for what they need. It's as if they are trying to get that job of searching information; over and done quick. I guess it has to do with their perception of their organisation's intranet.

    Most employees that I have had the chance to talk to for my research, were slightly uninterested with what is on the intranet because the general perception is that the intranet doesn't work well for them. Even the simple task of searching information on it is made harder as that capability is not as effective as they are used to. Eg. the internet. I think that the top management needs to play a better role in ensuring that proper promotion (emails or other communication channels) about new tools by relating them to actions (instead of just tools) as what you have written would hopefully have an impact on the employees.

    Overall, this is an interesting posting on how to encourage higher adoptions for Enterprise 2.0.

  • Chuck Gibson

    The box should be on a page of a document or email or anything electronic that is already in use. If so the box should help overcome at least two aspects of beginner reluctance to use an ESSP: 1) the inconvenience/investment of time to go find the link or register, and 2) the assumption that it isn’t relevant to colleagues in the work flow.

    The power of the box as an inducement would be even greater if the work document/communications location of it were on something highly relevant, not just overhead or staffy, to the target person. Indeed, it ought to be avoided except for those instances, to prevent innoculation against the desired infection. Something from the boss or the most respected collaborator in a project team, for example, would be best.

  • http://www.duperrin.com/english Bertrand Duperrin

    You're raising a very interesting point. Searching, asking etc…ARE ACTUALLY in the flow of work but in my experience few businesses try to bring this flow on social tools because “it changes the structure of work, may be seen as mandatory while we don't want to impose anything….” so employees have to bring it by themselves. And, if only 30% manage to do so, they will miss the other 70% so they'll come back to email and other irrelevant tools and practices.

    That said, you screen shot looks like what MUST be on the landing page of any intranet or even accessible through a light app (adobe air or anything else) on every employee's screen and mobile phone.

  • http://www.sustainableitarchitecture.com Pierre Bonnet

    Hi Andrew,

    Benefiting from collaborative tools such as 2.0 and Cloud require a solid IS/IT foundation. These tools fail when existing IS/IT systems are too opaque and hard-coded in software meaningful to IT specialists only.

    I am founder of a community working on an approach to restructure IS/IT by taking advantage of the linking value existing when coupling business repositories MDM+BRMS+BPM, it means data, rules and then processes governance.

    2.x tools and cloud cannot bring real ROI when underlying and legacy IS/IT still remain rigid and opaque. When using these tools just has a revamping approach and/or to complement poor quality existing systems, no positive gains are really possible. This is a value chain: the strenght of 2.x tools and cloud depend on the performance level of existing applications.

    Your post bring me a good opportunity to study the missing link between my IS domain (restructuring based on MDM+BRMS) and the 2.x tools.

    My 2 cents
    To get more information about my community (open, materials deliver as creative commons):
    http://www.sustainableitarchitecture.com/

    Kind regards
    Pierre

  • http://www.fastforwardblog.com/?author_name=pthornton rotkapchen

    Andy: Apparently you didn't join in the conversations at FASTforward 07 when you spoke. The shortest distance is search without the box. The box removes the question from the context and puts the burden on the individual, not the technology.

    Does that mean you don't have boxes? No, but whereas search became the prominent means of navigation over 'fixed labels/structure', box-less search (contextual recommendations, behavioral inferences) becomes the next generation.

    You're a generation off. But the shortest distance is spot on.

    As well you've identified the key 'mental actions' of work. This is 'starting where they are'. Both 'short' and 'where they are' are fundamental to anything 2.0. From http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2009/05/27/enter
    “Enterprise 2.0 is a mindset, framed by the orders of nature: enabling endless possibilities, organizing simple things in simple ways.

    Enterprise 2.0 is about facilitating orderly chaos:

    * Minimizing Structure, Optimizing Connections
    * Tapping Existing Kinetic Energy
    * Celebrating Flaw-Finding and Fixing
    * Supporting Rapid Change”

    Your recommendation is also 'stuck' in the context of current common architectures. What if the elements of Search-Ask-Share were the entire focus OF the architecture? There's only one technology in the market today that is architected in that way.

  • http://www.fastforwardblog.com/?author_name=pthornton rotkapchen

    Intranet is a 1.0 term.

    E2.0 implementations, done right, become the new 'face of work' for any organization. You've not asking them to 'come to where you are' you make where you are where they are. They're all one in the same. But you need a seamless infrastructure to do so.

    Saqib was spot on with his mention of Google. Let's just suggest that if someone were to take the flexibility of Google Web Toolkit and build out an E2.0 solution on top of it, they'd be right on the money (http://www.youtube.com/iknovate#p/u/8/dHUVOWOa7-Q).

  • http://www.fastforwardblog.com/?author_name=pthornton rotkapchen

    Andy: Apparently you didn't join in the conversations at FASTforward 07 when you spoke. The shortest distance is search without the box. The box removes the question from the context and puts the burden on the individual, not the technology.

    Does that mean you don't have boxes? No, but whereas search became the prominent means of navigation over 'fixed labels/structure', box-less search (contextual recommendations, behavioral inferences) becomes the next generation.

    You're a generation off. But the shortest distance is spot on.

    As well you've identified the key 'mental actions' of work. This is 'starting where they are' (this presentation illustrates the concept http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITXqvPI_pRg&feat…). Both 'short' and 'where they are' are fundamental to anything 2.0. From http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2009/05/27/enter
    “Enterprise 2.0 is a mindset, framed by the orders of nature: enabling endless possibilities, organizing simple things in simple ways.

    Enterprise 2.0 is about facilitating orderly chaos:

    * Minimizing Structure, Optimizing Connections
    * Tapping Existing Kinetic Energy
    * Celebrating Flaw-Finding and Fixing
    * Supporting Rapid Change”

    Your recommendation is also 'stuck' in the context of current common architectures. What if the elements of Search-Ask-Share were the entire focus OF the architecture? There's only one technology in the market today that is architected in that way.

  • http://www.fastforwardblog.com/?author_name=pthornton rotkapchen

    Intranet, pages are all 1.0 terms.

    E2.0 implementations, done right, become the new 'face of work' for any organization. You've not asking them to 'come to where you are' you make where you are where they are. They're all one in the same. But you need a seamless infrastructure to do so.

    Saqib was spot on with his mention of Google. Let's just suggest that if someone were to take the flexibility of Google Web Toolkit and build out an E2.0 solution on top of it, they'd be right on the money (http://www.youtube.com/iknovate#p/u/8/dHUVOWOa7-Q).

  • http://twitter.com/Srini74 srinivas

    Its a classic social media usage (as consumers/producers) problem. I like the tweetdeck approach where I can publish to different platforms (atleast that can consume). Also any changes in these platforms notify when any interesting activity happens. So basically we need publish/subscribe mechanisms in enterprsie that work

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