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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Hugh McLeod writes a hopeful piece about the future of corporate blogging:

We want the corporate tipping point to arrive for two main reasons:

1. It validates those of us who got in there early … in the belief that this new medium was the future.
2. When the corporate-mainstream world finally “gets it”, we expect a floodgate of demand from businesses to open for people like us – people who can blog properly, who have a reputation in this sphere, who can steer these wealthy companies down the strange path of this brave new world. Hello, Gravy Train. Hello, being able to make a living doing what you love, for a change.

The tipping point will arrive when two things happen:

1. When the bosses are assured that it actually works, that the return on investment is solid and measurable.
2. When the bosses are assured that blogging won’t open a whole can of worms, that companies won’t lose their grip on being able to make a buck for their shareholders.

GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS, THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.

The idea that blogs have no ROI is ridiculous. The real issue is about whose territory do blogs encroach on.

There’s two things about which I’ll happily admit utter ignorance: the business model of advertising and how to measure ROI on blogs. Despite my ignorance and despite my deep appreciation of Hugh’s ideas – I think there is one important point Hugh didn’t include. Of course he didn’t have to include it. He wasn’t writing a thesis on this stuff – but I think its key to understanding the nature of the corporate blogging opportunity:

While Hugh did recognize that blogs were first run by folks that saw the potential for blogs early – the mavericks – he didn’t say how long the Gravy Train would run.

A quick look at the history of mavericks suggests this train’s going to be about two box-cars long. The cycle between innovation and common practice is becoming ever shorter. As a result, the skills required to exploit rapidly emerging and rapidly exploited niches are ever more important.

Seeing a niche early – as in blogging first – is one skill. Exploiting the niche is different. And while Hugh might be on the right track, many bloggers haven’t a clue how to exploit blogging when it reaches the corporate tipping point.

Hugh, two questions:

What skills are needed to exploit the gravy train when it rolls? Not the “how-to-be-creative” skills you so eloquently describe – the exploitation skills and the power brokering skills you have just begun to discuss.

How long is the train? How big is the window? With more than 6 million blogs out there, could the train have already slipped by?

Commentary

I may not understand completely .. I think you are spot-on in suggesting that the cycle between innovation and common practice has been shortening constantly (more tha acknowledged due to the “save” button, imo ;-)

But … the interesting thing about blogs in corporate settings is a structural one, or at least subjectto the MclUhan/Churchill/various architects attributed aphorism … ‘first, we shape our tools/structures, thereafter, our tools/structures shape us’

There are so many legacy systems and processes inplace in corps to maintain power and control, even as much of the changes in the workplace over the past ten years have been seeking to mitigate or diminish the effects of the changing impacts of the “knowledge is power” equation … there’s still an over-emphasis or reliance on job evaluation, outdated compensation practices, crappy and demeaning performance management processes and practices, ego-driven senior managers and execs, etc., etc … why are coaching and leadership development such big businesses ? i’ve said befor that I believe 90% of what is sought (supposedly) by leadership development and flexible, responsive culture change initiatives in corporations could be accomplished by a healthy and sensible introduction of purpose-driven blogging into a company at points of leverage … where open voice and honesty, even if it ain’t pretty, are tolerated if not accepted/embraced .. and at a significantly reduced cost to the fees of the high-profile consultants .. the brands .. that many organizations like to buy.

Ever seen http://www.huhcorp.com ?

First, my meaning: When there’s unanimous agreement that an opportunity exists, that usually means its already gone.

We all seem to pat ourselves on the back that we’re bloggers. While we are patting ourselves, I bet someone else is taking our opportunities. I was wondering if Hugh, or you, thought that might be true.

Now, about huh? corp. Satire on advice giving or consulting always puts me on the verge of abandoning this kind of blog. It’s so easy to slip into that kind of rut – flashy, useless advice.

But, on the other hand, people can’t know everything. There are sure to be somethings I know that you don’t. I guess the trick is to share with deep humility and honesty. That’s difficult. Mostly because it takes some much time – and humility and honesty.

Jon, you’re on a bit of a tear here and in your other comments. You’re frustrated. I don’t blame you.

Question is, what to do about it. We can point out the flaws or we can start building alternatives. This is why I keep up the blog and continue to explore options.

We will make a difference by being the things we rave about. If you’ve got pointers on how I and sift can be closer to the things I write about here: Would love to hear it.

Glad you popped by Jon. Btw – your principles on wirearchy are a move forward.

We need clearly articulated principles.

Question is, what to do about it. We can point out the flaws or we can start building alternatives. This is why I keep up the blog and continue to explore options.

Yup .. and why I keep blogging, too … pointing out, and spreading more general awareness of th major structural flaws, obsolescence for nesw conditions and necessary engagemnet and changes in social behaviour are fundamental precursors tomoving into *action* on some scale larger than just providing somehow for oneself.

Many people are fond of bashing or at least persistent skepticism about blogging … but let’s wind back and look at the last five years and try to imagine what the general landscape, at least here in North America, might look like without blogging. And what it might look like 5 years from now with the basic assumption that blogging will continue to grwo, find traction in more purposeful points of leverage, and devlop more sophisticated AND easy to use capabilities. Interesting exercise, no ? *wirearchy*, anyone ? ;-)

I hope you don’t think I’m a blog skeptic. Maybe a blog realist – but I doubt I’m even that hardened.

I’m most interested in a real assessment of the forward opportunities with blogs. None of the rah-rah blog garbage. Just the real meat; the market evolution.

I think more precision is in order. And not because I’m an economist. More because I love the debate and a good one requires rigorous use of words.

I suspect I’m atthe opposite end of things … liking less precision, more fuzziness, more *humanity*, if you will … both in blogging and in business and organizations … in many ways. The chase and race for efficiency, for order and precision mixed in with fundamental assumptions that growth is good have not always been benficial to humans, nor the planet … why would those concepts and others necessarily improve the use of blogging in buisiness or organized activity. I think one of the reasons blogging *seems* to hold so much promise for marketing words of mouths, and for effective PR (public resources pointed to, instead of public relations imposed upon)is its fuzziness, warmth, humanness.

So … precision … you state that there are more than 6 million blogs. Is that in canada, or North America, or NA and Europe, or does thatinclude Asia, Africa, Australia ? Andy Lark keynoted this big blogging whoop-te-doo down in Napa valley two weeks ago, and one of his slides states that there are more than 34 million blogs now in the world (and surely that counts every account that’s ever been opened, I imagine ;-). At any rate, he’s got a deck of slides that is very good on the subject of blogging in purposeful ways and business areas … hang on a sec, I’ll go find the link (I have the pdf and would email it to you, but for some reason my email doesn’t like sending this particular pdf).

here ya go … http://andylark.blogs.com/andylark/2005/01/newcomm_forum_k.html

the first 5 – 10 slides are I think, examples of the early fumbling, stumbling attempts … the pre-cursors of blogs, if you will (I’m not sure, I didn’t attend .. but that’s all I can interpret from them)

I’m just about to contradict myself .. who was it that said … very well then, i contradict myself … Oscar Wilde, I think.

On the way outta here, I noticed an important precision .. which I only half kept in mind in the above comment .. that the *ground* (the context, a la McLuhan) is blogging in corporate-land. And so I understand your desire for meat … that’s all that corporate people ever say they want … there’s been so much time spent talking about staying focused on results over the years ;-)

I think I think that one of the real uses of blogs in corporations is to de-rigidify the extremely persistent less-than-useful aspects of structure, and to introduce real change towards flexibility and useful flows of information … flows that are hapening now by email or on intranets, just that blogs are easier and more user-friendly …. I think one of the main reasons they haven’t been used is unfamiliarity coupled with the general perception that they are online diaries, and of course you wouldn’t bring your diary to work and pass it around … too much personal info and a big waste of everyone’s time …. Rather, I’m guessing that as more and more people realize it’s just publishing content to a destination made more user-friendly, shapes that are useful and purposes where *blogging* represents one of the most effective approaches will keep on popping out of the woodwork.

The real challenges in organizations are cultural, in terms of *opening up*, and this is what i was citing earlier, where millions are spent on leadership development – mainly to get leaders to listen more effectively – and on working towards more open, authentic and flexible, learning-oriented cultures … which *blogs* and *blogging* would clearly address effectively … and in spades !

Wait. Wait.

This just ballooned.

Hugh wrote about the corporate tipping point. He said it would roll when bosses are assured that it actually works and that companies will be able to make a buck for their shareholders.

It was in the real assessment of the forward opportunities with blogs that I expressed interest: the real meat. It was in this expression of opportunity that I sought precision.

You really think a direct result of efficiency, order, and precision (mixed in with fundamental assumptions that growth is good) is the cause of human and planetary problems? Or perhaps just fundamental assumptions that growth is good? I’d find it easier to argue the latter than the first.

Precision doesn’t get you global warming. But it might get you a solution for global warming.

Now, I think you understand all this stuff better than I. I’m delighted to admit that. And I agree that one of the real uses of blogs in corporations is to de-rigidify flows of information. I also understand what you and Hugh are saying organizational cultural and the general fear of opening up. But I work in an organization with more than 5,000 people. What, precisely, would we do with 5,000 blogs?

See, I’m not saying I don’t get the benefits of a blog. But it’s not clear what a mountain of blogs in a single company will render other than 5,000 monologues, 25 A-list writers, and more pressure on the servers.
You, Hugh, and others (including me sometimes) think that just blogging is a giant step forward. That’s because we all read the blogs of fairly intelligent people that seek an intelligent conversation. But 5 minutes in the can at work would tell you that 98% of the 5,000 blogs are going to be plain rotten.

I understand that we’re all working up. This hasn’t arrived yet. The frontline is still fuzzy. But Hugh said the gravy train was here.

Btw – 6 million blogs. Got that from you and your Technorati countdown.

Thanks for the co-thinking through this …

yes, technorati is tracking 6 million plus blogs .. it just happens to be the most convenient AND most recognized marker .. and i posted that before I learned from Andy’s presentation that there were (many) more .. and then in a hallway conversation with Anil Dash of Typepad, which just acquired LiveJournal, I learned that Anil thinks there are at least 10, but more likely 12-15 million active blogs in the blogging friendly countries (USA, #2 Brazil, Canada, UK, and let’s lump the Middle East and Asia and Australia all together .. no one seems to know a whole lot about Africa or the rest of south America). Anyway. let’s agree that there’s a whole bunch, and that the phenomenon continues to grow rapidly ?

I agree wholeheartedly .. and then some .. with the general statement that there will be a lot of rotten blogs, if a corp were to set loose a mountain of them, and have at it, folks. I’ve always believed that would be like giving everyone at the bar lots of colored markers and saying .. the washrooms are yours .. go for it .. no doubt we’d see the worst of human nature pop out willingly, as well as some real gems of insight, cynicism and whatever other kinds of philosophy and practical advice we tend to find on the walls of bathroom stalls.

I’ve assumed (in my own head) but admittedly often glossed over, very important details .. if I were going to introduce blogs and blogging into a corporation, or were going to consult about doing the same, I would treat it as a strategic organizational development and organizational change initiative. But .. and imo this is important, in my worldview and beliefs about effective, sustainable people and process development in a company context .. I’d use paricipatory work design principles after *designing* a pilot project or two. And those pilots would be undertaken with clear purposes, objectives and measurement … now, let’s assume that the pilot works, and we wanted to continue on and extract more value, for the *whole system*, from blogging ….

I’d then consider using blogs in an intelligently architected way .. and what I mean by participatory work design principles is that I would involve significant parts of the workforce in a dialogue first about what they are, why we (Corp X) is considering using them, what Corp X would like to see but with the continuously reinforced principle that this is about the use and embrace of authentic AND respoonsible human voice, etc., etc.

In a corp of 5,000 I’m taking a wild-assed guess that there might end up at some point after it becomes acknowledged as useful somewhere between 100 and 300, blogs, i dunno … maybe only 3 or 4 .. depends upon what used for and why, i think.

I think there’s a bunch of really good stuff on Corporate blogging – the presentations from the Summit I attended in Seattle – at http://blogbusinesssummit.com

This is where the book idea, blank pages dig was supposed to go. Not nearly as polite and witty in the other spot.

This, Jon, is great. This is precision. And, as predicted, the planet survived the night and we are well on our way toward progress (where progress does not necessarily mean growth).

The “how and why” part near the end is, of course, the clincher. It is the ability to clearly articulate the how and why that will resolve the tipping point.

You’ve outlined the how. Hugh talked about ROI, that is the why.

To measure ROI you get up a blog with 3 to 4 good lines running and 300 to 400 people playing. Two things quickly begin to stand out.

First, this isn’t lots different than how the work is already being done (3-4 frontrunners, 200-300 heavy-hitters, and the rest milling around writing graffiti on the walls).

Second, as someone said in a recent comment at gapingvoid, blogs are an extremely inefficient means to distribute good ideas or concise information (ie. Seth Godin says that of the entire 2004 posting year he had 24 really good posts).

Measuring ROI for a blog seems like it will be a chore. Right?

Blogging really seems to have a niche in the marketing, human voice, and relations areas. Are there other areas they deliver well in?

You know there’s two things that I always forget when discussing new ideas. First, the speed of idea spread. Second, the transition from new idea to implemented time lag.

A new idea for you or I related to blogging, entrpreneurism, or wirearchy will likely only be known and discussed by 1% or less of the world’s population. By the time we think its old, less than 15% of the population will know it and discuss it intelligently. By the time it tips – maybe 35% know it.

The time from 1% to 35% can still be as long as three years.

The resolve and persistence required to concieve, implement, and distribute an application based on that idea is nearly inhumane.

All that to say – I often discount the value of new ideas too quickly thinking they are already exploited.

One of the many interesting ideas you bring up is the architecture of blogging. I’ll post about it later today.

I agree with your points, Jeremy. Two specific things come to mind … the first is my admiration and ongoing “use” of the thinking and writing of a guy I think is a consistently brilliant business thinker, Stan Davis. In a book written 17 years ago, Future perfect, he sussed out most of what’s only beginning to be understood as perhaps ap[proaching mainstream today – the de-mattering effects of an information-based economy, mass customization, and the changing relationships of time and space enabled or created by interconnectedness. His thinking and writing was instrumental in my thinking re: wirearchy. At the end of Chapter 3 of that book, he noted that he believed that with respect to the ubiquitous presence of IT and interconnectedness in our lives, and thus a new step-level experience of, for and by all of us regarding network dynamic, there would come to be some overarching principle that would encompass bot network dynamics and hierarchy – that it was a both/and world wrt the organization and governance that would eventuate. (whew, long sentence – sorry). What also I noticed was that he suggested it would take 30 – 50 years.

The second thing – that was around the time i started trying to discipline myself to think in longer arcs of time .. rather than just being reasonably smart and analytic and analyzing everything in terms of what it was or did now and in the next two or three months going forward. Which is what I believe many people do … overestimate the impacts in the short term, because of all the details, established practices and structure that now exists, and understimate the impacts in the longer term, because of the compound effects and accumulated, scaffolded meaning and small changes that build up. Or as some wag once said (actually a friend of mine at the McGill biz school) it takes a long time for chqange to happen quickly ;-)