Joke going around the office: Microsoft buys Yammer, renames it SharePoint Cloud Server 2012 Mobile Enterprise Social Networking Edition— Gene Smith (@gsmith) June 14, 2012
Within all of us there are two minds: the professional and the employee. Actually, there are probably many more but I am just going to talk about those two. On the one side, the professional is focused on his/her craft and building skills. Professionals are passionate about their discipline and look for ways to be creative and innovative. The professional seeks challenge and isn't afraid of failure. The employee side, however, is focused on his/her job as it has been defined: meeting expectations, following the rules, and other forms of job preservation/advancement. The employee side seeks comfort and safety. The employee avoids risk through routine. Innovation is limited to small optimizations of the status quo.
Both sides are important. You get dependability from the employee. You get excellence from the professional. Depending on the field, one aspect may dominate another. For example, in an unskilled field, the employee dominates the professional. The job is easy to learn, there is no career to build, and you are easily replaced. You show up on time, you do as you are told, and you go home. The best you can do is show yourself to be dependable and hope for a promotion to lead others in the tasks that you have learned. In a high skill job, like a doctor, the employee part is minimal. You see a lot of passion about the craft and much less interest in the details of employment. Doctors can easily shift from one practice to another but the focus is the same - solving challenging problems, contributing to the field of medicine, and delivering excellent patient care.
Why am I even talking about this esoteric decomposition of the human psyche? Because it has profound implications on knowledge management and Intranets. The thing is that advanced skill and knowledge are wrapped up in the professional side of the person and that side wants to interact with his/her field (inside and outside the company). It is far more rewarding to share brilliant insight on a large professional network than to a small group of co-workers. The few co-workers that are as passionate as the professional are probably already on that external professional network too.
This is why the knowledge management aspect of intranets (like blogging and micro-blogging and most wikis) tend to fail so often. The dream of using an Intranet as a catalyst to synthesize all of the great ideas trapped in the brains of an organization never is achieved. The professional's brilliance is drawn to a larger stage. The most successful bits of Intranet are the ones that serve the employee: the company directory, forms, and templates. Templates are the things that are most often passed off as knowledge but I would contend that they are more focused on routine and consistency than thinking and knowledge.
This is why I have such low expectations for the "Social Enterprise" solving knowledge management through tools like Yammer that emulate what is happening on the public web. The single reason for Twitter's success is its openness. With an open network like Twitter (or Google+), I can connect with a stranger on the other side of the world through the simple bond of being interested in the same thing. We can learn from each other and build off each others' ideas. Our motivation is our interest — the professionals within each of us. If you narrow down that pool to just the people you work with (a great percentage of whom are involved in totally different professions), the shared interests get fewer and much more mundane: holiday schedules, cafeteria menus, etc. This makes the value of content shared hardly worth the cost and effort of implementing these tools.
If the Social Enterprise is to work, I predict it will be on open networks that can also support private group channels. Personally, the network that I think comes the closest is Google+. Perhaps LinkedIn. I guess Facebook has the functionality but Facebook has become a place for the hyper-personal and that clashes too much with our professional contexts. I would love to hear about companies that are using public networks to connect employees. Perhaps this would be putting your social network links in your corporate directory profile or creating circles and lists for co-workers. Anyone doing anything cool? I ask this question to the professional in you.