To contrast the companies, I'd like to introduce Toby Moores who runs an ideas company called SleepyDog and is a visiting professor at the Institute of Creative Technology. He's had a number of big commercial successes and has a good grip on the creative process. His theories of how some ideas turn out to be hits and other misses are explained in a recent video which seems to fit the social computing/Web 2.0 scenario rather well.
He talks of population curves. These are the potential markets for a new product or service. In this instance we're talking about CIOs and the like in largeish organisations. They are ultimately responsible for the IT strategy and its fit with the organisation. At the other end, you have the people who work in the organisation, especially those who are agitating for the introduction of social software. Imagine both sets as bell curves more or less separated, like a Bactrian camel's humps, depending on the nature of the organisation.
Now add a halo around each bell - in Moore's terms, this is the 'Cool Curve'. Inside the halo is where ideas really take off, usually at the leading edge. Ideas that land outside the halo are strange and scary while those that land inside the bell are old and boring. It's easy to see why the employee advocates for social software are so keen, because their experiences outside work fit well within their personal Cool Curve. But, since the CIO's Cool Curve is likely to be quite separate, the ideas that appeal so much to the enthusiasts completely miss the CIO's curve. So much so, that they barely merit serious attention.
The curves, by the way, are continually moving so that ideas that miss today might hit the mark tomorrow. Microsoft, whether by accident or design, manages to insert itself right inside the leading edge of the CIO's Cool Curve. It offers evolution, not revolution. It builds on what's gone before (I'm thinking SharePoint), but doesn't go the whole Web 2.0 hog. However, if the past is anything to go by, it will eventually embrace all the elements which stand the test of time.
As with all things computing, it's highly likely that the social stuff will enter your organisation. Something similar happened a long time ago with personal computers and spreadsheets - they crept in to departments because they helped accountants do their work better. Macintoshes crept in because they helped make printed documents look pretty. It's important that you keep an eye on the grass roots activity and be prepared to offer software, support and services, as soon as you're persuaded of the genuine business benefits.
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