Before we talk about the hole

Let’s take a quick look at how technology has provided value so far. Boiled down and oversimplified, there are three stages.

  1. Pink: You’ve saved time. Now all your paper and information is digital.
  2. Blue: You’ve made your digital stuff accessible by other people. Think wiki or a file folder.
  3. Green: Now that people have extra time and made everything centralized, you can step back and think about better ways to do things. 

You are somewhere in the blue egg

If connecting people together and/or sharing content centrally is innovative to you, you’re in the blue egg. It’s an innovative idea, but I’d argue it isn’t delivering valuable change to your core business yet. For that to happen, you have to to fill in the big, fat “Enterprise Hole” and connect the dots to the ways you do things now. 

The big, fat “Enterprise Hole”

Companies are execution machines. Remember when you got your first job? You were hell-bent on making a difference and changing the way things got done. You were filled with ideas. Problem was, the minute you looked for a place to deliver that value, you were shown your box and your crank. You probably thought you’d be given a chance later on but then found out that the higher up you go, the bigger your crank. There are generations worth of “keep the trains on time” DNA in place in the Enterprise. No time to change things, those trains have been running like that for years. 

So long, in fact, that Enterprises are experts at execution. Everyone has their cog in that machine. Given the legacy in place, it’s no wonder that there are a ton of execution resources and expertise in place. But to unlock innovation, there’d have to be a way to deliver conceptualization and strategic value as part of everyday work, not to mention persistent expertise on how to do it. That effort, from soup to nuts, would need to be linked together. Imagine what having a closed-looped reality from concept to execution would really be like. As it stands, this missing wedge is the big, fat “Enterprise Hole.” Social computing will fill that hole. Not only will it fill it, but it will extend it’s capillaries into the existing execution processes already in place, perhaps making some of the more repeatable and predictable ones, automatic. Sorta like the way your car’s headlights come on automatically. 

Cracked nuts

Industry folks like to debate who will crack this nut. The first group think that it will be the big vendors like SAP, Oracle, IBM or Microsoft and that they will just magically bolt on social computing into their existing stuff. The second group think that there will be new entrants like Google, Salesforce, Cisco or maybe an unexpected CMS vendor. Lastly, there are some that believe that perhaps a pure-play could emerge and join the ranks as a completely new Enterprise player. I guess we’ll see. The good news is that this is the hottest part of the Enterprise software market today and there’s sure to be some big gains soon. 


* Credit: Some of this post came out of some brainstorming I did with Hideshi Hamaguchi (@hideshione) from Lunnar. He and I should drink coffee more often. Thanks, as always, to @michaelsigler for working with me on the graphics.

  • steve golab

    Sam, I really like your thinking on this and the graphics are very easy to understand. Social computing really CATALYZES by reducing the energy necessary to execute core business strategies. IMHO this is why the conversation should be a board issues for businesses who need to innovate or else…

    Thanks for sharing – I’ll be sure to spread the word about this post.


  • Chet Geschickter

    Amen brother. I’ve been doing Internet strategy consulting for the past 9 years. It’s the same song and dance again and again. “We need a strategy” so we go through a big process to build a multi-phase roadmap. We identify opportunities, prioritize based on value and complexity, identify dependencies, and present everything in a big beautiful deck. The only way to prevent the strategy from getting locked up in the execution box is if the client outsources the execution to the agency/consultant/vendor that did the strategy, or to a bunch of order takers.
    I did a study on different types of strategy and their perceived effectiveness. Happy to share. Let me know.
    I close in saying nice post – you pretty well sum things up – quite nicely.

  • Gia Lyons

    Do I smell a nice and simple ROI statement in there somewhere? Excellent post, boss, as usual.

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  • moya

    this is a beautiful post and an engaging story. i totally identify with the “trains on time” DNA at my particular large enterprise. if it’s in the DNA though, how can you really change? or maybe that’s where darwin comes into play? spontaneous mutation?

  • Mr. Darcy Murphy

    Perhaps this is the reason for the surge of start up companies. Many people who see possibilities but are unable to act in their current enterprise, and thus start their own.

    The closest solution I’ve seen to your proposed challenge is Google’s 20% rule. Most of their innovative projects have started there and become something more. This is also why they’ve been accused of being unable to handle ‘Enterprise class’ software – they’re almost entirely focused in that front half of the chart, and for good reason: it’s served them well so far.

  • Guy Martin

    Good post Sam – I think though, that as others have pointed out, it is nearly impossible to get companies to change their DNA on a large scale. While at Motorola, I helped run a small team that used Open Source tools (and also your Openfire product) to hit the ‘underserved’ community of folks who realized that the ‘execution loop’ wasn’t getting them where they needed to be.

    We were reasonably successful in using this ‘viral’ approach to help change portions of the company. However, it is difficult to use this model to get past the ‘tipping point’ into make an enterprise embrace this. I truly don’t know if there is a good way (other than spin off, or small team that can be ‘hidden’) to make this part of the corporate DNA.

  • Vladimir Dubovskiy

    Appreciate the post Sam. I am curious to hear your thoughts on what the Share to Change step looks like. In other words, what does the future of driving change through online networking looks like? I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. My company (currently in construction) is creating a place where people are given tools to change business.
    We deliver ratings on corporate social responsibility at the time of purchase, wherever your shopping needs take you. As part of that I am designing a new kind of network – the one that taps into the “missed opportunity” area, allowing the world to innovate and incubate “for-purpose” socially responsible companies. I would love to continue this conversation and see how Jive could participate in building a platform for systemic social change (purely business).

  • Rotkapchen

    Sam: Brilliant. Love it. Not sure if you saw/used for input/inspiration but I was quite pleased as I grabbed a copy of Forrester’s July 2008 report “The Rise of Innovation Management Tools”, figure 4 “Innovation Management Tools Enable Change Management” — points out the critical marriage of innovation and change. All very timely, relevant to current efforts.

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  • Rotkapchen

    I totally love that someone else besides me is willing to publicly write a piece with common language like “sorta” :)