No, I Don’t Want To Use Your Portal


Not every employee is the same: Companies must build many paths to useful knowledge

A few years ago I joined an online community of E20 practitioners. This community used  Jive,  an all-in-one platform that merged blogs, forums, and wikis into a single space. I found the conversations were delightful, but the interface got in the way. I wanted to engage but I kept bumping into UI walls. I couldn’t make it work. I couldn’t find the right groups. So, I wasn’t very active.

Then the community manager added a new Twitter-like platform, SocialCast. Happy day! I saw conversations. It came with a mobile version:  I could add pictures and it buzzed in my pocket when someone mentioned my name. The community came alive. I was checking in multiple times a day. I became an active contributor.

Later, under new ownership, the community discarded the streaming platform in a consolidation effort. Engagement was difficult for me again. I withdrew.

This happens often. Efforts to control and consolidate — to “simplify” — are a good way to disconnect audiences. Social software vendors must acknowledge there are many kinds of people, each with preferred way to discover things. Optimize for one kind of person at your peril, dear community managers. In these times of customization and impatience, your audience is likely to walk away.


There are four ways Homo sapiens enterprensus finds useful knowledge:

  • Librarians are organizers. They invented bookshelves and can remember ISBN codes. Librarians are natural organizers. They sort the stacks, tag the articles and create the file hierarchies. Lists send them into rapture.  Librarian taxonomies are clean and precise. When they go to find something, they know exactly where to go. Efficient retrieval is achieved – for them. But what happens if you’re not the librarian? How do you know where to start looking?
  • Homesteaders thrive in online forums. They live in community discussion groups. If they have a question, they ask it in the community. Homesteaders read every thread. Sounds good, but who has the time to read everything?
  • Streamers are the attention-deficit searchers. They organize “feeds,” awareness-based subscriptions, to gather newsy bits. E-robots gather headlines into lists they can read later. Find something interesting? Then click on the link to read the entire thing.
  • And there are the Searchers, the People of Google, the yahoos of Yahoo. They reverently approach the little white text box with words and phrases. Searchers scan the first page of results. If they don’t find what they seek, then they change the question and ask again. Searchers iterate many times until they settle on something they like.

Have an inert SharePoint site? Is it a document coffin? How about your division portal? All the care you put into the design, but no one visits it. Why? Perhaps it was designed with a faulty assumption: everybody thinks like you. Thank goodness they don’t!

How to solve this? Most organizations have half the problem solved: they have great content. But they must deploy multiple ways to find it.

The Consumerization of IT has changed employees: no longer are they willing to settle for soviet, one-size-fits-all, interfaces. They’re spoiled by all the consumer goodness outside the company. And they have learned how to find knowledge in many ways. They expect the same from their employer.

My millennial son lives in Reddit, my wife in Wikipedia and Pinterest, and I in Twitter, Feedly and Google. He’s a Homesteader, she’s a Librarian and me? I’m a Streamer with Searcher tendencies. The funny thing is, we often hear about new memes at about the same time. My wife will send me a link she found that I read the day before.

So, if your 2007 intranet portal is link sarcophagus, perhaps you should also inject its knowledge goodness into an internal wiki, maybe post updates in your corporate online forums, and if you’re lucky to have one, your enterprise streaming tool.

Special note to social software  vendors: I know you’re in a hard place trying to appease many customers. Many voices, many “votes” on what  new features you should deploy in Release Next. Listen to them to your detriment. You risk releasing a mishmash compromise if you try to squeeze everything into one place. My idea: focus on humans. Allow each person to define what they want to see, and how. Eschew “common look and feel.” Avoid “embedded experience.” Let the Librarians navigate, the Homesteaders browse, the Streamers scan and the Searchers seek.


Photo: Lynnette Fortin



Let’s Make Some Pencils

“This is the world we live in. If we weren’t surrounded by it every day, if we didn’t take it for granted, we’d be dumbstruck by its very intricacy and brilliance.”


It has been my privilege to work in large enterprises my entire career. Over the years I have worked with just about every business role in nearly every function in large companies. When I stand back and look at their accomplishments, I am struck by their “very intricacy and brilliance.” This is their advantage. This is their strength.

Large companies, especially those with decades of wisdom, have developed many paths to success. Fortune flows not only from the top downwards, but upwards where business innovation happens best. Opportunity doesn’t appear only in an executive’s spreadsheet: it is there in a customer complaint, a sourcing contract, a line extension … a new information technology. Intelligent employees take initiative. Internal networks and collective wisdom provide the confidence to experiment. They provide the speed to innovate on the spot. And the company wins.

Organic cooperation and many experiments led successful enterprises to where they are today. Manufacturing, R&D and yes… IT, Sourcing, Finance, HR and Supply Chain, innovate in thousands of unheralded ways to seize business opportunities and grow the company.

Okay Acme Corporation let’s make some “pencils.”


“This is the modern world. It’s miraculous, it’s intricate. And it gets better every day, so long as people are free to interact with each other. If we can leave the human mind uninhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”


Tomorrow’s Forecast: Mostly Cloudy


There are Clouds in your company’s horizon




‘Cloud’ is a service, usually a platform or software, delivered  to you from somewhere else  over the Internet.  Also known as ‘cloud computing,’ corporate clouds aren’t totally  new — many companies have been using services (Fidelity, Siebel, Hewitt…) for years.


Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a metered service over a network (typically the Internet).” (Wikipedia)


So why is ‘cloud’ suddenly on the opportunity list of corporations everywhere? 


  • Cloud has become quite good and it is proven to be highly reliable to manage the software they built themselves. Companies like Amazon and Rackspace provide platform-as-a-service (PaaS) with near-instant scalability and 99.9 % availability. Businesses can host their software there and not fret over capital costs, performance or up-time. Just buy what you require and release what you don’t need. Companies become renters. At the same time, the platform providers offer better cost for higher performance and reliability. Smart enterprises know Amazon is never down.


  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) like Google’s Docs has also proven itself. Consumers needn’t download new software to use the latest functionality; it’s just ‘there.’ For enterprises, SaaS lowers the cost of software delivery, training and development. Because it is often Web-based, a cloud application performs nicely on  most computers with an up-to-date browser.
  • Speed is king for agile companies. Why write software when you can buy it, especially when it comes as a service? Frugal companies can shift IT budget to new priorities like bolstering internal network capacity and building a robust mobile architecture.


‘On-premise’ is the opposite of cloud. It’s the traditional data center service that companies managed for decades. Company computers encircled in a firewall deliver customized applications direct to employees. There are many advantages with ‘on-premise:’ security, direct access to data, flexible development and a strategic, customized application architecture. Such a diverse architecture reflects the evolution of the company and is a best-fit for optimized business process. The downside? ‘On-premise’ is expensive to maintain.


It’s doubtful a company can migrate all its software and data to the cloud. Scientific and manufacturing  information streams from special non-cloud devices. Agile companies that use strategic information will never surrender the right to ad hoc business analytics from Big Data hiding on both sides of the firewall. Legally, there is some highly secure information that cannot exist off-premise, at least for now.


It might be better to imagine smaller enterprise clouds instead of a single, large cloud. Employee productivity software (documents, spreadsheets, files…) could be a little cloud. Email could be a cloud. Non-integrated, workflow-free applications could be another little cloud. Big, interconnected systems probably won’t make it to the cloud.


Andrew McAfee, author of Enterprise 2.0, recently wrote a though-provoking blog post about clouds and the enterprise. He compared today’s cloud opportunity with last century’s steam-versus-electricity choice. U.S. manufacturing was driven by steam power in 1910. Companies heavily invested in it were reluctant to change to electric power. Two decades later, those who disdained conversion were the minority. Newer manufacturers either chose electricity from the get-go or they switched. McAfee won’t make a prediction, but his intuition says cloud is going to grow in the enterprise.


I agree. Companies already have a few clouds; there will certainly be several more.



Growing The Legacy of Knowledge



How Social Business platforms extend the reach and value of document-centric knowledge


Knowledge is not just approved and categorized documents, but it’s also the ‘little knowledge’ that flows about us during the workday. I call this “knowledge in motion,” the kinetic information that flows by and nearly always disappears. Online collaboration persists this kind of knowledge. It’s really ‘wisdom:’ knowledge enhanced with context (value, when, who) . Via links and tags, all knowledge can be more findable — exploitable — across the boundaries of time, team and culture.

Allow me illustrate via a story in Prezi. I introduce Thomas, now a senior scientist, who has a legacy of documented knowledge and profitable accomplishment for his company. Younger scientists from other countries find his documents and they release this content-centric knowledge into the company’s social business environment. Furthermore, they augment it with what they know, what they find outside and even things Thomas doesn’t know. Thus his ‘legacy’ grows. Eventually, Thomas is drawn into the emergent social network. I also show how Thomas attempts to collaborate with himself over time, and fails because he can’t find his own ‘little knowledge.’



Happy zooming! I hope you don’t need a Dramamine.


Google Plus Has Arrived And It Is Brilliant


Will G+ send Facebook to MySpaceLand?



Buh bye, Facebook


I’ve had a chance to test drive the new Google Plus (G+ for short) this past week. I think Google finally has a serious entry in the social media oeuvre. G+ will be an additional social media venue, not a replacement. It will take time for humanity — each person, really — to decide how to balance the choices.   

G+ is that good. If I were a Mark Zuckerberg, I would shuffle that Facebook IPO to next week.

Google trickled out G+ invites in pulses through the week, mainly to early adopters. The ‘wait-in-line’ strategy seemed to work. All the technerati clamored for ‘invites’ from fortunate friends who had them. Those who got through the chute immediately set to testing the functionality. The general opinion so far is “WOW.”

My first favorable G+ impression was of the simple, clean design. There are no games and no ads… just a lot of beautiful white space and the Google primary colors. I knew at a glance what I could do. Intuition was enough to figure G+ out. And I love that G+ is not blue like its competition (What is it with blue and social media, anyway?)

Google introduces some new concepts in G+. There are ‘Circles,’ groups that give the user simple control of who-sees-what. People in a circle can ‘Hangout’ via crisp video chat with up to ten people in a delightful way. Google Chat is in there as well. Finally, there are ‘Sparks,’ suggested news feeds you may subscribe to.

Since I use my iDevices as much as my corporate laptop and home iMac, I gave G+ a once-over on my iPad and iPhone. The mobile Web interface was exceptional and quite fast. Android users do have a true app in the Android Marketplace. Google promises Apple users their own app “soon.” (As they should, since mobile drives social content more than desktop usage.)

Google has some work to do: my Google Contacts, Reader,  Voice, Docs and Gmail still look different from each other and G+. None seems integrated with G+. At times my profile picture shifts. Circles are deceptively simple, an easy concept at first glance, thorough mastery requires a good understanding of logic and Set Theory. I predict normals making ‘circular’ mistakes.

I’d also like to see tagging, tag clouds and trending topics. Google disdains human-managed discovery and ‘folksonomies,’ preferring to nudge the user with search-based algorithms. A shame, because social media means social exploration. People are pretty good at finding things. We like the adjacencies other Homo sapiens create. I have observed people adding hashtags in G+ posts knowing they are useless. Tags are the adjectives of social media language. They are a standard. They must be there.

Another caution: the gossipy technerati love new toys and are happily distracted by them. Early adopters read Mashable first thing each morning with their coffee, parsing through the latest media toy reviews. Could G+ a fad? A social media fashion? This summer’s pink? 

Remember Quora? That social phenomenon enflamed them — for a week. Quora was to be the new way to bring worldwide knowledge and collaboration togther. Quora is still here, but the social media class got bored and moved on. Are we seeing an intensified Quora-like infatuation with G+? Perhaps.

G+ is a keeper IF Google decides to keep it. Google is notoriously business-addled with many of its products. Acquired or developed, Google has disappointed fans before by abandoning exciting products like Orkut, Blogger, Wave, and Buzz. One never knows with enigmatic Google. I’ve commented before that Google doesn’t “get” social. Google’s Gnomes are happy to tinker with code and algorithms. Solutions based on human activity seem to bore them.

But maybe not this time.

G+ is good, promisingly good. Will it affect other social media venues? Absolutely. People are tired of devious, cavalier Facebook. Skype should be worried about G+ video Hangouts which are free, have equivalent functionality and just as easy (easier?) to use.

Resistance doesn’t seem futile anymore.


If Google leans into G+ and follows through on its mobile UI and integration intentions, you can expect a migration away from other social media platforms. It will be a matter of how much and how soon.  Facebook and LinkedIn may linger for a few years because people have imprinted on them and that is where their social ties are. But humans are fickle. Brokers who add little value and a lot of worry, and treat their customers like raw materials, are readily abandoned. Let’s hope G+ competition improves Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype. Diversity and choices are healthy for the social media ecosystem.

What about Twitter? Early adopters are saying it will lose ground as well. G+ seems to offer overlapping functionality to Twitter’s, I disagree and I’ll argue that Twitter will continue to thrive because it is so simple and fast. It takes seconds to tweet something. Furthermore, Apple is basing its mobile operating system, OS 5, on Twitter. Twitter is not a destination like G+; Twitter is liquid network.

Companies should enroll into G+ when Google gives the ‘all clear’. The +1 button via G+ will have equal market wattage as Facebook’s ‘Like.’ Social SEO? You bet. Google will introduce ‘Pages’ into G+ in the near future. Pages will be the way enterprises cultivate community, brand and presence.


Google’s plans for G+ and businesses

And how about inside the enterprise, that ‘Enterprise 2.0’ stuff? I’m a little more reserved here. Google spooks companies and I don’t see anything in G+ to will change that opinion. I’m not sure Google even cares. Employees will use it anyway, and G+, like any other Socially Transmitted Software (STS) will find its way into the enterprise.

I read this week that “Google+ is a chance for social networkers to start over.” Perhaps we are yearning to free ourselves of adolescent Facebook and boring Linkedin. G+ may be the reset button we seek.



Will Your Company Evolve Into An Open Enterprise?


Business transformation is probably already underway where you work




 Courtesy Fresh Networks  


Large enterprises fund massive projects to standardize global business process and software. They hope ERP software and some consultant pixie dust will transform them into the companies they would like to be.  Ambitious projects, but I’m wondering if their leadership is aware of the other transformation already underway. The one you are participating in right now because you are reading this.


I am talking about the shift towards engaged, agile employees and self-forming teams. This is the transformation based on the empowerment of the individual, intensified by social technologies and consumer-type behavior in the workplace. The signals are all around you: employees with their own smartphones doing company business; global teams using enterprise social software like IBM Connections, SocialCast or Jive.


The world is changing — flattening — and old hierarchical organizations can’t keep pace with nimble competitors or fickle customers. Pyramidal, silo-based organizations lack the ability to quickly respond. Bureaucracy, cost-management mindsets… workflows…  make for a timid, obedient workforce. Command-and-control displaces trust. Innovation flags. Managers flee risk. People seek approval before acting. Teams let their spreadsheets think for them.


At the same time employees have more capability than ever before. They’re more educated. They travel a lot. They are adept at technology and information-savvy. Increasingly, they know how to the strum the external social network and make Google sing. 


New entrants into the workforce, the ‘Millennials,’ lack the patience of their elders. They see hierarchies as barriers. Generation Y doesn’t understand why the vice president won’t return their messages.  Companies face perpetual challenge to the status quo when the Millennials get their employee badges,.


Is the old organization model about to break? 67% of American workers are unhappy with their jobs. Could a  top-down corporate structure, a 17th century anachronism, be smothering employees with bureaucracy and e-productivity? Are companies letting employee ingenuity give way to compliant behavior? Is the enterprise too rule-based?


Employees are ready and willing to contribute. With the proper motivators employees will deliver on goals in a effective and satisfying way. Corporations of self-forming teams with a looser ‘official structure’ may be the key to winning against the competition. Yes, it won’t be predictable or very measurable. It may even be costly. But the overall return to shareholders may be higher.



William McKnight, 3M’s best entrepreneur, knew this decades ago.


Below is a video from Bettermeans. The message is a bit utopian, but bear with it; there are points you should consider.






Autonomy, principles, decentralization and social technology may be the keys to your business transformation

Your Enterprise Has STSs. What Should You Do?




An HIV virus penetrating a healthy human immune cell

Nearly every large company is infected by STSs or what I call “Socially Transmitted Software.” I’m not talking about malignant agents like worms, Trojan horses or scumware. No, these STSs are the kind you read about in Mashable and RWW, those that get glowing praise from the technical chatterati. STSs are beloved by consumers seeking to use them at their office. But IT and internal security have a low regard for STSs. Such software is a serious threat in their view. Why does the enterprise fear STSs?

STSs are like STDs in many ways. STDs, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, used to be called social diseases not too long ago. Why ‘social?’ These diseases are passed from human to human via intimate sex, a special kind of social interaction based on mutual pleasure. But  how can software be a ‘disease?’ Isn’t ‘infection’ a bit over-the-top? Consider Wikipedia’s definition:

An infection is the colonization of a host organism by parasite species. Infecting parasites seek to use the host’s resources to reproduce, often resulting in disease.

STDs must have a host and willing partners. STDs are successful when they colonize, build up a sustainable internal population and then penetrate another host.

STSs infect the enterprise via willing and reckless employees. People install an STS at the request of a friend or family member. It may come from an app store or Web site. An STS may be mobile or browser-based. The experience is fun and effective. Naturally, when this person dons his employee badge, he will want to use the same software inside the company. Tasks are more enjoyable and productive that way.

Enterprises recoil at the idea of random software entering the corporate (from the Latin corpus, ‘body’) workplace. Such software is never vetted the old-fashioned way: no network analysis; no vendor background check; no license; no intellectual property protection; and so on. Substitute ‘risk’ for ‘disease’ and it is easy to see why antiseptic, obsessive-compulsive enterprises panic.

Companies’ immune systems are no longer adequate. The firewall isn’t the effective prophylactic it once was. Employees bring their own computers called ‘smartphones’ and network ‘wireless’ with them. Yes, STSs can be airborne, too.

Employees tether their devices to company computers. They will use cloud-based services to move corporate media back and forth. Blocking Facebook is no longer effective when the secretary can use her iPhone to check her news feed. And don’t think about blacklisting Youtube. You can’t; the marketing team has videos out there.

There are three STSs that really trouble companies: Yammer, Skype and file sharing services like Dropbox and Google. Yammer is a microblogging service whose preferred host is a business. Yammer is nicely made with features attuned to employee-to-employee sharing. Yammer appeals to the mobile employee with its ‘push’ notification to smartphones. The price is right: Yammer is ‘free’ with very limited terms of service. Employees really like this. Best of all, no need to get Big IT involved. Well, maybe later, when they get into trouble. Until they do, they just set up a Yammer account and invite their friends.

‘Free’ means ‘risk’ to the enterprise. It means no legal non-disclosure agreement. Yammer also permits non-sanctioned corporate impersonation. Anybody can add the corporate logo to a Yammer instance. Newly invited employees think the instance is corporate and safe, and they ‘yammer’ away. Meanwhile, the people guarding the corporate brand identity are dialing their lawyers.


‘EyE pEEp holE’ by eyemakeart


Everyone knows about Skype. It’s the Dick Tracy fantasy, delivered: talking heads on your device, any time. Inexpensive, too, and free (that word again) when used between computers. The interface is delightful. The most attractive feature for traveling employees? Skype works just about anywhere in the world. Perfect for the 8:00 pm phone conference with Japan.

What’s so scary about Skype? Um, there’s that risk thing again; company secrets fly across unsecured and unencrypted lines. And Skype is a bit creepy, too. If left on but not in use, it just does things. Skype wakes up and the hard disk light comes on. IT telecommunication teams suspect ‘theft of service’ issues with Skype. Is Skype using a corporate resource for non-company business?

Dropbox? What’s not to love about friendly little Dropbox? It’s so easy to use. The Dropbox cloud allows employees to telecommute or work on the go. Dropbox is the de facto file system for the mobile employee. Working on a sales forecast spreadsheet but it’s time to leave the office? Plop it into your Dropbox and you can finish it on your home computer after dinner. But how secure is the storage? Who is accountable if the spreadsheet is missing?

A progressive enterprise knows a good thing when it sees it. Employees are willing to work more — and more productively — when they can use their personal devices with the cloud. Companies are struggling to respond. Their old tools of policy and firewall are feeble against the STS. They hope their trusted IT partners  (IBM? Cisco? Microsoft?) will develop enterprise-safe inoculants for the STS. These vendors will catch up, eventually, but they are always cycles behind the consumer market. And just like human pathogens, the STSs will alter themselves to competitive-preventative pressure.

What to do? Personally, I have used all three of these tools and I love them. With the exception of Skype, they are free to me. As someone who evangelizes inside the company for social collaboration, I very much want to see the concepts of these tools to succeed.

The key may be found if we look again to biology. The solution may be adaptation, that ability of an organism to respond to a threat. The enterprise must become more tolerant, somehow, to mobile and external social software. The employee must adapt by assuming more forethought — and consequence. Instead of policies, companies should aggresively train employees. And yes, the enterprise should accept a little more risk.

And the STSs? They will adapt, too. STSs know the competition is coming. Look-alikes are easy to develop. Substitutes that play by corporate rules will get the phone call from the procurement department. Instead of blue Web pages with scant ‘About Our Company’ information, STSs will have actual phone numbers and names. Instead of encouraging software promiscuity, they’ll start calling the corporate C-suites. Instead of parasitism, they attain symbiosis.

The enterprise doesn’t trust STSs. To stay competitive and survive, the STS must be social with the enterprise, not just its employees. It’s all about trust.




Use Social Business to Connect with Your Future Self

Social business tools augment your memory with facts and context



Can you remember the great ideas of your career?

I had lunch with a scientist last year. We were talking about our multi-decade careers and our accomplishments. My companion put down his fork and said “I had this great idea in 1997 and I wrote it down somewhere. The idea was entirely impossible, but I jotted a few notes about it, anyway. Last month I read about a machine that might make my idea possible. I was excited! I looked through all my notes, online and in paper, but I couldn’t find them. I gave up. A shame, really.”

My companion is a polymath, a Leonardo da Vinci, who is as wide as he is deep in knowledge. He devours news. He’s a cauldron of ideas. Like most people, he can remember only so much. He’s relied on email, files and notebooks to manage his notes. But such storage is ephemera; over time these sources shifted away from him. His knowledge ‘migrated’ or someone else ‘archived’ them. An idea, a million dollar hunch, is lost.

Steven Johnson writes in his his book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From. The Natural History of Innovation,‘ about the power of the “slow hunch.” His example is Charles Darwin, a geologist by training, who developed the theory of natural selection. Darwin didn’t have a ‘eureka!’ moment. A prodigious man, Darwin took a volumes of notes in his commonplace book over the decades of career. Each time Darwin observed something, he wrote notes to his future self. He indexed them. Darwin re-read them from time to time. Although he was blessed with strong intuition, Darwin was a man with a normal memory. He needed devices like his commonplace book to give it a leg up. Darwin didn’t just happen on his theory; it was his good notes, his intuition and several years of re-reads before it revealed itself.



A 17th Century English Commonplace book (Courtesy Yale)

Johnson says the slow hunch is one of the essentials for innovation. As creative people progress through their careers, their intuition tells them when an obsevation may be important. Even if it is unsolvable at the moment, they will store it in the back of the mind. When a related piece of information later appears, intuition links the hunch with the new fact. Tenacity, intellect and creativity is the personal engine for innovation.

In today’s world of information torrents, it is easy for the mind to lose track of its valuable hunches. This is worsened in the enterprise. Employees are exposed to too much trivial information. Email dissipates knowledge. Most corporate systems, with their need for conformity and categorization, also destroy hunches. Personal knowledge is lost year by year.

Imagine if you are a creative person in the enterprise [scientist, engineer,  IT professional… ]. There are knowledge-destroying forces arrayed against you: corporate automation that obliterates creativity; workflows insisting on conformity; and legal missives mandating knowledge sarcophagi — or destruction!

And sometimes profitable ideas just disappear on their own …

Perhaps creative employees could benefit by using social business software to annotate their present selves for later discovery by their future selves. Keeping a personal wiki, bookmarks and tags are great ways to assemble a virtual commonplace book. Not only is knowledge kept, but context is preserved this way. Employees are their own best curators.

But annotation for the future won’t be enough. Like Darwin, they must make a point of re-reading their material. As we age, our perspective changes. A re-read of our notes is the final trigger for creativity to happen.







Do your classwork at home. Do your homework in class

I found this TED video, below, from Salman Kahn, the founder of the e-learning company, Kahn Academy. After watching it, I knew there was something here for the enterprise.

Today’s video is different from the classroom movies in your school days. Back then your teacher wheeled in a TV-VCR or a movie projector. You, the kid, had to sit and watch until it was over. There was no fidgeting in those classes. Though we looked at classroom movies as a rare treat, the fact was, we got bored halfway through. More than likely in my case, I was ‘shooshed.’

Video has changed in so many ways since then. Now anyone can take a video and post it online. The ‘watcher’ is empowered as she wasn’t before: she can stop, rewind, comment on, add to playlists, ‘favorite’ and pass on to other ‘watchers’ in email and Twitter. The term for this is ‘lean-forward’ video. The watcher is engaged. She has as much control as the author. A lean-forward video has potential for the consumer, the student … and the employee.

Mr Kahn started uploading little videos of his lectures to YouTube. He immediately got some unexpected responses from the ‘watchers.’ They preferred his videos to the in-classroom lectures at school. Kahn decided to “flip the class room” and have the kids watch the lecture at home and do their homework in class. Comprehension soared. ‘Self-paced’ became ‘accelerated.’ ‘Lean-forward’ video lead to ‘lean-across-the-desk’ collaboration between students.

Can we ‘flip’ things in our companies? Could you ‘flip’ meetings by having people watch a presentation beforehand and then get down to active business in the conference room?  That’s pretty powerful. How many times have you sat in a meeting when presenter struggled to set up a PowerPoint on a projector, or worse, fumbled with an on-line Web conference? Why not record a narrated presentation, upload it, share the link with the meeting attendees? They can watch it in their own time and come to the meeting prepared.

Or better yet, not even have a meeting at all! Why not embed the video into a discussion thread and have people engage asynchronously? Think about it…

Here’s the TED video, below. It’s about 20 minutes long. Are there ways you could create lean-forward videos for your teams? You projects? Share your ideas!


EEEK! My Business Has Workflows!


Is it time to replace your system workflows with social business tools?



‘Subway’ by George Tooker, 1950


When pundits assemble the unwashed to preach the Gospel of Social Business, they often warn against the antisocial  forces within the enterprise. They’ll talk about diffident executives, hostile middle managers, unaligned business case, the folly of tool evangelism and weak community strategy. These are all valid roadblocks. We’ve certainly heard about them enough.

Yet there are more basic challenges to enterprise collaboration  These are the ‘data processing’ assumptions still coursing in the brains of business people. They cling to the old ways. Some examples:

  • Yes, they see the value of social business networking, but they still want a web site.
  • “Wikis? Well, sure, but how to fit one in the division portal?”
  • “We must account for exception processing; can we fit this in a Lotus Connections screen?” 
  • Communities? Yes, they seem to be better than our department Notes database, but can we move our project approval system to SharePoint?”
  • “Can I get my e-mails auto-posted to a blog somewhere?”
  • “How do I replicate these things so I can get them on my hard drive?”

Workflow systems are the migraines of social business deployment. Organizations want automated workflows because they enforce a chain-of-command. If a company succumbed to Six Sigma, it may have hundreds of stillborn, FMEA-spawned, automated swimlanes.

The enterprise still wants workflows because they promise the illusion of control.

Networked collaboration is the business antipode of workflow-based systems. Individuals make their own decisions in collaboration tools. Information pathways aren’t designed; they appear in an organic fashion, from the need of humans to connect and share. A social network pulses with information in an efficient way; it’s an amalgam of publication and alerts.  But the most important distinction between a designed, enforced workflow and a social business network is trust. A workflow doesn’t have it; a social network requires it. If trust is essential for good collaboration, then we can say a workflow is collaboration-free.

Reasons why workflows don’t flow or work:

  • They are fragile. Anything new (people, responsibilities, organization changes) shatters a workflow. They can’t adapt when the organization must change. They never last.
  • Workflows support the status quo. They are hierarchical.
  • Workflows require training. This means they are not intuitive.
  • They are expensive. In addition to the software costs, there are the additional costs of training.
  • Workflows are antisocial. People aren’t supposed to engage each other. An automated workflow is really forwarded annotation.
  • Directional flow is the opposite of collaboration. Work flow is a one-way, recursive information shunt.
  • Workflows lengthen tasks. People don’t know when to respond. Workflows add inefficiencies.
  • Workflows require design. They annihilate fluid interaction.
  • Workflows are optimized for the organization, not the individuals in it. Humans will always seek to optimize for themselves and sub-optimize the workflow. They do this all the time.
  • A workflow design is by its nature a compromise between the stresses of time and task. They dumb-down the personality of the individual, turning them into automatons, treating them like process equipment in a manufacturing line or items to be measured.
  • Workflows’ highest end-game is compliance. Staying in the lines is not the path towards growth or creativity.

Workflows impede collaboration. It’s time for the enterprise to rethink the value of automated workflow systems. There are places for automated workflows, especially when the enterprise has lazy, sneaky employees it can’t trust. But if it is blessed with hard-working, informed and smart people, perhaps it is time for the enterprise to throw those old workflows away.

Think about it. Are there inefficient workflows in your enterprise? Could they be done another way?