Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Wisdom of Crowds" - The Right Answer is Somewhere in the Middle

In Could Twitter Threaten Free Speech, Tom Davenport has for me tabled an interesting point in his last line: "We have to balance the idea of unfettered self-expression with civility. If we’re not civil, it will probably lead to less free speech, not more."

Once again it proves that social / emerging technologies are about people - who they are, how they work, and what they do, and though technologies enable some new behaviours, behind it all are still the promise and peril of human nature. We humans often lack civility in a wide variety of circumstances in the face-to-face world, and it's not unexpected that it also translates into the online world.

People who are reluctant to explore / approach using new social technologies inside organizations could point to this article as a reason for "why not to, " or as a rationale for continuing to exercise deliberate, innovative-killing controls on information creation and flow.

True, social technologies have the potential of making lack of civility more visible, but at the same time this visibility can also encourage greater personal accountability. If individuals know that their colleagues and managers can track their comments and contributions, I think a bit of "auto-policing" takes place - who really want's to "shoot themselves in the foot?"

One of the best overall strategies I've heard for organizations is not creating a 'wild wild west' through indescriminate unleasing of social technologies, but instead a purposeful, guided implementation with built-in continuous learning and improvement for system users, service providers, managers, and the organization as a whole. Most organizations have resonable code of conduct / conflict of interest guidelines that easily apply to new technologies, provided the guidelines have been well socialized with new and existing employees.

Yes, despite these seemingly resonable measures, some people will behave in an uncivilized or disrespectful way, as we all tend to do from time to time. Fortunately, social technologies also present an opportunities for colleages / peers / community members to self-police through feedback and support, all the way to potentially harsh consequences - exclusion from important conversations, inability to access information, ostracision from a community.

Managers might just find this a refreshing alternative to being solely responsible for dealing with lack of civility / respect in the workplace.