Terrible Combo: “Old-Fashioned Bosses, Newfangled Computers”

MIT Sloan’s Andrew McAfee, speaking at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, says that old-fashioned bosses with hot new computers equal a nightmare scenario.

Enterprise 2.0, “the term for the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email” (definition from here), faces two big threats, says MIT Sloan’s Andrew McAfee: “old-fashioned bosses and newfangled computers”:

“I spend a fair amount of time talking to managers inside enterprises, and I get the impression that a decent percentage of them hear [how Enterprise 2.0 works and how powerful it is], and whether or not they state it, they don’t quite like what they hear.

Their vision of how work should happen in the enterprise is, ‘let’s not have a networked enterprise, let’s have a row-and-column enterprise, a grid enterprise, where people are sitting there at their work stations, with their heads down, getting work done all day every day, not really forming communities and having voices, but just cranking out the work.’”

McAfee made his comments at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston last month.

His nightmare vision of the future, he continued, is that old-fashioned bosses, coupled with offices full of powerful computers, will want to seize new technology but with only the most narrow of visions. “People will be writing their reports, talking to their bosses, generating content in that ancient mode that makes me as an old-fashioned boss happy, and I’ll think, ‘voila, I’m going to stick this new flavor of super computer on top of it, and meaning with come out of it; I’ll be able to ask that super computer questions and get good answers out of it.’”

How can that nightmare be headed off?

“I would say we need to concentrate on the kinds of questions computers are still lousy at,” said McAfee, a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management. Questions like What do our customers want next? And Why has our growth slowed? These questions require creativity, they require conversation, they require interaction.

You can listen to McAfee’s entire 16-minute presentation here. He first gives an overview of developments around Enterprise 2.0 over the last five years, and then (at about 06:30) begins his discussion of the threats.

McAfee’s trailblazing piece “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration” was published by MIT Sloan Management Review in April, 2006. It’s currently free in our archives for anyone to read, for a limited time.

1 Comment On: Terrible Combo: “Old-Fashioned Bosses, Newfangled Computers”

  • Virtual Offices Changing the Ways Businesses Work | Grasshopper Blog | September 22, 2011

    […] and new methods is another formidable task. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, McAfee warned of “old-fashioned bosses and newfangled computers.” These managers don’t appreciate Enterprise 2.0 solutions at all, wanting work done the […]

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