Judas? Not quite
Lest I be confused with non-web 2.0 enthusiast or, worse, proclaimed contrarian to the very type of forum where I’m contributing by this writing, let me offer a blatant caveat right up front here: I’m a web 2.0 advocate and believer, a regular social computing junkie, and generally optimistic guy. I use and appreciate social networking platforms (obviously – I’m here, aren’t I?), consider them along with various other “2.0” tools an inexorable necessity for doing business or governing well in the unfolding century, and sincerely hope to be a significant contributor to the advancements they offer. Put simply, I’m for 2.0.
However, where I differ from some of my fellows who share my enthusiasm for web 2.0 adoption is in the degree of radical expectations for it’s “transformational” potential – as if that term hasn’t become more bankrupt than, well, … ok, perhaps the time’s ill suited for solvency humor but you get my drift. Frankly, believe half of what you hear about web 2.0 and its world altering potential and you might just begin to wonder why the sick aren’t lining up at the alter of 2.0 asking for its hands to be lain upon them. Again, before the commune considers excommunication on grounds of heresay, I repeat, I expect web 2.0 to have profound effects, beneficial ones, for people in general, private concerns, and government entities. I am, however, suggesting that we need to temper some of the revolutionary rhetoric about 2.0 and maybe present a more tempered vision of its power and place in organizations.
I could identify a handful of perceptions of 2.0 impacts or predictions for its outcomes that I find outlandish, but the immediate instigation for this ramble is the notion that web 2.0 will revolutionize organizational principles, eliminate completely and ever more horizontal “silos”, etc., etc., dum dum dum. While web 2.0 will bring tremendous pressure on organizations to adopt new structuring practices – indeed a monumental shift in attitudes toward concepts such as virtual organization and matrix management – I do not believe we are witnessing the overthrow of bureaucracy and rank at the hands of Revolutionaries 2.0. To clarify, I object to “revolution” in so much as the term is used to purport an sudden and complete overthrow of the social and organizing mechanisms in practice today. For those employing it to mean simply “a fundamental change” or “a sudden and significant change”, consider the sights of this piece aimed elsewhere.
Let’s face it. Confronted with long standing social traditions or principles, like bureaucracy, rank and file organizations, and the like, the people don’t want revolution – not some total upheaval of everything currently functioning and “dis-functioning” at present. And why not? Well, for specious, silly reasons on the one hand like fear of the unknown and loyalty to the routine on the one hand. On the other, let us also consider the merit that exists per se in the systems employed to get us where we are. In other words, some hesitancy to change is seated in a will to preserve what works in the status quo. Sometimes (and I do believe this to be the case with web 2.0) the new way doesn’t quite offer all the features of the old way and, so, the will to preserve those elements of the status quo that hold real value to the future is legitimate. Think about it this way: is there nothing in the tenets and mechanisms of bureaucracy that got us to the moon? Had we obliterated all that structure, all the rank, all the organization and had just collaborative tools in their stead, would the outcome look as certain? Or try this way: is there any wonder that in each case of political revolution or attempted revolution, the desired outcome is a new state? Why not abolish the notion of statehood altogether? And on and on. Point thoroughly abused thus far: revolution, upheaval, a full social extraction and replacement of vital structures is unhealthy and unattractive.
Al Gore then? I don’t know
So what? So back to 2.0. I’ve read it forecast and repeated here, elsewhere, and everywhere in between that web 2.0 will revolutionize organizations, forever eliminating organizational structures. Goodbye rank and file. Goodbye vertical hierarchy. EVERYthing’s going to change… I’m here to say let’s take a slow breath, halt just a moment before incinerating our cubicle walls and really think this through. Isn’t it possible that web 2.0 and new organizing practices anchored in its toolsets, whether the predominant or equal frequency method, just might be compatible with or complementary to elements of more traditional (read: today’s and recent yesterday’s) management approaches? Shouldn’t we consider which projects, ideas, problems lend themselves to a bottom-up collaborative solution approach versus others that don’t? Wouldn’t it be a boon to organizations and managers of every walk to have some means to determine which challenges are best resolved with which approach? Well, therein lies my modest temperance to 2.0. I subject to any one who might read this – both of you out there – that we imagine web 2.0 less like a whirlwind wreaking immeasurable and inexorable upheaval and more like a strong, but harness-able wind offering tremendous energy and force to those able to channel it into our present infrastructures, eroding their excesses and imperfections along the way.