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

From the blog

Evangelist: Think!

Gran Canaria - Roque NubloToday’s blog post is actually a reflection I started writing about yesterday already for which I still don’t have a good, final answer I would feel comfortable with; and perhaps I never will; but more often than not it’s keeping my mind busy somewhat trying to figure out whether it would even need to be answered at all in the first place or not. Or whether I would feel comfortable with it by and large altogether. So I thought I would drop a few thoughts around that idea and see where it would take me…

Most of you folks know that I have been working as a Social Computing evangelist at IBM full time for the last two and a half years now and still going strong; before I was doing plenty of Knowledge Management, Collaboration and Community Building and social software evangelism was an additional activity coming out mostly out of my own private time. During all of this time I have been thinking about my role as a technology evangelist, specially in the area of Social Software, and its impact within the corporate world. And how the change towards a new, more social, democratised, humanised, non-hierarchical, networked (A la wirearchy as Jon Husband would say), community based Enterprise can’t come about fast enough!

Yet, it’s not happening! It wasn’t happening 6 years ago, when the corporate world was starting to pay attention to social software in the Web 2.0 consumer space; it wasn’t happening when Andy McAfee coined the term Enterprise 2.0 in 2006 and it is not happening either in 2009 when plenty of businesses are starting to invest rather heavily in their own Enterprise 2.0 efforts (And I am not just talking about money here, by the way, in case you are wondering … ).

So, perhaps it won’t be happening. Perhaps that change we are all anxiously anticipating (And working really hard for), specially those folks who identify themselves as 2.0 evangelists, is not meant to take place at all. At least, in our time! Maybe we are just planting the seed for that change to take place in 20, 30 or 50 years from now! Maybe we are all just trust agents preparing the way for a change we won’t see eventually taking place, nor our kids, nor our grand-children.

Now, would you be comfortable with that thought? Knowing that you won’t see all of that daily hard work as an evangelist coming through that very soon? That perhaps two or three generations will need to pass by before we see it become a reality? That maybe this change we are all looking forward to is going to be taking place at a rather lower pace that whatever we could have imagined  and that we are just starting to surface perhaps the .001% of its completion and general availability? … … I think I would.

I am starting to be more and more convinced that transformation of the corporate world into a more humane enterprise is not going to take place in my working lifetime. Yes, basically, I won’t see it. And, probably that means you won’t either. And although you would think that it’s rather worrying, I actually think that it may not be. At least, the etymological meaning of an evangelist will prove to be rather accurate (If you look into other evangelists in our recent past…).

So why am I pondering about all this, you may be wondering, right? Well, like I said at the beginning of this blog post, I have been thinking about this for a while now as something I have been witnessing all along. How even despite all of the goodness behind Enterprise 2.0, things are moving rather slow. Perhaps too slow. In hundreds, if not thousands of businesses, it’s not even part of a conversation yet, on whether they would need to pay attention to it or not. Yes, there are several thousand businesses out there still thinking along those lines! You even may be reading this blog post at your home computer or mobile device because your company may have even blocked access to social software tools. I know how this very same blog is actually blocked in several countries out there.

I know and realise that this may come through as a relatively negative blog post, and by all means it is not meant to be. It’s just a reflection that perhaps all (technology) evangelists should start realising, and come to terms, with the fact that the change towards a World 2.0 that we are all anticipating may not be coming through that quickly. And that we may need to decide whether we are comfortable with that situation or not. And what would we do if we don’t. My good friend, and evangelist (If I may dare use that word, not sure whether he would consider himself as one, but, to me, he is), Euan Semple nailed it earlier on in an interview he did with Dennis Howlett (Which you can read more on over here & here) where he gets to describe how it may well take up to 50 years for this 2.0 general transformation to take place, before we can say that it has truly transformed not just how we work, but also how we live, transcending both our personal and work related lives.

Euan Semple on the New Web from Dennis Howlett on Vimeo.

A worth while going through interview for sure with plenty of golden nuggets, but that one in particular struck me as rather revealing, again, on that role of a social computing evangelist that nowadays can’t see this work coming through fast enough. To top it off, another good friend, David Tebbutt, posted a very thought-provoking and revealing article under "Evangelist: beware" that I would also recommend everyone out there to check out. In it you will find precious little gems, like this one, as his final conclusion:

"The answer has to be to filter them as quickly as possible. Find out who pays for their evangelism in money or in other ways. Ask them what alternatives they know about in detail. And get them to tell you what the long term implications of their advocacy are likely to be. Some will slink away from the interrogation. Some will bluster, so you can take your leave of them. Those that will remain probably have a good and well thought out story to tell" (Emphasis mine)

You see? This is now when that thought I have been pondering about is starting to take shape. And eventually comes around as well with a superb tweet that David Terrar shared a few hours back quoting Euan again: "@euan on being evangelical – "I don’t want them to think like I think, I just want them to think"".

And that’s why I am continuing to think that perhaps our role as social computing evangelists is not so much to provoke that corporate change and transformation, but eventually to provoke a much more profound and significant change on how we operate and behave as human beings towards other human beings. And I can certainly see decades going by before we all start getting a sense we are heading somewhere. After all, it’s all about a continuous learning path on being better at what we do, and who we are, and most of the times it’s going to take us quite a long time to try to absorb and apply such drastic change, not only for ourselves, but also for others… I guess I will ask my grand-kids one day whether we were successful or not…

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17 comments

  1. Wonderful perspective, Luis! Look at history. It shows us that real, profound change in institutions and systems occurs over years, if not decades. While the pace of change, especially in technology, has been increasing exponentially over the course of civilization, it is likely still not so fast that we will see Enterprise 2.0 become the norm during our lifetimes. However, we should keep working and evangelizing so we can stack incremental wins upon each other until the goal if reached. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Hi Luis. Wise post. And thanks for the kind mention. If I look back at things I got involved in and when, most of them took at least ten years from inception to mainstream. Some still haven’t made it. Here are a few:

    1973/4 – environmental stuff (inspired by E.F.Schumacher)
    1975 – mind mapping on paper (inspired by Tony Buzan)
    1979 (I was late) – personal computers (inspired by my programming team)
    1981 – idea processing/mind mapping on PCs (See above, plus IBM BOMP in the early 70’s)

    There’s more, but you get the idea.

    You are pointing at a behavioural shift which is, frankly, a bit idealistic. It’s the same issue we’ve all lived through in groupware and knowledge management. Except, perhaps, they were borne more of the command and control mentality.

    What you’re talking about is coming from an more transparent and trusting mentality. The trouble is, this is the last thing that many people (especially those who have gained power) want. Or, they’ll be happy for us to be open and trusting while they exploit our naivety.

    As you say, it could be a long time. I’d like to think it’s a generational thing and that those coming through now (e.g. my grandchildren) will be the first generation to look at life from this new perspective.

    You’ll be around to see it. Not sure I will be.

    Cheers.

  3. I’ll post a longer external response soon, but I just wanted to say:

    The future is here. It’s just not very evenly distributed, as William Gibson said. But it’s here, and I know because I live in it most of the time. =) Thanks for helping make it possible.

  4. I agree entirely. If you look at the history of Lotus you see a company which is ahead of the curve by 5-10 years in some cases, or maybe 1-2 in others.
    When Quickplace came out 12 years ago it was 10 years too early which is why Quickr has seen great growth.
    People get it..NOW.
    Notes was far head back then, sharing data was unheard of, still is in many companies, but the openness it teaches and continues to provide to business pays off big time.
    Which is why I chose the moniker of lotusevangelist, it’s what I believe in, collaboration, sharing and openness and so should companies, but it’s taken years to reach this point.

    Excellent post, keep the faith, our grand children will inherit a better world.

  5. Luis, this is a long overdue post. I agree that we shouldnt expect basic things like these to change immediately. They wouldnt. For example, organizations didnt emerge overnight, nor did multi-national corporations. What you are discussing is probably of that level. Because this is about the distribution of decision-making and responsibility in organizations.

    Another thing we might need to look at is that what would emerge would, probably, be somewhere between the way we know things today, and the way we think Enterprise 2.0 would emerge. Some form of merging of these two paradigms is what we could look at.

    Another thing is that the debate ignores a large part of the world. As i have written at http://atulrai1.blogspot.com/2008/09/generalizations.html probably we need to look at how web 2.0 and the technologies that we are talking about can bring a change with the people of India and China.

  6. Echoing all the other commenters, Luis .. a wise and thoughtful post.

    I am reminded of a quote I have often used by Stan Davis, a business theorist / futurist:

    “Electronic information systems enable parts of the whole organization (here, we can read organization in the large sense, as a nation or society as well IMO) to communicate directly with each other, where the hierarchy wouldn’t otherwise permit it.

    What the hierarchy proscribes, the network facilitates: each part in simultaneous contact with all other parts and with the company as a whole. The organization can be centralized and decentralized simultaneously: the decentralizing mechanism in the structure, and the coordinating mechanism in the systems.

    Networks will not replace or supplement hierarchies; rather the two will be encompassed within a broader conception that embraces both. We are still a long way from figuring out the appropriate and encompassing organization models for the economy we are now in.”

    He too believed it would take a minimum of 30 years and probably more like 50 years to arrive at a broad understanding of the inclusive capabilities of networks. The current notions and protocols of management “science” are too deeply embedded, in general, to be unlearned effectively. They (and we) will have to outgrow them 😉

  7. I never thought that we would see enterprises change in a few years just due to enabling software and fresher ideas. This is certainly a multi-generational change, and while it will have a humane effect, it’s got nothing to do with “democracy” or “being social” or even “being decent.” And it won’t come about because of any of the touchy-feely or “liberating” aspects of so-called enterprise 2.0 (which from the beginning, with all due respect to Mr. McAfee, has been a terrible tactical mistake of a name, although a great name to use in more academic studies of fhe situation).

    Consider how much more humane the enterprise is now than 50 or certainly 100 years ago. And then consider how it came about (as well as how long it took). Yes, organized labor and automation played their roles; but underlying these roles was the self-interest of those running business to increase the efficiency of the industrial worker. And, while it took a horribly long time, business leadership realized, at first intellectually only and later as an ingrained value, that the best output of an industrial worker could be achieved by a balanced approach which included, along with carrots and sticks, a need to ensure the worker was not physically degraded too much over his/her lifetime and that the worker felt some level of interest, even minimally, in their job. And more than just those, but I’ll leave it there for sake of demonstration.

    Only in the last 20 years, arguably, has business leadership even *begun* to focus on the issue of how to best exploit worker knowledge production. We heard 15 years ago “can’t give them the Internet, they’ll just waste time!” and now we hear “can’t give them Facebook, they’ll just waste time!” All the while ignoring that knowledge workers often “waste” time whether on a smoke break or at the water cooler as a means of job stress and thinking relief, and all the while ignoring the fundamental question, “why do workers waste time and what will cause them to waste more or less in a day?” And of course, there is validity to the point that many tools can create a waste of time, and at the end of the day we do all this to achieve greater productivity and/or greater profits (if we’re thinking healthy, setting aside unhealthy business habits of accumulating simple larger turnover at the expense of profitability).

    Just as with the industrial age, it will take a long time to determine how to best shape the enterprise from the view not only at the top but in mid-management and even among those movers and shakers who are sub-mid-management. And cultural change, which e2.0 is related to, will of course also have massive impact, which I gave unfair short shrift to above but also plays out over generations and influenced greatly how enterprises have become more humane over the last 50 years.

    At the end of the day, I would caution anyone against belief that the corporate world or the greater world will change in a few years. Certainly, seeking the opportunities makes sense and must be pursued. But it’s self-defeating and leads to many mistaken tactics to believe that somehow we will change well-established and, ultimately, highly functional (whether rightly or wrongly functional) institutions overnight.

    At the end of the day, those elements of e2.0 which make a corporation more successful will be adopted over time. Those elements which do not will perish (even if those elements are more humanizing). Short of a more-dramatic change in the profit motive and linkage of corporate gain to personal interest, that’s the way it must be. If one is working to change those very fundamentals, I’d suggest that working in the e2.0 field is not the best avenue, rather working in more direct corporate sociological work and possibly (depending your ideology) via other institutions (government, education, religion, etc.) one can more directly have that sort of fundamental impact. Or at least divorce yourself from the technology aspect of e2.0 and pursue doggedly the non-technology aspects – and let’s remember, corporations *can* achieve more democratic and collaborative ways of working even without the tools.

  8. Wilson, what a great comment and perspective to bring to this ‘conversation’.

    Of course I like it (your comment) a lot because i covers similar ground to a few pieces I have written at some point in the past three or four years, but I also like it because you articulate the issue so clearly and correctly, in my view, and note that some of the central and REALLY large changes to work and the workplace have these deep sociological ‘currents” driving them.

    Thanks, Wilson, for the fresh air. And I agree .. the moniker Enterprise 2.0 has probably, on balance, led to more resistance than acceptance or “oooh, what’s that new thing, I’ll have some” (but I have no data on that, it’s just a sense I have decided to have 😉

  9. When you do what you are convinced of it might not matter if the results are visible in a lifetime. You do the right thing and live in the conciousness to have contributed to the greater good, the progress of mankind.
    AND I believe that change is accelerating and we will see the changes we work for in our lifetimes. Not as general accepted modus operandi, but used by more enlightened businesses.

  10. This is a great read for someone like me who is a KM Consultant/Social Computing Evangelist and has dealt with the frustrations of organizations sticking to the ‘old ways’. But over time these frustrations seemingly resolve as the present scenario seems to be delicately balancing and trying to integrate the advantages of the ‘old capitalism’ and bringing in new, humane approaches. And it is difficult to predict a time-frame as change is definitely accelerating. Unfortunately, we human beings seem to learn more through disasters. The recent economic recession is definitely contributing to the interest in Social Computing & KM, as organizations are looking for innovative approaches to increase profit especially as old approaches are now exhausting themselves fast. So cross your fingers and continue on the path. Whether we see the change we desire in our lifetimes or not is not important, even people like Gandhi never saw it. It is enough to know that we are agents of that change!

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