Last week I was introduced to a new concept by @stevecrowder namely anti-patterns. I say new, but as will be apparent, the patterns themselves will be familiar to anyone who has worked in either a corporation or small firm where the spirit of Dilbert is left to haunt business practices unhindered by any sense of propriety or common sense.
As can be learned from that venerable organ of veracity Wikipedia, the term was developed to describe software development, but it has applicability in wider business practices. What interests me, as ever, is the specific applicability to enterprise social. A quick Google on E2.0 and anti-patterns revealed some interesting presentations from Aaron Kim at IBM on web 2.0, but what intrigues me about anti-patterns is more how it relates to business process and social technology adoption.
A quick skim of the Wikipedia piece reveals a litany of Dilbertian business practices, ones that many of us, myself included, are unfortunately only too familiar with. The ones that chimed the most with my experiences were silos, authoritarian management styles, escalation of commitment, smoke and mirrors, boat anchor, the silver bullet and the golden hammer (never to be used at the same time, well not often).
For me, social technologies are about undoing these duff processes and practices. And this is where I perhaps veer away from the orthodox definition of the anti-pattern. I concur with “Some repeated pattern of action, process or structure that initially appears to be beneficial, but ultimately produces more bad consequences than beneficial results” but wonder about the applicability of the “refactored solution”, namely a solution that already exists that is clearly documented, proven in actual practice and repeatable. I don’t think we’re at this stage with social yet, maybe we never will be for the following reason.
Social technologies have the potential to not only reinvent and recreate, they also have the capacity to create new unthought of solutions. They innovate. They create black swans by the gaggle and even the googol.
It’s for this reason that I’m suspicious of approaches that take an existing process and try and ‘make it social’. This I believe seriously misses the point. Whilst social might destabilise a ‘sub-optimal’ business practice forcing its reconstruction as something more efficient, or rather more humanly efficient; it is more likely to simply reinforce the anti-pattern. The pattern remains the same, it might be refactored with social technologies but the same duff processes still click on.
But more than this, slapping on social tools with the hope of a magical change is magical thinking. It’s cargo cult logic too – a key type of programming anti-pattern, but one that a social enterprise project can all too easily fall into. This is when all the social tools are assembled and with magic chants of engagement and collaboration are cried forth, but no one thinks to really put these into the practice of busting anti-patterns. But is that an anti-pattern itself?