During the Enlightenment, philosophers described God as an “absent clockmaker,” who created the world and then stepped out of the way — letting the creation run itself. I found myself thinking about this as I read Andrew McAfee’s excellent post, I Know It When I See It. In his post he describes the criteria by which he identifies whether an organization really has become an Enterprise 2.0: “Is it freeform? How frictionless is contribution? And is it emergent?”
These criteria are critical and worth unpacking a little. Here’s how Andrew McAfee explains them:
Freeform means that the technology does not in any meaningful way impose, hardwire, or make and enforce assumptions about
– Decision right allocations
Instead, people come together as equals within the environment created by technology, and do pretty much whatever they want.
Frictionless means that users perceive it to be easy to participate in the platform, and can do so with very little time or effort. One measure of friction is the total time required between having an idea for a contribution (while sitting in front of the computer, carrying the iPhone, etc.) and the appearance of that contribution on the platform.
Emergent is both most intuitive of these three terms and the hardest to pin down. It really does bring to mind Justice Potter Stewart’s famous yet unhelpful definition of obscenity “I know it when I see it.” My best-effort definition of the phenomenon is the appearance over time within a system of higher-level patterns or structure arising from large numbers of unplanned and undirected low-level interactions.
In the E2.0 world, you put the mechanism in place and then you step aside, allowing the users to do what they will. The proof of your abilities is the degree to which those users actually are free to realize their own goals using the tools you’ve provided. For knowledge management, this means using our expertise to design effective systems that can operate effortlessly without us. We are no longer exercising command and control. We no longer run the risk of being a bottleneck in the system. We neither manage nor manipulate the system. We simply let it be.
For insecure knowledge managers, this is a terrifying prospect. After all, if you aren’t in the middle of things how do you prove that you are still relevant?