On Shirky’s last book

le 8 mai 2009 par


A few snippets of Clay Shirky’s last book, « Here Comes Everybody ». and which relate to Enterprise 2.0:

  • When we change the way we communicate, we change society.
  • [The value of hierarchies] is obvious- it vastly simplifies communication among the employees. (…) If you have ever wondered why so much of what workers in large organizations know has been shielded from the CEO and vice-versa, wonder no longer: the idea of limiting communications, so that they flow only from one layer of the hierarchy to the next, was part of the very design of the system at the dawn of managerial culture.
  • (…) any forum of public expression is dangerous, because no matter how innocuous the original form form of organization is, if the state is seen to tolerate it, it can become a forum for more focused discontent.

which means that we are likely to encounter strong resistance from the power structures in place when increasing collaboration in companies, and as Dominique points out, it might not be worth the trouble in some cases;

  • The current change in one sentence is this: most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done.
  • (…) no institution can put all its energies in pursuing its mission; it must expend considerable effort on maintaining discipline and structure, simply to keep itself viable. Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says.

which means that traditional institutions like associations may no longer be necessary if their sole purpose is to gather a group to share information (which is the key mission statement of a lot of them);

  • The basic capabilities of tools like Flickr reverse the old order of group activity, transforming « gather, then share » into « share, then gather ».
  • In the open source world, trying something is often cheaper than making a formal decision about whether to try it.

which means that implementation of modern collaboration tools in large organizations is bottom-up by nature, and that the only viable posture of management is to allow that bottom-up process to take place with some guidance (governance) from the top, instead of mandating change from the top-down;

  • collective action is harder to get going because all of the participants stand or fall together.

which means that the failure rate of collaboration initiatives is high and that you must not over-expose  yours in their early stage of development;

  • What makes such collaborative efforts work is copyright law, where some form of license is created that allows people to come together and share their work freely, without fear of having that work taken away from them later.

which means that the management of access rights and usage rights is not a side-show of E2.0 but at the very heart of it.

After closing the book, I realized that what we are really talking about with Enterprise 2.0 is a new management posture, which no longer exclusively about setting objectives and controlling resources, but also about inspiring employees and letting go, which very few top managers I know are prepared to do and even capable of.

Houston, we have a problem…

OK. Now buy the book.

2 réflexions sur « On Shirky’s last book »
  1. Obviously I can only agree with Martin’s recommendation to read Shirky’s book. It opens many eyes (as big as the one of Shirky on Tweeter…).

    I think the implications are far reaching. I see many but let me mention two:

    First, what is happening currently is a deep change of management paradigm against which Enterprise 2.0 is a joke, and currently, is the tree that hides the forest. Yes Houston, we have a problem and the worst is, as Martin points out, Houston does not hear us.

    Second, the new paradigm —- although complex because nobody has yet defined it (once it will be defined, it will look easy and obvious, and many will claim fathership, as always) — cannot live without authority, hierarchy and processes. Collaboration will be included, for the better or the worst. But hierarchy, mission statements, objectives, values (implicit or explicit) rigorous production processes, proprietary knowledge and know how, etc. cannot disappear. Without them there is no «organization» i.e. a group of people pursuing together a certain goal within a competitive framework with other organizations, be it in a society way or a community way (gesellshaft vs. gemeinshaft). The only interesting question then is not how organization will become more collaborative but how the current illusions of collaboration and its potential realities will fit into the new organizations.
    dominique turcq

  2. Houston, we have a problem…

    Do you mean that current fundamental assumptions about managing, and the application of management « science » to those assumptions, needs to be revisited (rigorously, and at a deep level) because now people are beginning to operate in networks, and information is flowing (much) more rapidly, and horizontally, than ever before ?

    What a novel idea ! 😉

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