E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organisations – And Why We May Have Gotten It Wrong Once More!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

While doing some RSS feeds catchup, I actually bumped again into a weblog post that I have been meaning to share a thought or two for a little while now since it has been out there in the open for a few weeks already. The article itself comes from one of the main, and most prominent, KM thought leaders in the field for a number of years: Tom Davenport, and it has been published over at Harvard Business Online under the title of Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organisations.

I must say that the article itself makes up for an interesting and controversial reading, specially from the point of view that tries to demonstrate how Enterprise 2.0 is not going to succeed for long in the current corporate world. On the contrary, it will probably disappear just as quick as it has settled in there thus far. While Tom has got some very valid points on his reasoning there are a number of different comments that I am not so sure I would still agree with them, as I feel they touch base on something that I thought we had learned quite some time ago was the wrong approach towards KM and somehow after reading Tom’s article it seems we haven’t learned the lesson just yet.

Here are a couple of points that I want to stress out based on Tom’s thoughts which I hope would be able to contribute into the discussion further and perhaps help clarify where we may be going wrong once again:

"The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won’t make organizational hierarchy and politics go away"

Why not? After all, it is already happening in most places. I mean, if you look at the rampant rate of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 within the corporate world it would, at least, make you wonder if it would stick around for a while, or not. My take is that pretty much like in the consumer / producer market, things may have started slow, but they are here to stay. Why? Because one of the things that knowledge workers are realising about is the fact that Enterprise 2.0 empowers them to collaborate, share their knowledge and innovate with others placing the focus on what I feel is the key fundamental aspect that will make organisational hierarchy and politics go away: The people themselves!

The focus within Enterprise 2.0 is no longer on the tools nor the processes, two of the main aspects behind organisational hierarchies and politics, but more on the people, on helping them engage in different conversations and allow them to connect with others by sharing their same passion for a particular subject. This is the reason why there are 71 million weblogs out there, several millions of social bookmarks shared all over the place, millions of podcast episodes downloaded thus far, several million photographs shared all over the place and so on and so forth. The list goes on and on and on.

It is a participatory Web, indeed, we all know that, but it is a participatory Web where knowledge workers are now the main voice leading the workplace. It is no longer the organisation with complex processes to follow or mandating to make use of a particular tool because you may have been told so what rules. That command-and-control attitude is a thing of the past because, for the first time in a while, knowledge workers are realising that they are in control themselves of how they work, share knowledge and collaborate with other fellow colleagues. And as result of that, they are seeing how their productivity has increased quite a bit with a whole lot less effort by just helping themselves make those connections. Yes, the good old motto of working smarter without necessarily making it harder.

"They won’t make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won’t be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone."

This particular quote has got a lot to do with yesterday’s weblog entry I shared over here, where I mentioned how if a corporation is to care for the well being of its knowledge workers it has got to empower them to have a voice, to have a say, and, yes, I agree that it may not be as influential as that one from the CEO, but still it will be an important one that would help shake things bottom-up in such a way that they could transform the way knowledge workers interact feeling part of that new knowledge-based company they are rebuilding. Do you think that the CEO is going to be able to make that switch with one of his influential speeches? I doubt it. Do you think that a bunch of knowledge workers can provoke that change from bottom-up? You bet!

Nowadays, it is all in the power of reaching out to others, establish, nurture and mature those different connections, work your way through your own social network(s) so that knowledge flows a lot easier, and collaboration happens for the sake of it and not as an excuse, nor a nice thing to have.. People will continue to build up on their trust levels, forgetting altogether about incentives and ensuring that command-and-control attitude is no longer there, if the corporation would want to survive in the 21st century, that is.

And all that is going to be massively embraced with the push for the adoption of social computing within the Enterprise. Tom mentions as well how the younger workforce is going to be playing a major role in this as well as the baby boomer generation starts retiring very shortly, and he is totally accurate about that, as I have been explaining over here a few times already. But the funny thing is that if I look into my own blogroll I would venture to say that just around 90% of it are folks in their mid-40s or 50s (Or even older!). Thus we may not need to wait that long before seeing some of those changes, they are already happening and the main reason why that is taking place is because the focus is where it should be been in the first place: the people themselves!

Still think that Enterprise 2.0 will not transform organisations? Well, to me, it has already started. And big time! Only question remaining out there in the open for everyone would be, are you ready to transform your own organisation? Because that is where it all starts… In You!

0 votes


  1. And of course, while some try to push transformation through, the masses just put up with whatever comes from their bosses, and find was to live through another day. Just like these examples

  2. Yes, that may well be the case, indeed, but for how long? I mean, there is a time where if knowledge workers are not happy and content with their current workplace and the tasks they would need to carry out, then they will eventually be making a move to whatever other companies that will have started that transformation. And word of mouth is probably going to play an important role as well as more and more people will start trusting their relationships and working through them to help them find a way out to a place where they would feel more comfortable with their current environment.

    And something tells me that will just be one of the main factors that will help differentiate labour-based companies from knowledge-based companies. And people will need to make up their mind whether they would want to help provoke that transformation or just put up with whatever else while entertaining themselves in whatever other tasks.

    Thanks again for the feedback!

  3. Hola, Luis.

    I think Davenport’s article is just a rethorical, debate-starting question. “Web 2.0” won’t transform much; the ideas that drive its use (emergence, collaboration, transparency) on the other hand, might.

    Plus, web 2.0 technology trends such as wikis, use of standards (and thus mashups), group and project blogs et cetera are large steps forward in the spread of modern, practical knowledge management. Just as blogging enables personal online publishing, the whole set facilitates knowledge flow, sharing and collaboration. Within a forward-thinking corporation with participatory business practices, that may indeed amount to change.

    Finding how to better harness the productivity of knowledge workers is a corporate goal. Finding how to empower them is not (unless it is a requisite for the first). It’s a management shift that’s needed, not just a technology.


  4. Luis – Senior managers in companies go through phases of caring for their knowledge workers & then not caring very much at all. For example, just before I left IBM, a significant number of consultants in Australia were “let go”. People worry for their jobs & their ability to pay the mortgage. People suck up to their bosses. And not everyone sits at a desk with an internet connection.

    Tools & processes are not the causes of hierarchy but merely the instruments of it. Human societies are hierarchical by nature. Web 2.0 will not change that. The drive for power & control is ever-present.

    Despite the profusion of Web 2.0 technologies in the consumer space, our governments are not noticeably more representative than before.

    I agree with you that individuals are responsible for their own actions but I find the suggestion that blogs & wikis will change 500,000 years of human evolution incredibly naive. I am a Web 2.0 enthusiast & also very cynical.

  5. Here is another good take on the “disputed” views from the FASTforward blog

    My view which I posted over at my blog actually contextualises the dispute against a view of the future held by most visionaries and in certain cases is the correct approach and in others not and this is taken from The Visionary’s Handbook (Nine Paradoxes that will Shape the Future of your Business) by Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor.

    Essentially, the conclusion I draw (an intellectual mash-up) actually comes out of the Visionaries Handbook:
    Most “visionary” books (apply equally to McAfee/Davenport’s visions of the future) are failures of imagination and the more they ring of “truth”, the greater the failure they are. Why? Because that is the first paradox of the visionary: the closer your vision gets to a provable “truth”, the more you are simply describing the present in the future tense. Global connectivity, real-time information, and the other usual suspects of visionary business books won’t change the business world, they already are changing it, they have changed it in the past, and they’ve been on their way to changing it for more than three decades, ever since the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency first successfully tested the ARPANET, the forerunner of today’s Internet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *