IBMer, Ethan McCarty, w3 Editor-in-Chief
Ethan McCarty came to IBM from the ranks of Web journalism. Following two years as Web Editor for IBM Research, he moved to CHQ where he managed the IBM Press Room and worked on projects such as IBM’s Annual Report to Shareholders and concocting policy and applications around Web 2.0 stuff. He now serves as Editor in Chief of w3, IBM’s Intranet.
Funny thing about the word "network" that always appealed to me – seems to have the whole gist of its meaning wrapped up in its two compound parts, "net" and "work."
A "net" is something we get wrapped up in or use to ensnare others. Its come to mean the links between stashes of knowledge (as in, I read it on the Net) and it can also mean brief (though I always find it silly when people say "give me the net net" instead of just saying "give me the net" because, you know, the extra "net" is, uh, extra.)
And then that other half comes around – "work." Networking is not just for work. You have a social network, a spiritual network…heck, there are even sports and comedy networks. But if there’s one thing that links them all (aside from the net, of course), it’s that they all require work to sustain.
A few years ago I ran an internal Intranet site designed to help people in IBM’s Communications profession collaborate. But it was a bit of a schizophrenic site. On the one hand, it was meant to share information. On the other hand, it had to be super secret and secure. But with the strength of IBM’s great applications developers, we managed to make a tool that could meet our needs. We built the awesome tool at great expense and opened it up for use…and nothing happened!
That’s right, hardly anyone actually contributed to it despite the fact that it was pretty easy to use and had all kinds of bells and whistles. And folks, we are talking about years ahead of wikis!
I’ve thought a lot about why it didn’t work. Partly it was just ahead of its time – people still thought of web publishing in the same way they thought of print publishing: intractable, untargeted and permanent. Partly, the lack of pick up could be attributed to the culture (or is it just human nature?) in the organization. See, in my conversations with people when I was promoting the usage of the site I learned something very interesting about power. (Warning: major generalizations ahead.)
People tend to think that they can accumulate power by creating something powerful and leveraging it for their own advantage. Much of the history of human kind has worked this way, so you can’t really blame us for thinking this way. For example, if you create a new weapon – say, attaching a bit of flint on the tip of a spear – you can then use it to your advantage by hunting for yourself or defending yourself with it. Makes a certain amount of sense, right?
But where that model starts to break down is when you enter the era of knowledge work instead of physical work. In my humble view, it seems like if I create something powerful and give it away, my personal power increases. So for example, if I create a great set of charts, or a list of key people, or a library of digital images etc, it’s only as useful as the number of intelligent purposes that benefit from it. And those intelligent purposes begin to multiply outrageously quickly when more people get involved.
So what’s my point here? I guess if we’re going to make the net work, we have to get together and do it. Stare it down. Don’t blink. Get involved. Your participation can’t be delegated. You can ask the intern to do it for you, but then you’ve just multiplied her power a thousand fold and diminished your own. If we’re going to change IBM from I’m By Myself to Infinite Brains Multiplied, then it’s time to take the simple step of giving away your ego and getting on board something far more meaningful and connected.
Greater IBM corporate alumni social networking innovation