Sunday 6 May 2007

That mob just wants to be heard

What was more interesting, the reaction of the Digg community or the issue that started it? It may come down to the perspective you take, was this about voice or power? Looking at how this issue in the Web 2.0 space might cross over to the Enterprise 2.0, Mike Gotta tries to address both issues through the middle ground:

"Let's say that management decides a course of action and announces that plan to its workforce. What happens if there literally is a "digital rebellion" of sorts as employees strongly voice opinions that the company should take a different path? Most workplaces are not a democracy and the initial management reaction might be to forcefully shut down (by taking down the application) what is perceived to be "mob rule" - people might be disciplined, told to "just do their job" and so forth...

...You might dismiss the voice-of-the-crowd. But I might suggest that there is still some intrinsic value to transparency and public discourse. In some cases, the crowd may be wrong, technically, but the collective voice may be a signal to management that it failed to adequately address the human capital and softer organizational facets of how the decision impacted its workforce emotionally or in some other quality-of-life aspect. Such lingering sentiment may negatively impact the organization in other ways.

So while many of the stories regarding Digg will focus on the "mob rule" aspect, I believe the real take-away here is that the line between "mob rule" and "collective intelligence" is razor thin and that companies will cross back and forth across that line. The goal is to avoid significant and long-lasting chaos and anarchy. Some degree of ongoing cultural disruption can be a good thing actually."

Now consider this quote about communities of practice inside organisations, from Etienne Wenger, in light of what happened and Gotta's point:

"Existing across an organization’s formal structures, communities of practice rarely derive much power directly from positions in formal hierarchies. But communities do not usually seek positional power, with its control over resources and accountability for investments—tasks for which communities are not well suited. They do seek the power of voice, however: the power to be heard, to make a difference, and to have their practice-based perspective matter. In the knowledge economy, the power of voice becomes just as important as the power of position. In an organization where the power of voice is acknowledged, managers would routinely ask: 'Have you checked with your community about this? What was their reaction?' The one time I saw a community really angry was an occasion when its opinion had not been sought. The company had gone ahead with an acquisition in the domain of the community and the acquisition had not turned out well. Members of the community’s core group were furious that their
community had not been consulted. The community, they were certain, could have foreseen the problems. Interestingly, they were not asking for the responsibility to make the final decision. They did not care for the politics associated with such responsibility. But they wanted their voice to be included in the debate.

So was the anger of the Digg community really that surprising? Do organisations really have anything to fear from Enterprise 2.0?

PS Where does this place me on the Web 2.0 beliefometer?

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