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5/4/2011
11:29 AM
Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
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The Angry VP And The Art Of Enterprise 2.0

A few Zen parables on the power and nuance of Web collaboration and engagement.



As he pondered the curious and unexplained uptick in sales over a sushi lunch one day, the VP of sales recognized the voices of a few of his people chatting a few booths away.

"Yes, closing that last lead from the blog was easy enough. The customer had already sold herself, thanks to that video from that other user."

"Fine, I'll take the next one, the guy who's posting the long comments on the last interview we posted about custom widgets."

The VP was furious. He marched over to the booth. Two of the people he recognized. The third person was a young woman he hadn't met before.

He yelled, "Are you guys using unqualified leads from sources I haven't approved?"

He paused and turned to the young woman. "And who the hell are you? Are you even with our company?"

"I am over in marketing. My name is Ms. Miyagi," the young woman replied calmly. "We've been running a blog, and your guys here have been getting great leads through it. You should be happy and rewarding them, so why are you yelling?"

The VP calmed down. "Well, sure, yeah. I mean that's great. But really, my only concern is that I need to know about such things. We have well designed systems and processes for this, and a whole marketing-sales coordination committee that meets regularly about such things. It would be best if such things were cleared with the committee first. I am sure your boss would feel the same way."

"What do the well designed systems and processes do?" Ms. Miyagi asked.

"Well, it's hard to explain to you marketers," said the VP, with a condescending smile. "Sales operations are very complex, and we have to keep track of everything, measure our lead conversion rates, and so forth."

"Why are the operations complex?" Ms. Miyagi asked, idly snapping at a passing fly with her chopsticks. "Your people are getting the sales, I can get the lead conversion data anytime you want from the blog traffic reports. Do you really need complicated systems, processes, and a coordination committee to sign off on things, adding delays?"

"Now, wait a minute," the VP fought back. "I am all for asking for forgiveness instead of permission, but without systems and processes tracking operations, eventually there will be chaos. The system will become stupid and fall apart."

"Does it matter if the system is becoming stupider, if the people in it are becoming smarter?" Ms. Miyagi offered.

At that moment, the VP of sales was enlightened.

The Gift Of The Retiring Boomer

With great fanfare and a cocktail party, a community of practice was launched around widget supply-chain operations. A wiki was unveiled and Richards, the aging Boomer Subject Matter Expert, proudly gave the rest of the group a tour of the thoughtful ontology he had created.

"I've seeded the wiki with a couple dozen basic documents which should be useful to new employees, and hopefully that's enough to get us started," he said. "I've put in stubs for a lot of the rest."

He paused to sip his champagne. "Most of the raw material is in PowerPoint or PDF format in various places, and I've compiled a list of a few hundred links on a temporary page on the wiki. If we all pitch in and do even one link a week, we should get it all moved to the wiki in a couple of months."

He paused to put on his best grandfatherly look, the one he used to guilt his grandson into picking up his toys.

"Forget the gold watch. If I can delete that temporary links page before I retire, that would be the best retirement present you guys could give me. I can move to Florida content that my life's work won't be lost."

Over the summer, Richards tried hard to get the project finished, but to no avail. The wiki slowly became a ghost town. With only two weeks remaining before his retirement, he gave up. He sat down and began composing a rather bitter email to the COP, expressing the forlorn hope that perhaps someday a young new hire would decide to take over stewardship of the project. To make his case about the sad neglect of the wiki, he looked up traffic statistics.

To his surprise he found that the page of links had been attracting large amounts of traffic. People had even been adding new links to the list--there were at least a hundred new links. Far from shrinking to nothing, the list was growing. He could feel the anger welling up in his stomach. What did people think--everybody could dump their links there and somebody else would wikify the content? What sort of tragedy of the commons was this?

Then one of the new links caught his eye. It said: "Pave the Cowpaths" and seemed to have been added by a Ms. Miyagi. He frowned. There was nobody by that name in supply-chain operations, as far as he knew. He clicked the link. To his surprise, it simply reloaded the page.

Inspiration struck. Working through the night, Richards set up an open source social bookmarking server and moved all the links over. The next day, he took a deep breath, uninstalled the wiki, and redirected the domain to the new bookmarking server.

When Richards sent out his announcement about the change, the thank-you emails flooded in. Even the CEO chimed in: "Thanks for doing this, Richards; just what we wanted."

Over the next two weeks, to his shock, the new bookmarking server crashed three times, thanks to the traffic from all over the company. Several of the links sparked busy conversations.

On his last day, the retirement party turned into a standing room only free-for-all. People from all over the company showed up. There wasn't enough cake.

A young Japanese woman caught Richards' eye. A suspicion grew in his mind, and he went over and asked, "Are you Ms. Miyagi by any chance?"

"Why, yes!" she replied.

"I saw that link you added to the links page, 'Pave the Cowpaths.' Was it supposed to go somewhere else? It seemed to link to the same page."

"Oh, did it? I am so sorry. I am such a klutz sometimes. But I am sorry. I must be going now. My neighbor's kid promised to come over and paint my fence. Perhaps I'll see you around."

Ms. Miyagi And The CIO

Ms. Miyagi, the smart new hire in marketing, had cajoled and sweet-talked a few of her peers into helping start a content marketing blog. Word got around that a stream of highly qualified leads was flowing from the blog to the sales department. On that bookmarking thing Richards had set up before he left, somebody posted a link to a spreadsheet with the conversion rates. The CIO spotted it and was amazed at what he saw: The blog was driving sales far more strongly than the best advertising campaign he could recall from his many years in the business.

Intrigued, he called Ms. Miyagi in for a meeting and asked, "How can we take blogging to the rest of the company?"

For a moment, Ms. Miyagi looked at the CIO with a curious expression. Then she said, "You cannot take blogging to the rest of the company. The rest of the company must take to blogging."

At that moment, the CIO was enlightened.

Share your own short Enterprise 2.0 Zen parable with me at ribbonfarm.com/contact.I will choose up to three parables and write about them in a future column. For those entries I select, I will send the submitters autographed copies of my new book, "Tempo."

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