A Sea Change?

Earlier this week I was invited to speak with a group of (very) large company CIOs by the estimable Jim Cash, a former HBS colleague, IT scholar, human Rolodex, and trusted advisor to a great many. I gave the latest version of my talk on Enterprise 2.0, touching on topics like the strength of weak ties, open innovation and emergent expertise as exemplified by the Foldit game for protein folding, and how 2.0 technologies can help spread tacit knowledge. To motivate the business case and convey why pragmatic, skeptical executives should be interested in these topics, I used former Hewlett-Packard CEO Lew Platt’s great quote that “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.”

Our session pretty quickly became a discussion rather than a presentation, which was great. What was even better was the nature of the discussion. As I listened, I realized that a fundamental shift had taken place: these executives were no longer talking mainly about their concerns, hesitations, or reasons for caution around Enterprise 2.0; instead, they were talking about their frustrations that their companies weren’t moving faster toward it.

For the first time with a group of ‘old economy’ CIOs, I was preaching to the converted. As far as I could tell, all of them bought in to the idea that Enterprise 2.0 was a big part of the solution to a longstanding and serious challenge for their organizations. They talked about it as if it were a no-brainer —   something they wanted and needed to do. Their main challenge was getting their workforces to adopt the new tools, business practices, and philosophies.

They voiced the natural concerns around security and IP protection, but these were discussed as issues to be dealt with rather than showstoppers.  And they weren’t too worried that their people would use the tools to waste time or goof off. In fact, quite the opposite; they were concerned that the busy knowledge workers within their companies might not have enough time to participate.

In short, it felt like a sea change had taken place. Big company CIOs aren’t typically mavericks. They support the business, manage projects, keep uptime high, and keep costs down. I mean no disrespect at all when I say that they’re rarely the ones pressing wild new ideas on their colleagues, especially if these ideas have a technology component.

So I inferred from our discussion that Enterprise 2.0 is no longer perceived as a wild new idea. The CIOs I was talking with apparently considered it just a good idea, and one whose time had come. They seem to have fully absorbed John Doerr’s advice that “If you don’t have a social strategy, you better go get one.”

I find this very good news, and wanted to share it.

I also wanted to ask if you’re seeing the same thing. In your environment, has the conversation about the business use of emergent social software platforms moved into the mainstream? Are uncertainty, fears, and inertia still holding your organization back, or are things different now? And if they are different, when did they change? Leave a comment, please, and let us know what you’re seeing.