Management and messiness

Clay Shirky

Image via Wikipedia

[Cross posted at FASTforward blog]

I’ve been mulling over Clay Shirky‘s remarks yesterday at FASTforward09. The bookends to his talk hint at some key challenges to managers contemplating their entry into the world of social media and Enterprise 2.0. Clay’s opening five word summary of Enterprise 2.0 is simply “group action just got easier.” While he shared a number of excellent stories and lessons, it was his closing discussion of how Amazon added social elements to its existing pages that I want to focus on.

By Clay’s count there are some 16 different social elements that are today part of the typical product page on Amazon. Each of these elements became part of the page as the outcome of an individual experiment. Amazon’s approach is to make it easy, and organizationally safe, to run experiments quickly and cheaply. While there is a technological component to making this experimentation cost-effective, it is the management and cultural aspects that are critical to success.

What Clay is calling attention to is the value to be found in encouraging the fundamental messiness and disorder of invention and discovery. Unfortunately, managers generally don’t become managers because they are fond of disorder. Even managers who have long ago abandoned the caricatures of command and control models are likely to find guiding this kind of innovation a source of discomfort. But it is discomfort that is essential to encouraging the sort of retail level innovation made possible in the technology environment that is emerging.

Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling once observed that “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” That’s the mechanism at work at Amazon and with Enterprise 2.0 innovation in general. What Clay skipped over in his remarks was a look at the number of ideas that were tried and never made the cut at Amazon. This is unfortunate because it can encourage executives to ignore the “lots of ideas” prerequisite to “good ideas.” Amazon’s approach is sometimes portrayed as lowering the cost of failure. More appropriately, it is about lowering the costs of all experiments. While the technology environment is one factor in lowering the cost of experimenting, there are also managerial and cultural costs to manage. For example, if you insist on wrapping too much methodology and project management overhead around experimenting that will discourage ideas and fewer ideas implies fewer good ideas.

This is not a suggestion that there is nothing to manage. Instead, it’s about seeking just enough control. It’s also about becoming comfortable with trusting your people and the process of experimentation and learning.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Webinar with Clay Shirky: Preview of FASTforward’09

Clay Shirky

Image via Wikipedia

I’m looking forward to meeting and hearing Clay Shirky at the upcoming FASTforward ’09 conference, even if it is happening in Las Vegas. I’ll be attending in my role as one of the contributors to the the FASTforward blog. I’m being lazy and simply passing along the notice posted by Hylton Jolliffe there.

Please join us next Tuesday, January 27th, at 2:00 p.m. ET for a webinar with a name surely familiar to followers of this blog Clay Shirky, the keen commentator on all things Internet and author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations .

Clay, who ll be a keynote speaker at FASTforward 09, will explore topics of great interest to us all: the effects of open networks, collaboration, and user-created and disseminated content on organizations and industries and the need for enhanced solutions that meet today s new information management challenges.

To reserve a spot for the webinar, please register here.

And to find out more and join us in Las Vegas for FASTforward 09 from February 9-11, head to the conference s website. The contributors to this blog will all be there as will a host of other interesting participants such as Charlene Li and Don Tapscott.

Find out more and register today!

Webinar with Clay Shirky: Preview of FASTforward 09
Hylton Jolliffe
Wed, 21 Jan 2009 16:03:40 GMT

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport webinar on viability of Enterprise 2.0

This should be a fun and illuminating interchange this Friday, the 11th. Both Andy and Tom have been paying attention to the realities of how enterprises do and don’t make effective use of new technologies for a long time.

I’ve agreed to moderate their discussion, which will likely consist of throwing in a new question or two if things slow down. I’m also looking forward to continuing the discussion in Orlando at the FASTforward ’08 Conference. Follow the link below to get a special blogger’s discount if you plan to attend yourself.

We re excited to announce we ll be hosting a free webinar discussion next Friday (January 11th) from 11:00-12:00 AM EST between two academics with much to say about Enterprise 2.0: Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School and Tom Davenport of Babson College.

Join us at 11 AM EST for a point/counterpoint debate about the viability and speed of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools within the enterprise. If you re familiar with their writing and thinking, which has been much discussed here on this blog and elsewhere, you know this should make for a spirited and fun joust between two great minds with strong opinions on the matter.

Among the topics that ll be touched upon:

  • Are the barriers to adoption human, cultural and political in nature too large to overcome?
  • Is there enough ongoing momentum to ensure broad-based adoption in certain industries?
  • What processes are most likely to benefit from Enterprise 2.0 tools?
  • How will success be measured?

Join the discussion by registering for the webinar here. We ll be taking questions from the audience at the end of their discussion or feel free to leave questions in the comments of this post.

FASTforward 08

Andrew and Tom (as well as all of the contributors to this blog) will also be joining us at FASTforward 08 in Orlando. The theme of this year s conference, which runs from February 18-20: The User Revolution. Among the other notable speakers: John Hagel, Don Tapscott, David Weinberger, Clare Hart, and Safa Rashtchy.

Find out more at the conference s website and if you register be sure to do so through that link for a special discount for readers of this blog.

Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport webinar on viability of Enterprise 2.0
Hylton Jolliffe
Fri, 04 Jan 2008 16:18:31 GMT