I got an email from InformationWeek about the Enterprise 2.0 Conference happening in Boston this week.
"IT pros attending the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, June 14-17 in Boston, will get a chance to learn about and weigh in on a number of crucial new technologies, from social networking to cloud computing, that promise to change the way businesses access and use information."
Looks like there's going to be a lot of talk about technology. And how's the conference going to start?
"SAP chief of new products Franz Aman opens the conference portion of the event Tuesday, 10:50 a.m., with a keynote address that looks at "Collaboration within Context." Aman will spell out the possibilities that can emerge when social networks and enterprise collaboration tools are married to traditional enterprise software applications."
Tools, tools and more tools.
Our obsession with tools isn't new. But this obsession with tools for Enterprise 2.0 may be a little worse because of its attachment to Web 2.0.
Web 2.0 is also a term muddied up with an obsession of technologies: ajax, blogs, tags, rss, mashups, etc.
But Web 2.0 could have probably just been defined as:
"it doesn't take a lot of money anymore to start a software business".
2.0 could be the time when we realized a couple guys in a garage (even OUTSIDE of Silicon Valley) with $0 could start a business on the web. They could start the business, get customers, and prove that this is a viable business BEFORE getting funding, if they even needed it at that point.
The 2.0 label might be about the time when people started to realize "VC money is hard to get, let's start a business anyway. Computers and technology are cheap. We don't need bosses with money. We're smart and can do this on our own. Let's make something".
For me, Oddpost marks the start of Web 2.0 because the 2 founders had a working business from just working "homelessly". They worked in libraries and cafes with a wireless internet connection. One guy sold his car to fund the business. It wasn't until they had customers coming in and paying for their service that they took on some additional funding a couple years after getting started.
And so here we are now with Enterprise 2.0 and it sounds like it has an unhealthy obsession about tools.
Here's the thing about tools.
Tiger Woods could walk into Kmart, grab 3 clubs from the cheapest, shittiest bag of golf clubs in the store and still kick your ass on the course.
Because it's not about the tools.
The dude practices every single day and has an incredible knack and talent for the game.
Success is about the method not the tools. But we get so caught up in buying our way to success.
unfortunately our brains seem to be wired like this. We have a hard time associating cause and effect. We know Tiger is one of the best ever and he plays with Nike equipment. We also know about his diligent practice routine. But our brain has a hard time making a strong causal link to only the reason of practice instead of the equipment he uses.
Similarly, this is why Joel Spolsky gives a presentation and he opens with a picture of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. He delivers a great presentation regardless, but finds more people remember the presentation when he shows the picture of the pretty people.
The pretty people make our heart beat just a little faster. And our brains have a hard time filtering out that data point.
That's why women should be asking men out after they walk across dangerous bridges, or you should be taking your first date out for coffee.
So what should Enterprise 2.0 be all about?
Just like Web 2.0 was the realization that 2 people with very little resources could create a lot of value for the world, Enterprise 2.0 should be about what company employees can accomplish with very little.
Without any fancy collaboration tools like internal social networks, internal twitter, and yes, even prediction markets, a couple of your employees with very little time and resources could create a whole lot of innovation if you just get out of their way.
Zappos is a company that really gets Enterprise 2.0.
And it's not because of any tools. It's because if you took the Zappos customer service department and stuck them in the same room of phones as any other customer service department. The Zappos guys will run circles around everyone else in there making customers happy.
Their employees aren't any different than your employees. They don't need tools. Instead they've been given the freedom to do whatever it takes to make those customers happy. It doesn't matter how long they have to talk on the phone. It doesn't matter if they even make the sale. Zappos customer service reps may even help lose a sale by helping a customer buy shoes from a competitor.
Zappos gives its employees a mission and then gets out of their way. Any tools they buy just helps make this process more efficient.
The concept of the wisdom of crowds and its derivatives is a cornerstone of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0.
But here's a dirty secret we've discovered selling an "Enterprise 2.0" tool. A lot of companies, especially technology companies(!) aren't ready for these tools. They don't need to buy a single thing to have better collaboration, or better ideation, or better Enterprise 2.0 buzzword du jour.
They just need changes in their culture. It could start with scribbles on paper and a peg board in a common area. With phone calls. With email groups. With spreadsheets. They can use what they already have to start getting to the holy grail of "wisdom of the crowd". On a visit to Google we noticed they have an entire wall made of white board where there was all sorts of graffiti about ideas made by hundreds of people. At Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, many of the conference room walls are made of white board material, floor to ceiling.
So instead of just asking one guy for his forecast, ask 10. Ask 30. Send around a spreadsheet or just tell them to get back to you over email. Let this be a start and see if people take to it versus immediately deciding you need to bring in a new tool. Instead of telling your employees what they should be working on for the next quarter, give them some time to tell you what to do. Let them boss you around. Instead of starting with more blogs and tools to hear what your employees are saying on the front line, go spend a week working as a Target checkout clerk, or flipping burgers at White Castle, or cleaning the floor at 7-11, or wherever your company is actually spending time with customers.
When you realize there is a lot of value asking groups of your employees for help on the decisions and forecasts you make every day as a company, then LISTENING and USING the information, only then is it the right time for tools that make that process easier.
Enterprise 2.0 is about getting out of the way. It's about tapping the potential your employees have to run your business better and produce awesome things without you.
In essence, it's about letting go.
And once you've done that, all the guys wanting to sell you tools will still be there. :)