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Going Viral in the Enterprise

Cisco Employee

This article is reposted from the Controlled Falling blog site.  Please visit to read more about Collaboration, Innovation and Risk Management. 


How can you tell if you are succeeding in your campaign for adoption of new enterprise collaboration tools?  How can you define that magic moment when you can breathe a sigh of relief and say "That's the tipping point."  Metrics maybe?  Sure, they are important, but for me it's when some idea goes viral on your network.  Viral, like Procter & Gamble's Old Spice guy or Evian's Roller Babies, but inside your own organization.

More about that in a minute.  First, it's obvious that user adoption for collaboration tools is becoming a hot topic.  Rightly so.  Even with all of the transformational capabilities at our disposal - wikis, blogs, microblogging, social networking, folksonomies - and the money we are pouring into them, we are still held captive by the " inertia of the inbox".  Try as we might to espouse and adopt the benefits of social media or web conferencing we still find ourselves caught in lengthy email threads with a dozen or more people - most of whom wish they weren't on the CC list.  Personally, as a Collaboration Solutions Architect, I am overwhelmed by a sense of irony (or hypocrisy depending on my mood) every time I exceed my inbox quota.  Solving this is a huge challenge and opportunity.  The benefits are apparent but not easily measured.  I'll write more on User Adoption in a later blog, but until then I highly recommend you look into The 2.0 Adoption Council or the soon to be announced Cisco Accelerated Collaboration Change Enablement Services (ACCES) offering.  You should also see Gil Yehuda's white paper titled "Framework for 2.0 Adoption in the Enterprise".

Angry Goose

Now, back to the importance of going viral.  The first time I experienced information that "went viral" was in 1997 at a major pharmaceutical company.  (The term "viral" actually meant something entirely different in that time and place!)  A visionary in the IT department sponsored a system on the intranet for idea collection and harvesting.  Called Newton's Orchard (clever, huh), it was a quick success with many people posting ideas, hundreds of others reviewing and commenting.  It really took off when people started talking about -- wait for it -- goose poop.  Yes, goose poop.  There was a big problem on the corporate campus with the Canadian geese and the sidewalks.  I won't go into details.  You can thank me later.

In retrospect, this was a huge success.  People were discussing an issue that was important to them in a collaborative forum other than email.  But it certainly didn't seem right at the time.  Usage on the system was skyrocketing, but it was about things like harmonizing the color of milk caps at the supermarket. 2% should be green, whole milk should be red, etc.

I am not making this up!

Finally, someone crossed a line and posted something that had potential legal implications for the company.  A stern phone call from the CIO and the site was shut down.  Immediately.  Permanently.

The ingredients were all there for a dramatic shift in culture with profound benefit to the company.  The only thing missing was some governance and a willingness to manage a bit of risk.  Missed opportunity!  Or in Twitter terms - #fail.

Rapper Intern - Greg Justice A dozen years later and the more things change, the more they stay the same.  We're struggling with many of the same issues, but at least we recognize them now.  And there's hope.  My favorite example happened recently at Cisco.  Granted, Cisco is one of the most collaborative organizations around.  We have all the tools and the culture and incredibly supportive management.  Even amidst all that, this example stands out.  A summer intern named Greg Justice was just a few days into his new job when he used nothing more than a Flip camera and some editing software from Show and Share to record a video of himself at his desk.  Using the medium of Rap and a great sense of humor, he proclaims himself  "THE WORLD'S MOST INTERESTING INTERN" and issues a challenge to other interns inside and outside of Cisco to post their own videos.  Watch it here...


Within a few days, it was playing across the global campus.  People were sending the link via instant messaging, screen sharing on WebEx, posting to Quad and, of course, sending via email.  Good news is that they were sending the link and not the whole video.  Soon it was posted on the home page of the Intranet.

The content of Greg's video does not contain Cisco's next billion dollar idea.  It doesn't provide process changes that save the company millions in expenses.  It doesn't include policy that will ensure our employees comply with important regulations.  What it does is set a tone for a culture of sharing and openness.  A tone that encourages creativity and, yes, fun.  This, my friends, is the tipping point for collaboration.  When your organization reaches this point it is poised to take advantage of collaboration and ultimately innovation opportunities far beyond anything you've experienced.

Just be sure to keep an open mind when it happens.  You don't want to find yourself a dozen years from now thinking regretfully about goose poop.

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