Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed…but not luckily

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Summary : there’s a missing link in the enterprise 2.0 discourse that does not reassure organizations. They’re being asked an impressive effort to generate information, connect people, they’re being told all the benefits they can draw from that but are not explaine the mechanism that will turn this information potential into tangible results. The fact this link misses is certainly one of the reasons that explain why we still lack some matter in the ROI discussion. This transformation, that’s too often overlooked, will certainly be made possible by the implementation of organizational and management mechanisms as well as a redesign of some process.

If a chemist observes an organization through Lavoisier’s words, he would say that it’s impossible to get anything from such a system :

• Nothings is lost : wrong, organizations lose everything. They lose their non capitalized knowledge as people retire of resign. The NASA and Boeing have already painfully learned it, but not everyone has begun to prepare the future. Worse, they can’t even find what’s within their walls. A former CEO of HP used to say “if HP knew what HP knows we’d be three times more productive”. The problem still remains.

• Nothing is created : that’s the difference between business and chemistry : businesses creates, and innovates. In fact that’s theory. Practically talking they don’t create enough. Not enough innovation, not enough solutions to new problems (or not fast enough) : it’s hard to find how to solve a problem, without even mentioning how hard it is to implement any new solution.

• Everything is transformed : of course…provided organizations want it. Not only a reaction does not happen by luck, most of all in organizations where silos are built to prevent elements to mix together and where any reaction has to be kept under control. The taylorian legacy dies hard and the “silos and control” approach still rules, what causes few transformation except by luck or when a manager builds a clandestine laboratory.

Many organizations understands this is a critical stake and know they should favor transformation if they don’t want to be at risk in a near future. Favoring information capitalization and sharing, breaking down silos to create and innovate more and faster…that’s a current (or scheluded) program in many organizations and initiates call it “enterprise 2.0”.

But, to be honnest, most of them are still afraid of embracing this new paradigm, wonder if it’s really worth. They’re still waiting for an answer to this questions, some in terms of ROI calculation some others looking for the certainty that things will improve. Said in other words, they want to be sure the new potential they’ll built will be turned into tangible results. That’s a double edged issue because it both brings an answer to a strategic questions and force organizations to think about reinventing the way their employees actually work, their managers manage. But that’s the difference between an actual improvement and a façade change.If we have a closer look, most of efforts focus on building a potential (information, people, connections) but not on transforming this capital in tangible value. It’s obvious that few employees know how to take the most of this intangible capital to reuse it in their daily work. Because of a lack of practice, because they’re not allowed to change anything in the way they work, even because they don’t want to be seen as those who bring disruption in the workplace. Being used to follow strict rules, to apply the solutions that have always been applied, employees want their field of initative to be defined, the new practices to be explained. They need to know how they can behave in each kind of situation.

It may take different forms : make some processes more flexible and embed the ability to look for alternative options to deliver them, teach people new reflexes to apply as a background task.

Anyway, businesses won’t be reassured until they know how the energy spend into improving its social and informational capital will impact the way people operates and processes are executed. They feel like they’re being asked to pump more and more to fill a tank without knowing if its content will be used to fuel the corporate engine or the car radio…or even nothing. But it’s an essential question when the moment comes to know if the extent of the benefits is worth the effort, the investment.

This is nothing but the implementation of Norton & Kaplan’s theory on intangible assets but understanding the mechanism is useless if it it not implemented in the organizational mechanism.

In the end, what makes enterprise 2.0 different from the enterprise that uses (or tries to) social media is the implementation of transformation processes.

  • All of Nature is in a birth-life-death-transformation cycle. According to quantum computer science, information can be created but not destroyed, although it can be transferred.