Social Wars Part III: Return Of The Radicals - InformationWeek
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Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
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Social Wars Part III: Return Of The Radicals

There are radicals who start Enterprise 2.0 revolutions and radicals who finish them. Here's how to finish. Third of a three-part series.

Third in a three-part series. Click for Part I and Part II.

In the first two parts of this series, we saw how a high-potential revolution at the periphery becomes a tame and domesticated evolution as it makes its way to the center. Along the way, the radicals get house trained and co-opted, or sidelined and ignored, and business as usual continues.

We know how to start Enterprise 2.0 change processes. We don't know how to finish them. What we need is a return to radicalism, but not the same kind of radicalism that started the process.

There are radicals who start revolutions and radicals who finish them. Call them type A and type B radicals. Marx and Lenin.

A type A radical can paint inspiring pictures, spread exciting ideas, and plant seeds. Type A radicals are great at explosive and dramatic, short-term action.

A type B radical, on the other hand, operates as a guerrilla and can win asymmetric wars against much more powerful and entrenched adversaries. Type B radicals are great at sustained, low-intensity, long-term action.

But before we get into all that, let's remind ourselves of how the change process goes wrong.

Recall the roles of IT and Purchasing as I described them last time. The job of Purchasing is to get needs met at the lowest possible cost. The job of IT is to think about long-term support and pick the solution that's easiest to manage.

Except that we're not talking about buying container loads of bolts from the cheapest source in China. We're talking about buying cultures. The basic framing that industrial era purchasing functions apply is the wrong one: They think they're buying tools, when they're actually buying the cultures catalyzed by the tools. Applying normal purchasing/procurement logic to Enterprise 2.0 systems is, as I noted last time, like asking Detroit to take charge of the revolution started by Silicon Valley. Or if you prefer a different example, it's like looking at the cultural success of New York, deciding that more people need access to such culture, buying enough of the cheapest land available, and declaring a large tract of land in rural Nebraska as the site of a future new Manhattan.

The IT approach to 2.0 decision-making is equally inappropriate. Looking at the costs and benefits of standardization and framing the decision in terms of some mix of "platform" versus "best in class" buying decisions is appropriate (to continue the "replicate New York" metaphor) if you're planning something like the modernization of a large city's sewage system. It's completely irrelevant if the idea is to catalyze widespread cultural changes and revitalize dying cultures. Enterprise 2.0 isn't about plugging new tools into old processes. It's about using new tools as irritants around which a nascent effective culture can crystallize, eventually displacing old processes.

But the logical failure is understandable. Well-intentioned people look at the cores of aging corporations, full of disengaged employees, and notice the vitality and energy on the unruly edges, where employees have cobbled thriving new cultures for themselves. They ask the obvious question: How can we spread this culture of engagement, excitement, and vitality throughout the organization?

This leads them to the mistake: People assume that their problem is adapting the tools that are working at the edge to the core of the organization, when the actual problem is rebuilding the organization around the edges where the new culture is taking root.

In other words, the Mountain must go to Mohammed.

When revolutions start on the edge, the core must reorganize around the edge hotspots, making the old edge the new center.

Of course, you need practical ways to actually do this, and you can't be too literal-minded about it (for one thing, the "tools that are working" may be CRM tools in Sales, and it's unclear what it means to re-center the organization on the tools).

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/3/2012 | 7:18:30 AM
re: Social Wars Part III: Return Of The Radicals
Excellent Post Venkatesh. Wish I could have read this post long back when I was trying out hard and foolish as a Type A radical while evangelizing social technologies.
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2011 | 11:53:56 PM
re: Social Wars Part III: Return Of The Radicals
Venkatesh, I have really enjoyed reading this series--very thought-provoking. It seems like we are at the beginnings of a huge cultural shift in business, but I was wondering if you have any experience with a company that is currently practicing the kinds of 2.0 tenets you have been writing about. What do you consider an exemplar?

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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