Demographics, Innovation, and Enterprise 2.0

As a member of the boomer generation, a recent post by Stewart Mader on the use of Enterprise 2.0 at Wachovia  caught my attention because it relates to a range of ongoing discussions on the relationship of age and innovative uses of technology in supporting collaboration.

Stewart points approvingly to a recent InformationWeek article on Wachovia’s use of wikis, blogs, and social networking to develop mutual mentoring between younger workers and senior staffers. Wachovia is assigning younger staffers to mentor senior staffers about the benefits of using collaborative networks. However, Stewart goes on to qualify the point of such mentoring with the following insight:

We often talk about how the millennial generation has an advanced grasp of these social and collaborative tools, but just half of the story in my opinion. I see enterprise 2.0 tools not as the exclusive domain of youth, but as a better connector for multiple generations, so that wisdom, tacit knowledge, and business know-how from the experienced can be shared with younger workers.

The point is bolstered by recent research, though with a couple of crucial caveats. AIIM recently released a report, Enterprise 2.0: Agile, Emergent, and Integrated, on its survey of 441 end users in corporate enterprises. The report indicates age doesn’t matter as much as culture in determining whether an employee thinks Enterprise 2.0 is crucial to achieving organizational goals. AIIM surveyed Millenials (20-35 years old), Gen Xers (36-50 years old), and Boomers (51 + years old). The AIIM report provides data to support the observation offered by Thomas Vander Wal in a post on The Social Enterprise.

Vander Wal contends those who assert that a demographic digital divide exists in relation to adoption of social web tools in corporate organizations misperceive the crucial issue.

Around the current social web tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, favoriting, shared rating, open (and partially open collaboration) I have been finding little digital divide across the ages. Initially there is a gap when tools get introduced in the corporate environment. But this age gap very quickly disappears if the incredible value of the tools is made clear for people’s work life, information workflow, and collaboration, as well as simple instructions (30 second to 3 minute videos) and simply written clear guidelines that outline acceptable use of these tools.

The AIIM report observes that no real differences exist between generational cohorts on the perceived importance of increased collaboration as the key benefit of Enterprise 2.0. The differences among the three cohorts appear to relate more to the respective assessments of the range of applicability of Enterprise 2.0 to business practices (R&D, Marketing, IT/IS, Customer Support) rather than to its overall importance. Millenials, with their experience using Web 2.0 applications, appear more apt to recommend use of such tools in all business settings.

All in all, I’d suggest that Ross Mayfield’s point — that Generations may not matter, but they are different — captures the most important point to keep in mind when thinking about Enterprise 2.0 implementation in the context of overall employee adoption and organizational success.

Thanks to Ross’ blog for the pointer to the AIIM report.

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