The social enterprise : too fast to be good ?

Summary : does the speed made possible by social technologies favor “fast thinking” to the detriment of “Deep Thinking”. In othet words, by going to fast and not deep enough, could collective intelligence system speed up stupidity. If the very nature of these tools makes the question relevant, the answer is elsewhere. If a business is overwhelmed by an emerging technology and becomes the slave of ermerging usages, the risk is actual. But if technology is used to leverage an enterprise project with a vision and actual principles that are known and shared by everyone, it will improve the organizational effectiveness.

With a close look, the link between enterprise 2.0, social business and lean management can’t be ignored. It’s easy to see how similar these approaches are : getting rid of useless workflows, disintermediation, focus on problem solving, group conversations used to learn and execute processes better…

Moreover, that’s what Yves Caseau sait in Processus et Entreprise 2.0 – Innover par la collaboration et le Lean management” I wrote about here : social technologies and the practices they support are not a risk of chaos that would be harmful to process execution and lean approaches. On the contrary they are me means to bring agility and learning into processes that become adaptive.

A couple of month ago, Cecil Dijoux wrote a post about a discussion he had with Michael Ballé at the Lean IT Summit [in french]. And what did this Lean leader said ?

The explicit goal of Lean is Deep Thinking – develop each employee’s thinking mechanisms so he or she will be able to see beyond events and processes to understand the underlying conditions. It seems to me (but I’m not an expert) that 2.0 tools rather aim at Quick Thinking by transmitting information faster but not improving its relevancy or quality – what induces another effect  : saturating the time for thinking with instant reaction.

We have to admit that his arguments are relevant and match legitimate concerns many businesses share. A risk no one can tell it does not exist.

What should we think about it ? How to deal with such a point ? This point my be troubling but an answer is needed. Who would accept to invest in collective intelligence system that would end up being a stupidity booster? (A look at the consumer web even shows that the risk may occasionally become reality).

It’s true hat social technologies allow faster flows. A boost that’s expected but may lead to the situation Michael Ballé was mentioning.

Then there’s how things actually happen. Observing actual current practices shows that social platforms may allow anything to emerge, the best as the worse, but that the wheat is quickly separated from the chaff. First by self moderation that is sometimes too much. Then because if emergence is made easier and visibility better, if conversations related to information grow up faster and at a larger scale, the informal processes of sorting and improving information improves accordingly.

We also see organizations implementing dual systems. Improve day to day Quick Thning and, at the same time, rely on qualified people that do Deep Thinking on what matters. In such approaches, Quick Thinking improves Deep Thinking. As a matter of fact, one is not the enemy of the other  : it depends on what’s at stake, on the matter.

What shows that we should not confuse technology with organizational systems. Technology speeds up things, that’s a fact. But it’s up to the system to provide with patterns, frameworks, guidelines and even rules. If technology is not wisely used, the risk becomes actual and the response lies into organizational and human systems that will drive things in the right direction. There’s nothing new here : that’s the downside of any technology used without handrail and leading principle understood by everyone. Consider email…

Since we’re talking about quality, I remind you this old post on Deming’s 14 points and enterprise 2.0. Similarities were obvious. But the idea behind was that Deming’s philosophy should be the framework, the leading principle and enterprise 2.0 (tools and practices) a way to put it at work.

In the same way, if I refer to Yves Caseau, “2.0″ is not the leading principle. Lean is and 2.0 is a way to make it work, to support it, but that should comply with Lean’s rules and philosophy.

Conclusion ?

Information technology, taken alone, allows many things and can lead to the best or the worse. And there’s nothing new here. On the other hand don’t let social technologies lead you by the nose. Don’t deploy tools and say “we’ll adapt to what happen because the wisdom of crowd will decide what should be”. Technology implementation should happen in a well defined framework, in the context of a corporate vision and philosophy, shared goals and practices. And processes that fit in the model. An approach that starts in minds and behaviors before going to IT.

But don’t worry. There is few chances that the risk identified by Ballé becomes real. As a matter of fact organizations that implement such technologies without the right philosophy and approaches often end up with social gadgets dedicated to artificial water-cooller conversations led by community managers doing the job of an artificial breathing apparatus.

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