Is your company flat

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2006-12-13

Is your company flat? Is your company paranoid? Do your managers manage by walking around? All those terms have always been printed in boldface type in the consultant's lexicon, but aside from fodder of Dilbert cartoons, those terms are usually just that, terms instead of actions. But as the power of consumer social technologies becomes ever more prevalent in business, the days of being able to talk the game instead of playing it are numbered.

Recently our executive editor Stan Gibson wrote a cover story on the rise of wikis in the corporation. Add wikis to the world of blogs, podcasts, videocasts and social networks and the ability for the manager to control the company from the traditional top down approach simply won't work. I'm not the only one thinking this way.

In his upcoming book, Wikinomics, (to be published in January by Penquin) Don Tapscott writes how mass collaboration will change everything. Tapscott writes, "Smart companies are encouraging, rather than fighting, the heaving growth of massive online communities - many of which emerged from the fringes of the Web to attract tens of millions of participants overnight. Even ardent competitors are collaborating on path-breaking science initiatives that accelerate discovery in their industries. Indeed, as a growing number of firms see the benefits of mass collaboration, this new way of organizing will eventually displace the traditional corporate structures as the economy's primary engine of wealth creation."

Although the prose is a little bit too breathless in promising great change right away, Tapscott (who has proved his prescience before in his book, "The Digital Economy) is onto something. And this time the changes coming to the corporate world bear a remarkable difference from the ideas propounded in a flat company trying to squash the traditional pyramid chain of command or paranoid companies always alert for the next competitor that may prove their undoing. This time around the users are in charges and technology managers can have a lot to say about how their companies are structured or risk being left out of the new game.

As a technology manager you can develop a plan to implement a corporate wide wiki capability or you can see your users quickly turn to free, hosted versions sitting outside the company's security confines. You can develop a capability for podcasts, blogs and social networks or you can see your users turn to outside alternatives. You can either be a manager that provides robust corporate wikis, blogs and podcasts better than the alternatives or you can become a digital cop trying to find, track down and shut down the profusion of information supplied by your employees, customers and suppliers as it relates to your company and the market your company serves. Here's a suggestion: technology managers are better technology implementers than technology limiters. Coming up with a strategy to put your company in the forefront of social, mass collaboration users will be good for you, your career and your company.

Between now and the end of the year you would be wise to spend your time understanding how wikipedia works or what Facebook is all about or why avatar-based Second Life and its associated sites have staying power. All that education if free and only a browser-click away. The next step is to understand your business sufficiently to be able to describe how these social applications can be applied to your company for the company's benefit. Have no doubt that if you don't encourage these applications, your users will find access to those applications elsewhere. The next big application missing from the corporate environment is a management tool that will allow you to look over all the social applications that relate to your company and answer the simple questions: What are our customers saying about us? How is our brand perceived? What do our competitors offer that we don't? Until that application comes along, it is up to you to offer the social applications that will provide the information which will provide the discussions where those answers reside.

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