Corporations, Technology and the New Fantasy Football

social networking

Stowe Boyd has a thoughtful response to my statements about the role of Facebook in corporate environments.

There’s no doubt that corporations are often distrustful of new communication technology.  Partly, I think that’s because they don’t or can’t (depending on who you believe) trust their employees.  There’s the slacker problem (“I’ll work on my project after I surf the net a little while longer and play a game or two of Sudoko”) and the stupid problem (“Wow, some person I’ve never heard of sent me an eCard.  I’m going to open it.”)  I tend to believe that the first one cannot be solved by denial of technology, since someone who wants to goof off excessively will always find a way to do so.  But I also believe the latter is a significant problem for companies.  One guy I used to work with infected our network because he got what appeared to a subpoena from the FBI, but was actually a virus from some asshole (in my business, a subpoena from the FBI is about as likely as a link from Guy Kawasaki).

But whatever the cause, companies do resist new technology.  Other than email, which started a little slow, but has been universally embraced at this point, most new communication applications find no home inside of big business.  IM never made any meaningful inroads into the corporate setting.   The internet is seen merely as a cheaper way to publish marketing materials.  There are a lot of potential efficiencies lurking beneath the surface of the denied technology.  But reasons practical, logistical and philosophical obscure them.

I also agree that individuals will always first adopt applications for their own purposes and then try to drag them into the office environment.  But, as a computer geek and a member of so-called management, I have always had admin privileges on my office computers.  It’s not so easy for the average office dweller to bring his or her applications, no matter how useful, to the office desk or desktop.  Today I watched a guy I work with try to install Adobe’s Flash Player and get denied.  Flash for crying out loud.

So I generally agree with Stowe so far…

But things get a little more murky for me when he talks about the struggle for personal awareness in the office context:

Important to the corporation is the degree to which our striving for personal awareness and self-discover overlaps with business goals. It is only the most narrow-mind and short-sighted of management that actively ignores the primary motivations of human apsiration. Anything like enlightened management will actively support personal development to the degree that it does nothing destructive, and it should, within limits, be willing to bear the apparent costs incurred. This is why companies allow employees to make personal phone calls, why they underwrite education and training, and invest to create pleasant environments. These costs are real, but accepted.

I agree with the part about personal development, and personal phone calls.  But I don’t necessarily think every employee ought to be allowed to devise a free-form, customized plan for self awareness and personal development.  Just because the guy working on a contract for a client believes his route to self awareness requires an hour or so on Facebook every day doesn’t make it so.  My kids do the Montessori thing every day, but the people at my office do not.

On the other hand, is fantasy football.  When the guys in my office conceived of the league a few years ago, I thought it would be good for camaraderie and team-building (not just the fantasy teams).  I could visit the online league page from the start, because my computer was not filtered (the geek/management thing again), but none of the other guys could- because of the “fantasy” word (so much for the validity of the filtering algorithm).  I called the IT guys and got it fixed, arguing correctly that a few minutes a day managing rosters and making trades would pay dividends via better morale, etc.  Maybe for some Facebook is the new fantasy football.  Like most things, it comes down to degree.

A little is OK, but how do you enforce a little?

It’s easy to enforce none.

In sum, I see Stowe’s point.  The problems, and perhaps the solutions, are found in the details of corporate policy and trust and in employee responsibility.