Davenport v. McAfee: Can we get any disagreement?

[Update Tuesday June 19 - the streaming video and Mp4 download are now available as well - thanks to Frogpond for the links.]

I kicked off my Enterprise 2.0 experience this morning by attending the much ballyhood “smackdown” between Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee and Babson professor Tom Davenport (see Davenport v. McAfee update or the coverage on Social Computing Magazine).

Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport at Enterprise 2.0

I’m not much of a live blogger, but here’s my raw notes from the debate – which turned out, as such debates often do, to be more filled with violent agreement and relatively nuanced distinctions between positions than it was with rancor or hostility. (It never fails when both participants are reasonable, articulate, intelligent folks).

The debate was moderated by Dan Farber, webcast live on Veodia (no archive available yet so far as I know), and sponsored by BSG Alliance.

(In what follows, DF = Dan Farber, AM = Andrew McAfee, TD = Tom Davenport, and E2 = Enterprise 2.0 – note these are very quick notes, not a transcript, so errors will occur).

DF: Tom, why is E2 the next small thing?

TD: I have yet to see capitalist organizations make more money as a result of E2, or any examples of corporate cultures being revolutionized. I see no problem with the definition of using web 2.0 technology in enterprises, but that begs the question of what web 2.0 is. What I have a problem with is the idea that E2 represents a whole new style of enterprise – given that we’ve had enterprises for thousands of years. I’m an agnostic, not an atheist on this.

AM: On that we actually agree. I’m fairly sure that it will not be trans formative for many enterprises. There is, however, a real discontinuity from a technology perspective – the technology is capable of so much more than it was previously. It’s the fact that anyone can contribute to it – from anywhere in the organization – and the wisdom that comes out of the collective pattern which emerges which is the new thing. Free form, emergent, without structure added in at design time.

AM: These new technologies really have the potential to address some deep needs in enterprises. We don’t have good means to allow our people to collaborate or find each other. If someone did the same project last year in another division, how do I enable teams to find out that info?

DF: Will this all get assimilated into SAP and Oracle, or will the myspace / myblog / mywiki approach overtake the system?

TD: I’m not sure how much of an incremental functionality improvement blogs and wikis provide. Some of the emergent tools are interesting approaches, but they aren’t that fundamentally different that MS Sharepoint (I don’t know if this has been encased in the E2.0 hegemony yet) has for some time. It isn’t terribly exciting, but I bet more people are using Sharepoint today than blogs/wikis.

DF: True, but there is a pretty big cost difference between Sharepoint and what many startups offer today.

DF: Tom – you’ve said I’f I’m being launched into space, do I want to trust the democratic process?

TD: There’s a place for the democratic process – but that place is not everywhere. There are two kinds of Knowledge Management: Convergent and Divergent (per the late lamented Aurther Anderson).

AM: If I were at the top of a rocket, I would want to know that everyone in NASA who had an issue with the launch had been given an opportunity to raise and discuss their objections – this is exactly what they did not have in the challenger disaster. Overly formal approval processes can be in the way. We don’t rely solely on what’s in the wiki – but it offers useful supplement to official knowledge.

TD: All the wikis in the world would not have prevent the disasters you mention – technology by itself won’t solve these problems. (The people running the program could have ignored those just as well).

DF: If the opposite of imposed structure is emergent structure, what does that look like? Is this just an HBS thing?

TD: The Kremlin on the Charles, as they call it [HBS]

AM: It’s going to take enlightened leadership – people at the top who allow and enable information to rise to the top. Leader versus a Bureaucrat.

DF: You’ve also said that the tools of E2.0 are not good for empire builders – but isn’t that what enterprises do?

AM: Leaders want to build empires in the market – bureaucrats want to build turf in their organization.

TD: I am for democratizing organizations – I think it is unrealistic to expect that those holding power in enterprises will just give it over to emergent structures.

AM: I agree – but if the people who are senior enough in the organization get it, they will want this information to bubble up. One use is for private equty / buy out firms – I’d want a place where everyone can talk about what’s wrong.

DF: Is there any proof that this is enabling true changes?

AM: No. But how many technologies can we really do this for. IT is a leap of faith. But that doesn’t stop us from spending millions/billions of dollars on IT.

TD: I’d agree there isn’t much measurable benefit – that’s part of my concern with the revolutionary fervor in this space. My focus is now on analytics, and I can point to real examples – P&G, Harrah’s – they are seeing real benefits from applying this technology.

AM: But we’ve been doing analytics forever.

TD. Well, take Search, Links, Authoring, Tags, and Extensions – all of these have been around for some time as well.

AM: Tagging? Social, emergent, metadata – that’s clearly new.

TD: Well tagging is an old thing – but the way you’ve described it. So maybe some of this stuff is new – but not all of it. How long have these technologies been around.

AM: True, but not combined in this way – innovation is not just invention.

TD: One of the interesting things about e2 is that stuff keep getting added – predictive markets, for example, aren’t really in SLATES and aren’t really emergent. The definition is stretching.

AM: Predictive markets – this is a fascinating technology. Even if you don’t have a large set of active traders or high volume of trades – these turn out bizarrely accurate predictive. They are self-organizing, egalitarian. They generally trade anonymously.

DF: What about the emergent audience for these technologies? What impact will the new generation(s) entering the workforce have on adoption of E2 technologies?

AM: The short answer is we don’t know, but I think the impact of the new audience will be large. I feel about a quarter step ahead of my MBAs – these are folks generally who graduated from college in 2001 – which is around the time many of the web2.0 properties emerged.

DF: Tom, will that have an impact?

TD: I would like to think that they will. We really don’t know. Lots of people using Facebook, but what are they using it for? They will be used, but I think more for social purposes than for business purposes.

AM: Why does that have to be a bright line, though? Collaboration borders on social activity. The story of the facebook demo at a recent conference at Harvard – the organizers asked the presenter to explain the difference between how he uses facebook for school versus for social activity – he didn’t see the difference.

DF: Is the problem that these tools aren’t enterprise ready, in terms of security and privacy?

AM: Somewhat true, but in fact many of these tools do – Facebook has the sliders for privacy. The Defense Information Agency is using this stuff.

TD: I was there, and talked to them – he said they’re just trying to get to the point where they can email each other. The predictive markets idea for terrorist intelligence were a good idea.

AM: The agencies technology environments are so deeply disconnected – it is unrealistic that they are just going to turn on a wiki – I think they will find new ways to use these technologies in the context of defense.

TD: I would be happy to see it, but the organizational bureaucracies will get in the way.

DF: How do external forces (litigation, discovery) affect these technologies?

AM: I started my investigation at an investment bank. I can’t imagine any organization with deeper needs for Chinese walls, and siloed info. The response was that these tools are the best defense – transparency is your friend ultimately. If I can show why a problem happened, when it happened, what we did about it, etc – what the prosecutors are after is a pattern of deliberately ignoring such info.

DF: What about blogs and using blogs to help employees contribute?

TD: There were already lots of vehicles for this.

DF: The suggestion box?

TD: My only issue with blogs – I think they are well suited for dealing with opinions – I don’t think we all have time to read them all – do you have to deal with every suggestion?

AM: I don’t read blogs either – I assemble a set of queries and RSS feeds – that’s the difference. We’ve got lots of corporate communication infrastructure but how many of us actually use them? Instead, I get filtered, updated, information based on topics I choose.

DF: What about mining collective intelligence?

TD: Also not a new idea. People have been trying to mine collective intelligence certainly throughout my career.

DF: But aren’t there tools that make it easier to mine that knowledge?

TD: I don’t think it gets easier just because we can make more of it.

AM: Yes, it does get easier – the tools make it easier. You can have an internal digg or a google search that helps the good content emerge.

TD: But popularity doesn’t mean profundity.

AM: Do you find what you’re looking for when you use google?

TD: Google isn’t just popularity (link rank) it is also tag match and others, and it evolves.

AM: Most would say link rank is the heart. Popularity doesn’t equal profundity, but it ain’t bad.

DF: What about extended profile based tools, which help employees find each other by interests?

TD: These also are not new.

AM: I agree the tools aren’t new, but they are easier to use. They also are more emergent – let people choose the terms they use to describe themselves, rather than choosing from a corporate hierarchy – picking from drop downs doesn’t work.

TD: But the tradeoff is some kind of accepted set of terms that will encourage discoverability – if I call myself an Enterprise 2.0 expert, and someone looks for Web 2.0 – they aren’t going to find me.

AM: What’s interesting is how quickly a folksonomy emerges – very soon a hierarchy emerges.

Q from Audience: What about the “entertainmentization” of the Web. If I search for a hotel in paris I get more about Paris Hilton. There are more fools in the world than intelligent well meaning people. Maybe the web is getting dumbed down?

TD: Quality in our culture just keeps going down and down and I don’t know what we can do about it.

AM: I don’t have that same model in which there is an army of marching morons and an elite cadre marching up front – I think the web gets better as more people use it.

TD: Marching morons is not my world view either. Just to be clear.

Q: How does an organization create an E2 culture?

TD: You could use technologies that were out 10 years ago and have the same problem.

AM: But the difference in technology is not a small step forward but a big step forward. The need for it is quite high now. When I was first at Harvard Business School the dean told us “Trust your students” – If you can learn to trust your students, and you can watch the students learn from each other.

Q: Can either of you describe any companies that have done something notable in this space?

AM: I can’t give you an ROI number of any E2.0 companies. But I can tell you about organizations that are trying to open up, but are finding it a slow and difficult journey.

Q: Which companies?

AM: Technology firms first. Google, for example, has many ways to enable ideas to roll up. Honeywell has rolled out an e2 tagging environment. In many of the F500 you find wikis – but often in the software arm for a tech project. The hype cycle is ahead of the reality cycle – but it may not be ahead of the potential.

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  1. #10 • Susan Scrupski said on June 18 2007:
     

    Thanks for this John. Really terrific. While we’re waiting for the videopodcast, this has been invaluable!

  2. #13 • John said on June 19 2007:
     

    @Susan – you’re welcome – it was an interesting discussion, well worth watching when the video comes out.