Close to the tipping point?

It’s a Friday afternoon and there’s this big web conference, Remix UK, going down in Brighton. Sadly, I’m stuck at my desk in London, battling a backlog. But I get to watch the conference back-chat on Twitter: half the people I follow seem to have defected to the seaside for the day.

Around 5pm a tweet from James Governor comes in, saying he’s just had a nice glass of wine with a great guy called Stewart Mader. Now if James recommends someone or something, they (it?) is probably worth looking into. So I click on the link James gives and find Stewart’s website. Looks interesting, so I message him.

And that’s how Stewart and I come to be here, chatting on Skype, a couple of Fridays later.

It turns out consulting is Stewart’s second career. He once was a chemist, but got sidetracked:

“I was lecturing at the University of Hartford; we put our curriculum on the web and told people about it. They sent so many suggestions and changes, the [web]site became a bottleneck. I started looking around for some way to open it up and I stumbled upon wikis. I put one up as an experiment. Within a few months the html site was gone and everything was on the wiki.”

That was back in 2002, now Stewart runs a company called “Grow Your Wiki” which helps clients (the majority of them Fortune 500 companies) navigate their ways through the potentially murky waters of corporate social media.

The issues Stewart comes across are “social, cultural and generational”. He defines his key concerns as follows:

    1. For people who’ve worked in organisations for a decade or more, they think ‘oh there’s this army of [younger] tech savvy people coming in’ and, for that older generation, they find they don’t pick up the tools so easily so you get a fair amount of fear and frustration. One of the things I like to do is champion mutual mentoring. So you get the older person with the wealth of experience about the organisation, and the younger person with the technical knowhow, and they help each other.

    2. Employees hear all the popular cultural obsessions around Wikipedia and become concerned about all wikis being a free-wheeling anarchic mess. I have a very complex opinion of Wikipedia – it’s created a massive misconception around what a wiki can be. Wikipedia is totally open, with no security around it. People look at Wikipedia and think they don’t want that within their organisation. But wiki use inside an organisation and Wikipedia are two completely separate worlds. Giving concrete examples of wikis that work inside organisations makes a lot of difference.

    3. Rank and file employees are often afraid that if they put all their knowledge into a wiki, they won’t be needed any more but the opposite is true. If you hold onto your knowledge, all you are is an overpaid security guard. Once you start sharing your knowledge and collaborating with other people you become more valuable to your company. You’re more likely to have your job outsourced when you’re not contributing knowledge.

    4. Senior management is largely changing right now. At Enterprise 2.0 in Boston there were a number of senior execs (Wachovia, CIA, IBM, SAP, Chevron, University of Helsinki) talking of the promotion of web 2.0 throughout their companies. The embracing of tools is there. The question is not should we use these but how can we optimise these? Two years ago it was different. I think we’re close to a tipping point.

    5. Cultural change is necessary. The ideal is to run a pilot with a group of employees and pass on lessons from that. Successful wiki adoption happens at the lunch table. If you chat to a guy you have lunch with every day and he talks about using the wiki and says ‘meetings are shorter, we’re getting more done’, that creates real change.

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