E2.0 evangelists : the Revolutionaries and the Evolutionaries

This is a question I love to ask in the Enterprise 2.0 interviews :

Broadly speaking, one can say that there are 2 types of Enterprise 2.0 activists. The revolutionaries and evolutionaries. The formers believe that collaborative platforms are disruptive technology that will deeply change the organisations. The latter think this is an incremental evolution that will just fill up some communication holes that are not covered in organisation 1.0. Where would you stand ?

Andrew McAfee talks about new way of doing business in his Enterprise 2.0 book, of disruptive technologies in his PARC talk but still reckons that this is not such a big deal. We can see here that evangelists position is not very comfortable.

On one hand going towards the revolution paradigm risks scaring executives out of it.  On the other, minimizing the disruptive nature on Enterprise 2.0 may slow knwoledge workers buy-in and adoption as it may curb their enthusiasm.

First approach is more of an Executive show-stopper while the second is more of a knowledge worker tue-l’amour (desire killer) and adoption obstacle. What’s best ?

Funnily enough, two of the main Enterprise 2.0 figures posted completely opposed post on the topic this week : Oscar Berg on one end and Bertrand Duperrin on the opposite. The former regrets Our Tendency to think and talk in terms of efficiency while the latter is pleased with the end of social washing in his Enterprise 2.0 Forum wrap up.

The Revolutionaries

Oscar’s post is quite telling. It starts from Susan Scrupski blog post Enterprise 2.0: The Next Narrative and the themes to be addressed in the cases study the 2.0 Adoption Council is currently working on.

Together with Denis Howlett (the official Enterprise 2.0 referee) Oscar regrets that most of these themes are only efficiency driven and bring nothing new to the enterprise plate.

Oscar quotes the quite brilliant Maslow’s Hierarchy of Enterprise 2.0 ROI by Hutch Carpenter and insists on the need of expanding the scale of benefits beyond mere ROI when evangelizing Enterprise 2.0.

The conclusion says it all :

I think that all us in the Enterprise 2.0 space need to realize that we are all – like it or not – under heavy influence of Taylor, Deming etc, and the dominating management paradigm that focuses almost entirely on efficiency. We need to listen to Dennis Howlett when he blows the whistle, and do our best at trying to adjust the balance so that we don’t get stuck in the efficiency corner with Enterprise 2.0. I personally believe that the greatest potential business benefits from Enterprise 2.0 lies in doing things that weren’t possible to do before social software.

The Evolutionaries

Bertrand’s post lies at the completely opposite end.

I’m fed up with the usual 40 min “show flat” presentations which conclusion is “it’s really awesome but I can’t do this in my company” and where we have the vague impression that instead of getting answers to our problems we’re being sold a little piece of dream that comes with a big piece of software. In brief, attendees leave with shining stars in they eyes but realize, when the time to wake up comes, that it does not help them to achieve anything.

I tend to agree with Bertrand in the sense that we need to get the job done. In the Enterprise 2.0 Forum Workshop that happened on the Wednesday afternoon, the day before the use case keynotes, Bertrand insisted on the specific french cultural issue with Enterprise 2.0. In all fairness, he didn’t really need to insist, I’m convinced.

Anyway, in such a rational and individualist culture as french one, it is just scoring an own goal to mention things like social, dreams, utopian values when trying to sell Enterprise 2.0 solution. Bertrand knows, he’s been in the business for many years and he does know how it works here.

From this perspective, he admitted that being an Enterprise 2.0 consultant in France is far more touchy and complicated that it may be in such cultures as US or UK. As a result, as a pragmatist, he is a strong advocate of incremental evolution.

(Still, I was very pleased to notice that the only book that has been mentioned during the discussions after the keynotes has been The Cluetrain Manifesto, a quite revolutionary one).


I think the reason why we’re focussing on Taylor or Demings values when trying to sell Enterprise 2.0, is to smooth the disruptive nature of E20 not to scare executives out of it.

The unique nature of collaborative platforms and what you can achieve with them is quite challenging to envision if you’re not familiar with it. It will naturally emerged as the tools/approach is deployed. The culture will naturally evolves as a result of it.

But if you want executive support to start such a project in the company I guess that the best way is to talk about current problems, how E20 can solve them and the business value it will bring to the company.

Starting with such topics as cultural issues, disruptive technologies or transformation of the enterprise may work with some but not with the vast majority of decision makers. And will most likely not work in France (alleged home of the revolution, funnily enough) – hence Bertrand’s position.

I leave the conclusion to Clay Shirky :

“A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors”

So how about you ? Are you a revolutionary or an evolutionary ?


  1. Thanks Cecil, once again an excellent analysis!

    Just for the record, I rather think of myself as a visionary than revolutionary 🙂 When it comes down to putting things into practice, to start achieving the vision, the approach which I preach and work by is an evolutionary one. As I see it, there is no other way to really change people’s attitudes and behaviors but to do it bit by bit, almost like when playing a game of chess. But what is essential that management sees the same vision as I if they are to commit themselves to the transformation that it requires.

    I think most executives would, at least silently, agree with the kind of vision that I talk about – that an organization’s ability to use its collective knowledge and creativity is key to creating competitive advantage. In that vision, efficiency is also less important than such things as delivering superior customer experiences, building employee engagement, allowing for new collaborations to emerge, boosting personal productivity, facilitating innovation, and increasing adaptability. But, there is often a gap between understanding something and having the courage to act on that understanding.

    I also think that the typical management culture affects how we as Enterprise 2.0 advocates approach Enterprise 2.0 and how we sell it to customers or our own organizations. In Sweden and the Nordic countries, the potential cultural barriers to Enterprise 2.0 are lower than, say, in France and Germany – but also when compared to the US. The Nordic management culture is in that sense more “ready” for adopting the principles required for successful Enterprise 2.0 adoption, such as openness, transparency, dialog and trust. Our problem here is mostly related to courage. If we had more of that in our management teams here, Nordic companies and organizations could really be in the lead in the Enterprise 2.0 arena.

  2. Great post Cecil.

    Your analysis is right. In the very beginning I think I was rather on the “revolutionarist side” but I quickly learned to deal with the context.

    I have my vision of how things should be in a perfect world, and I think we all share quite the same one. But our job is not only to have a vision but to put it at work and that changes many things. That forces us to be pragmatic.

    So we all agree on the big picture but have our own idea on how to get there and that’s normal. None of us is right or wrong, we are all conditioned by what works in our local context. I’m sure I would have a radically different approach if I lived and worked elsewhere but I also have to be conscious that there’s often a big gap between the world we dream of and the world we live in. We can’t always do what we want but what’s acceptable in a given culture.

    Btw my advice to large businesses who want to implement on a large and multicultural scale is often design a global stragetic framework but to work with local players to leverage local specificities to improve adoption.

  3. I fall into the revolutionary camp.

    Previous waves of enterprise software and management consulting have wrung most of the efficiencies out of manufacturing and logistics. But the theories of Deming and Taylor never seemed to apply to doctors, lawyers, movie directors, or fashion designers.

    Enterprise 2.0 holds promise for transforming the way that professional and creative knowledge workers do business.

  4. Very early on in the early learnings on e20 (2006!), I disagreed with McAfee on this very point. I was somewhat scared to death to disagree with a Harvard professor, as I was blogging from my NJ garage with a few pet spiders and crickets. 🙂

    See my post from then: http://itsinsider.com/2006/10/07/revolutionary-holdout-maybe-bowie-not-lennon-definitely-not-lenin/

    I still believe the revolutionary talk. I’ve been around large enterprises my entire career and something is uniquely different about this space. I can see it in our members too. They’re a different breed. They all share a spark of maverick that is grounded in changing the way “things work around here.” That’s not to say they don’t work within the boundaries of traditional business, but the emphasis is on wholesale reinvention of the organizational dynamic. True, the Americans may have more of that revolutionary zeal (we had one too, ya know, against those darn Brits). But the spirit of that revolutionary fervor that’s embedded in our DNA provides us with hope and determination.

    True quote from a Council member yesterday on Yammer: “As what I am starting to call “never adopters” (its been a rough week), this group is AWESOME at helping show that despite local “issues,” the greater concepts still hold. It helps me to see other companies implementing the E2.0 vision even when I keep hearing it cant get done…I KNOW it can and in fact does…give me the strength to fight on…(Have I thanked you guys lately??)”

  5. Cecil — Thank you for the excellent post on a conference that I wish I had been able to attend in person. You do an excellent job summarizing discussion points and presenting a point/counterpoint analysis.

    With respect to management culture references, I’d suggest Peter Drucker as an alternative to Demning on process and the much more narrowly focused Taylor on efficiency.

    I believe Peter Drucker and Doug Engelbart are much more effective in making a business case that combines innovation, evolution, and business purpose. Something for both revolutionaries and evolutionaries.

    Peter Drucker Centenary – Notes and references

    Enterprise 2.0 Schism – Drucker+Engelbart vs the rest

  6. I have to say, I tire of this conversation meme a bit. Since I wrote The Social Enterprise: How Social Changes Everything in 2007 for IDC, I’ve seen some huge sifts possible in corporate structure, governance, and processes made possible by social software. Yet I am firmly a pragmatist – big corporations can very rarely change so dramatically in a short amount of time – particularly if they do not have a culture of change. So it almost has to be an evolutionary path for them. Upshot for me is – who cares whether we are revolutionaries or evolutionaries? Some companies have the capacity to only see efficiency gains and some are much more able to incorporate some really new concepts.

    Regardless, smaller more agile companies who embrace social enterprise concepts will likely show bigger companies how it is done and only then – when there is clear and present danger, will the big corporations be able to make more radical changes.

    I don’t mean to be the cool water on the conversation… I just think it is a very academic argument that in the end needs to be very specific to one company and its market/culture/leadership.

  7. many thanks to you guys for your excellent answers.

    Oscar, Bertrand, I summarize your views : It’s not a matter of being a revolutionary or an evolutionary : it’s just having a vision and being pragmatic enough to implement it incrementally. Still OScar would’nt have rejoiced social media washing while Bertrand would’nt have regret a focus on efficiency. But then this is more a matter of relevance of the cultural environment for the e20 implementation then a difference of vision.

    Susan, thanks so much for your link and comment. Actually, thinking about it, I beleive that the revolutionary DNA is so pregnant in french society that, as a reaction, french business is over conservative to resists and counter-balance it. In other word, french business culture has to pay for an otherwise omni-present revolutionary DNA in our society. We live in a very polarized society, which in all fairness, is quite sad.

    Greg, thanks for the comments and the links. Fully agree : Drucker has understood knowledge workers specificity as of the mid 50’s and is much more relevant as a base for Management. Still it’s funny (and sad) how companies are still struggling to put his principles in action.

    Rachel, we love to have cool water. The question is : wouldn’t it be too late when companies realize that they need radical change ? That’s the key message of Future Of Management by Gary Hamel, which you may also find quite academic, but that’s the question this essay asks : in a world when everything changes very fast (including change itself – speed and scale) is it still relevant to use the same management methods than we did 100 years ago ? It’s quite a revolutionary book.

    Dean, Barthox, thanks for your comment.

    As far as I am concern, I think my position is quite close to Susan’s though I surely don’t have the same level of experience in exchanging with people implementing Enterprise 2.0.

    Thanks again for your comments, great conversation. Keep them comin’ !

  8. Cecil – absolutely agree and Gary Hamel is spot on in his thinking – I very much enjoy his work/thinking. My point is that who is responsible for recognizing the huge changes in dynamics afoot and pushing companies to change? I think companies themselves. As someone who serves the corporate world, I can prod and ask questions and share my perspective and teach – but I can’t force them to accept so I have to meet each company I work with where they are and often they don’t know what they are capable of until they get into it a bit. So many times what starts as an evolutionary process becomes revolutionary… and sometimes not. I don’t think most companies start off deciding they are going to blow up the way they conduct business.

    For those companies that don’t recognize the radical shifts going on, it’s their opportunity to sit out – and some companies will realize the threat inherent with that earlier than others.

    And even Gary Hamel recently said that it is easier for corporations to respond to a threat than an opportunity.

    So – my only point is every company is different and the evolutionary/revolutionary debate is often a semantic debate that in some ways is irrelevant. There are large opportunities to completely change the way business is done for those that can take advantage of them… but even for those companies, they will start of in an exploratory mode – particularly if they are big public companies who have to focus on their next quarterly earning statement.

  9. Hi Rachel,

    My point was on E20 Evangelists not on the actual nature of Enterprise 2.0. I understand that your reply is more focussed on the latter.

    In any case, I believe E20 IS revolutionary, btw. And I believe that VERY successful company today have the E20 approach right in their DNA and that help them achieve amazing things. Think 37Signals.

    In the E20 presentation I quote Peter Drucker :

    Contribution of management in XXth century : 50 fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st Century ? Similarly to increase the productivity of the Knowledge Worker.

    These guys from 37Signals have achieved such result with the very principles at the core of E20.

  10. Cecil’s reference to 37Signals echoes a point I made in a recent post: Many of the companies helping to bring about gains in the productivity of knowledge workers wouldn’t recognize themselves as “Enterprise 2.0” software vendors.

    I think Enterprise 2.0 includes a much wider array of companies and tools than the traditional Enterprise Software space.

  11. Interesting and informative post and discussion.

    And .. due to the quirks and peculiarities of my personality, I particularly enjoyed seeing The Rebel Sell pictured at the beginning of the post.

    Have you read it and thus know the premise of the book ? How quaintly (either) ironic or perverse that you chose this book l0(

  12. Hi Jon,

    Many thanks for the comment. I love this conversation. It’s so great to have people like yourself, Bertrand, Oscar, Rachel and the E20 Chief concierge i.e the adorable Susan discussing the issue here.

    I loved this book if you click the picture you’ll see a link to the posts I wrote about this book (in french unfortunately).

    That probably is one of my favorite book ever related to culture alongside Netocracy. I am very glad that you saw the ironic/perverse reference.

  13. Alors, merci de m’avoir aviser du fait que tu as ecrit sur ce livre. Je vais lire ton billet d’ici peu.

    It’s also one of my core favourites, and I often think many or most people don’t “get” quite how deeply embedded into our psyches and existence is the central premise of the book.

  14. I’ve clicked through from a more recent post of yours on “Adopting Social Software tools is not necessarily achieving Enterprise 2.0” to get some background. I think your account omits the crucial element of responsibility. There is limited value in trying to persuade others to change their behaviour if you don’t change your own. This applies whether you are an evolutionary or a revolutionary.

    Make whatever changes are appropriate to your circumstances, and co-ordinate with others you work with. I’ve worked in companies that talked about ‘the world in ten years’ or ‘our industry in five years’ but the question always needs to come back to ‘so… what shall *we* do differently tomorrow?’believed

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