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12/19/2011
03:38 PM
Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
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Social Business In 2012: Enter The Water Dragon

I hope to see the term "social business" bite the dust in 2012. Enterprise 2.0 is about individualism, data, new management models, and architecture.

I have been sensing for a while that we are at a sort of liminal passage between major phases of the evolution of Enterprise 2.0. An old set of conversations is winding down, and a new set seems to be emerging.

I randomly discovered, through some idle browsing, that 2012 is not just the year of the Mayan apocalypse (I am looking forward to that). It is the year of the dragon in the Chinese Zodiac. More precisely, it is the year of the water dragon.

That water part of the motif is rather apt for the evolutionary direction I am prophesying, working to bring about, and betting on personally.

The metaphoric theme of water has been dominant in my mind, as I've thought about what's been happening. The enterprise stream idea, which I wrote about in my last column, has become my dominant mental model for thinking about Enterprise 2.0. Beyond the Enterprise 2.0 conversation, I've also become fascinated with the idea of liquefying global cultures.

Enter, the Dragon

The dragon part of the motif is also an interesting one for 2012, since one of the main things I expect to see is the rise of true, mature E 2.0 companies: magical, other-worldly beasts that are dramatically different from traditional companies.

My candidate for the first such Water Dragon company is Amazon. The now-famous Steve Yegge post about Amazon describes a world that would be completely alien to people who only know 1.0 type companies.

It isn't that Amazon is a perfect example of E 2.0 best practices in every department. In fact "best practice" is a poor, reductive lens for this sort of overall aesthetic judgment. Amazon simply projects that intangible aura that comes from having 2.0 instincts that just work. I wrote a little paean to Amazon elsewhere, but the point is, Amazon is the first of the Water Dragons. More will follow. What makes it all the more interesting is that Amazon deals in mundane things like books. That it models the 2.0 ethos better than companies whose core offerings are 2.0 products, such as Google and Facebook, makes it all the more impressive.

I'll be watching for the most interesting Water Dragon company to emerge in 2012. I'll announce a Water Dragon award in December 2012 (Amazon will be excluded; let's give other companies a chance).

The award will comprise a fawning, adulatory company hagiography from me in December 2012. Nominations are welcome throughout the year.

Wisdom from the Water Dragon

Things like fortune cookies and astrological descriptions often trigger interesting patterns of free association for me. The water dragon motif turned out to be particularly fertile.

The description of the Water Dragon at ChineseZodiac.com has this to say:

Water calms the Dragon's fire. Water Dragons are able to see things from other points of view. They don't have the need to always be right. Their decisions, if well-researched, are usually better since they allow others to become involved.

Let's break it down. The year of the Water Dragon will be about:

-- A calming of fire.

-- More perspectives.

-- Less doctrine and ideology.

-- Well-researched decisions.

-- Involving others.

Yeah, I am sort of projecting my own pre-conceived ideas onto a convenient motif. So sue me. Here we go.

Calming the Fire

The E 2.0 trend has matured. The fiery zealots, thankfully, are starting to get tired. Skeptics have been throwing some much-needed cold water at the flaming idiots, and taming the useful fires.

Controlled burns are what we need.

What does this actually mean? It means acting the way you want to be treated.

If you want to be treated like a member of a nutty, fiery fringe group, you will be treated as such. If you act like with the calm measured authority that suggests an unstoppable takeover in progress, you will be given that authority.

More Perspectives

I've gotten tired of hearing the same kind of conversations, involving the same kind of people. Whiny kumbaya types. Grumpy contrarians (like yours truly). Empty suits talking ROI. People making excuses for Sharepoint. People beating up on Sharepoint.

It's annoying.

It has also been largely irrelevant. The percentage of people in the movement who can credibly claim to have made an actual difference is minuscule. I've found the signal-to-noise ratio of the conversation to be fairly low. The number of blog posts or books I've read in the last 5 years that have actually improved my thinking is no more than a couple of dozen.

But now that things are getting sufficiently mainstream, and a basic situation awareness has been achieved, smarter, more cautious people are joining in the conversation (yes, I said "smarter." In my opinion, early adopters are on average more valuable for their energy and enthusiasm, not their intelligence).

The mainstreams are asking harder questions, but are also more willing to seriously listen to good answers.

Less Doctrine and Ideology

Let's face it. The E 2.0 movement hasn't exactly endeared itself to the rest of the corporate world. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, preachy and holier-than-thou.

We talk about open conversations and inviting diverse points of view, but generally with a subconscious ideological rider: "so long as you don't really challenge us."

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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/27/2011 | 6:31:55 PM
re: Social Business In 2012: Enter The Water Dragon
Great article. I wanted to comment specifically on your Outlook 2012. I think most of what you say makes a lot of sense. I truly hope that we don't have to wait until 2016 to see a psychological recovery from the economic environment we have been in the last few years. But perhaps those who have been scarred by it (and who hasn't) will never quite "get over" it. As far as "social" being an over-used adjective, I'd put it right up there with "cloud." But, just as we hear the term "Web-based" less and less--as Web-based apps became the rule and not the exception--I think the same will hold true with social and even cloud. I don't think it will be long before an app stands out because it *doesn't* have social capabilities or some presence in the cloud.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The Brainyard
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