Business and Web 2.0 in Australia

Reading Andrew McAfee's recent post on how there is a risk that the use of of Web 2.0 in business might be seen as time wasting reminded me of the following anecdote that I sometimes tell.

During my last workshop inside the BBC I noticed a manager sitting on the front row who looked uncomfortable the whole way through my presentation. He was fidgeting and looking uneasy right from the start and scowling at bits the others in the audience were enjoying the most. At the end he barely let me finish before he piled in and started criticizing what I had been saying.

"I could never trust my staff to use these sorts of tools", he said, "they would end up wasting all of their time".

To be honest I was a bit taken aback as people usually enjoy the workshops and some have been kind enough to call them inspirational. I could have deflected the challenge and diffused it but to be honest I realised that he represented one of the strongest forces of resistance to change in the workplace and I decided to tackle him head on.

The first thing I did was to ask if he thought his recruitment policy was working for him. If he couldn't trust his staff to make minute by minute decisions about how they spent their working days how on earth was he going to trust them to make bigger decisions on his behalf? He brushed this aside and restated that whatever his staff's judgement the sort of activity I had been describing was still a waste of time. To this I replied first that, contrary to his assumption, people took moments to glance at a forum or a blog and if by responding they answered a worthwhile question their answer could benefit thousands of others and save a lot of time and effort. Secondly I responded that people have always had all sorts of ways of wasting time available to them from staring out of the window to having a coffee and if they are truly wasting time then surely it was his job as a manager to deal with them and their under-performance?

He still wasn't happy with these responses so, as I was by now getting a bit irritated by him, I asked him straight out "So how do you spend your working day then?" to which he replied "I go to lots of meetings".

There was a burst of laughter from the other participants in the room and at this point he looked rather embarrassed. I said "So going to meetings where you are often not sure why you are there but your assistant has put it in the diary, spending an hour or so with a bunch of people who rarely agree something worthwhile, at best making a list of notes of actions to take, then moving on to the next meeting where you repeat the process until the end of the day when you go home just to return the next day to do much the same thing is "real" work!?"

It is important to remember that we shouldn't be comparing Enterprise 2.0 with some sort of utopia. There is a lot wrong with the workplace currently yet it is often not questioned to the same extent as proposed changes are. Andrew is right some current assumptions are very strongly held and won't go away over night. This has a lot to do with why I am currently reading The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber and the wonderful How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson.