Literate thinking as a barrier to Enterprise 2.0 adoption

Most of the technologies lumped under the Enterprise 2.0 label presuppose some facility with the written word. I wonder to what extent that presents a barrier to adoption in many organizations? Moreover, I wonder how visible that organizational barrier is to those who are already facile?

I’ve written before on oral vs. literate cultures in organizations (Bridging the IT Cultural Divide, Part 1 and Part 2), using the distinctions that the late Walter Ong introduced. Leadership and power in many organizations correlates with comfort and facility with the spoken word. Those same individuals are not necessarily as facile or comfortable with expressing themselves in writing.

Email doesn’t really count, as it appears to be less public and, therefore, feels less threatening. Even so, we still hear of senior executives who avoid using email directly. (Maybe one of the attractions of the Crackberry is that it provides a built-in excuse for doing little real writing). So too for Powerpoint. It is not a tool that lends itself to literate argument and expression.

Jordan Frank of Traction Software argued a while back that organizations benefit from using the tools in simpler ways (Beta bloggers need not lurk in the enterprise). While I agree with his arguments, they also reinforce the notion that feeling uncomfortable with literate thinking is a barrier to be addressed. Jordan’s suggestions are probably among the best advice for routing around this issue in most organizations.

If my hypothesis has any merit, it does suggest that some of the objections to these technologies will be rooted in emotional fears and insecurities that will be unexpressed and potentially inexpressible. To someone who can’t swim, “come on in, the water’s fine” isn’t very helpful encouragement.


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