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Collaboration 2.0

It’s not about the technology


Increase Collaboration with Social Media



“It’s an immutable law of business that words are words, promises are promises, but only performance is reality.”


Harold Geneen



Collaboration is about building relationships that foster ideas, intentions, and value. Co-workers learn from and inspire one another. A collaborative enterprise with a common purpose can change the world.


Workers innately know that when people work together they produce greater results and enjoy their work more, too. Until quite recently, collaboration was not easy, especially if distance was involved; people didn’t have access to the same information, or a worker couldn’t figure out who was the right person to contact.


Those barriers are fading fast. Software and networks that support collaboration are in place and cheap, too. Workers complain about silos; social networks enable them to walk through silo walls. Companies are losing customers disgusted with unhelpful help desks, phone labyrinths, and not understanding what’s going on. Transparency and self-service are the cure.  


In business, collaboration is a means to an end, and that end is prosperity, longevity, and growth.



Should your organization be on the collaboration bandwagon? Is your current stance leaving money on the table? Do silos and isolation threaten your sustainability? What’s your first move? Where do you begin?


You can buy hundreds of books and reports on enterprise 2.0, collaboration, crowd-sourcing, and social network analysis. That’s all well and good, but they provide scant guidance to the business manager who wants to take advantage of collaboration technology. 


At DevLearn 2008, four very savvy eLearning analysts

 concurred that Learning 2.0 initiatives should start at the top. “Get the CEO involved.” To succeed, it must be top-down. 


I didn’t buy it. Most of the time, collaborative systems start at the very bottom of an organization. Experimentation is cheap. Typically, low-level enthusiasts start small fires and fan the flames when one catches on. It’s great to have top management support for any corporate activity but it’s hardly necessary. Waiting for CEO support is bad advice.


I asked MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0, why he thinks social software will transform the business world. He told me that today’s collaborative technologies can knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously. They have the potential to usher in a new era by making both the practices of knowledge work and its outputs more visible.


Businesses are increasingly under pressure to find new ways to increase productivity and stay ahead of the competition. At Cisco, we have identified collaboration - and social networking in the enterprise - as the next phase of the Internet that will increase productivity, innovation, and growth. To date, we have seen a 900 percent return on our investment in collaboration solutions, but we believe that there is much more to come.2


The benefits are clear. Companies that successfully adopt new collaborative processes:

    • Move faster
    • Make smarter decisions
    • Draw from a deeper well of knowledge
    • Operate more effectively across time and distance barriers3

Cisco Systems

Business has already squeezed the big process improvements out of its industrial systems. For many companies, the benefits of collaboration and networking are virgin territory. The upside potential is staggering: people innovating, sharing, supporting one another, all naturally and without barriers. The traditional approach has been to automate routine tasks in order to reduce cost; the new vision is to empower people to take advantage of their innate desire to share and learn.


Web 2.0, the “collaborative web,” makes file cabinets and hard drives overflowing with email obsolete. Members of a group can share information and make improvements to one copy that’s virtually available to everyone. Workers learn to remix rather than re-invent, and having everyone read from the same page overcomes the danger of mistaking obsolete information for current. Distance no longer keeps workers apart. As we remove obstacles, the time required to do anything shrivels up.


“The purpose of the organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things. No organization can depend on genius; the supply is always scarce and unreliable. The test of an organization is the spirit of performance. The focus must be on the strengths of a man—on what he can do rather than what he cannot do. The focus of the organization must be on opportunities rather than problems.”

Peter Drucker


Collaboration that does not increase revenue, improve relationships with customers, cut costs, grow employees, expand innovation, communicate values, streamline the work process, or help execute strategy should not be funded. As Eugene Kim has noted, “There is no such thing as collaboration without a goal.”


The Web is chock full of explanations of blogs, tags, and other social software. Little has been written about how managers can put these things to work. I interviewed scores of people to capture their thoughts on the human side of implementing and sustaining collaborative networks. As you would expect, people have different notions of what works. 


Every organization is different, so there’s no cookie-cutter formula for increasing collaboration. Outcomes are unpredictable. Culture can be friend or foe. 


Instead of pontificating about one best way to improve collaboration in your organization, I offer you some general principles, examples, and checklists. You add your knowledge of your organization and a dollop of common sense. I hope we improve your odds of success.


The world of business has grown complex. It’s pattern recognition with the uncertainty of Alice in Wonderland. From cause to effect is no longer a linear journey. More often, it’s throw an idea into the flow, see if it has legs, and if so, do more of the same. 


In that spirit, don’t look for a formula in the words that follow. Instead, seek patterns or steps that might be useful in your current situation. Cherry-pick. If it feels good, do it.


First step...


Begin by asking that all-important question, “What’s in it for us?” Check off a few things you’d like to accomplish:


  • Speed up the flow of information through the organization
  • Improve customer service
  • Streamline workflow and slash bureaucracy
  • Unleash the power of collective intelligence
  • Create a nerve center for corporate news and market intelligence
  • Make all corporate know-how accessible 24/7
  • Recruit the best candidates for new positions and make them productive quickly
  • Replace training classes with informal, hands-on learning
  • Open the process of innovation to all employees
  • Help workers build strong, supportive relationships
  • Enable managers to assess the status and direction of projects
  • Empower all employees to contribute ideas and feel part of the team
  • Develop more productive relationships with customers, prospects, recruits, partners, supply chain, and other employees


The balance of this paper desribes what companies have done to achieve benefits like these.


Take it in phases


Changing the nature of how people relate to one another at work is not easy. People, organizations, and corporate cultures have different views on being open, taking risks, trying new things, realigning responsibilities, learning new technologies, and trusting one another. What works in one organization may fail in the next.


“Do you know what the hardest change is in this?” John Chambers queried the audience at the Collaboration Summit. “As any CEO will tell you, it’s the culture.”



The safe approach is to begin with a few small-scale experiments, score some successes, and replicate them in other areas of the company. As the technology takes hold, policies are drawn to enforce common standards and safe behaviour. Networks stretch to cover more and more applications. Eventually, top management steps in to exploit the networks to transform the organization.


Join me to wander through these stages of collaboration, noting  business value and potential pitfalls at each stage.


I use the terms social software, web 2.0, and collaborative online environment interchangeably. It’s all a mix of blogs, wikis, RSS, mash-ups, search engines, tags, widgets, and bots. The medium is not the message. It’s people working together. Collaboration.





Enthusiasts are intensely curious, driven to try new things just for the heck of it. Most collaboration projects begin at the bottom of the organization and migrate upward. Typically, a young internet enthusiast who knows the web 2.0 environment joins the company. She sees an opportunity to improve local performance with a blog or wiki. She takes a proposal to her manager. One hopes that the manager asks “What’s the business case?” If they decide the proposal is worthy of consideration, the next step will be to create a prototype to try the idea on for size.


Happily, the costs of setting up a web 2.0 application are trivial. Furthermore, applications are simple to program. You no longer need to be a programmer to produce a prototype for show-and-tell. Many a prototype has been developed in a matter of hours.


Our enthusiast is the application champion. If she is low in the organization, she probably begins with a simple, free, online wiki to deal with a local problem and builds support by pointing people to the wiki. In addition to the local enthusiasts, social software projects have been initiated by:


  • CIO—fulfilling request from others
  • Line manager with specific problem to solve
  • Staff—exploring process improvements
  • Exec—read about it in airplane magazine and said GMOOT


The U.S. Department of Defense spends the most money on training of any organization in the world, yet a simple web application started by two company commanders on their own became the most important source of collaboration and knowledge sharing among officers in Iraq. The officers had been classmates at West Point and shared quarters in Iraq. In the evening, they would talk over the day’s events and reflect on what they had learned. Sensing that other officers might want to join the conversation, they started a blog. Rather than go through channels, they didn’t ask for permission. (Anyone can set up a blog for free in less than five minutes.)



The blog spread virally among company commanders, becoming more valuable as more voices chimed in. Soon the blog, Company Command, was a must-read. Unlike material coming from the Pentagon, the conversations in the blog told what had happened only hours before; they were in everyday, conversational English, not bureaucratese; they focused on need-to-know information for survival, not something one might use next year.


In another case, a staffer in a large company thought an in-house Wikipedia would help employees find information and maintain a corporate memory. A technology evangelist downloaded free software and implemented a wiki behind the firewall. It soon became the bridge among five divisional silos and the go-to place for finding things out. Volunteers populated the system with handy information from all corners. New hires get up to speed by spending a day exploring the in-house information center.


Bottom-up collaborative environments all over the corporation tend to improve functions that are already in place. Criteria for selection: pick the low-hanging fruit.


When small projects gain enough attention to appear on the corporate radar, responsibility for selecting and implementing social software is delegated to the IT department, either to take the prototype forward or perhaps because the IT press and CIO community say it’s the thing to do. CIO magazine, once sceptical of the web as an intrusion onto IT’s turf, is now singing its praises, e.g.:


"One of the driving forces behind Web 2.0 is the virtual office—teams of far-flung experts collaborating online to create a whole greater than the sum of its contributors.”


A KM system that’s "actually being used"—this kind of language hints at the skepticism both users and CIOs have had about KM for years.


One final bit of good news: Users say the new, simpler KM tools make it easier to justify the investment to your fellow C-level executives. "It can be very difficult to make a pitch to senior management about why knowledge management is important, because it’s not real to them," explains Northwestern Mutual’s Austin. Now, she just shows them blog users engaged in explaining their projects to coworkers."


"Enterprise 2.0 tools make it easier to share and organize information. Tagging and rating provide a straightforward way to find content and make judgments about what to look at. Blogs and wikis are natural collaboration and communication platforms. Social network tools help staff find the right individual or group of people. Enterprise 2.0 has the potential to provide knowledge and content management in a surprisingly cheap and easy fashion using Web-based tools."


Sometimes IT becomes involved because it controls everything to do with computers. This can have disastrous consequences if IT takes full control. Implementing online collaboration deals more with people issues than software decisions, but IT people solve IT issues. A typical selection process may involve setting up a matrix of vendors and features, yet features are unimportant compared to ease of use and other factors. Social software is often lightweight, but inexpensive can translate as unimportant to IT. The upshot is that often the customer view is not taken into account.


The enthusiast needs IT’s help in enforcing the standards necessary for efficiency. IT should lend its expertise and influence in security, compliance, and building a foundation for growth.


If not an IT decision, a business user with a problem to solve probably initiates the inquiry. Sometimes the goal is meta, for example, increasing innovation. More often the issue is immediately practical, for example onboarding 1,500 new staff or tracking plans for 75 customers. Criteria for selection: solve a burning business problem.


Sometimes executives mandate experiments with social software because they’ve read about it in the business press or hear success stories from colleagues. Their interest may be faster cycle times, unleashing corporate wisdom, consolidating an acquisition, or other over-arching need. Criteria for project selection: focus on strategically important areas.


Is your organization at this stage?


All we have is a prototype.  Nonetheless it’s a good idea to test the water before jumping into the pool. At least that will keep you from diving into hot water.


Consultant, online advocate, and champion of NGOs Beth Kanter has lots of experience assessing whether an organization is ready for online collaboration. Beth thinks you are not ready if:

  • Management is obsessively controlling
  • The organization will not accept changes in how you work
  • Your employees are not online
  • Everything must be vetted by central authority


On the other hand, you may be prepared if you want to:

  • Make it easy for people to share knowledge
  • Are willing to share ideas in progress and let others join in
  • Want to enable many voices
  • Can deal with messiness
  • Selecting a starter application
  • Your mileage may vary, but initial projects have a better chance of thriving if:
  • Participants have a shared need.
  • It’s easy for participants to see what’s in it for them.
  • The information involved is not controversial.
  • A sound business case can be made.
  • Stand-alone implementation is feasible (i.e., not requiring connection with other systems)
  • The project yields a good example to use when getting support for other projects.
  • You can open in New Haven.


New Haven? Sixty years ago, producers staged new plays at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, before taking them to Broadway. No critics were in the audience, so if a major overhaul was required before the official release, no one was the wiser. Similarly, if your first prototype bombs, it’s nice to be able to sweep it under the carpet and begin anew.


Team Collaboration

Collaborating, literally working together, takes two forms. 


  1. Some collaboration is organic. Once in place, it grows on its own. The two West Pointers who founded Company Command were engaged in this. They created connections in the information infrastructure. Participation was voluntary. Officers acted as a community of practice, sharing and contributing news and advice.
  2. Often, collabortation is mandated. It involves a team with a task to accomplish within a specific timeframe. The organization decides to put resources against the project. A project manager is appointed. Team members are recruited or appointed. It’s not uncommon for team members to be spread around the world; they may or may not have met one another. Keeping a task team on track takes careful planning and diligence.


To maintain focus, the owner of the project should prepare a document that answers these questions:


  • What is the goal of the collaboration?
  • What’s the current situation?
  • What do expect it to be after the project?
  • How will this be accomplished?
  • What is the business benefit? 
  • Quantify the size of the benefit.
  • Who’s going to take part?
  • What might go wrong?
  • Is this a one-time project or an on-going process?
  • Do we have sponsorship higher up?
  • Who will participate on the team?
  • If it’s a one-timer, when will it be completed? What is the kill date?


The project owner should display the answers prominently on a wiki, blog, or whatever tool is chosen for sharing information.


It’s wise to begin a long-term collaboration with a face-to-face meeting. Either in person or virtual, social bonding comes before business, for that’s the platform on which the work will be built. Begin with games and getting-to-know-you exercises. Give people time to talk and become familiar with one another.


Social connections remain vital throughout the collaboration. People work best with people they know. Encourage people to share information about themselves. Post photographs of participants. Pinpoint their locations on a map. Set up personal profiles.


It’s important that collaborators are working under the same set of assumptions. Discuss each of these areas with the group and ask for individual commitment to them.


  • Respect the team, and do what is best to accomplish the objective. Be selfless, not selfish.
  • Members will be active. If a member spots something to improve the collaboration, she volunteers to do it.
  • Members freely share ideas and suggestions. They do not hoard information or keep secrets.     
  • Members treat each other with respect. The team is committed to continuous improvement.
  • Members care for one another emotionally, helping one another over rough spots and fears.
  • Members use whatever tools are appropriate to advance the project: phone calls, on-line meetings.
  • Members trust one another. They “make this marriage work.”


Be prepared for push-back. Workers who see collaboration as hindering their work rather than supporting it will be reluctant to join the effort. Organizations that are accustomed to a single viewpoint (usually top management’s) can become rattled as other voices begin to speak. It’s useful to recruit a band of early supporters to help sell the value of the project.


Online collaboration driver license

You cannot learn to swim without getting in the water. You will not appreciate collaborative technology without writing entries in a blog, taking part in a wiki, and subscribing to an RSS feed.


If you haven’t experienced these things, don’t go into denial. Yes, you really need to do them. No, logic is insufficient for grasping what is going on. It needn’t take more than an hour or two, spread out over a week or month to experience these things. Find a private place to practice. Trust us, it’s painless. And you’ll be rewarded with not only your online collaboration license but also a big ah-ha of understanding.


To earn your automobile license, you have to demonstrate that you can drive the vehicle. Likewise, you don’t really qualify for a collaboration driver license until you’ve taken part in a successful collaboration.


Hints on what works with social software


  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it flexible
  • Do it yourself (blog/wiki) or you won’t understand it
  • Be innovative, ever alert to productivity improvements
  • Be open to new ways of doing things
  • Release early and release often. Just do it
  • Promotion is important. Remind people where to look
  • Focus on the function rather than on the tools
  • Provide step-by-step how-to guides
  • Provide the opportunity to celebrate small successes
  • Give people time to practice using the software - it is easy to forget how to do things, especially when you don't use the software regularly


Start-up case study

Here’s how one company went about kicking off a web 2.0 collaborative program.


A large defense contractor in the Southwest employs thousands of people in precision work where the cost of failure is almost unimaginatively high. The Operations Services Group had formed an eight-perform committee to come up with ways to streamline training. Committee members read my book on Informal Learning. In August I flew to headquarters for three days to test an approach for selecting an appropriate place to begin.


The initial morning was a little helter-skelter, because for the first time anyone could recall, flooding had cut off the power to the main plant, and nine thousand workers were told to evacuate the building and head home. In another building, members of the committee gave me an overview of the company and took me on a tour of a spotless factory floor where massive weapons were being constructed. A few others joined us for Q&A about the company and about web 2.0-based learning.


Overall, employees see their company as a great place to work. Turnover is insignificant, and half of those who leave rejoin the company. There’s frustration with dated procedures but the group has a can-do attitude. Due to a downturn in the defense business, few people were hired in the 80s and into the 90s, resulting in a group of old hands and a group of newcomers with little in-between. Economically, times are good. This firm is seen as the quality producer in the industry.


That afternoon, we discussed undercurrents in the organization. People selected two or three pictures out of several hundred I’d brought with me that reminded them of some aspect of work here and explained why. Among the issues raised:


  • People not talking with one another.
  • The divide between the veterans and the newcomers.
  • Too much time chopping down trees instead of sharpening the axe.
  • Best manufacturing processes not being shared.
  • Centralized control – good for some things, not for others.
  • Power Point culture, too much paper.


We surmised that the organization was in transition, neither rigidly clinging to the past nor rushing to catch the future. Few employees have a long-term vision.


The morning after next, our group met to plan next steps. We had a number of candidates for starter projects:


  • The generation gap, part of which entails getting the old chiefs to pass along their “tribal knowledge” to the young braves. (But this should permeate everything we do, not be a separate item.)
  • Ground-level collaboration to change the high-order operating rules (the directives) or the instructions that implement them. Perhaps put a more lucid front-end on the directives. (But this would raise controversy that might swamp the effort. Few people read the hallowed directives now.)
  • Implement online meeting spaces for council meetings; become familiar with eCollaboration by doing it. (Of course. Why not?)


  • Go public with what our group is doing, invite participation, and look for linkages to our sister groups looking into knowledge sharing and reducing rework. (Just do it!)


Toward the end of the day, the engineer for a large program described an area just begging for collaborative resolution. She had to make plant visits to dozens of suppliers to insure that they were following proper standards downstream. Many other divisions call on the same set of suppliers.


Why not share information on the suppliers to everyone who works with them? Keep a perpetual record of visits and discoveries on a wiki. To ice the cake, include RSS feeds that report whenever the supplier’s name appears in financial, legal, and business reports on the internet.


More Experimental Projects

In-house Wikipedia. Example: Intel Intelpedia. Employee downloads free software and posts it behind the firewall. Employees post 5,000 pages of need-to-know company information. Within six months, more that 10,000 page look-ups. Four years later, millions of hits. Intelpedia has become the place to go to look up what an acronym means or what a particular project looked like. The site is one of the first stops for new recruits, for exploring Intelpedia puts everything in the concept of the company’s procedures and values.


Frequently Asked Questions for temp workers. Example: T. Rowe Price. At tax time, 1,500 workers are brought in to answer incoming customer tax questions over the telephone. They post rules of thumb to a shared read/write site. This speeds up customer service by two minutes per call. Annual benefits exceed $10,000,000.


Network Expansion


After a few successful experiments, managers will begin exploring other opportunities for change. They are goal-driven, seeking value. They contemplate networks that grow virally to produce out-sized returns.



Metcalf’s Law posits that value of a network grows exponentially with the addition of connections. Left unfettered, network nodes reproduce like randy rabbits on espresso. Think, for example, of the hyper growth of the internet, the web, YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter. Once social networks take hold, expect them to grow like topsy. Moreover, the denser the network, the faster its cycle time. More connections make it quicker to get from one node to another.


Imagine how this can happen in an organization. The first nodes appear as the company experiments with a few small projects such as coordinating online project groups or making it easier to find information with a “Wikipedia inside.” New hires are accustomed to going wherever they wish in a network; they begin communicating between silos. HR realizes that the company-pedia can accelerate onboarding new employees. Customer service improves as everyone gains access to corporate resources such as who does what and how to find them. Replacing multiple versions with a single source of information cuts bureaucracy and chops email volume back. The growth of corporate connections feeds on itself.  


What problem should we be solving? Managers want the biggest bang for their buck. Here’s a list of organizational dysfunctions and opportunities for improvement that others have solved using the tools of enterprise 2.0. 


Use this checklist to set your mind to work; share it with others to get their insight.

 Which of these things might return the most value to your corporation?


Inefficiency and bureaucracy

❏ Deluged by internal email

❏ Can’t find the right person when you need them

❏ People don’t know who knows what

❏ Can’t the right information when you need it

❏ Project coordination is tedious and things fall through the cracks

❏ Re-invent the same documents and processes over and over again

❏ Departments squabble more often than they collaborate

❏ Don’t learn from the people who join us from competitors

❏ Execs can’t get a read of progress on projects

❏ Documentation is dated, versions confuse


Not learning

❏ Not prepared for onslaught of digital natives we’re recruiting

❏ Training can’t keep pace with the business

❏ Training administration, creation, and delivery cost too much

❏ Managers hoard information

❏ Not learning fast enough to keep up with the needs of our business


Unenthusiastic, sluggish staff

❏ Recruiting is harder than ever

❏ Some do the minimum to get by

❏ People are not innovators and don’t keep up

❏ Our know-how is walking out the door due to retirement and turnover

❏ People are glum because of the economy, an industry slump, whatever

❏ Turnover is too high

❏ When good people leave, we never see or hear from them again

❏ No time for experimentation or prototyping


Underdeveloped organization

❏ Difficult to collaborate inside the corporate firewall

❏ Difficult to collaborate outside the corporate firewall

❏ People prefer to work solo than on teams

❏ Takes too long for new hires to become productive

❏ Analysis paralysis

❏ “Wait and see” attitude = missed opportunities

❏ Culture clash, as if we are two organizations with different priorities


Suboptimal execution

❏ Not everyone is on the same page

❏ Our people don’t know our history, values, culture

❏ Set in our ways, reluctant to change

❏ Not moving fast enough to stay ahead of competitors

❏ Functional silos thwart process improvement

❏ Still acting like two separate organizations long after the merger

❏ Hard to find out where we are as an organization

❏ Teams don’t talk about the trends and force that drive our business

❏ Don’t reflect on the lessons of our successes and failures

❏ Don’t take advantage of our collective intelligence


Substandard revenue

❏ Sales are declining, customers are postponing decisions

❏ Sales and marketing departments are on different planets

❏ Sales force cannot express benefits of new products

❏ Sellers unaware of industry conditions and competition

❏ Friction in relationships with distributors

❏ Partners are not well informed

❏ Relationships with customers are arms-length


Deficient service

❏ Response time to customers is sub-par

❏ After-sales inquiries are bogging down our call centers

❏ 800 numbers and phone trees are driving customers away

❏ Service is inconvenient for customers, not 24/7

❏ We don’t learn from our customers

❏ Not building customer loyalty

❏ Customer and prospects are confused, frustrated


Sustaining momentum

As the organization’s use of collaborative software crosses the chasm from specialty item to vital business process, focus shifts to keeping collaboration vibrant, disseminating lessons learned, and informally benchmarking performance.


Companies that have made the transition suggest these practices for maintaining momentum after initial enthusiasm wears thin:


  • Dismantle roadblocks to collaboration.
  • Make the goal and ground rules clear at the outset
  • Structure the initial framework to fit the task
  • Make the online environment attracting and inviting
  • Pre-load templates, background info, defaults
  • Provide emotional support for newcomers
  • Delegate responsibility for keeping the ball rolling to the team
  • Rely on self-regulation
  • Don’t micromanage
  • Market the service: publicity, seed with enthusiasts, contests
  • Incentives to get things ramped up
  • Report results at least quarterly
  • Conclude project teams with written evaluation
  • Participants suggest “How we can make this better”
  • Don’t skimp on investment. This is all cheap compared to the alternatives.
  • Use bots to send periodic reminders about what’s going on
  • Encourage (or enforce!) tagging, making things searchable and thus easier to use


Now this is how it is supposed to work!


I am in debt to Dan Bricklin for sharing this podcast with Toby Redshaw, corporate VP of Motorola. Look at these stats:

  • Motorola has about 4,433 blogs (about 40,000 blog entries)
  • 3,300 wikis (each with often many pages)
  • Several thousand FAQs
  • 28,000 inquiries and responses in 2,400 forums


Here are some other pieces that I thought were important:

  • It was completely viral adoption internally, "without a single memo from upstairs"
  • It is heavily used low down in the organization to get things done, and less used and less understood as you go up the organization.
  • Three quarters of the company participates by posting to blogs, wikis, forums, and FAQs.
  • They have 69,000 employees and 75,000 active users (including 8,000 in an extranet with partners, universities, etc.).
  • They manage it with four people and some management.


Examples of wiki use range from broad areas like digital six-sigma or some of the key engineering efforts which have hundreds of pages and many contributors to a pre-sales factbook for a certain type of network architecture component that they sell which serves a small, geographically dispersed group. Their content in the system totals almost 5 terabytes (!) which includes lots of text as well as engineering diagrams, etc.


To sustain momentum, they prune old and unused content, sometimes having a blog that lasts just a very short time. They work hard to keep it all fresh and up to date. They have knowledge champions in various areas who help do this. He feels these "domain owners" are an important part of facilitating the "quality" of the information and its organization. This is internally oriented, which has everybody with the same mission of advancing the company's goals and under the same governance to keep out bad behavior, etc. This is not Wikipedia on the public web.


Toby sees an evolution towards "enterprise mashups" with business process management, enterprise information management systems, structured data management systems, data warehouses, and wikis. Process management data that shows a choke point or other problem in a process can link back automatically to a search of wiki data to find prior material relating to that situation and even identify individuals to be called in. They are trying to use both structured and unstructured information.


He sees wikis as an important part of taking advantage of the brain power they get with acquisitions, by throwing the new people into their systems to add their knowledge.


These systems have replaced "...decisions based on very narrow amounts of knowledge...What's been eliminated is people making a lot of mistakes that other people have already made for them...cycle times have been improved..."


How “pull” gives the user choice

Many workers are drowning in information and info-clutter. Their lives are not their own because they feel they must deal with every incoming email or announcement. Every day it’s as if an evil genie dumps boatloads of information, price increases, questions, recall notices, changes to plans, trade regulations, competitive threats, and email into our offices to greet us in the morning. Most of what we receive is not relevant to our needs; it was the product of a thoughtless cc: or mass mailing. As with spam, the sender incurs no cost but the recipient pays dearly in time and distraction.


One way out of this quagmire is going after the information you need rather than taking all the information that is pushed on you. My first blog post of 2007 said “The tide will turn, saving humankind from drowning in diversions. At the point of being overwhelmed by repeated shotgun blasts of infobits, people will turn the gun around and hunt down what they want.”

We’ll be able to select what mail, email, television programs, phone calls, and reports we want in our lives. We’re accustomed to taking whatever is delivered; in the future, we’ll take what we choose. Media, software, training, telephones, and most importantly, friends and colleagues will give us the ability to filter what gets past our personal firewalls.  I’m not predicting that pull will replace push everywhere we get information, just that the balance will shift more toward the pull end of the spectrum than the push.

Big benefits come with a price tag. Most often, maintaining a wiki requires someone to prune dead branches, bring new items to the front, and consolidate overlapping topics. Someone else has to keep collaboration focused on the objective. Up front, an experienced wiki architect can increase the odds of success.




As social networks become more visible in the organization, they are certain to attract scrutiny by senior managers who never received their Online Collaboration Driver License. Giving every worker the ability to write things into documents that can be seen by all looks like a formula for chaos. And won’t some bad actors muck about, spraying the files with digital graffiti? Time and time again, the answer has turned out to be “no.”


Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has addressed the issue of vandalism countless times. He draws an analogy to opening a new restaurant. This is America, so the restaurant is going to serve steak. Some steak is tough, so he will provide patrons with steak knives. People can stab one another with knives, so he will seat his guests in cages. Whoa! Time out! You’ve got to trust the people to behave in a civilized manner or give up on the restaurant idea entirely.


MIT’s Andy McAfee has asked more than fifty organizations if they have experienced obscene or indiscreet posting on the social networks. He has yet to identify one instance.


And so it goes with open collaboration in the corporate world. Employees don’t turn into monsters just because they are online. Everything submitted carries the name of its author. What better way to lose your job than by acting foolishly in front of all to see?


Nonetheless, because this is a new medium and because you’ve got corporate attorneys assuming the worst, it’s wise to set expectations and post guidelines. Here’s one organization’s policy for participating in the in-house wiki:


  • Assume good faith
  • Assume that most people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it.
  • Civility
  • Being rude, insensitive or petty makes people upset and hinders collaboration.  Try to discourage others from being uncivil, and be careful to avoid offending people unintentionally.
  • Common sense
  • Don’t do anything in the collaborative environment that you wouldn’t do face to face.
  • Editing policy
  • Improve pages wherever you can, and don't worry about leaving them imperfect. (It’s all beta.)
  • No personal attacks
  • Do not make personal attacks. Comment on content, not on the contributor. Personal attacks damage the community and deter users. Nobody likes abuse.
  • Ownership of articles
  • You agreed to allow others to modify your work. So let them.


You can be assured that IBM paid its legal staff handsomely to give these user-recommended guidelines the stamp of approval. Hint: use your eyes; plagiarize.


IBM’s Policy on Employee Blogs




In the spring of 2005, IBM bloggers used a wiki to create a set of blogging guidelines that would protect both IBM bloggers and IBM itself as the company formally entered the blogosphere. The guidelines were endorsed by IBM and initially posted internally -- then our bloggers shared them with the world.


Responsible engagement in innovation and dialogue. Whether or not an IBMer chooses to create or participate in a blog or a wiki or other form of online publishing or discussion is his or her own decision. However, it is very much in IBM's interest – and, we believe, in each IBMer's own – to be aware of this sphere of information, interaction and idea exchange:


To learn: As an innovation-based company, we believe in the importance of open exchange and learning – between IBM and its clients, and among the many constituents of our emerging business and societal ecosystem. The rapidly growing phenomenon of blogging and online dialogue are emerging important arenas for that kind of engagement and learning.


To contribute: IBM – as a business, as an innovator and as a corporate citizen – makes important contributions to the world, to the future of business and technology, and to public dialogue on a broad range of societal issues. As our business activities increasingly focus on the provision of transformational insight and high-value innovation – whether to business clients or those in the public, educational or health sectors – it becomes increasingly important for IBM and IBMers to share with the world the exciting things we’re doing learning and doing, and to learn from others.


Guidelines for IBM bloggers: executive summary

Know and follow IBM's Business Conduct Guidelines.


Blogs, wikis and other forms of online discourse are individual interactions, not corporate communications. IBMers are personally responsible for their posts. Be mindful that what you write will be public for a long time—protect your privacy.


Identify yourself – name and, when relevant, role at IBM – when you blog about IBM or IBM-related matters. And write in the first person. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.


If you publish a blog or post to a blog outside of IBM and it has something to do with work you do or subjects associated with IBM, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”


Don’t provide IBM’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to IBM.


Don't cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.


Respect your audience. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc., and show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory – such as politics and religion.


Find out who else is blogging on the topic, and cite them.


Don't pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don't alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.


Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.


Wiki Use Policies at Sun Microsystems

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz was the most high-profile executive blogger in the business world until Oracle acquired Sun. Read his blog

; it’s an eye-opener. Sun’s policy encourages employees to post to blogs and wikis: that’s how people will come to know the company.


Many of us at Sun are doing work that could change the world. The intent of Wikis.sun.com is to provide a mechanism where Sun Employees and invited guests can collaboratively create wiki content that supports their common efforts. As of now, you are encouraged to leverage Sun's wiki site to meet this need, without asking permission first (but please do read and follow the advice in this note).


Moderating It's important to have a designated wiki moderator that maintains the organization of the wiki and nurtures it. The moderator should be a Sun Employee and effectively respond to ongoing decisions and questions that impact their wiki space. A moderator must also remember that the wiki is owned by the community first and foremost and must resist controlling it. A moderator should always try to "guide and nurture" instead of "command and control."


On the inTERnet Content you post is accessible by anyone with a web connection and a browser. The site does have a private wikis feature, but keep in mind that content is NOT as secure as that which resides on a protected inTRAnet. Therefore, use additional caution when publishing to wikis.sun.com. Content requiring a non-disclosure agreement, or information considered Sun private should not be published on the wiki. If you aren't sure, don't publish it.


Don't Tell Secrets Common sense at work here; it's perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it's not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces. There's an official policy on protecting Sun's proprietary and confidential information, but there are still going to be judgment calls.


Financial Rules There are all sorts of laws about what we can and can't say, business-wise. Talking about revenue, future product ship dates, roadmaps, or our share price is apt to get you, or the company, or both, into legal trouble. If the judgment call is tough-on secrets or one of the other issues discussed here-it's never a bad idea to get management sign-off before you publish.


Think About Consequences The worst thing that can happen is that a Sun sales pro is in a meeting with a hot prospect, and someone on the customer's side pulls out a print-out of the wiki and says "This person at Sun says that product sucks."


In general, "XXX sucks" is not only risky but unsubtle. Saying "Netbeans needs to have an easier learning curve for the first-time user" is fine; saying "Visual Development Environments for Java sucks" is just amateurish.


Once again, it's all about judgment: using your wiki space to trash or embarrass the company, our customers, or your co-workers, is not only dangerous but stupid.


Disclaimers Many community content authors put a disclaimer on their front page saying who they work for, but that they're not speaking officially. This is good practice, but don't count on it to avoid trouble; it may not have much legal effect.


Understand the boundaries A wiki should not be perceived as replacing the existing, primary information sources (product documents, knowledge articles, etc.). Pointers can be provided to existing support articles or existing product documentation. Use your wiki's policy page to make your wiki's purpose clear.



Sample Network Expansion Projects

Unifying a distributed organization. Example: Intrawest. The real estate development firm’s 250 employees work from seven locations. Collaboration online has yielded ideas worth millions.  Employees maintain the shared collaboration space online; use is pervasive. Online personal profiles help workers get to know one another and form friendships that makes interactions faster and more fun. In their own words:


“We have a lot of really, really, interesting and neat people working here. The general population at large cannot possibly be composed of this percentage of coolness per capita. Reading about everybody helps to connect.”


“It has been amazingly helpful to have detailed information about each employee right at my fingertips, including their contact information, subordinates, managers, photos and that special personal touch… It’s been invaluable in helping me connect with co-workers in and out of my Southwest office.”


To spur social innovation and business development, IBM set up a social network where thousands of alumni and current IBMers can connect, communicate and collaborate in variety of new ways: online, in-person and in Second Life. More than six thousand have signed up. By extending the meaning and value of "being an IBMer," the firm is reinforcing IBM's core goal of being the world's leading innovation catalyst. Members gain contacts. Big Blue hopes to foster lifelong relationship with an extended community of “high-caliber people who share an IBM heritage.”


The technology scouting group of a large software company set up a collaboration space online to keep up with companies that might fill current or future needs. Self-service look-ups replaced a deluge of email. At the same time, information was no longer lost in people’s inboxes.


Four years ago the technology scouting group, which kept up with companies that might fill their internal and their customers’ needs set up a wiki to replace their emails. The wiki meant that information was not lost. Calls and email to the Team replaced with self-service. The firm’s CTO became aware of the project and applied it to the distribution of product knowledge. Now the firm can see its 1,000 products through the eyes of the sales force, architects, developers, and engineers; everyone is empowered to add to the understanding of the product line.


Advertising agency MWW Group depends on web-based tools to better manage complex projects, track real-time news and other information updates, as well as facilitate communications with clients. Highly competitive advertising firms use innovative technology solutions differentiate their services.


Communicating with the customers of more than 1,000 lawyers spread around the globe in 18 offices can be a coordination nightmare. Customer address, status, preferences, time, and confidential data can come from marketing, legal briefs, CRM updates, or Outlook files on individual lawyers’ desks. Morrison Foerster brought things under control with an easily-updated collaborative space for processing master records.




Good news travels, and eventually executive management asks her team if they are milking online collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 for all they are worth. She knows it’s important for workers, clients, and partners to connect and collaborate. She wants to be certain he’s leaving no honey, oops money, on the table.


Where is everybody?


Collaborative software can connect prospects and sales people, customers and service, partners and product information, and supply chain with operations.


Internet technology provides a common language for connecting business functions and processing routine transactions. “I’ll have my computers talk with your computers.” Without an online collaboration framework in-house, the company could be cut off from its customers and business partners. Also, it’s unlikely many of the people being hired right out of college would buy into the old lone worker with pencil and paper routine.


Executives expect collaboration and network infrastructure to follow the trajectory of IT. At first, computing was relegated to the low-hanging fruit: routine tasks like accounting that were simple to automate with the same logic humans had already applied. In time, IT expanded to become enterprise software, an octopus hooked into sales, inventory, accounting, financial forecasting, HR, marketing, business intelligence, and vendor relations. Collaboration – relationships – give an organization the agility to adapt to change and the speed to create value ahead of others.


Whenever a bottom-up phenomenon in business evolves into a strategically vital proposition, executive management steps in to insure the firm isn’t treading on thin ice, neither too risky nor too conservative.


The world turned upside down

For three hundred years, business people have revered efficiency, productivity, the accumulation of wealth, and things they could see and touch. This view of the world became second nature, so obvious that we didn’t question it. Until now.


We are in transition from the industrial age to the network era. When it’s difficult for people to make connections, knowledge and power are scarce, and a few “haves” control the have-nots. We see this top-down structure in feudalism, kingdoms, colonies, armies, industrial organizations, and much of the Fortune 500.


When it becomes easy for people to make connections, knowledge and power are distributed, and everyone has a say. The internet lives to make connections, millions of them daily. Connections beget connections, making the whole ever more valuable.


No organization inhabits these extremes. Even the most command-and-control firm uses email and has internet access; the most networked still harbor unconnected nooks and crannies.


Most knowledge organizations today find themselves in this in-between state. They have one foot in the command-and-control model. New hires, at this point twenty-somethings, are bringing the ways they have been doing projects at home with them.


New recruits are refusing to work with organizations that don’t permit them to post a personal profile, use instant messenger, and connect to friends when they encounter a question. Elliott Masie tells of his disappointment with a new hire who had the continual distraction of six friends always a click away on her desktop. How could she concentrate? Then he realized that instead of having one new person working for The Masie Center, he had seven!


Look in the mirror

We’re not all Motorolas or Ciscos, ready to adopt new technology at the drop of a hat. Most companies are somewhere between being stuck in the past and embracing the future. 


I think of organizations with the industrial-age beliefs as ice, because they are rigid. In addition to their orientation to control, ice organizations think business is a zero-sum game; for me to win, you must lose. They have a black-and-white view of the world; things are rigid; the fundamentals still apply. Secrecy is competition advantage; hoarding information is the norm.


Water (melted-ice) companies are less sure of themselves or what the future will bring; reality is the unpredictable result of complex adaptive forces. Nothing’s perfect; stuff happens. Cooperation is a win-win game. Relationships are all-important, and the more open you are, the easier it is to form them.


Where is your organization? Ice or water? Your answers to few questions will probably make it clear.


  • Can employees access the entire internet from their desktops?
  • Are people in the company are learning and growing fast enough to keep up with the needs of our business?
  • Does corporate policy forbid blogging outside our firewall?
  • Do our sales people share sales techniques and call reports online?
  • Following a major success or failure, do we take time to reflect on what we’ve learned?
  • Do people know how their work relates to our mission and vision?
  • Do employees in one department don’t know what’s happening in other parts of the company?
  • Is it simple to set up an online meeting here?
  • Do teams frequently talk about the trends and forces that drive our business?
  • Do we believe in transparency and openness whenever possible?


You don’t need an answer key to figure out where you are.


If your company is on the water side, you are a candidate for the transformation Andy McAfee describes. If you’re still frozen, it’s time to thaw.


Sample Collaborative Transformations

Self-service customer support. Example: SAP. When SAP rolled out a new generation of enterprise software, its 39,000 customers soon knew more about implementing the software than SAP itself. The firm established the SAP Developer Network to enable users to help solve one another’s problems. Within three months, the community had more than 30,000 members. A year later SDN had grown to 100,000 members. Now SDN is 650,000 members strong. Customers answer nine out of ten questions asked, and they do it faster than SAP did in the past. SDN is a community of practice; members are paid in prestige, not money, for their contributions. SDN’s developer says, “Web 2.0 is not about technologies – it's about users treated as people, communication, self expression…”


To speed up the flow of business information throughout the organization, investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort adopted a “pull strategy” where workers get information when they seek it to replace a “push strategy” where information is emailed out shotgun-style. Email traffic has been cut in half. The bank is more agile and less bureaucratic.


The internet has improved the way consumers get together, find information, meet new people, save time, join groups of like-minded people, stay up to date, and more. Virtually all of the benefits of the open web can be brought inside the firewall to create an internet inside. Think of how the major technologies of web 2.0 could benefit your organization.  A growing advantage of bringing net technology in-house is that web-literate employees can come up to speed in no time. (Training for enterprise software has been the number one training expense in corporate America for years.)


The next step

In your father’s time, workers prospered by knowing how to do their jobs and doing them. In our time, workers get along by connecting with others and staying in sync with ever-changing conditions. Increasingly, what they need to know is not in their heads; it’s a shared understanding held by lots of people. Having exceeded the limits of what any of us can understand on our own, we turn to our collective intelligence to survive.


Organizations at the top of the food chain are shucking off industrial-age thinking as best they can, but it is difficult. Since your great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great-grandfather’s day, we’ve revered efficiency, productivity, the accumulation of wealth, and things we could see and touch. The game is changing. With one foot in the industrial age and the other in the evolving network age, our organizations are being ripped up the middle. The world is too volatile to wait for it to pass over.


Never before in history has progress raced along at such a rate that children lap their parents. If you’d like to brainstorm how to inject collaborative technology into your organization, please call me or any thirteen-year old. Collaborate with them.




Jay Cross has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix thirty years ago. “I am dedicated to helping people become more effective in their work and happy in their lives,” says Jay. “My calling is to change the world by helping people learn to learn.” Jay coined the term eLearning. He co-authored Implementing eLearning, founded Internet Time Group, and served as CEO of eLearning Forum for its first five years. He is the author of Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance (Pfeiffer, October 2006).


Research for this paper was funded by Learning Light, a centre of excellence in the use of learning technologies in the workplace and organisational learning best practice.




1     Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.3     4     Modern Knowledge Management Applications, CIO magazine, December 1, 20065     ABC An Introduction to Web 2.0, CIO magazine, July 12, 20076  7     Australian Flexible Learning Final Report on Social Software for Learning, April 17, 2007 10     Courtesy Hydrogenaudio Knowledgebase,  GNU Free Doc11    http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html12     http://www.sun.com/aboutsun/media/wiki/policy.html13     http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/



Collaborative Learning, The Social Enterprise Blog, Dave Wilkins. http://dwilkinsnh.wordpress.com/case-studies/collaborative-learning-stories/ Ten great examples of collaborative learning successes



Examples of social media in learning, Social Learning Academy, Jane Hart. http://c4lpt.co.uk/handbook/examples.html  One hundred social technologies and tools being used by learning professionals



Howard Rheingold on Collaboration, TED, http://www.ted.com/talks/howard_rheingold_on_collaboration.html



Best Online Collaboration Tools, Mind Meister, Robin Good. http://www.mindmeister.com/12213323/best-online-collaboration-tools-2009-robin-good-s-collaborative-map  I remember when this incredible map had but a dozen items.



Cisco Collaboration Summit, http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns870/index.html  Useful when you reach the top-down phase and have money to burn.



Collaborative Strategies, David Coleman, http://www.collaborate.com/  Dave’s been advising companies how to use collaboration for more than twenty years.






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