Success, Failure, Control, and Open Systems

I went to the Web 2.0 “mega” session at the Technology conference this week (Jeff was a panelist). It was very interesting to see how many of the association executives in the audience reacted to what the panelists were saying about blogs, wikis, and social networking. One message was very clear: we are afraid of losing control.

Web 2.0 is inherently user-centric. It is NOT about central control. And this doesn’t fit the paradigm of many association executives. One person complained that a blog would be impossible at her association, because anything their association puts out that counts as education needs to be approved by an editor (and then one person at my table said, “Yeah, and our editors’ approvals need to be reviewed by the editor in chief”). In the approve-the-approval world of associations, the thought of unknown people making unknown comments on your blog is scary. And start talking seriously about wikis (users can actually edit the content!?) and their heads might explode.

Not all associations feel this way, of course. There were certainly many in the room that expressed different views and were excited about what Web 2.0 has to offer. But I’m sure the approve-the-approval folks are numerous. And there is room for approval and control in organizations, of course. But this move to participation isn’t just a fad. It is allowing very successful things to happen, which never would happen in the control world.

In the HBR Breakthrough Ideas list, number 19 talks about this in the context of open systems and open source software. Open source software fails a LOT, and that is why it succeeds. You don’t have to get your project approved centrally; you just have to find the people who want to give it a try. The same with groups on social networking sites, or, possibly, communities of practice within your association membership. You don’t know ahead of time what will succeed, but you create the space for people to experiment. Get comfortable with some failure, and you will make room for some great success.


  1. 16.02.2007 at 1:45 pm

    Totally agree. Not that this approach is great for Fortune 500s but at least they have armies of people to keep up with events. Associations –generally speaking–have so few resources we can’t afford to think this way.

  2. 16.02.2007 at 3:59 pm

    I can see where technical and scientific societies in particular could have problems with social media. When you’re used to putting out materials that are supposed to be authoritative, correct, “sound science,” the idea of a blog where anyone could post something unproven or even unsound can be scary.
    At my last association, our members were workplace health and safety professionals. In their minds, if we published something that was incorrect, a worker could potentially be hurt or even killed because of that error. (Or, alternatively, the association could be sued–less calamitous but an unpleasant experience.) So they were understandably antsy about putting anything out without three layers of editorial/technical approval.
    I wonder if there’s a way to show scientific groups that might fear the freedom of blogging and wikis that social media is less like a book and more like a brainstorming session, where things are messy and aren’t expected to be perfect but will eventually build to something unexpected and (we hope) great. Would that comparison help them to get past their nervousness?

  3. 16.02.2007 at 4:47 pm

    Hey, they can still do their approval processes and their good science. Web 2.0 would be in addition to that. And in the session, Jeff reminded them that if they have a website, they can be sued (but none of them would think of taking the site down!). He also pointed out that a court recently ruled that you’re NOT responsible for what other people comment on your blog.
    Still, I think the problem is they look at what they have traditionally done and think Web 2.0 is replacing it. Not true. But there could be NEW things they do with Web 2.0, and they won’t negate the (control-centric) things they already do now.