Over the last couple of days, two rather interesting, and noteworthy, articles over at Technology Review, written rather nicely by Erica Naone, have been making the rounds out there on Social Web around Enterprise 2.0 and the successful transformation of becoming a social business altogether and I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about them today, since both of them would serve me quite nicely to embark on a lovely trip down the memory lane by pointing you folks to “Experimenting on Themselves” and a glance into the not so distant future by referencing “Social Tools for Business“. One common theme around both of them: unleash, at long last!, the huge amount of hidden talent of your workforce by empowering them to make best use of social software tools!
That’s right! In “Experimenting on Themselves” Erica comes to describe one of my all time favourite programs inside IBM, which, in my opinion, has been much responsible for IBM’s breath-taking adoption of social software, technology and rampant innovation, over the course of the last 15 years! For those folks who may not have heard about it, I am referring to IBM’s Technology Adoption Program, a.k.a. TAP, that surely has served the good purpose of providing a test ground for innovators and early adopters to push the limits on their development and adoption efforts of new emerging technologies.
Going as far back as 1996 with the first iteration of BluePages (Check out this snapshot from 2000/2001 to get an idea of what it was like), or 1997 when VP Buddy first came about (The first corporate Instant Messaging client I relied on to get my job done!), to then move into Fringe in 2001 (Profiles), just as IBM Community Tools (a.k.a. ICT, and as part of the larger IBM WebAhead unit) came about as well, to be followed by the first instance of BlogCentral (Blogs – Back in November 2003), Dogear (Social Bookmarking – 2005 / 2006) and later Cattail (Personal File Sharing – 2007) one cannot be but truly inspired at the rampant innovation that has taken place inside IBM thanks to TAP. I am 100% certain that without this program itself IBM would not have even dreamed of getting exposed to social software tools so soon like we did, to the point where most of those loose components, or services, that today make up for the bundle known as Lotus Connections would not have probably even existed in the first place!
I am sure by now you may be wondering what was the main key success factor that influenced such a powerful experience with all of those innovations over the course of time tapping into multiple areas of common interest for those really smart innovators and passionate early adopters, right? Well, I can probably summarise it nicely as well with a single sentence that Erica mentions in one of her articles:: “[IBM’s ability to let go and empower /] facilitate employees’ software experiments“, but perhaps this would be a bit more obvious seeing it with one of those experiments that my good friend, and fellow colleague, John Rooney described quite nicely under “Experimenting on Themselves“:
“Rooney says, many companies struggle with finding an efficient way for employees to share files. When people use e-mail for this purpose, it’s often hard to tell which version of a file is the most recent, and duplicate files are stored all over the place. For years, IBM’s IT office had a file-sharing service in place, but hardly anyone used it. An employee reconceived the service, adding better social features. The new version caught on throughout the company and eventually led to a product that IBM offers to its customers“
That is a very inspiring, and dead on!, explanation of how Cattail came into existence a few years back, and how it then inspired the launch of the product service known as Lotus Connections Files shortly afterwards. That’s just what happens when you, as a business, allow your employees, your knowledge workers, to explore further ideas they have collaborated on with their peers and see where that experiment may take them; instead of hoarding their knowledge, instead of feeling trapped inside their own silos, instead of being burdened with endless paperwork and bureaucracy, instead of drowning their passion, their voice, their willingness to make a difference, businesses need to understand it’s about a good time now to unleash and free up those human batteries that my good friend Lee Bryant coined a little while ago and which I think is very descriptive of the new challenge that companies will face during the course of the next few years: how are you going to free up that talent to empower them to keep up with that accelerating innovation, specially, as you introduce the concept of co-creation with your customers and business partners?
Are you ready to engage? You may be thinking that this will surely be an exception, right? After all, IBM is an IT company, don’t you think? Well, 10 years ago that may well have been the case, but fast forward to 2011 and that’s no longer the case. It’s no longer an exception, but more a norm. A norm that will start becoming contagious from business to business, from customer to customer and so forth. Take a look into 3M. Better, have a look into this superb blog post that John Woodworth put together a while ago under the heading “Social Media Drives Creativity Inside The Enterprise” where he talks about how his work colleagues, spread around 17 different teams!, put together a rather inspiring and mind-blowing video clip to “surprise” their fellow 3M colleagues; and all of that without making much use of traditional communication tools, like email, but rather relying on social software tools instead.
You can watch the video over here or, alternatively, you could have a look into this Slideshare presentation that he put together just recently to deliver at IBM’s Lotusphere 2011 (#ls11) conference event in Orlando, FL, and which surely was one of my Top Highlights for Lotusphere 2011. Here is the embedded slide deck, so you would have an opportunity to play it right away; I can assure you it’s worth while going through every slide:
Another good example as well worth while mentioning is the one that Erica talks about under “Social Tools for Business“, where she covers some extensive commentary, from fellow IBM colleague Suzanne Livingston, on how Lotus Connections came about around 2007 “shaped by the company’s own experiences“. Read further on though on after that and on to that other example I just mentioned above, which in this case is BASF SE, The Chemical Company.
Have a look into the following excerpt quoting Cordelia Krooss, which I think reflects, very nicely, this whole concept of unleashing your hidden talent at the workplace to achieve a specific (business) goal (Another link to Slideshare referencing the presentation that CheeChin Liew and Keno Torfs did at Lotusphere 2011 as well, which would also count as one of my favourites from the entire event altogether!):
“[…] the company wanted to support the informal networks that arise within an organization, help employees share knowledge, and make it easier for the younger generation, which is comfortable with consumer social software, to fit in. “A lot of our work happens online via e-mail, which is not the ideal collaboration tool,” she says. That’s because using e-mail reinforces people’s tendency to communicate only with those they already know; it doesn’t facilitate getting feedback from unexpected sources, even if they might be helpful“
Rather inspiring, don’t you think? Specially, the aspect of facilitating serendipity. This is exactly why 10 years ago I would have admitted I was a rather lucky knowledge worker for being exposed to all of this “greatness” and amazing innovations provoked by piloting social software tools at an IT firm like IBM; but fast forward to today I think we are witnessing that unique opportunity where more and more businesses are coming to terms with the fact they didn’t know they had such an amazing hidden talent out there, awaiting to be unleashed, and yet they are now more than ready to engage and empower their knowledge workers to make a difference by facilitating things further on their eagerness to reach out, connect and collaborate with their peers on something magical, while making the most out of social software tools to make it happen.
Now who couldn’t resist embarking on such a liberating experience, as a business? Would you? I bet you wouldn’t! Neither would I, to be honest! There is just so much to gain, such a unique opportunity. We probably even cannot afford neglecting it nor ignoring it altogether. It’s already happening, so we may as well embrace it altogether! Free your knowledge workforce to do what they know best. Trust them, respect them, engage them, show them how they, too, can excel doing what they have been passionate about over the course of the years, but under the covers. Let them go free … and be ready to take innovation and co-creation into the next level! It’s just too late now to come back. It’s already there.