The "real" Enterprise 2.0 is not a technology or marketing plan, but the reinvention of the enterprise itself. It's a rethinking of the structure, process, culture and even, in some cases, the very purpose of the enterprise.

With technology erasing barriers to participation and communication, we're seeing a change in the nature of how we go about running an organization.

How Social Media Is Changing Enterprise 2.0

The phenomenon of social media is starting to have a very significant impact on how we think about work. We are starting to appreciate the efficacy of simpler, friendlier ways of dealing with work, problem-solving and business. And this new paradigm is pouring into the enterprise via the business pundits, the newly agile engineering team, the "social media experts" and old-fashioned necessity.

People who have thought about such things for a long time will recall Senge's 5th Discipline and Complexity Theory, and others who were on the fringe, but not the mainstream of corporate thinking.

The external, market-facing view of this gets a lot of press. Now we can ask customers about their ideas or what they know or see. But the internal impact -- the way we work with each other and why -- is, perhaps, even more profound and likely to have a greater impact on most of our lives and careers.

The shift whispers the notion that we are nearing the limit of what "command and control" and "divide and conquer" organizational structures can do to create efficiency and productivity, and solve extremely complex, wicked problems. The complexity and pace of our world requires new approaches to understand and respond to the world around us. The decentralized, informal, seamless, easy, human elements of the social media mindset are compelling on their own, and are beginning to be recognized for how well they work for work.

This rapid shift hints that together we can do so much more than we have so far, that the best is yet to come. In other words, it is exciting.

Identifying the Pivot Points

The challenge when talking about the phenomenon of the real Enterprise 2.0 is that it is hard to nail down and describe the precise factors in play here. Nearly everything is subject to re-examination through this new, vague lense. Here are a few of the dominant themes, however:

1. The Power Shift From Information Hoarding to Sharing

In traditional organizations, information is status and confers power. In the Enterprise 2.0, people are valued for how they share, not for what they have in the closet.

This means that your ability to recognize where and when your information is valuable, and being recognized as a reliable source confers more status. It marks you as more valuable, more influential and more powerful than a person who acts as a gatekeeper, implying greater knowledge and insider status without inviting you to participate in that knowledge. Those people are beginning to get a new label entirely. It's not a nice one.

2. Replacing Perfection with Perfect Aspirations

Enterprises have, since the dawn of time, striven to portray themselves as perfect and infallible. It has always been considered a PR blunder to admit any ignorance or imperfection. Employees have been encouraged to show the same polish and invulnerability as individuals.

These days, it's the enterprises that embrace their opportunities to improve that are our heroes. It's the enterprises that cop to their mistakes, own them and demonstrate the will to do better. Consider Dominos Pizza, Best Buy, Dell, Campbell's. They've all had major problems that they've owned up to and have come out as heroes. On the other hand, we have BP, for example, and how they handled their early responses to the fact that they created a natural catastrophe so large we can't even understand it. The ones who say "Yes, we've erred," and here's how we're doing better are the ones that we respect. Not the ones who try to justify themselves or ignore problems.

Inside the enterprise the same is true. The idea that we must not show vulnerability or imperfection is being replaced by the idea that only by exposing what is going wrong do we have a chance of doing great things. This is true both publicly and privately.

3. Transparency

Once we've replaced the idea of perfection with aspiration, we allow our corporate selves to be more transparent -- at least, internally. It's no longer required to share only the perfected and polished. We know for a fact that once material is polished, people are reluctant to contribute and, even worse, we are less likely to be open to input. We are already too invested in what we have. So, in the information-hoarding, perfectionist enterprise we're encouraged to hide bad news and over-invest in new concepts before they're proven and without the benefit of peer input and review. Because we don't want to look stupid. Ironic, no?

A transparent culture gives people permission to be imperfect. It gives them permission to share prior to completion, to seek out problems, and openly discuss and resolve them. In a transparent enterprise culture, we are allowed to highlight the areas of ignorance and weakness in order to learn and reinforce. This is sometimes referred to as "fail fast." No, of course, we don't want to fail, but if there are going to be problems, we want to know about them early, so we can respond and improve. I like to call that "the virtue of going looking for trouble."

4. Participation

The flip side of transparency is participation. These days, as we work on harder and harder issues that do not respond well to time-honored divide and conquer solutions, we need to engage people more holistically than in the past. We need to create the opportunity for different viewpoints to be recognized and leveraged, so that we can solve harder problems. One of the great things about this new appreciation for participation is that employees whose ideas are sought and valued are much, much more committed to the success of the venture.

Towers Perrin has published a seminal study demonstrating the monetary value of such engagement, and Daniel Pink has given us keen insight into how to access and build that engagement. So we're starting to see our intuition about the benefits of these issues made rigorous. It's not just that it makes us feel good. It makes us excellent and profitable.

5. Leadership

Leaders (the real leaders) are now valued for their ability to frame the problem, engage their teams and orchestrate action. It is a rare combination of confidence and humility that the most effective leaders are recognized for. Charlene Li calls this Open Leadership, and has written a superb book on the subject (see preview here). My presentation on a similar subject is here.

6. Collaboration

And when we add this all up, we are developing a more effective model of the organization, one in which collaboration plays a major role. We know that a collaborative team is magical, with endless energy and focus, able to tackle any objective. The strengths of collaborative team members are amplified and their weaknesses diminished by the virtue of their collaboration. There are 4 hallmarks of a collaborative team:

  1. Shared mission: Without a common goal, it is nearly impossible to form an effective team.
  2. Mutual respect: This is not about who's better. The team members must not be questioning each others competence or trying to demonstrate their own.
  3. Trust: Mutual respect enables trust that allows for frank discussions and debates, focusing on the issues, not the people.
  4. Commitment to continual improvement and to each other.

Advice for the Skeptical or the Concerned

So what is the organization to do?

  1. What could your organization do if there were no barriers? If coordination and collaboration were frictionless? If the organization was aligned, transparent and able to apply its complete capabilities toward solving challenges? It may be hard to get there in a single step, but what if we could? Toy with that thought and you'll start to see why the ideas are compelling.
  2. Eliminate fear, don't be afraid to learn. Learn = improve = admit there was room to improve -- at either the individual or organizational level. (How to do this is another 1500 words or more). Management by fear is less effective than management by orchestration and problem solving.
  3. Recognize that you must have human resources on your side to succeed. If your people are not a cohesive team, ask why. Is there a well-understood common mission? Have people bought into it? Is there mutual respect? Why or why not? (I realize that this is actually extremely difficult to do, but still well worth doing).
  4. This is new and we - as a society and as an industry - are learning fast. Be prepared to think more openly and broadly about how to be successful with these new paradigms. Be prepared to learn, and be prepared for the people in your organization to learn in different ways and at a different pace. This is going to be interesting...

In conclusion: Command and control, divide and conquer -- these are all valuable tools that will endure, but they are no longer the only game in town. We are seeing the shift from thinking that everything must be reviewed, decided and divided to the idea that the organization can collaborate, learn, contribute and, hence, address more and harder challenges. This shift is not going away, and that is a very good thing for all of us.