Enterprise 2.0: The Human Challenge

Having visited the Paris Enterprise 2.0 Summit in February, I made a Boston trip to compare developments at the June Enterprise 2.0 Conference.  Others have captured this event including: 

For me, however, the Boston Enterprise 2.0 Conference was all about change and especially the human challenges the rate of technology advance pose.  Here’s why.

With what seemed like too few attendees and vendors rattling around a cavernous Hynes Center, this event had the same turning point feel as when Joe Cothrel and I undertook the Online Communities in Business Study 2004 to understand the transition that was Web 1.0 to Web 2.0.This time around, that change translates to the firm arrival of Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web, symbolized by IBM’s “Watson” up front and center at their Expo Hall booth.

Here are some thoughts on the continuing escalating human and organizational challenges to expect in a smart Web and Big Data worldalong with an invitation to question my ideas.

1.  Carbon Based Humans in a Digital World

In our 2008 Open Net∞WORKing Organizations article, co-author Victoria Axelrod wrote:

“Moore’s Law continues enabling digital computer networks to increasingly connect people and distribute information faster than carbon based humans can absorb.”

If that was true in 2008, then listening to “Enterprise 2.0” term creator Andrew McAfee’s Boston talk suggests “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.  Drawing on his latest book Race Against the Machine, McAfee cited attention-getting examples of how computers are becoming smarter at everyday tasks, from Watson beating human Jeopardy stars last year, to Narrative Science producing algorithmically produce financial news releases and an inter-disciplinary project to forecast Supreme Court decisions.

McAfee made light of the human impact of these technological advances but I could not avoid thinking through the implications of his slides 10-15  highlighting how “We (Humans) Were Never All That Good”.

Clearly, exceptional engineers are building the machines and writing the software that is making computers iteratively smarter and analyzing the data generated each time one of us interacts digitally. However, for those of us not among that technical elite, what does the future hold?

2.  Skills for a Big Data World Where the Product of “Social” is Simply Another Big Data Pool
Here’s my take from exploring the June Enterprise 2.0 Expo:

a.   “Social’ functionality is being embedded into every business process and enterprise platform

b.  Powerful new platforms are emerging to enable expedient and productive collaboration around specific tasks, for example GitHub

c.  The new frontier is understanding what human interactions and patterns of relationships create value in organizations and for businesses amidst the tera and petabytes of data being generated through the current technology wave called “Social Business”.

For insight into the minds and talents needed for a Big Data world try listening to Cloudera Chief Scientist Jeff Hammerbacher interviewed at The Economist Ideas Economy: Information 2012 on Baseball & Big Data.

The talent shortage for Big Data analysts has already been identified with significant implications for organizations not at the forefront of this emerging technology and scurrying to catch up.

3.  Who Will Lead and How?

21st Century Leadership challenges are a recurring theme in this blog. Soon, you’ll hear more on this topic from my colleague Victoria Axelrod, after her review of the field to teach a university class. For now, it suffices to say that since:

more leadership failures than successes have headlined the news. Indeed, “People Are the Company” (JS Brown and ES Gray 1995).

My bottom line is how the bar for us as humans is continually being raised as the 21st century proceeds, fueled by global economic problems in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world and rapidly evolving technology.

Rays of Light

While the challenges facing us continue, outstanding humans are digging deep to guide us forward.  Here are some of the thought leaders and research groups I’m following in my search for answers:

a.  Sinan AralErik Brynjolfsson and Lynn Wu who co-wrote Three-Way Complementarities: Performance Pay, HR Analytics and Information Technology and separately are doing groundbreaking research

b. MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory directed by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland and including Nadav Aharony‘s “Social MRI” that uses mobile sensors (smartphones) to understand human behavior and real world networks

c. MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, a field pioneer since being founded by Tom Malone in 2006 with publications including The Collective Intelligence Genome and most recently The Age of Hyperspecialization ((TW MaloneRJ Laubacher & T Johns 2011) that examines how, as work becomes more knowledge based and communications technology advances, the division of labor accelerates.

d.  Activate Networks that is moving briskly to commercialize social network analysis platforms developed by Rob Cross (over a decade of Organiational Network Analysis) and Nicholas Christakis (used to analyze the network data revealed in the Connected book with James  Fowler).

Now I wonder who inspires you as thought leaders helping us as individuals, organizations and businesses succeed in this 21st Century.