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Control + Creativity or Control vs Creativity

In response to my links from the 10th, IBM’s Carl Kessler responded to an offhand comment of mine on questions of Web 2.0, the enterprise, and control with the following:

Au contraire. I believe there is a medium. It requires some investment in education, training, maybe some tools, and a huge dose of trust (enterprises trusting their employees!). I wrote about this [here]…

If you still think there’s no medium, let’s discuss the issues – I may be missing something…

So by all means, let’s discuss.

The original quote that spawned all of this was from IBM CTO Anant Jhingran, who was speaking at a Venture Partnering Symposium. A reporter summarized his comments there as follows:

While many rejected and even mocked his mantra of “creativity with control,” Jhingran said the real challenge was to identify the happy medium between the two that would make these services appropriate for the corporate world without stifling creativity.

As you may have gathered, I respectfully disagree with Anant – who’s both very bright and very willing to listen. I disagreed earlier today in person, in fact. The short version is that I’m very skeptical of the assertion that there is, in fact, a happy medium to be found. At least as long as “control” is part of the dialogue.

Anyone that’s worked with enterprises around blogging has probably run into this. Having seen blogging discussed and occasionally embraced in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, enterprises are eager to be hip like Dr. Evil and jump on the blogging bandwagon. As long as they don’t lose control over who’s talking, what they’re talking about, and when they’re talking about it.

Which is amusing, because they never had control in the first place. If – with all of its technical prowess – Microsoft can’t shut Mini Microsoft up, what chance does, say, your average retail chain stand?

Or consider the outsourcing of corporate whitepages to Facebook idea proposed by Senor Berlind. Which are you more likely to keep up to date: the application that a wide audience of internal and external parties can access and is constantly evolving, or that old, crusty whitepages application that only your coworkers can see. If they remember it exists. No brainer, right? How hard is it to conclude that externally available applications incent participation and usage in a manner that internal applications simply can’t?

Pretty hard, would be my guess. A former employer, after all, once pulled mine and my colleagues’ contact information down from a public web page because, obviously, that would guarantee that recruiters couldn’t hire us away. They controlled that information, and jealously protected it from any evil external eyes. Until, of course, we all left of our own accord.

In spite of the “control.”

I’m sure plenty of vendors, IBM among them, will work to provide enterprises with a variety of options to help enterprises “control” their Web 2.0 experience. And frankly, if enterprises want to pay them for it, I’m not going to blame the vendor. The failure rate of these Web 2.0 integration projects, however, is likely to exceed that of CRM implementations. By a significant margin, for two simple reasons:

  1. No Such Thing as a Light Touch:
    Tools available are tools used, period. I’m quite sure, for example, that many vendors supplying DRM technologies to RIAA member companies would prefer they used a lighter touch, but we all know how that went. Likewise, most vendors would probably like software patents to not be abolished, but simply used less and more constructively. Good luck with that. Assuming that you can provide tools to control Web 2.0 applications usage and adoption within the enterprise, you should assume that they’ll be used. Heavily. The Web 2.0 applications will be controlled, all right. So controlled they’ll be marginally useful at best. Why?
  2. Because Web 2.0 is People:
    Cote said it, and he’s right. The network effects, rather than the underlying technology, are what truly differentiates Web 2.0. Enterprise technology vendors, which have traditionally focused all of their development efforts on products aimed at purely internal audiences (more on this later), often have a tough time grasping this. But think about it: if your blog or del.icio.us or Facebook or Flickr or whatever were only available to your coworkers, would you really use them? Be honest. It’s all about incentive, remember, and more people equals more incentive.

Where Carl and I agree is that the conversation will at some point distill down to a question of trust, that most valuable of commodities. Where we break is on the enterprise capacity for trust. His solution sees a “huge dose of trust” as part of the equation, but I see little evidence to indicate that the average enterprise is willing to trust their average employee, and as such I suspect they’ll lock down Web 2.0 tools to the point of uselessness if given half a chance.

Does this mean that there’s Web 2.0 on one side and the enterprise on the other and never the twain shall meet? Not at all. There are many potential integration points, and we’ve bounced around a variety of ideas with customers. And there are obvious exceptions to the above set of assertions. But in the end, creativity and control are, to me, likely to be mutually exclusive more often than not.

Categories: Emerging Technologies.