Connecting the Dots in the Enterprise

Andrew McAfee’s new book looks at Enterprise 2.0 tools as a way to span organizational networks.

In a Spring 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review article, “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration,” Andrew McAfee first started to popularize the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe the use of Web 2.0 collaboration technologies such as wikis and blogs within organizations. McAfee, now a principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business, has since continued his research into business use of what he calls “emergent social software platforms,” which by now range from wikis and blogs to Facebook and Twitter.

McAfee recently wrote a new book called Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges (Harvard Business Press, 2009). MIT Sloan Management Review senior editor Martha E. Mangelsdorf spoke with McAfee about his book — and his latest thinking on Enterprise 2.0. Here are a few excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity.

In your new book, you write about how Enterprise 2.0 tools fit into social network theory — and about strong ties, weak ties and people we don’t have ties with at all. Can you say more about that?

The book’s discussion of social network analysis grew out of a frustration I had trying to explain why managers should be interested in Facebook. When I started using Facebook, I realized it was a powerful tool for business purposes, but I couldn’t communicate that well to executive audiences. So I was really frustrated — and then I realized that, when I was a doctoral student, I’d read a wonderful paper by Mark Granovetter,“The Strength of Weak Ties,”that actually provided a great way to explain the benefits of tools like Facebook.

The paper is really counterintuitive. We rely very closely on our strong ties — our close colleagues. But Granovetter emphasized that if we want novelty and innovation, our weak ties, or our more distant colleagues and acquaintances, are actually the place to go first, because they have by definition less overlap with our knowledge base and our social network. Weak ties are hugely valuable.

There’s also another great body of social network literature that talks about the tragedy of not having a tie at all. That’s what happens when social networks are isolated from each other — and there’s what’s called a structural hole between them.

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4 Comments On: Connecting the Dots in the Enterprise

  • Andrew Goddard | January 3, 2011

    I think this shows the real challenge facing governments and their agencies in the coming years. The Wikileaks saga shows that this exchange of information, even when classified as secret, can be spilled out into the public domain.
    At the same time these agencies need to exchange their information to fight their foes who are seemingly happy to use these tools.
    An exciting few years ahead I believe.

  • Alice Newton | January 10, 2011

    Interesting that such conservative and security conscious organizations seem to be adopting these Enterprise 2.0 tools in spite of the risk. As Andrew commented it’s a very interesting time in which we live and it could get a lot more interesting depending on the content of the yet to be released Wikileaks.

  • Sean Cavanaugh | August 12, 2011

    The power of social networks in today’s business is an obvious and highly impactful. Using these Enterprise 2.0 tools is highly useful as we have seen with Facebook Fan Pages.

    This is no different than referrals in the off line world. My painting business has thrived for years off of referrals. Not just customers referring clients, but those friends referring their friends without even becoming clients themselves. Thus showing the importance of weak ties.

  • Steve Abente | October 11, 2011

    It’s clear that Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 tools are vital to the survival of companies today. I can’t name a major company that does not use Facebook or Twitter as a tool to communicate with customers.

    I’ve even heard of airline passengers rebooking their flight while still in air using Twitter when they heard an announcement saying they would not be able to make their connecting flight.

    Blogs and other Web 2.0 tools are here to stay.

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