Writing the Book on Enterprise 2.0: An interview with Andrew McAfee

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If you're thinking of writing the book on Enterprise 2.0, drop your plans right now. The man who first coined the term in 2006, Andrew McAfee, has already written it. What is expected to be the definitive work on the subject will be published in December by Harvard Business School Press.

Hugh McKellar, editor-in-chief of EContent's sister publication, KMWorld, recently interviewed McAfee, who will be keynoting the KMWorld Conference & Expo in November. Here are highlights of their discussion.

Hugh McKellar: Let's jump right in. Describe the genesis of Enterprise 2.0.

Andrew McAfee: I started hearing this phrase Web 2.0, which I thought was just more hype from the technology sector. Nevertheless, I wanted to test that skepticism and started looking around at things such as Wikipedia, Flickr, and Delicious. I discovered that there really is something new under the sun with the technology toolkit. My second "eureka moment" was [that] these tools address many pressing problems and challenges that companies have been facing for a long time-that is, harnessing and sharing knowledge, making sure it stays current [and] findable, harnessing the brains of the company. The Web 2.0 tools were demonstrating an ability to do all of that, and I coined the phrase Enterprise 2.0 to talk about the possibility of doing all that behind the firewall on intranets and extranets for selfish corporate purposes.

HM: Let's first address in a little bit more detail how to ensure that knowledge is fresh and findable and representing the best thinking in an organization. How do these tools enable this in a business environment?

AM: Well, first is a move [away] from what I call channel technology: Email is a great example. I send you an email; the rest of the organization or the rest of the world doesn't know that we engaged in any interaction, doesn't know the content of that interaction and ... it isn't accessible or usable to the rest of the organization. So the first thing is a move away from using channels to using platforms ... where all the stuff sticks around and is visible to all members over a time.

So every website is a platform, basically. The interesting thing is that with the new style of platforms, we are not restricting the ability to distribute content to just a few people. We are basically throwing the doors wide open and saying, "Look, if you've got something to contribute, by all means pitch in." So we are not having membership criteria. We are not assigning people into roles.

That sounds like a recipe for chaos or anarchy or just getting drowned in a sea of undifferentiated information. That has, indeed, happened. ... [However], the smart technologists of the 2.0 era have found ways to let the cream rise to the top and to let structure appear over time even [while] not trying to define or impose that structure.

HM: What about workload? These days, everyone in an organization is already busy. Can you share some thoughts about how companies are encouraging contributing to the organization's total awareness and knowledge without expecting people to blur their personal and work lives?

AM: I think you bring up a really fundamental issue. Most knowledge workers today are very busy people, and if new modes of collaboration become one more thing on their to-do list ... we're not going to get anywhere.

So three things that I've seen that seem to be working are, first of all, making these tools literally as quick and easy and painless as possible. Exhibit A for me here is Twitter, which I find a phenomenally valuable resource and one that I contribute to fairly often, but that 140-character maximum means that I can't spend a half-hour composing my tweet. So we can make it very quick, easy, [and] painless for people to contribute to these kinds of environments.

Another thing to do is to move 2.0-style collaboration from above the flow, meaning above the flow of your work. ... In other words, this is how we are actually going to track status on this project, write this document together, generate this spreadsheet together. This is not in addition to other things we are doing. This is a replacement for what we used to do. The third thing that I've seen is that if contributing to these platforms is valuable, then measure it and reward people for doing it, put it in performance reviews, make it part of their job.

HM: Can you share some examples of companies that have set up active social media engagement initiatives inside their organization? If so, is there a way that you can characterize the type of company, the type of manager, the type of CEO who may be, you know, pushing the buttons and pushing their organization into that arena?

AM: It's a little bit hard to predict, but there are a couple trends. High-tech companies are more comfortable with these tools. They tend to have younger workers and very technology-friendly work forces with very dynamic environments, so the knowledge capture becomes important. So it's not that surprising to me when I look around Google, for example, and see a bunch of people using a lot of these tools. However, you also see companies like Lockheed Martin very involved [in] Enterprise 2.0 technology. Northwestern Mutual Life is another good example. Procter & Gamble has been an early and deep user of the 2.0 tool set.

For me, it's a little bit hard to predict what kinds of companies are going to be interested and what kinds aren't. I always look to the senior leadership to see if they are sincerely interested in helping people collaborate, in capturing what the organization knows. Do they really realize that is a serious challenge? If they do, then chances are much, much higher that they are going to be interested in these tools.

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