A Brief Meeting with My Enterprise Commensal Bacteria

Enjoyed a rather remarkable conversation yesterday.  A gentleman associated with an enterprise social software firm put a question out into the ether regarding adoption of such products.  To be specific, he used Twitter to pose the question.  The "tweet" was then visible to anyone who had already signed up to follow his musings, and anyone who searched for key terms contained in his message.  (To be more interesting, you can establish an RSS feed so that when anyone tweets and uses keywords you care about - you can get an alert.) This gentleman is in the list of people I follow, and I saw the question.  Paraphrasing:  if we deploy enterprise social software, are we establishing another stovepipe?

I could not resist, and charged in with my response.

"EXACTLY why I've been vapor-locked over the adoption of enterprise social software."

He responded.

"Still major benefits from siloed E2.0, but how to connect it more broadly?"

And then something curious happened.  Another person, who follows my messages, chimed in.

"My issue is that enterprises think, in regards to social software, that their problems are somehow different or distinct."

At one point, specific questions were posed and direct, thoughtful answers provided.

"web 2.0 silos. Thinking along 2 lines: (1) They're not connected to anything internally. (2) Many employees not on the sites"


"(1) They CAN be connected to sites internally (most of them have public APIs & services)" and "(2)The emergent and open nature of Web 2.0 software allows for employees who need the information to join the site as needed."

From there, the three of us had a conversation that touched on the need for corporate information preservation in the face of litigation, the complex nature of enterprises, and finally the notion that enterprises need to comprehend their role in their own value networks. While connecting people and information within the enterprise is essential, connecting to information generated by your suppliers, customers, partners, competition, etc., is also vital for keeping aware of trends/changes/risks/opportunities.

All of this reminded me of a recent NYT article that discussed commensal bacteria:

"Since humans depend on their microbiome for various essential services, including digestion, a person should really be considered a superorganism, microbiologists assert, consisting of his or her own cells and those of all the commensal bacteria. The bacterial cells also outnumber human cells by 10 to 1, meaning that if cells could vote, people would be a minority in their own body."

There is no question where my body ends and these bacteria begin, but is it useful and enforce the distinction?  Similarly, is it useful to establish information systems that exclude the people who help us do our job - but who are not employed by our firm?  Understanding how to connect to and collaborate with these colleagues and potential colleagues may be as important as coordinating internally with fellow employees.

All in all, this was a very successful meeting.  Three professionals, from a total of two firms, came together to check assumptions and learn from one another.  We used a Web 2.0 tool outside our firewalls, and there is even a record of our conversation - searchable from any browser.  It took up very little time, as we focused on common questions and ideas.  (There was no status report or financial impact statement on the agenda.)  One of our number had never before interacted with the other two - yet the meeting only contained people interested in the topic.

Oh, and I believe there were others in the meeting, having sidebar conversations as well.  As they could see "our" conversation, they likely offered their own perspectives privately.

If only there were a catchy name for the infrastructure and culture that allowed us to come together like this.