Alex Barnett blog


Enterprise 2.0 and Culture Change

Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School has identified a user segment within organizations that he describes as the 'Empty Quarter'. The context is within the types of users who become the early adopters of Enterprise 2.0' applications (or social media behind-the-firewall). In McAafee's experience, there are two types of early adopters of these types of technologies: Newbies and Techies:

"'Newbies' here means new entrants to the workforce; as I wrote earlier, recent graduates find it natural to socialize, collaborate, and find what they're looking for via technology platforms (think of MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Wikipedia, LastFM,, etc.). In addition to point, click, drag, and drop, their baseline computer skills include search, link, tag, and post.

'Techies' are IT staffers, and also those people scattered throughout the rest of the company who are the natural early adopters and advanced users of whatever technologies are available.

...If these observations are accurate, then a graph with technophobia on one axis and years since graduation on the other reveals who's more and less likely to use Enterprise 2.0 tools if they're made available:

Enterrpise 2.0's empty quarter

The 'empty quarter' of non-adopters is the upper right-hand section of this graph. These are the folk who are relatively unlikely to pick up new tools and run with them."

McAfee goes on to argue that encouraging the Empty Quarter to participate in the production of social media within the Enterprise will benefit the company as a whole, since a great deal of the knowledge produced by this segment is where the institutional knowledge and corporate memory really resides. He goes on to propose ideas around how these users can be encouraged, including focus on the development of the tools themselves (e.g. make it more useable) and policies that might be introduced:

    • "Maintain a blog for your group / department. Identify who's in charge of it, and update it at least once a week.
    • Maintain a blog for each project your lab is working on.  Post whatever non-confidential information you'd like your colleagues to know about each one.
    • Keep your personal page up to date.  Make sure it lists your areas and industries of expertise.
    • Use the wiki to make sure your portion of the org chart is up to date."

I agree with McAfee that in order to get the Empty Quarter to adopt the use of social applications it will require both the combination of good technology and efforts around cultural change. Since he's asking for others to share their experience around what has (and presumably hasn't) worked, here are my thoughts and observations on the topic:

the Lesson

This one is more to do with the technology design, rather than efforts to socially engineer adoption. The idea is called The Lesson - a key social software design principle. To summarize Joshua Porter's post (who originally coined the term):

"The one major idea behind the Lesson is that personal value precedes network value. What this means is that if we are to build networks of value, then each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network. In the case of, people find value saving their personal bookmarks first and foremost. All other usage is secondary."

Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo made the observation that social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value. He used a data point relating to Wikipedia to illustrate the point: half of all edits are made by just 2.5% of all users. Horowitz formalized this idea with the following chart::

"As Yahoo! has been gobbling up many social media sites over the past year (Flickr, upcoming, I often get asked about how (or whether) we believe these communities will scale.

The question led me to draw the following pyramid on a nearby whiteboard:

Content Production Pyramid

The levels in the pyramid represent phases of value creation.  As an example take Yahoo! Groups.

  • 1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group)
  • 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress
  • 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups (lurkers)

There are a couple of interesting points worth noting.  The first is that we don’t need to convert 100% of the audience into “active” participants to have a thriving product that benefits tens of millions of users.  In fact, there are many reasons why you wouldn’t want to do this.  The hurdles that users cross as they transition from lurkers to synthesizers to creators are also filters that can eliminate noise from signal.  Another point is that the levels of the pyramid are containing  - the creators are also consumers."

Of course, 'value creation' for a media company such as Yahoo means content that attracts eyeballs, that begets participation, that begets content, that begets further eyeballs and so on. However, I think it would be unwise to then dismiss the general 'natural law' observation around how social media is created, synthesized and consumed as irrelevant in the Enterprise 2.0 context (especially since the observation is provided by someone with a great deal of experimental experience on large scales).

In the context of behind the firewall social media, maybe the key to getting more users to participate is to accept that you can't get everyone to become a content creator. The implication being that one should therefore design efforts to encourage the Empty Quarter with this in mind, and recognize that the role of Synthesizing is just as critical a role in the Enterprise 2.0 space as the the role of creation.

David Winer's view - Don't Bother to Change the Culture

Last year Dave Winer attended a session at Seattle Mind Camp 2.0 that I ran with Michael Blay, Geoff Froh on the topic of behind-the-firewall tagging.

"Dave Winer attended and described the session as a 'intense lightning-fast discussion'. However, he came to the early conclusion as part of that discussion that there was no conclusion - that is a waste of time to try and encourage employees to adopt a tagging culture to share knowledge inside corporate firewall. That users either get it or they don't. You can't force them."

At this post, Dave explained the reasoning behind this view:

"I promised I'd explain once and for all why it's hopeless to "try to get the users" to use social bookmarking software unless they're already using it. Here's why: I don't know. But I do know it never works. It's so bad that when I try to solve the problem (I'm a geek, so I fall into this trap myself, can't help it), I hack at making it easy and painless, figuring it's a user interface problem (if you're a geek you're nodding your head right now, right?) but when I make it so easy anyone would have to do it, not only doesn't anyone else do it, I don't even do it myself! Why? As I said, I don't know! Makes no sense to me at all. But there you are.

I do know that Dan Bricklin posed something like a law to explain the phenomenon, as best as a geek possibly can. Software that rewards you for doing something one percent of the time will get used (email, word processing, SimCity) and software that punishes you for doing it only 99 percent of the time will not get used (calendars, PIMs, categorizing stuff, social bookmarks). The genius of is that it falls into the former category, even though it appears at first to fall into the latter.

Never say Bricklin isn't a smart dude, if you remember his rule, you'll avoid hours of interesting discussions about how important it is to do something that is impossible to do."

I agree and I disagree with Winer.

I agree that if the software is useful for the individual using it, they'll use it (back to the Lesson). What that says to me then, is that if the software is designed right it can succeed - if not, they won't. I got that.

But then he argues that social bookmarking 'punishes you for doing it only 99 percent of the time': i.e. if you don't always use social bookmarking then 'it' loses it's value. Here I disagree, as that has not been my personal experience. The tagging I do comes and goes in terms of how regularly and how disciplined I am in my tagging stuff. Somedays I just don't tag stuff, somedays I do. When I don't tag stuff for a few days, it doesn't mean that the value of those things I have already tagged diminishes. Those artifacts are still there. Of course, sometimes I wish I had tagged things that I didn't, but that doesn't brake the overall system. It just means it could be better.

So I'm not sure if I fully understand Winer's point here.  That said, I do agree with his experience that that some people just will never 'get it'. But I don't think that should mean you shouldn't try.

Culture change can and does work if done right - I know, I've done it within Microsoft. An example is that program managers, software developers and testers are now blogging in our team that weren't before I joined the team: they just needed some encouragement, see the benefits of doing so, receive some training and be provided some support. Not all of our team are blogging of course, but enough to make a significant difference in the way we communicate with customers. And the more bloggers there are, the more that decide to blog. It has also affected the way we communicate inside the firewall too - amongst ourselves within our product team but also with other teams inside of Microsoft. More to do, but the demand for internal blogs and wikis is there. The early adopters will naturally run with these tools but others will require a little more cajoling to see the benefits.

This week, while at DevConnections I attended a session on migrating from Sharepoint 2003 to Sharepoint 2007. Halfway through, the presenter (Bill English) stopped and made the point that all the technical advice he was providing was worth nothing if there wasn't also a culture change effort too: just because the software is there doesn't mean that it'll be used. Effort is required to create awareness of the benefits, training, etc...without these things, you won't succeed.

I'd write more on this but I have to go now. In the meantime, do share your thoughts on this.


Samuel said:

Software is a tool but culture change is a myth. Winer's right on this at least: never bet on knowing what motivates people (unless you're talking very very broad groups and willing to live with statistical variances). Behavioural change for organizations is actually straightforward. Just make the goals crystal clear at every level and then reward contribution. Think about knowledge tagging like source code control systems. 20 years ago, they were a novelty that were so hard to use that only the most diligent and self-examining engineers bothered to set up and use. Now in nearly every IT environment they're ubiquitous.

# November 11, 2006 9:07 AM

TrackBack said:

I can’t help but think that a large part of the people calling the shots in the Newspaper Industry fall into the “empty quarter” of...
# November 11, 2006 9:33 AM

orcmid said:

Alex, I think Samuel's point needs to be taken to heart.  More than that, when reasoning from ones own experience, it is valuable to locate yourself in McAfee's graph.  Unless you are in the empty quarter yourself (highly unlikely), any anecdotal experience of yours is irrelevant to what would have the empty quarter adopt something.

Also, assuming that McAfee has empirical evidence for the phenomenon (as opposed to it simply making sense), speculative remedies need to be empirically testable. (I assume we are doing science here, not theology.)  And it may well be the case that it is a matter of outliving the empty quarter.  (I mean that in a nice way.)

One thought: I notice that I am in the empty quarter around some things and not others.  For example, although I have a bit of a geek cellphone, basically all I care about is cheap calling and basic telephony service.  I also still have film in my camera, and I drive a 1989-model automobile (though I bought it in the first year Ford Probes were produced).  To the degree that I am relatively far out on the lower right of the graph in regard to computing, it is because I started out when I was 19, nearly 50 years ago.  Hmm ... so I really am an old fogey.

# November 11, 2006 11:02 AM

orcmid said:

I was discussing this with Vicki, and she points out that I am fairly technophobic about changes and upgrades.  There is something about marginal utility of change over time.  You know, why learn one more #$%^& programming language, one more HTML format, a different keyboard layout, a new version of Windows etc., etc.  Although I'd been programming for almost 20 years when I built my first microcomputer system from a kit (after teaching myself enough electronics to do it), that was as much out of concern for being able to repair and keep it running.  But after the first 3 systems I build that way, I stopped soldering and bought retail PCs.  I am still running machines that I bought in 1998 and 1999, and the three newest machines (purchased in the past 15 months or so) were acquired because other systems failed or become too unreliable and limited to keep running.  

So I think I have a fair amount of technophobia, coupled with personal factors around the marginal utility of change.  

Now, I also own a Roomba, but it has a jammed drive wheel and I'm too occupied with other things to deal with it.  (The vacuum cleaner still works just fine.)

# November 11, 2006 11:38 AM

TrackBack said:

Muy buen artículo de Alex Barnett acerca del uso de software social (SS) en la empresa. Parte del artículo reciente de Andrew MCAfee...
# November 13, 2006 6:28 PM

TrackBack said:

# November 15, 2006 4:59 PM

Kevin said:

As a person who has been to the Empty Quarter I can tell you it is like no place you have ever been. Changing the EQ is a herculean task.

You should never underestimate the lengths that people go to undermine your efforts. Ignore the resistance at your own peril.

# December 28, 2006 6:10 AM

Pre Workout powder said:

Enterprise 2.0 and Culture Change - Alex Barnett blog

# October 25, 2014 12:23 AM said:

Enterprise 2.0 and Culture Change - Alex Barnett blog

# November 13, 2014 8:59 PM