Monday, September 22, 2008

Brian "Bex" Huff's unconference presentation on Enterprise 2.0 - my second unconference session...ever

I have never attended an unconference before. (Remember that I am not trendy.)

Even during Oracle OpenWorld 2007, when I was right at an unconference, I was so busy with regular sessions for the newly-released Oracle Database 11g that I never made it to the Oracle OpenWorld Unconference.

So this year I figured that it would be good for me to attend some Oracle OpenWorld Unconference sessions.

Especially since I'll be presenting at the Unconference on Thursday at 1; I wanted to get a feel for how the Unconference flowed.

A week or two ago, I had decided to attend the Monday afternoon 1:00 session from Brian "Bex" Huff of Bezzotech, with the topic Enterprise 2.0: What it is, and how you'll fail. (He's given this talk before, it turns out.) It sounded like a good presentation, and one that I would personally enjoy.

But as I was walking to the Unconference, I glanced at the Unconference session board and saw another presentation that would be of more interest to my company, and since my company is paying for my attendance at Oracle OpenWorld, I reluctantly decided to skip the Huff presentation and go to this other one.

I walked into the room at about 1:00, and there was only one other person in the room. And that person wasn't the presenter. Figuring that people might be late from lunchtime, I settled in anyway to wait for the presenter, and plugged my phone into a nearby power strip.

A few minutes later, the other person in the room left. I was now the only person in the room.

So I headed over to Brian "Bex" Huff's presentation.

On the off chance that Google buys Slideshare and nukes all of the content, including Huff's stored presentation, I'll summarize the highlights from my notes. Here are some key points that were interspersed throughout the presentation:

  • You learn from failure.

  • Enterprise 2.0 is much more than Web 2.0, and involves "helping business practices evolve."

  • Enterprise 2.0 is not just a change in technology, but also a change in culture.

  • Silos are sometimes good things, if they restrict your access to stuff that you don't really need to see.
The bulk of Huff's presentation involved an enumeration of five things upon which you SHOULDN'T concentrate. In my paraphrase, the five things were
  1. information, rather than knowledge

  2. services, rather than applications

  3. people, rather than social capital

  4. change, rather than evolution

  5. success, rather than failure
I won't summarize the entire presentation - you'll just have to see it yourself.

However (BEGIN TANGENT), Huff referred to "structural hole theory" during the presentation and attributed it to Mark Masterson, so I figured I'd do a little digging and find Masterson's discussion of the concept. Here's a brief excerpt of Masterson's description, which was itself inspired by a presentation by Jenny Ambrozek of SageNet LLC (as you will see, Ambrozek was inspired by Ronald S. Burt):

Jenny gave a talk entitled "Structural Holes & the Space between the Tools", and it just left me fired up, frankly. The reason for that is fairly simple -- stated rather plainly in Jenny's talk was the outline of some real hard-core theory that not only explained the intuitive appeal of social networking, but also posited ways of using networks to entrepreneurial advantage....

Jenny's talk built itself on the ideas of one Ronald S. Burt, professor of sociology and strategy at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. In 1992, Burt published a book entitled "Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition". This book is the aforementioned body of theory.

More of Masterson's thoughts here. But Masterson himself references a post by Rian Van Der Merwe that summarizes Ronald S. Burt's theory:

Ronald Burt’s theory of ‘structural holes’ is an important extension of social network theory. This theory aims to explain “how competition works when players have established relations with others” (Burt, 1992), and argues that networks provide two types of benefits: information benefits and control benefits.

* Information benefits refer to who knows about relevant information and how fast they find out about it. Actors with strong networks will generally know more about relevant subjects, and they will also know about it faster. According to Burt (1992), “players with a network optimally structured to provide these benefits enjoy higher rates of return to their investments, because such players know about, and have a hand in, more rewarding opportunities”.

* Control benefits refer to the advantages of being an important player in a well-connected network. In a large network, central players have more bargaining power than other players, which also means that they can, to a large extent, control many of the information flows within the network.

Burt’s theory of structural holes aims to enhance these benefits to their full potential. A structural hole is “a separation between non-redundant contacts” (Burt, 1992). The holes between non-redundant contacts provide opportunities that can enhance both the control benefits and the information benefits of networks.

More here.

Now it should be stated (END TANGENT) that Brian "Bex" Huff's presentation got nowhere near this level of theoretical dissertation; Huff was much more practical about the whole affair. For example, he talked about the benefits of two people from different departments misusing e-mail to trade sports scores. If the two departments hate each other, such "prohibited" behavior may actually be beneficial.

So, to sum up my unconference experience so far, the second unconference session I attended was exceptional, authoritative, and well-presented.

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