Saturday, June 07, 2008

Managing a Web 2.0 World

I have been trading emails with Sue Bushell. She writes for CIO Magazine in Australia. A few days ago she sent out a message on LinkedIn. Here it is:

Do we need "Management 2.0" and what would it look like if we do?

David Gurteen in his Knowledge Management newsletter earlier this year wrote about the need for "Managers 2.0"

Gurteen says in a recent KM Blueprint Workshop he was talking about KM 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and the need for Management 2.0, when one of the participants chirped in that these ideas were all well and good but would never take root as long as we still had "Managers 1.0" which of course brought a chuckle of approval from everyone in the room.

And he cites Gary Hamel's book The Future of Management, and his chapter on "Forging Management 2.0" where he says: "Why exactly, is the Internet so adaptable, innovative and engaging? Because ...

  • Everyone has a voice.
  • The tools of creativity are widely distributed.
  • Its easy and cheap to experiment.
  • Capability counts for more than credentials and titles.
  • Commitment is voluntary.
  • Power is granted from below.
  • Authority is fluid and contingent on value-added.
  • The only hierarchies are "natural" hierarchies.
  • Communities are self-defining. Individuals are richly empowered with information.
  • Just about everything is decentralized.
  • Ideas compete on an equal footing.
  • It's easy for buyers and sellers to find each other.
  • Resources are free to follow opportunities.
  • Decisions are peer-based.
"This may not be a detailed design spec for a 21st-century management system, but I doubt it's far off. Argue with me if you like, but I'm willing to bet that Management 2.0 is going to look a lot like Web 2.0."

Sue's questions are:

  • What will "Managers 2.0 look like and how can the CIOs, her target readership, hope to achieve it?
  • Is the notion of "Management 2.0" real or just a rhetorical construct?
  • What barriers will managers meet along the way to trying to achieve it?

Sue poses some great questions and I wanted to try answering them here so that we can open the discussion and may be even advance the thinking on this fascinating subject.

I have spent the last few years working with collaboration technologies and dealing with an increasingly Web 2.0 world. At the same time I find myself working inside a very traditional and conservative organization. This gives me quite a unique perspective on the questions that Sue has posed.

First let me paraphrase the definition of Management from Wikipedia:

“Management is the art of directing and organizing an organization through the deployment and manipulation of resources, typically people and finances."

Yes, there is a lot more to it than that but the essence of traditional management involves directing activity. The people performing that directorial activity are typically in hierarchical structures where authority is granted by virtue of their position.

A number of years ago Tom Peters pointed to the evolution of business and likened the evolving structures to that of a film crew. A team of diverse specialists that come together for an event or production. Each brings specific skills that are highly valued by the team. Yes there is still direction but the team often comes together because the Director engenders excitement around the project.

So the first differentiator for Management 2.0 is:

Visionary Leadership

The concept of a lifetime of service in a single organization is falling by the wayside. People move jobs and change careers. They increasingly choose where they want to work. Management 2.0 requires us to engage those who work in the team through a visionary leadership. Painting an objective that aligns with the personal aspirations of team members.


Andrew McAfee is a leading visionary in the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies to the Enterprise. He recently met with Eric Schmidt of Google. Google is an enviable position with strong market leadership in a rapidly growing market. Many people consider Google to be in a unique position and use that as an excuse to write off parallels to their own situations. Andrew's questioning of the Google CEO disproves that thinking and highlights a critical lesson that is not to be missed. This si one of the most important lessons to take from Google:

"Learn to listen. Listening to each other is core to our culture, and we don’t listen to each other just because we’re all so smart. We listen because everyone has good ideas, and because it’s a great way to show respect. And any company, at any point in its history, can start listening more."


One of the lessons I have learned in this Web 2.0 world has become my personal Twitter-sized Web 2.0 definition:

Web 2.0 = (You x Me) to the power of US

Yes, it is much shorter than Tim O'Reilly's compact definition but it seems to get to the heart of what is different in Management 2.0. What I have learned is that all of us are smarter than any one of us. It therefore makes sense to involve others in the creative and decision-making processes.


Traditional Management control structures seek to limit the flow of information and force information and decisions to flow up and down through the enterprise. The agility that is increasingly required of a successful organization can't afford the luxury of delay that comes from the vertical command and control structures of the past. Instead the visionary leaders of future enterprises will communicate the criteria that are used to reach decisions. By enabling the team to understand how to make the right decision it becomes possible to let decisions be made closer to the trigger points that demand a decision.

Transparency and Risk Taking

Allowing information to flow more freely allows better decision making. The growing flow of information that people are exposed to on the Internet does not necessarily lead to information overload. Community filters applied by virtue of the emerging expertise-based social networks in organizations will help apply context to the river of information. The transparency that comes from this will not only lead to better, more informed decision making, but will also enable a growing culture of risk taking.

Teams will be able to take measured, calculated risks. Such risks will push organizations forward developing new, may be unimagined, opportunities. We have to keep in mind that risk taking also leads to failure. But it is important to fail. If we are to fail, let's fail fast and learn from it. The invention of the lightbulb did not come from a single event. No, it came from a litany of failed attempts. Each attempt revealing something that pushed the inventors forward to a successful result. A transparent organization will not need to hide failure, or cloak it in a veneer of success. Instead it will learn to use risk taking and failure to refine what it does in order to achieve success.

Is this real?

I have had the good fortune to work in progressive organizations that embraced risk taking and encouraged transparency. The rewards, for all involved, far outweighed the risks.

What are the barriers?

The biggest barrier is likely to be entrenched management. When we grow comfortable and stop taking risks we risk being outsmarted by emergent competition. In this context structural changes that put the status quo at risk can turn out to be a good thing. In HealthCare for example, it may be the transformational change around universal health coverage in the USA. On the other hand, rising fuel costs may drive other structural changes that could impact industry in unexpected ways. When faced with calamitous change radical options become reasonable choices. In the words of Eddie Izzard "Cake or Death?" - Sorry I just couldn't resist that completely irrelevant link.

1 comment:

  1. I love the point in Gary Hamel's book The Future of Management about how everyone in the organization must see themselves as innovators. That traditionally only R&D folks considered themselves responsible for innovating.