I have been sensing for a while that we are at a sort of liminal passage between major phases of the evolution of Enterprise 2.0. An old set of conversations is winding down, and a new set seems to be emerging.

I randomly discovered, through some idle browsing, that 2012 is not just the year of the Mayan apocalypse (I am looking forward to that). It is the year of the dragon in the Chinese Zodiac. More precisely, it is the year of the water dragon.

That water part of the motif is rather apt for the evolutionary direction I am prophesying, working to bring about, and betting on personally.

The metaphoric theme of water has been dominant in my mind, as I’ve thought about what’s been happening. The enterprise stream idea, which I wrote about in my last column, has become my dominant mental model for thinking about Enterprise 2.0. Beyond the Enterprise 2.0 conversation, I’ve also become fascinated with the idea of liquefying global cultures.

Enter, the Dragon

The dragon part of the motif is also an interesting one for 2012, since one of the main things I expect to see is the rise of true, mature E 2.0 companies: magical, other-worldly beasts that are dramatically different from traditional companies.

My candidate for the first such Water Dragon company is Amazon. The now-famous Steve Yegge post about Amazon describes a world that would be completely alien to people who only know 1.0 type companies.

It isn’t that Amazon is a perfect example of E 2.0 best practices in every department. In fact “best practice” is a poor, reductive lens for this sort of overall aesthetic judgment. Amazon simply projects that intangible aura that comes from having 2.0 instincts that just work. I wrote a little paean to Amazon elsewhere, but the point is, Amazon is the first of the Water Dragons. More will follow. What makes it all the more interesting is that Amazon deals in mundane things like books. That it models the 2.0 ethos better than companies whose core offerings are 2.0 products, such as Google and Facebook, makes it all the more impressive.

I’ll be watching for the most interesting Water Dragon company to emerge in 2012. I’ll announce a Water Dragon award in December 2012 (Amazon will be excluded; let’s give other companies a chance).

The award will comprise a fawning, adulatory company hagiography from me in December 2012. Nominations are welcome throughout the year.

Wisdom from the Water Dragon

Things like fortune cookies and astrological descriptions often trigger interesting patterns of free association for me. The water dragon motif turned out to be particularly fertile.

The description of the Water Dragon at ChineseZodiac.com has this to say:

Water calms the Dragon’s fire. Water Dragons are able to see things from other points of view. They don’t have the need to always be right. Their decisions, if well-researched, are usually better since they allow others to become involved.

Let’s break it down. The year of the Water Dragon will be about:

– A calming of fire.

– More perspectives.

– Less doctrine and ideology.

– Well-researched decisions.

– Involving others.

Yeah, I am sort of projecting my own pre-conceived ideas onto a convenient motif. So sue me. Here we go.

Calming the Fire

The E 2.0 trend has matured. The fiery zealots, thankfully, are starting to get tired. Skeptics have been throwing some much-needed cold water at the flaming idiots, and taming the useful fires.

Controlled burns are what we need.

What does this actually mean? It means acting the way you want to be treated.

If you want to be treated like a member of a nutty, fiery fringe group, you will be treated as such. If you act like with the calm measured authority that suggests an unstoppable takeover in progress, you will be given that authority.

More Perspectives

I’ve gotten tired of hearing the same kind of conversations, involving the same kind of people. Whiny kumbaya types. Grumpy contrarians (like yours truly). Empty suits talking ROI. People making excuses for Sharepoint. People beating up on Sharepoint.

It’s annoying.

It has also been largely irrelevant. The percentage of people in the movement who can credibly claim to have made an actual difference is minuscule. I’ve found the signal-to-noise ratio of the conversation to be fairly low. The number of blog posts or books I’ve read in the last 5 years that have actually improved my thinking is no more than a couple of dozen.

But now that things are getting sufficiently mainstream, and a basic situation awareness has been achieved, smarter, more cautious people are joining in the conversation (yes, I said “smarter.” In my opinion, early adopters are on average more valuable for their energy and enthusiasm, not their intelligence).

The mainstreams are asking harder questions, but are also more willing to seriously listen to good answers.

Less Doctrine and Ideology

Let’s face it. The E 2.0 movement hasn’t exactly endeared itself to the rest of the corporate world. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, preachy and holier-than-thou.

We talk about open conversations and inviting diverse points of view, but generally with a subconscious ideological rider: “so long as you don’t really challenge us.”

Just watch a typical E 2.0 advocate freeze up in shock if somebody were to say: “This is nonsense, for our company, the closed, command-and-control model is still the right one.”

They go speechless with anger. They have no idea how to even engage, let alone probe for the potential merit in what’s being said and considering the possibility that the command-and-control guy might actually be right.

2012 is the year we’ll be talking to people who may show us we’re wrong about a lot of things.

Whether we dig in our heels or learn to drop ideology and admit when we’re wrong (rather than accusing opponents of resisting “culture change”) will determine if the Dragon will fly.

Well-Researched Decisions

Finally, it is time to level-up. We need higher standards of argumentation. Anecdotes are not enough. Vanity metrics are not enough. Ridiculous ROI calculations are not enough. Sloppy blog-level rhetoric is not enough.

It’s time to come up with more ambitious thinking. We need to grow beyond IT and software and start talking about business model ideas and management concepts that match classic management literature in terms of breadth of perspective, depth of insight, and rigor of argumentation.

We need to aspire to the level of impact that the ideas of people like Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Tom Peters, and Gary Hamel had over the course of the evolution of the 1.0 era of management.

The raw material is there: ecosystems, corporations-as-platforms, data-centric corporations, people-before-process, Marc Andreessen’s idea of “software eating the world,” David Kirkpatrick’s idea that “every company is now a software company.”

It’s time to go big or go home.

This means putting all this raw material together into visions that are so persuasive, and reprogram minds so completely, that people go: “How did I EVER think differently?”

By the end of 2012, if we do our jobs, it should be as hard for people to think with 1.0 mental models as it is for people today to think with pre-email mental models.

The Outlook for 2012: Five Themes

I’ll conclude with my set of top themes for 2012, that I will be exploring myself, and that I hope others among you will explore and talk about.

1. Data: The biggest trend in my opinion will be around data, not people. Firehoses, streams, plumbing, mining, warehousing (2.0 style), APIs, dashboards, analytics: expect to hear all those words a lot more.

2. The City: At E 2.0 in Santa Clara in November, dots I’d been waiting to see connected for years were finally connected. Expect to see a lot more cross-pollination between the E 2.0 approach to management and urban planning.

3. The Corporation as Platform: This meme has just started to gather a good head of steam. Expect it to go charging ahead. What do we mean by “platform”? Are we one? How do we become one? Expect these questions to be discussed.

4. Doom and Gloom: We are in a genuine depression masquerading as a recovered recession in my opinion, no matter what the econometric bean-counters say. I don’t expect a psychological recovery to start before 2016. A big theme in 2012 will be companies that fail to go 2.0, with fatal consequences. I am looking forward to some good post-mortem thinking around failure-to-go-2.0. Somebody should start a deadpool website of companies that fail to make the transition. Borders would be one of the first entries.

5. Down with Social: “Social” has become the most over-used adjective in our little neck of the woods. It at once defines us badly and constrains us horribly. I place the blame entirely at the door of the Kumbaya-communitarians amongst us. Enterprise 2.0 is about far more than “social.” It is about individualism, data, new management models, architecture. I hope to see the term “social business” bite the dust. It is trite, tautological, and limiting all at once.

With that, I’ll sign off. Happy New Year, and may the Water Dragon fly high.

Source: Information Week

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