Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Mon Nov 10th 2008 at 8:37am UTC

Technology, the Workplace, and Obama’s Example

Rapidly improving and expanding network computer technology is a key reason why workplaces today are shifting fast toward more mobile and flexible environments. Reflecting upon events of the past week, I think there is another massive revolution in workplaces still to come.

The Obama campaign demonstrated the potential of computer-facilitated personal networks to bring about change. Through Facebook and MySpace, along with websites like YouTube, supporters connected with independents and people who were potential supporters, creating a viral-like marketing campaign. People found numerous different ways to connect and spread a message. Obama rode this 21st-century communications revolution to victory – it was not a machine to build and control, but rather energy and ideas to harness.

As corporations relax their rules about “who can be doing what on their work machine when,” a new generation might just use the myriad communications options available to do something fantastic. When corporations “let go” they might find they can hitch themselves to something amazing.

Imagine a global corporation – maybe a software company or an accounting-consulting firm – in which people at all levels and positions could interconnect and network together, and then solve problems together. A company with an internal intranet containing an internal Facebook, blogs, work logs, etc. fully searchable by anyone else in the company. Perhaps employees anywhere in the world could connect in any way they needed to: video conference instantly from their laptops, or leave video messages for each other.

If all the talent in the company could connect easily, that could bring enormous innovation acceleration. Problem solving could be far more efficient. Maybe David in the office in Singapore has already solved a problem now facing new person Carly in the office in Boston? What if Carly could type in a few key words and learn that David dealt with the same issues last month?

While I’ve heard of companies trying to better connect their workforces through intranet applications, I haven’t heard of too many turning all or most of the process over to all employees, especially the younger generation (but please comment and tell me who is doing this if you know).

The first company that achieves this extreme interconnectivity would instantly have tremendous leverage against competitors from an enormous boost in productivity and innovation.

Obama was the first major politician to grasp the potential, and harness the power, of youth and technology – and just look at how far ahead it put him. He left the best late-20th century political machine in the dust (the Clinton camp) and made McCain look like a relic of the 1950s.

10 Responses to “Technology, the Workplace, and Obama’s Example”

  1. David J. Miller Says:

    I guess the real question to me is, will larger companies leave it to individuals to use their personal social networks (via facebook, linkedin, alumni sites, etc) to solve company problems. ie, perhaps an employee is more open when they know they are representing their identity as a whole, not just David M. of XYZ Corporation? I see folks use linkedin and facebook quite frequently regarding their firms.

    This is the real tension, how much of myself as an employee am I going to give to XYZ Corporation. If you ask me to join internal networks then the network is not likely to get 100% of me. The actual percentage the XZY network gets will probably depends on age, amount of time with XYZ, and most importantly, my expectations about my future at XYZ.

    I think in the end, corporations are going to have to trust their employees to use their social networks (internet rolodexes)… Now hopefully, they can get as many employees as possible on those larger networks (perhaps through employee groups on sites such Facebook, etc.)…

    BTW, Howard Dean and his run in the 2004 primary should be getting more credit for Obama’s victory. They ran hard and out to an early lead using online donations and social networking sites — most notably meetup.com… I think he is still Chairman of the DNC…. lets give credit where it is due. he was nowhere near the ‘vehicle’ that Obama is, but he did the beta run and there is no doubt that Obama and his team learned from it.

  2. Elizabeth M Says:

    A bit of a digression, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the Obama administration manages its dissemination of political news. Rather than being at the mercy of the media and reporters’ interpretations, communication will come from the administration directly as they capitalize on Obama’s ability to be the first wired president, trumping mainstream media. Sounds refreshing.

  3. Matt Says:

    Support your speculation that Obama was the first to harness youth and technology. How about Dean in 2004 and McCain in 2000? Obama was far from the first to harness technology, youth, grassroots efforts, etc.

    One of the best last-20th century political machines must include the rise of the Republican Party in 1994 with Gingrich and the subsequent “taking” of the White House in 2000 and 2004. Eventually, the Republicans controlled all three branches of the government. Agree or disagree with ideals of the Republican Party, it was a substantial effort that worked in their favor. Of course it got all f***ed up with W.

  4. David J. Miller Says:

    UPDATE: HOWARD DEAN ANNOUNCES PLAN TO STEP DOWN AS CHAIRMAN….
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-11-10-dean-DNC_N.htm

    He was instrumental, as discussed above, in the Obama campaign and should be given much credit. Wonder what he is going to do next? Yeee Haaa!

  5. Wendy Says:

    Great comments. I’d forgotten about Dean and meetup.com, that did work, sort of. But, there is one key difference: Obama is President Elect, Dean failed in his bid for the democratic nomination.

    I should have phrased it as Obama “successfully” harnessed the new social networking technologies. Everyone is correct to point out the continuity thread and lessons learned, however.

    David’s comments: contributing to an internal social network versus one’s full external networks. That will be the tough call for companies – you’re absolutely right.

    I think the “leader” corporations will let employees figure out how to do both, and use both internal and external networks. An internal intranet may be valuable for finding certain internal documents etc. without the “noise” of the internet and google searches pulling up other stuff.

    Letting go of control will be the key. Maybe supporting employees to build their own extrnal professional-social networks will yield more long-term dividends than not allowing it. One such benefit might be retention rates; another could be productivity and problem solving.

  6. Michael Wells Says:

    Another thing that made Obama successful was they didn’t just go after the facebook generation. I hate to be called at home and don’t want lots of extra e-mail, so I gave through the mail and crossed out my phone number on checks. My daughter gave on-line.

    The campaign never called me, responded to me by USPO mail. My daughter got e-mails. They met people wherever they were, segmented the market a hundred ways, gave us each what we wanted.

  7. Daniel Carins Says:

    Wendy,

    There was a great debate on the radio here in the UK last night. It was about experience its impacts on innovation. There were lots of points raised about diversity, creativity, technology and the workplace. I’m sure you’d be interested. It’s in two halves – the first is a discussion amongst a panel of four, the second half the audience is invited to ask questions. The first half is far more informative…

    You can listen to it again for up to seven days:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00fd40l

    Just click on “listen” when the page opens up.

  8. Wendy Waters Says:

    Thanks Daniel – It sounds great. I’ll try to make time to listen before they take it down.

  9. Bruno Says:

    Wendy,
    I’d felt you just read my mind. I think its only a matter of time for companies to adopt 2.0 and the facebook model to their own intranets. The question I have is:
    This ‘2.0 intranet’ will be at Internet, like a new domain in facebook offering their benefits to enterprises for making their intranets on it? Or it will be a local web package?
    If the question its de second, then we must start developing!

    regards,
    Bruno

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