In one of the best-known scenes of The Matrix, a young boy in the garb of a monk reveals a stunning revelation to the main character – “There is no spoon“. This concept is the fodder for many philosophical explorations into illusion, quantum physics, eastern religions, and scriptwriting. It becomes clear as the movie progresses that the boy is actually right. And only after disillusionment can one see more clearly — at least that’s the message.
I come to share a similar message — to demystify in order to provide more clarity. So first let me expose the mythology that I beginning to hear in my industry. The myth is that there is this state of being called “Enterprise 2.0″ that a collection of experts are very familiar with and have found to be the place of business goodness. For a reasonable fee, the expert will arrive at your company or your conference location and set up operations. The operations then take the following form:
“I will share tons of information with you — much of which may not be relevant to you, but will sound impressive nonetheless. You will listen in awe. And to the extent that you can understand what I know and translate it into action in your environment, you will then have a good chance of understanding this wonderful vision of Enterprise 2.0, of which I speak.“
Of course, no one says these words, but it sure sounds like it to me. I detect this in the peculiar patterns of doublespeak. Such as the constant reminder that “it’s really important that you do X first” where X = the current topic. I hear the message “You have to make sure to involve HR very early in the project, because E2.0 can have a profound impact on the organization, and they will want a say in that.” This is then followed 2 slides later with: “You have to make sure to involve Legal and Risk very early in the project, because they could be a barrier.” Then later on, “Remember, you have to make sure that the business goals drive the project, so make sure you start the project with the Business goals.”
Um, how about we start with everything, and then we’ll be done with the project?
The related doublespeak pattern is ”Remember, Enterprise 2.0 is really about Y“, where Y= the opposite of the question asked. ”Sure you could replace your newsletter with a blog, but remember, Enterprise 2.0 is really about the conversation, not the medium.” The most common form of this is “You know Enterprise 2.0 is not about the tools, its about the culture.” and then a few moments later you’re back to “You have to make sure to involve IT very early in the project, because it can really impact the schedule.”
Here’s the unfortunate part: These patterns of nonsense are uttered by people who are smart and experienced. Many actually know what they are talking about. They simply neglected to listen carefully to their message and understand what their audience is hearing them say. Each sentence is valid. But the whole package is flawed because their context keeps shifting. In some cases E2.0 is about the tools, and in some cases it’s not. Some clients should have included HR first, and others don’t need to. So they are never factually wrong, they are simply contextually inconsistent — this breeds confusion, and is based on lack of good listening skills. And this was a significant part of the message I delivered at the E2.0 Summit last week.
The solution is surprisingly simple: Let us first recognize that there is no Enterprise 2.0. The myth of a destination that experts can guide you to is an illusion. Instead let’s understand that there is your Enterprise 2.0. Every organization is on a path – somewhere. And “2.0″ implies improvement and evolution. The Enterprise 2.0 vision implies that organizations are benefiting from new tools and behaviors inspired by new ways we create and share information using social-channels and emergent platforms (using McAfee’s terms here). I wholeheartedly agree with this vision, as I have seen it play out in many environments (thanks to my personal experiences and professional research activities). But I do not believe the vision is that all companies have the same evolution, the same needs, or the same vision for their 2.0.
In other words, Company1′s plan will differ from Company2′s plan because of the many differences between the two companies — differences in maturity, need, market, ambition, personality, or any host of differences. So consultants need to stop with the doublespeak and start with the doublelisten! I call this Listen Twice.
- First, listen to what your client says they need. I was inspired by reading “The Trusted Advisor” on my flight to Germany last week. In it the authors remind us that we find it deceptively easy to listen for recognizable patterns, and we are so eager to please that we jump on the familiar. But a good consultant listens for the differences. It is those differences that allow you to make your real contribution, and those are the areas that make the projects challenging.
- Second, listen to what your client hears you say. You may be amazed to find that they hear you say things that you did not think you said.
My advice to my E2.0 colleagues is to listen carefully to their messaging and notice the doublespeak patterns. You can’t make everything important and put everything first. Instead: understand the unique challenges in each project. Then put first that which needs to be put first for them. Emphasize the importance of the elements that are truly important to them — which you will only know after you listen very carefully to them.
My advice to my clients who are trying to decipher the message you hear from the blogosphere — let me suggest that you seek trusted advisors — people who behave in the manner described in the book I mentioned above. These consultants will take the time to listen and understand your unique journey to your “2.0″ success.