Thursday, June 08, 2006

Turn Your Organization Into a Virtual Community

It was a beautiful afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area a couple weeks ago and the St. Louis Cardinals were in town for a series with the Giants. On the spur of the moment, I decided to go to the game that evening with my son—but I wanted to find two excellent seats near third base at a fair (that is, close to face value) price right away.

Not long ago, my desire would have been delusional. But thanks to craigslist (, I was easily able to locate a season ticket holder who wanted to unload two third base seats at face value at the last moment. Best of all, I chose someone who lived ten miles from me. We agreed to meet at a parking lot off the freeway. I gave this complete stranger $70 in cash, he gave me two prized tickets, and my son and I headed to AT&T Park to see Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds.

My point is not to bore you with baseball stories, but to suggest that an extraordinary new phenomenon is rapidly emerging. Sites like craigslist, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, and TagWorld are innovative avenues that allow people to find others, to connect with others, to learn about others, to learn from others, to enjoy each other, and to share data and photos and dreams and experiences with others. MySpace alone boasts an incredible 72 million members around the world who selectively interact with each other in a transparent, boundariless and real-time environment .

Why is this important? Because nowadays, companies that want to succeed will have to create that sort of environment for their own employees. And most of them don’t. While the technology exists that lets me quickly locate someone for a mutually beneficial exchange of baseball tickets, employees in most organizations regularly bump into rigid boundaries and opaque cultures that keep them separate from information and from each other. How easily and quickly can a given employee access whatever unfiltered, unedited financial or customer data that he needs? How easily and quickly can she locate the exact person within the organization who has the exact “match” of expertise and interests that she needs. And do these employees find it exciting, and fun, to do this?

Think about it. All this stuff happens every day at MySpace and craigslist and eBay. Now consider your own organization. How easy and fun is it for Employee A to post data, opinions, feedback, analysis, updates, questions, interests, passions and expertise on an internal corporate website—and how easy and fun is it for Employee B who might want that “stuff” to easily sift through the virtual, cataloged organizational community and find, then connect, with Employee A, regardless of Employee A’s rank, function, or location?

Of course, you don't want to create a work environment where employees are mindlessly surfing the web all day just "for fun". But consider the possibilities of an attractive, well-lubed, transparent, fully functional, utilitarian web-based platform that allows people to find whoever and whatever they need to get things done in a newer, better way. Let me repharase that: If you want to predict tomorrow’s winners, bet on those organizations that can provide both the technology and the culture to generate a friction-free virtual community—a community that allows people to quickly pool talent and knowledge for innovative problem-solving and commercial breakthroughs. And one more thing: imagine extending that community to customers. Talk about turbo-charging R&D, customer loyalty, and brand equity!

The trend for virtual community is already happening, but is it happening in your organization?


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