The Case for Collaboration
There is an interesting article in the New York Times this morning that I hope lots of people read — that means you Mr. Benioff. It’s a tale of a shoemaker’s kids going barefoot.
It seems that Yahoo, trying to breathe life back into a sclerotic organization, has cancelled its work from home policy and is now mandating all workers report to the office every day. Good luck with traffic at the bottom of Silicon Valley. The commute has just gotten worse.
The discussion covered in the article sounds like a low calorie beer commercial from the 1990’s. One side says we need people in the office every day to promote collaboration, creativity and innovation. The other says at home workers are more productive so leave us alone. Tastes great! Less filling!
Sometimes I wonder if our inability to compromise as a society stems from this simplistic Boolean logic in which there can only be two sides and by definition the side you oppose is wrong. It harkens back to the religious wars of the Middle Ages, but I digress.
But hold on; let’s tease this apart. Yahoo wants to ape Google’s culture and that’s understandable given that the 37-year-old CEO, Marissa Mayer, hails from there. That culture devotes less than 100 square feet to each employee and channels foot traffic to encourage human-to-human interaction, the better to cause serendipitous face-to-face meetings and things like collaboration and innovation.
That’s nice, even laudable, but in the twenty-first century, this new dictate seems a bit draconian. Hasn’t Yahoo ever heard of collaboration software? Social media? Chatter? Yammer? I realize Yahoo is in San Jose and Salesforce and Yammer and others are way up the coast in the big city but they could track these solutions down on…the Internet perhaps?
It is astounding that a company like Yahoo could be in such a situation and that it could be so ostensibly unaware of how this looks to share it with the world. While the issues of collaboration and innovation are the right ones for any company to chase, this solution only works for people reporting to the same building and there are only so many interactions you can prompt in a day.
Most importantly, there’s Dunbar’s number, which is the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom you can maintain a stable social relationship. Depending on the individual that number is between 150 and 220. Social media like collaboration software helps to extend Dunbar’s number for many people and it breaks down the barriers set by geography, something that companies with more than one building have to cope with. Collaboration tools make no distinction between collaboration with someone down the hall, across the country or half way around the world.
The beauty and importance of collaboration and social software is that they break the limitations of human contact so the only question for me is why isn’t Yahoo — a pioneering Internet company — publicizing its uptake (we hope) of this new technology instead of moaning about this policy from the last ice age?
Is Collaboration Worth It? Yup!
Someone recently asked me why collaboration is important in the enterprise. To be specific, they were asking about the kind of collaboration that products like Yammer and Chatter enable. This collaboration consists of enabling people to share thoughts, ideas and micro news bits in a social context without the usual institutional overhead of email or a meeting. Collaboration more resembles Twitter than email and I suspect, but have not collected the data to prove it, that a typical collaboration emission is shorter than a tweet.
But the question got me thinking about other times and situations when the same kinds of questions were asked about the latest technology. No matter how the question is posed, the heart of it is frequently something like this: Are we wasting time and money doing this or is it the real deal?
It’s a fair question. We all live with limitations — so much time in a day, so much money in the budget and so many more demands on both that we can fulfill so what does a sane person do? Well, history might be a guide though it is not infallible.
Throughout my career the big theme has been converting the economy from one that manages and produces things to one that manages and produces ideas and information. We all know this and if we take a moment to consider it, this means our recent history is also about finding better, faster and less costly ways to share information.
I compiled the attached table from data served up by the World Bank.
|Year||US GDP (Trillions)|
It shows the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by selected years, which I picked for specific reasons. In 1975, we were in the early days of the mini-computer revolution and GDP was a healthy $1.623 trillion, a lot of money to be sure but puny in comparison to things to come. Ten years later GDP had jumped about two and a half times to $4.185.
That’s because by 1985 we were enjoying the benefits of not only minis but desktops. During those days I can distinctly recall people asking if it was really necessary to have a computer or terminal on every desk top. That was about the era when company phone systems became popular and just about every company had bought a fax machine. The phone system replaced those awful black receivers with multiple lines and made it possible to forward calls, have three way calling and whoa! voice mail. No more coming back from lunch to pick up those cute little pink messages. Phone, fax and computer formed a powerful trio for information sharing.
By 1995 GDP had grown again nearly doubling to $7.359 trillion. I remember economists like Alan Greenspan trying to explain what was going on in the economy. Testifying before congress they looked like C students who were trying to explain why they were suddenly getting A’s in Physics. That’s because by 1995 the economy was growing like a proverbial weed but in a different way than anyone had witnessed before. The economy was growing with little inflation, the amount of work produced by the average worker was climbing without any noticeable additional input of capital. That’s called productivity and we were better at it than anyone else who had ever lived on the planet. The productivity was driven by our new technologies.
The bigger the economic number the harder it is to double but by 2005 with the evolution of the Internet well under way the U.S. still managed a very healthy $12.58 trillion GDP. And even with a recession and an unnecessary financial economy meltdown driven by stupidity, by 2009 U.S. GDP was a lofty $14.119 trillion.
So when people ask me about the goals and measures they should apply to tools that get information to employees so that they can work better and smarter I am tempted to say something flip. The truth is that the improvements we all crave in business are accretive — they build up over time. You might not even notice an improvement in the first year but you will.
A better question might be, is social media within the enterprise the real deal? And I think that answer is yes. It’s yes because it follows in a long line of tools that have enabled us to work with information in surprising and creative ways and those ways have spurred significant economic growth over more than thirty years.
There are names for this like paradigm shift and names for the people and companies that make the change. Some are called early adopters others are laggards and where you come down in all of this determines how much benefit you receive from the transition. Be early to the party and you reap rewards that are disproportionate your meager investment. Arrive late and you are at best playing catch-up.
The Case for Massive Collaboration
Sometimes I feel like we’re stuck in the weeds with Social CRM. Hopefully I will get a lot of mail for this, LOL!
No, really. Sometimes I feel like we’re missing the bigger point of social CRM because we’re spending so many brain cells focusing on the technology and not so much on what it does beyond the basics.
I know, there are plenty of examples of analyses that say what a wonderful job social media does in connecting everyone or improving the customer experience, but the discussion tends to stop there. If it went on, which I admit it sometimes does, it would talk about the wonderful reasons for caring to connect everyone, namely the opportunity for mass collaboration.
I have been guilty of coming from the other direction for a long time and talking almost exclusively about mass collaboration. Neither has been terribly useful IMHO though the technology approach at least got a lot of people to try it out while the mass collaboration approach is known to a smaller group of technology aficionados.
The “Gee isn’t this cool technology” approach is a phase but so is the other. Cool technology launches early adopters and who is to say they’re wrong? They are the folks who actually come up with the practical applications for a technology that guys like me write about. We’ve been in the cool technology phase for a while now with Social and perhaps that time has been extended by the recession. Fewer companies are willing to take on something that has little track record when the name of the game is revenue.
Perhaps that’s why I am becoming such a fan of Chatter from Salesforce. It’s not a perfect product, but for something so new it commands a lot of attention. It’s often compared to Twitter or Facebook but for the enterprise. Not a bad strategy for a new category—compare it to something that is popular—but the comparison leaves Chatter at a disadvantage because it’s more than that.
While Facebook and Twitter enable a certain kind of mass collaboration, it’s all personal—you and your friends massively collaborating about things tangential to or part of your life, pretty much. Chatter does the same thing but if we leave the discussion here, we miss much. In a business context massive collaboration has an output associated with it called co-creation of value.
Co-creation of value is most commonly surfaced when we talk about interactions with customers that surface unmet needs and desires. But the massive collaboration within an enterprise can be just as powerful if it surfaces needs that exist in the moment and if those needs can be communicated to all those who have a stake in a customer outcome.
Salesforce’s approach to capturing input through social media in ways that can be monetized goes deeper than Chatter to the Sales Cloud and the Service Cloud. In their own ways, these tools capture input from sales people and customers respectively that can do much more than trade information about personal matters. They all create some form of intellectual property that is of value to the organization.
This is all a long way from being “like” Facebook or Twitter and it’s a dividing line between social media for personal use and social media for corporate use and that’s why I say Chatter is a new category.
Even more important than figuring this out—I am sure you already did, I am just slow—is that for social CRM to be an important attribute leading us out of the recession, it has to be able to show an ROI and I think this is how you do it. Massive collaboration leads to unique intellectual property. What could be better?
Well, have you seen at gas prices lately? They jumped twenty cents at the beginning of October in my neighborhood and they were already in nosebleed territory when I was in San Francisco for Open World. Four bucks a gallon was a contributor to the recession and we’re getting back to that range now.
That price won’t stop people from driving totally but the Transportation Department did note that we drove 122 billion miles less in the year when gas prices spiked, so it had some effect on business. Add to that jet fuel prices synch with gasoline and you get some worrying signs.
If we’re heading toward costly transportation in the near future, we’ll need some help replacing transportation with the next best thing. To my mind that isn’t massive adoption of Skype video calls, though that’s a good idea too. To me the no-brainer is enabling massive collaboration throughout your shop.
I just wanted to share this with you—and I do not own any Salesforce stock by the way (NYSE:CRM).