Enterprise 2.0 and the Concept of Virtuality

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by: Idris Mootee

While we we’re on the topic of Enterprise 2.0,
I remember when Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” some
15 years ago he was referring to a new class of employee whose basic means of
production was no longer making widgets (I don’t mean the software widgets, I
mean object), but, rather, the effective use of knowledge and creativity.
Knowledge worker includes not only the traditional professionals (architects
and engineers), but also the creative class and the ‘misfits’.

Today, these ‘misfits’, who preferred to be
called ‘knowledge worker’ represent a large and growing percentage of the
workforce of Fortune 500. In industries such as financial services, health
care, high tech, and media and entertainment, they now account for more than
25% or more of the workforce. These talents are the innovators or collaborators
of innovation. They make it possible for companies to come up with new business
model that help them to survive today’s rapidly changing and disruptive
business environment. They are the people who produce and manage the intangible
assets that are the primary way companies in create economic value.
Unfortunately the educational system of the world is to provide a uniform level
of competence based on the faulty metaphor of education as a factory ( It’s
worth recalling that Steve Jobs’ brief college career included an utterly
impractical interest in calligraphy. Can you calculate the value of what would
have been lost if Jobs hadn’t been able to follow his interests? ). This is
another problem on its own.

Think about it. The inefficiency of these
workers has increased along with their prominence. Consider the act of
collaboration in an Enterprise 2.0 world. Each upsurge in the number of workers
who work in a company (global virtual and on-site) leads to an almost
exponential–not linear–increase in the number of potential collaborators.
Many leading companies now employ 20,000 or more knowledge workers from India
to Finland to Shanghai and Colorado; imagine the interactions taking place at
any particular moment of time. Big corporations must rethink their
organizational structures, retaining the best of the traditional hierarchy
while acknowledging the heightened value of the people who hatch ideas,
innovate, and collaborate to generate revenues and create new value through
intangible assets. The idea of “virtuality” is the recognition that
the parts of an organization aren’t always doing the same thing at the same
time and place. These decentralized organizations are similar to fire
departments, which operate in cell-like units yet are expected to behave as one

Management Philosopher Charles Handy suggests
that these new concepts are leading to a set of circumstances where
“distributed leadership” occurs. That, in and of itself, is a real
challenge to traditionally organized units like fire departments. His
contention is that what holds an organization together today is NOT a chain of
command, but rather a sense of common identity, a set of common purposes, and a
sense of urgency and energy.

We all admit it is tough to run an
organization in that environment(may be less of a people in our business as my
team are all over the place and it is rarely a issue). In order for the Fortune
500 of the world to do so successfully, leaders have to deal with mutually
exclusive attributes, or paradoxes, Handy believes that people who are leading
in this environment must:

– Have a strong belief in themselves yet have
the ability to possess doubt.

– Have a passion for the job but be able to
respect and learn from other worlds.

– Have a love of people yet be very capable of
being alone.

Companies not only need to find people which
can lead in this virtual environment, they also need to redesign their vertical
structures to let different groups of workers collaborating on an Enterprise
2.0 platform. There is a lot of money to be made here if one can design an
effective innovation collaboration platform. I remember a casual conversation
that I had with Gary Hamel in London a ten years back; he was asking me if I
could up with ideas of a platform that allows employees of larger organizing to
co-create and co-innovate, that is another billion dollar idea. I didn’t think
it was possible then, but I think this is very doable today. A knowledge worker
co-innovation platform…hmmm let’s work on that.

Photo from www.prasena.com

Original Post: http://mootee.typepad.com/innovation_playground/2007/11/enterprise-20-a.html