A Fractal Perspective on Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

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is enterprise 2.0 fractal?

Whichever definition and/or paradigm we are trying to wrap Enterprise 2.0 in, whichever framework we are tempted to fit it in when boarding key departments from enterprise, one of the main challenges we, practitioners, are facing every day, is to find relevant patterns and routines to foster change and facilitate adoption among employees.

Involving marketing people is usually a matter of one-to-one education, accompanying them in the journey from “listening” to “adding value to your customers’ experience”. Implementing large scale collaborative tools require a different approach, usually a mix between selective evangelization and viral facilitation. But, how far does virality live up to its promises?

The downside of virality

Basically, virality relies on two pre-requisites: a propitious ground, whether it be a shared comprehension of the objectives or a strong sense of community, and a well-defined adoption program. If (and only if, remember that you cannot plan virality, you can at best sustain it) adoption takes off, most people will build their collaborative behavior from observation of a few early adopters or evangelists, triggering a lot of mimesis among participants. Paradoxally, successful viral adoption may lead to misuse of tools or misbehavior.

Early adopters and evangelists have to be carefully chosen to trigger the right behaviors among other people. Alas, the qualities involved in community activity are usually not the very same needed to drive adoption. Moreover, mimesis is often a blindfold, and, in most cases, people will not be able to discriminate a correct behavior, in accordance to their role, from the one induced by early adopters, before the late stage of adoption.

Not to say that virality is a useless factor in Enterprise 2.0 adoption, but in such a closed system, the expected exponential results of virality take the typical S-shape of an innovation adoption curve; the individuals able to induce a different behaviors to community members and to align community roles with business objectives might well be among late adopters, thus leaving a flock of users clueless about real value of Enterprise 2.0.

A fractal perspective

Businesses are complex, dynamic and non-linear systems. Interweaving social tools into such systems require much more than virality. Aligning collaborative practices with business objectives require new social processes to foster decision taking and emergence of consensus in non-deterministic way. At pilot or department level, 2.0 initiatives usually succeed due to the impulsion of a few individuals, but this kind of approach usually doesn’t scale well. Among factors to take into account are corporate culture, meaningful organizational patterns, interactions between every stage of the value chain,… and the need to provide individuals with empowering micro-processes.

From many points, Enterprise 2.0 structure might be helpfully viewed as a fractal structure: recognizable, scalable interaction patterns, instable equilibrium state, complex and quite unpredictable output. In this perspective, how could fractals help us facilitate adoption and maximize value?

  • Fractal patterns are scale-independent. Better than relying on early adopters and evangelists, we should try to enroll key actors (managers, facilitators, support functions…) as soon as possible, letting other employees arrange and model their interaction according to these pre-existing business patterns. “Setting clear objectives” is nothing else but implementing otherwise successful patterns into 2.0 initiatives.
  • This same scale invariance could help dealing with difficulties inherent to organizational change. Enterprise 2.0 adoption is not only taking what works at some level to evangelize broader initiatives. It is about implementing these same successful features at different level.
  • At individual level, the need for micro-processes, or social routines, is easily understood as requested by scale invariance. People should get, inside communities, the very same capabilities and roles the department they belong to has inside the company’s value chain.
  • Fractal systems are also characterized by existence of strange attractors, which maintain global equilibrium. Changing little parameters may lead to a totally different state. This is an interesting analogy with the management of internal communities. Raising the necessary consensus is not a role-based process, but rather a practice-based one, which positively accounts for more instability, thus more innovation.

Looking at Enterprise 2.0 adoption and value from a complex system perspective gives us interesting insights on the necessary culture shift to undertake and might provide us with a roadmap to successfully implement and scale initiatives while maximizing a company’s competitive advantages.

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5 Responses to A Fractal Perspective on Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

  1. autom says:

    what a great visual analogy to E2.0 adoption..to me the gist of your arguments point to organic modes of change. and by that i mean effecting change through positively disruptive techniques and allowing the natural course of synthesis to occur, be it in patterns of behaviour, adjusting cultural mindset, introducing disruptive elements that naturally *force* the individual or groups of individuals to rethink, reshape and redefine. i now see why you are leery of mimetic approaches and their effectiveness.

    this comment may risk sounding a tad pedantic. a tad..oh well, i do *get* where you’re coming from tho..bravo!

    • Thierry says:

      Yes Autom,
      for me it goes far beyond organic change. We have to take into account corporate cultures and years of organizational ans managerial ‘puckers’. Doing that requires much more disruption than virality might induce.
      Just a recent real life example: a company, which has heavy process-based customer support, wishing to ‘manage’ an internal technical community, to facilitate knowledge sharing and problem solving. Of course, similarity and homonimy of roles doesn’t mean they have a *community*, they would have to build one before managing it, but this is another story… Rather than guiding into community management, a better way is to show them how much their problem is similar, both in scope and in nature, as customer support, and to get them to rethink both parallely, driving the change both at a specific and a company-wide level, getting fractality into gear.

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  4. Jon Husband says:

    You may find this post I wrote about a year ago of interest re: E2.0 adoption, etc.

    Fractal Is As Fractal Does

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