Get in your head

Whenever I talk about the new enterprise collaboration I always imagine an octopus. The big head of the octopus is where we gather.enterpriseocto.jpg Sometimes it’s a team, sometimes it’s the whole company, but all of us are in the head of the octopus. It’s where we live. It’s where we unify and freely interact. What’s great about being in the head, is you get to leave all your stuff behind and just get to the point.

But sometimes we need stuff

That stuff could anything. Stuff is just old information we may need to look at from time to time. Typically it’s inactive and stored. Most stuff isn’t that important but some of it is. Here’s a list of stuff:

  • Documents
  • Data
  • Quarterly plans
  • Files
  • Past meetings
  • Information from other applications

The Enterprise Octopus has arms that can get the stuff

Want some stuff? Your arm knows you want it. That’s what it’s there for. They can get stuff while you stay in the head. No need to go anywhere else. Don’t run off now! If we were having a conversation about Q4, we should be able to immediately suck all the relevant stuff from Q4 into the Octopus head so we can talk about it and keep the work going. filingcab1.jpg

Most companies are headless

The problem is, there’s no central place for the people. All we have are file generating machines. Email machines. Calendar machines. Word processing, spreadsheet and presentation machines. And many companies purchased even bigger, complex machines to manage the output of all those other machines. In the meantime, we just work around those machines and wonder, “which way to the head?”

The head

The new people-focused enterprise wants its head back. They want the place for the people to easily unify and get to the point. You can call this “Enterprise 2.0″ you can call this “social productivity,” it doesn’t really matter what you call it other than it’s going to turn things right-side up. And it’s about time.

  • John Johansen

    Sam, it sounds like you are proposing that documents and content should support people and not the other way around.

    That kind of radical thinking will get you into trouble. But I like it!

  • Sonciary Honnoll

    I love this analogy. You’re the man, Sam.

  • Dave Evans

    At the “personal enterprise” level, I have the same problem: I create emails, tweets, docs, spreadsheets, graphics, audio….and inevitably it goes into a folder. Then, months later, I’m “up in my head” working and I need something…something I created last week, last month, last year.

    About a year ago I adopted a much “flatter” filing system – work, personal, a few client folders…and then layered Google Desktop on top of it.Type in the keywords or meta data…and there is it. The arms have pulled it right up. That worked really well…until recently.

    About a month ago I moved to the cloud, in a big way. Now I’ve got the same issue all over. Is it up there (cloud) or down here (local)? My productivity is definitely off (not good) but at the same time it seems a trail (to the cloud) worth blazing (good).

    Sam, you’re onto something here. Metadata is no doubt a big part of it. But so too is automating the metadata and abstracting the location of the content. Tagging is part of it, but applied on a bigger scale. If I’ve touched a piece of content once–as a creator, consumer, participant–I should be able to forever more pull that back by placing a few keywords into a box and clicking “bring it to me.” Applied at the social level, that capability empowers true stream-of-consciousness collaboration, which is of course exactly what you want when you’re “away from your stuff.”

  • paisano

    As a grizzled veteran of the IT wars, one of the first things I do whenever I start a new position as the admin for a network is learn where they keep their “stuff”. It’s always a mess. Every department has their own methodology as does the company itself. Never the two shall meet.
    They each manager/supervisor has their own “unique” file/document management style. Oy vay.
    Obviously, ECM (Enterprise Content Management) is the heart and soul of organizing all of these files and documents. Most companies, however, can’t afford the six figure cost for this elusive elixir. So, desparate IT monkeys such as myself search for “economical” alternatives such as Microsoft SharePoint. We download the six month “Free” trial and get everyone hooked and then get the bill when it expires and we’re back to square one. The hidden costs get everyone. “What? We NEED SQL server and CALs too?” BLAM!
    Well, now there’s a new sherif in town called JiveSoftware with their SharePoint killer called ClearSpace. I know that competition and rivalry can only be a great thing for all of us! It is already irking Microsoft which is very good sign for change on their end!
    Enterprise 2.0 is indeed here and we IT Generals are relieved to see reinforcements parachuting in to support us in our endless battle against organizational chaos when it comes to files and document management.
    It all helps people work better together because they can collaborate more and share common tools, schedules, document libraries, etc. Less time wasted searching for files or information means more productivity. That spells major ROI, folks. It also means less frustrated employees and happier environment. Win-win.

    SquidBoy Pai

  • Aaron B. Hockley

    A lot of corporations still haven’t figured out that the people are the power. Even in the document-centric places I’ve worked, the people know more. How do I do X? Where’s the list of how I should interface with Y? Sure, there might be a document, but the real knowledge comes from the people who are the subject matter experts on the real-life use of X and Y.

  • oliver marks

    So true Sam, So true! As grizzled squid boy Paisano(!) says, there are so many ‘unique’ systems within a large enterprise, usually all with their own incompatible organizational methods, it’s a wonder anyone gets anything done.

    In fact my experience has been that people have to swim against the tide of bureaucracy and lack of organizational consistency within multiple legacy systems just to stay in place. Imagine how much more efficient a people centered approach would be, and the enormous costs savings – and that’s just in mental health bills! Sitting in a beige cube playing whackamole with email is so lame…when you cook in a frankensuite or two plus a few olde legacy systems running on life support it can be mission impossible to find the info urgently referred to in the emails in the dozens of locations they might be.

    You’re coming at this from a vendor perspective – mine is evangelizing strategy and tactics to supersede the enterprise octopus era. You won’t believe how protective people are of their existing infrastructure despite the fact that they

    * know it’s broken
    * Know it won’t scale
    * Know it won’t ever talk to other systems
    * Know it’s practically unuseable

    This comes into sharp focus when new employees are trained on ‘the system’

    Attempting to cram the warped legacy logic into people’s heads is often the point at which the new employee starts looking around for a new job, and that is really sad.

    You’re coming at this from a vendor perspective – mine is the

  • Aaron Strout

    Sam – you’re right, the “octopus” picture is kind of cute. Nice work!

    On a serious note, I’ve heard the same argument before but it’s always been positioned as “silos” – whether those are individual functions or business units OR discrete tools like e-mail, PPT, Excel. Either way, having “trapped” data (legs) with no head hurts in five ways:

    1) Most people don’t know where to find the data
    2) Even if you do know where to find it, it’s not easily accessible (as you point out)
    3) The same data gets re-created over and over again unknowingly
    4) When someone leaves, most of their knowledge leaves with them
    5) “The crowd” of other employees who may have important information to add to the data have no official input mechanism on the “trapped” data.

    As usual, a smart and thought-provoking post.

    Aaron (@astrout)

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  • Shama Hyder

    Hi Sam-

    Very cute! Right side up sounds good to me. : )

  • Jeremy Thomas

    Sam, looks like you’re presenting a case for Enterprise Search, which would make all federated corporate assets discoverable based on relevancy. What’s missing in most enterprise search solutions, however, is the social dimension which can further influence relevancy. If a document has been bookmarked by, say, 150 people and commented on, it might be more relevant than the document that appears just above it in search results and hasn’t been bookmarked or commented on.

    So I think you’re right, the “people” element has been lost to most corporations. Search can bring people and content together in a fused manner.

  • sam

    @Jeremy Actually, this isn’t about search for me, though I do think we need better Search. Searching doesn’t bring people together. Otherwise Google would be Facebook.

    There’s a currency to business. It’s alive and it’s happening at the moment. We don’t have a way outside email to communicate. For example, you and I are talking right now on a blog. You don’t need to address me, I am receiving your message. And other people are, too without you adding them to the “To” line. So far, we haven’t needed to pull a file up. Though I can reference one, like this article about the above topic from Dennis:

    But in the enterprise, there’s no “head,” no place for conversational collaboration that we’re invited to. At some point we may need to search but for the time being we just need to communicate.

  • Melany Gallant

    Sam – your diagrams are great. Very metaphorically correct.

    Ever notice how in a workplace, people don’t go “looking” for things on the corporate intranet or whatever – they simply ask a person they think can help them locate it. Because as one of your readers stated, it’s people who are the subject-matter experts. And it’s easier (and faster) to ask the expert than to go file hunting.

  • Michael Loke

    @Sam, I actually agree that communication should be a higher focus than search. While discovery of knowledge assets in the firm is crucial, the biggest problem with enterprises I have experienced here is that most communication is done via email, and is extremely limited.

    There are more immediate problems that arrives for having such inefficient communication method (such as archiving, mail disk quota issues, network prioritization, bandwidth hammering with big attachments over network pipes). Personally, I find communication via email very clunky.

    I am not sure how appropriate this is, but sometimes I look at E2.0 collaborative platform like a RIA, while email communication like traditional AJAX in a development world, where there’s so much limitation. RIA just opens up a new world of doing things.

    Let’s change the way people communicate, and then make those tacit information that’s exchanged between people in the enterprise “searchable” to extend its useful life in an enterprise.

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  • Onyx

    I’ve definitely worked in a filing cabinet before, at some point in time, you look around and realize you’re all just pushing paper back and forth. Great metaphor.

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  • http://Website Jamie Collins

    “the octopus does not possess stereognosis; that is, it does not form a mental image of the overall shape of the object it is handling. It can detect local texture variations, but cannot integrate the information into a larger picture.” ( Sounds like the typical enterprise to me :)


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  • Vicki

    Aaron B. Hockley comments that “the real knowledge comes from the people who are the subject matter experts on the real-life use of X and Y.” This is (unfortunately) true. Why unfortunate? Because Aaron Stout is also correct. “When someone leaves, most of their knowledge leaves with them”.

    I don’t believe that “most stuff isn’t important.” As the Getting Things Done philosohpy points out, you need to write Stuff down. You need to get “stuff” out of your head!

    The octopus is useless without his arms. All that “stuff” – written and stored – is how we communicate our knowledge with each other across time and space. Both the head AND the “stuff” are important!

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