Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Revolution has Started

Considering the fact that you are here reading this blog, I don't need to tell you that the rush to Web 2.0 technology and new media is having an impact. What surprises me though, is the speed and power with which this new application of technology has seemingly taken root in major sectors - to include government, almost overnight.

I just returned from Montgomery, Alabama Tuesday night. I was there as part of a presentation team commissioned to talk about Business Transformation with a group of about 700 like-minded interested and interesting people. I came away impressed by the fact that we weren't the only ones talking about transforming business operations in the Department of Defense, or about the role that these new Web 2.0 technologies are playing in transformation efforts everywhere.

It used to take a herculean effort to reach people. Senior leadership got on planes and flew to different places around the world to get a message in front of a crowd. We would pick up a microphone, address 700 or 800 people, waive the flag, talk about our agenda, close strong (hopefully), and go get coffee. On the plane on the way home, we'd mull over what we said, how the crowd reacted, and hope we reached people. We'd ask for feedback in any way we could get it, but it was usually months or sometimes even years before we knew if there was any real impact. By then, we'd forgotten about the presentation and moved on. I can't tell you how many times someone has caught me and said "You might not remember me, but I remember when you spoke at..." Whew... feedback loop closed.

Somehow, this last trip felt closer. I don't know how to describe the concept of "closer," but not knowing how to do something has rarely stopped me from trying. I'll give it a shot.

By "closer," I mean a few things. I felt that the messages coming across by the presenting teams were more closely aligned. Everyone speaking (and asking questions) seemed to have more similarities in vocabulary than differences. The concepts presented by each presenter were almost interchangeable. It was as if we'd all been reading the same book and describing the same chapter to the crowd. More than once, I sat taller in my chair and said "yes!' secretly to myself (cause it's embarrassing to utter things like that when other people can hear you).

Part of this can be attributed to a talented coordinating team on the ground in Montgomery, and part of it can be attributed to thoughtful speakers, but I suspect that some of it was the result of the speakers common experiences on the Web. We're all reading the same stuff, and the "stuff" is evolving in real time while we are reading.

I also felt that the conference was not confined to the time and dates specified in the agenda. When we arrived, our very gracious host handed us a bottle of water and struck up a surprisingly relevant conversation with us. it was as if she already knew quite a bit about us - and she did! She admitted to reading our biographies, Googling us on the Web, and reading my LinkedIn profile. She knew about us before we even landed. ...closer.

I felt that once the seminar was over, there wasn't a clean break. In other words, people have the opportunity to experience the fire that conferences like that tend to start and then keep it stoked long after we're gone by plugging in to our blogs and other collaborative tools. There seems to be more persistence as a result of the new media revolution. People get and stay closer to one another longer.

So here's the take away: the world is flattening even more than Thomas Friedman predicted. Today, we have an unprecedented power, as a result of these Web 2.0 technologies, to reach out, to plug in, and to otherwise connect with other human beings. If, as many have said for a long time, that trust and clear communication are critical to organizational health and growth potential, then perhaps we really are uniquely capable to make Transformation happen in the Department of Defense. Perhaps the time is now and, with the help of Web 2.0, we're witnessing real success in the making. I, for one, am eager to embrace these technologies and find out.

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