A different metaphor for me

NY by b0r0da
Life At 35,000 Feet:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

This whole subject of social media proficiency and enterprise 2.0 begs for analogies, so let me try a new one on you:

Getting good at this stuff is like an airplane trip.

At the outset of an airplane journey, it’s all hassle. Finding the right flight, getting to the airport, dealing with security, disposing of all your liquids, taking off your shoes — awful stuff. At the gate, it’s lousy food, no seats, delays and weather, airplanes full of cranky people — none of it fun.

Eventually, it’s time for takeoff. Lots of rumbling, vibrations and strange noises. If you’ve never flown before, you look around and wonder “is all of this normal?”.

Finally, you break through the clouds. The captain turns off the seat belt sign. Everyone relaxes and settles in. Drinks are served. You’re on your way.

Well, we’re pretty much at that stage in our journey. We’re at cruising altitude.

Well, I just got back from a cross-country flight so I am not too enamored of the state of flying right now. Used to be an enjoyable endeavor. Now it is just something to get through. Besides, I rarely interact with anyone on a plane any more, while Web 2.0 is all about human interactions.

My choice of metaphor would be visiting a big city for the first time, say New York. Don’t know anyone. Where anything is. How to get anything done. The buildings are awfully big. And there sure are a lot of people.

Then, after just a few days, the real benefits of the town are apparent – great restaurants, lots of things going on, people to have a drink with, so many bead stores. We adapt to the huge increase in information and learn to take advantage of it.

That is where EMC is now getting to.

I came back from an extended trip, and looked at the internal platform. I saw a continuous stream of beefy, engaged business-oriented conversations on dozens of topics. I saw that we had a half-dozen new communities springing into formation, each with a high degree of business value, and conducting themselves with confidence and enthusiasm.

We’ve entirely lost the golly-gee-whiz-this-is-all-so-new feeling that permeated the activities of the first few months. Everyone seems to know what to expect, how to engage, and how to leverage the new social computer.

Nobody asks for justification any more. Nobody wonders how this platform compares and contrasts with other alternatives. Nobody is waiting for the Official Word that this is a sanctioned and supported activity.

Mainly what he is seeing is that the diffusion of innovations is now making itself felt throughout more of the community. They are closer to the middle of the S-shaped curve, where the change is most rapid. Here are a few of his examples:

Example 1 — Content Generation

EMC creates a lot of content. Sometimes, I think we don’t make products, we just make stuff that talks about our products.

Historically, this stuff went to the Official Corporate Portal. There was a long and somewhat cumbersome process to get stuff reviewed, approved and posted on the portal. There were insufficient mechanisms for sorting and finding stuff — and presenting stuff in an attractive fashion. And, like most Corporate Portals, it slowly turned into a big pile of stuff that many people didn’t think was entirely useful, and could be better.

Now, it seems that most content comes through our internal social media platform on its way to the corporate portal. Preliminary documents are posted, discussed, debated and revised. The comments are sometimes more interesting than the document itself.

This is very enlightening. “The comments are sometimes more interesting than the document itself.” This is often the case, since we can now follow the process that resulted in a final draft, and glean information about how it was developed, helping us make decisions when we have to create new documents. What was fairly private or tacit information is now made explicit.

Example 2 — Reach Out And Touch Someone

If you’re in a company of 40,000 people, and happen to be at one of the more remote outposts, sometimes you don’t even know where to start. You don’t know exactly what the problem is, or how to ask the question, or where to start looking.

We’re starting to see more “IHAC” questions. “IHAC” stands for “I have a customer …” followed by a statement of the situation, the ideas that the local team are working with, and an open-ended what-do-you-suggest question.

People chime in with what they know, and what they would do. Sometimes, a debate erupts between contributors as to exactly what the best approach might be.

The posting team not only gets access to a wealth of perspectives, opinions and experiences — but now they’ve got a virtual team to work with. And, of course, the entire discussion lays there waiting for the next person who comes along.

The ability to have a conversation is what really makes all of this work. The reduction in the friction of information transfer when Web 2.0 approaches are used provides very rich discussions to be created very rapidly, providing deep answers for customers, even if they reside in the community.

Example 3 — Mac Support

I don’t know about you, but I want to use a Mac at work. So do lots of people. And, like many companies, EMC doesn’t officially support Apple products in the workplace. The reason? It’s too expensive. Fair enough.

Spontaneously, a “Mac At EMC” group sprang into existence. Wikis were created about how to configure things, what to buy, how to work around various problems. I’ve been using it a while, and it meets my needs. Sure, I can’t lob a ticket into IT and have them fix things — I have to take a more hands-on approach — but it works, and it works well.

Just recently, the group figured out how to make the new iPhone 3G work on the corporate network. Now I want one of those, too.

Incremental cost to EMC: zero. That is, until we have to upgrade our entire remote access network to support a bazillion iPhones ;-)

This is an example of bypassing a choke point. There is a demonstrated need but IT can not easily provide a solution, so the community takes it upon itself to fill the need. This sort of self-help is seen in Open Source communities and appears to actually be a basic part of human behavior.

Studies have shown that people will stop doing their own work in order to help someone else with theirs. Web 2.0 just makes this much easier.

Example 4 — The Old Guard Gets On Board

Like any company that’s grown through acquisition, there’s pockets of Old Guard and New Guys at EMC. Subtle but powerful lines divide people into tribes. Inevitable in any large company, right?

The Old Guard has always done things in certain ways, and done them with people they know and trust. Comfortable for them, but not ideal from a strategic perspective.

As of late, several communities aligned with Old Guard interests have sprung into existence. They’ve gotten over their discomfort, and fully embraced open communities of like-minded people. There’s no way I could have made them do this — they had to do this under their terms and conditions.

I don’t know how to put a number on this implicit — yet very significant — change in mindset. I can’t measure it, but I know it’s important, and very valuable.

There is a tremendous amount of research indicating that most people really only change when other people they respect ask them to or demonstrate why change is necessary. It is the information transfer by human social networks that accomplishes change. A piece of paper saying ‘Change’ does not work.

Web 2.0 tools make it much harder to reside in a simple echo chamber, only hearing from the ‘Old Guard.’ Exposure to innovations can occur in a more organic fashion than sitting people down and telling them things change. People can adjust to innovations following their own rhythm rather than a mandated one.

However, because information flow is so much greater with Web 2.0 tools, this rhythm may also be greater, permitting change to occur at a more rapid pace.

The normal rate that change diffuses through an organization depends on the people in it. Web 2.0 tools can greatly enhance this rate, permitting a community to respond to innovations much more rapidly, and thus surmount challenges that would have just taken too long before.

Just as there are many more opportunities in the large social network that is a large city than in a small town, so too do Web 2.0 approaches provide greater opportunities.

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