No one said it was going to be easy

Antony Mayfield points to a couple of articles questioning the chances of making social computing work in organisations and he asks what I think having been one of the few people to make it happen.

The main arguments of the naysayers appear to be the following:

The really useful people are too busy to wast time with writing blogs and all you get are the opinions of those with time on their hands.

The Wisdom Of The Crowds doesn't work and a small band of valiant souls spend their lives cleaning up the crap left by others.

This is just another technology fad.

The first point may be true of our current "expert" population for whom this is seen as an additional activity but it will be less so for future generations for whom it is simply how you get things done. For millions on the web it is already a compelling and effective way of connecting, having conversations, learning and making things happen.

As to the second point having these tools doesn't change human nature - at not least overnight. You still get destructive people, enervating people wasteful people and self-righteous people but the environment in which they rub shoulders is different and the means of engagement is different. Yes the Wikipedia isn't perfect and yes it relies on the efforts of a small group to clean up some of the mess but it still bloody amazing, couldn't have happened without the web and is fundamentally different from anything that has gone before.

As to the last point - IT IS NOT ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY.

This is where I learned my biggest lesson with what we did at the beeb. I realised that this is about a whole new way of looking at our roles as individuals, our relationships with each other and the organisations we create to enable us to get things done collectively. Amazing things happen when you have an environment where people can more easily see what they each know, form associations and work together. It starts to affect who has influence and how they manifest that influence. People who might have been remote geographically or politically but who know lots about a really useful subject suddenly have an impact on the organisation that was previously impossible. Using wikis to discuss, reach agreement and actually carry out work without having to spend time in meetings or traveling or simply not having enough information to make good judgements is enormously effective and compelling.

But it is more about how working this way makes people see themselves and the organisation. The sense of collective responsibility increases as people get to see that they share ideas and feelings about significant aspects of their working lives. Someone once commented that this new environment had done more to create "One BBC" than anything that had originiated in the corporate centre. People learn that their actions have consequences in ways that are less obvious in more disconnected worlds and the willingness of people who had never met to help each other in all sorts of ways consistently amazed me.

Ross Mayfield has been considering some of these changes on his blog and picks up on the management practices at Google:

• Evolutionary risk factor #1: A narrow or orthodox business definition that limits the scope of innovation. Google's response: An expansive sense of purpose.

• Evolutionary risk factor #2: A hierarchical organization that over-weights the views of those who have a stake in perpetuating the status quo. Google's response: An organization that is flat, transparent, and non-hierarchical.

• Evolutionary risk factor #3: A tendency to overinvest in "what is" at the expense of "what could be." Google's response: A company-wide rule that allows developers to devote 20% of their time to any project they choose.

• Evolutionary risk factor #4: Creeping mediocrity. Google's response: Keep the bozos out and reward people who make a difference.

What we did at the BBC wasn't perfect and as always there were those who didn't get involved or failed to see the point of it but we did get to more than half the organisation in one way or another and once you have given people a taste for how engaging, easy and effective this way of working is there is no going back.

And as to how you do it? Ah well .....