Thursday, August 20, 2009

Enterprise Suffix - Companies as Categories

@tetradian Tom Graves is annoyed at Enterprise 2.0. He (rightly) complains that the term as defined by Andrew McAfee refers to software, and tries to construct an alternative definition that is more business-oriented.

While I agree with his complaint, I am not convinced that a business-oriented definition of "Enterprise 2.0" is a worthwhile exercise. The "2.0" suffix is inextricably linked to the software paradigm; it is a metaphor for strict version control, and really only makes sense to software engineers and dictators. To produce the Third Reich (or as we should now call it "Reich 3.0") required a massive amount of centralized control and alignment (known as Gleichschaltung).

Software engineers who want to sound cool often use names instead of numbers. Apple operating systems are named after large cats, so we might have something like Enterprise Snow Leopard. (Thanks to Ron Tolido.) Microsoft plays this game as well - see my post on Google and Longhorn.

Software people may describe enterprises in terms of version numbers, but how do business people describe enterprises? Usually by comparing with something else. Listen to how entrepreneurs bid for venture capital. "It's going to be like eBay with a dash of vodka." "It's going to combine the innovation of Google with the popularity of er Google." In other words, they tell stories and paint pictures.

At any given time, there are a few companies that everyone wants to emulate - not just in terms of market share and profit, but also in terms of the internal management and organization - typically based on descriptions in the popular business literature. One of the early classics of this genre was Peters and Waterman, In Search of Excellence, which held up several American firms for admiration and emulation. (These recommendations look really dated now; and as Jason Cohen points out, Business Advice is Plagued by Survivor Bias.) In the heyday of quality management, many people tried to emulate Xerox and Motorola. More recently, Joshua Cooper Ramo, in a book called The Age of the Unthinkable, identifies Google and Hizb'allah as two of the most innovative organizations of our time.

Therefore if we must have an enterprise suffix, and if we want this to be meaningful to business people, let's use well-known companies as the categories. So if you want to emulate Google, then you need to implement Enterprise-a-Google.

Not perfect I agree, but anything's better than these dammed version numbers.

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