January 20, 2011
enterprise 2.0

Call it Collaboration, Not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business

Colin Powell once said:

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.”


The meme forest fire of Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business is blazing wildly across all geographies of opinion.

We’ve got Enterprise 2.0 in one corner with no shortage of opinions and Social Business in the other corner with even more opinion. There are too many blog and article entries to point back to, although I am partial to Cordelia Krooss’ post entitled “To Reach Mainstream, We Need to Talk Mainstream”.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, there is even a Quora question/answer/discussion burning finger typing calories.

The ‘phrase-father’ of Enterprise 2.0 has also weighed in.

My Thoughts

Individuals in roles that are coined community managers, social media/networking/learning leaders, consultants, VC’s, 2.0 bleeding edge personalities et al, can easily drift in between the terms Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business. The problem, obviously, is the rest of the adoption curve. Personally, I don’t think either term resonates with the business and/or executives.

Enterprise 2.0 (although it originally had me at hello) got the ball rolling for all of us. We should be thankful to Andrew McAfee for this, but 2.0 monikers are yesterday’s pet rock and even I have to evolve and stop using it. I’ve had to explain the term Enterprise 2.0 more often than I would have liked over the past 18 months, and if I’m doing that too often, then something is definitely not sticking.

Social Business (although a vernacular enhancement) is saddled and thus hampered by the first word … social. We can’t simply tack on the word ‘social’ to business and expect anyone to understand its underlying intention. Yes, I personally get it, but hearing it for the first time or executives trying to run an organization, it seems to imply that business wasn’t social in the first place. (and it most certainly is)

My Idea

If Colin Powell suggests we should debate, argue and debunk to get to a consensual solution, I’d say we’ve done all that over the past six months or so debating two terms, and not a unifier.


Let’s call it “Collaboration”.

As the noun of the word ‘collaborate’, it embodies what Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business strives for, which is people working jointly together to address business, human, customer, employee or societal challenges and opportunities through technology and in person.

Collaboration pays homage to the patois lineage of the Latin term collaboratus, past participle to the word collaborare which is signified by the simple phrase “to labour together”.

In an interconnected, networked world filled by countless technologies, and new ones coming afloat each day, we are all ‘labouring together’ to achieve common understanding of intellect, of ideas, of results, and so on through said technologies.

And ‘Collaboration” is something that will make sense to anyone on the adoption curve, regardless of role or title because it is starting with a term they already inherently understand.

“Oh, it’s two or more people working together, collaborating on stuff. Yah, I get that.”

We do have, however, some history to overcome with the term collaboration as it has some pejorative linkage to Nazi occupation of Europe in World War II and so-called ‘collaborators’ within the occupied country itself assisting Germany at the time. I believe, nevertheless, that we all can work together (hint hint … collaborate) and overcome any negativity associated with its former association and use Collaboration as the term to describe Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business.


15 Replies to “Call it Collaboration, Not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business”

  1. Collaboration is a great word and is often times very useful, but I reminded of an excellent post by Jacob Morgan @JACOBM – 5 Myths of Collaboration http://bit.ly/hJ6oYK where he cited Morten T. Hansen. For one, collaboration does not make sense for every type of project (Myth 2). For another, not all employees want to collaborate (Myth 3). And finally, the purpose of collaboration is not collaboration in of itself but a way to solve a problem and improve productivity and efficiency. (Myth 5) In other words, embracing collaboration may encourage organizations to collaborate just for the sake of collaboration. As this discussion reveals, it is very difficult to find a one size fits all, user friendly phrase. Thoughts?

  2. I could not agree more that the use of terms like “enterprise 2.0” and “social business” just don’t seem to convey the proper meaning to the masses (and, in my opinion, both seem just a little trite). However, I would like to make a small revision to the term “collaboration,” since that term, by itself can also be interpreted to mean any type of working together, regardless of tools used. Since we are trying to replace terms that describe collaborative tools in the virtual world, why don’t we start calling it “virtual collaboration?” I think that would still be suitably simple, and the terms are generally understood by the world at large. Any other thoughts?

  3. I was going to post a note about the WWII connotations and then saw the last paragraph. I’m sometimes reminded of reading about the French writer Celine and the highly pejorative term ‘collabo’ being bandied about for his associations. I do like the thought of overcoming such a negative legacy and building something new built on genuine cooperation and collaboration.

  4. Hi Dan,

    You make some excellent points. Collaboration is a great unifying word. Perhaps a bit of a loaded term as well in that many people immediately think about real time collaboration, web conferencing, etc. I think collaboration works well inside a business, not sure it captures the customer engagement side of things as well. Ironically, before we were the “Enterprise 2.0 Conference” we were the “Collaborative Technologies Conference”.


  5. @Dan – yes, have read Morgan and Hansen’s work. That stated, the term doesn’t imply “thou must” attitudes. It’s a term, for me, that provides better clarification … when in fact we are using E2.0/SocBiz tools and processes. When I say ‘Learning’, you know what it means … but it doesn’t mean you are taking a course, an eLearning, or a video all the time.

    @PSiebel – read your blog post too – I could be swayed to putting something in front of the term ‘Collaboration’, however ‘Virtual’ doesn’t cut it for me personally. Virtual Worlds and Virtual Reality seem to denote where ‘virtual’ is being appended to, and I don’t think that is exactly what I’d like to see with ‘Collaboration’

    @Russell – Amen. It would take a few years I reckon.

    @Steve – the ‘many’ you refer to, however, in my humble opinion, are those engrained and immersed in the ICT & Unified Communications sector specifically. I consider myself one of those and know 100% what you are referring to (ie. the potential for confusion) however … to the ‘reading edge’ of the adoption curve, I don’t think this argument against using it is valid. As for the integration of the term for both internal means and customer engagement … you got me thinking, so I’ll follow up this post with one related to customers specifically. Thanks for stopping by, and for triggering something else for me. Hope to see you in June.

  6. I think wirearchy describes E2/SB/Collab quite well. Jon Husband’s term has been around for a decade: a dynamic multi-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology …

  7. How about “collective action”? To some people “Collaboration” implies a formal agreement to work together in specific ways. Collective action gives more freedom of involvement. It could lead to collaboration or all sorts of informal networking.

  8. Wirearchy works. Saba even tries to appropriate it although respectful people would give credit for the term to our friend Jon. But while it feels right to me, wirearchy strikes some as too new-fangled.

    “Social” and “2.0” and “learning” are impediments to talking with management. Ho-hum.

    That’s why I’ve been talking more and more about “working smarter.” I’ve yet to talk with an executive who says, “No, we don’t want to do that.”

  9. I’m also a fan of Jon Husband’s wirearchy, but for me it is most useful as a descriptive term for the impact web2.0/collaborative technology can have on an organisation’s structure and value chain.
    Wirearchy puts the finger on both what makes collaborative technology so powerful AND what so many managers find so difficult – as two inseperable consequences. It is a fantastic way to ensure that you have commitment and support, not just to implement a technology that will help us work smarter – but for the inevitable shake-up of the organisation’s value chain and power-distribution that “working smarter” results in.

    I never liked “social business”. The term triggers many managers’ sceptisism for the value of anything “social” and also seems to apply that business can be done without being social. To me that is a bit like saying “social communication”..

    Harold, so glad you pointed me to Patti Anklam’s work. Collaboration is nearly perfect, yet is missing a crucial piece (in my view) to qualify as the all-encompassing-term. Collaboration assumes we are working on the same thing or towards the same goal, missing out some really valuable sources of informal learning;
    * people that are (or have been) undertaking a similar process or learning curve as me (for me – other founders of start-ups),
    * people that are have similar needs to me (others that are/have negotiated and enterpreted the EU-vat legal system – trust me, it is a real headace!!)
    * people with similar interests (like people commenting on this blog-post, providing different perspectives to think about a topic, and challenging me to reflect and synticise on my own)
    * people working in the same virtual/physical space as me, that are not directly involved in my project
    etc.. etc..

    This difference is core to what makes the webapp we are building different from normal collaboration tools – yet I don’t feel cooperation gives the right connotations either. “To cooperate” seems as much about not being in the way, as supporting eachothers progress.

    Really appreciate your views and ideas – this has been bugging me for a while 🙂


  10. @Harold – I respect Jon a lot (hey, I literally have a wirearchy t-shirt thanks to him) but … (and he’ll kill me for this) the concept is spot on, but the term isn’t simple enough, ironic as that may seem. Thanks for the link to Patti’s work – had not seen it before.

    @Jay – you and I had a chat once about changing the name CLO to CCO … is collaborating not a function of ‘working smarter’?

    @Daniel – I see where you’re going (ie. collective intelligence) but I think that term is a one-time use and not something I’d personally use with ‘action’ … with all due respect of course

    @ollie – hmmmm, a question for you … why does collaboration have to “assume we are working on the same thing or towards the same goal” … can’t it simply be a phrase that helps to describe mutual and independent work? Eg. @elsua and I work for different companies in different countries in different timezones in different verticals, but we collaborate on a few things that are not in our goal statements at all … just for the pure fact of collaboration and, perhaps, a ‘quid pro quo’ society

  11. Hi Don,
    I would love collaboration to both mean both mutual and independent (yet collectively supported) work – but my experience people’s association with the term doesn’t quite reflect this. And if you look at definitions, the “shared goal” is often mentioned pretty early on.

    Wikipedia: Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realise shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective) — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.

    I was kind of hoping we didnt have to take on the challenge of changing people’s perception of what collaboration is in order to describe our product 😉

  12. Hi
    Maybe the name is not important. It is important for an organization to implement Philosophy of 2.0. The fact is that in a country like Iran that the issues raised by employees in organizations are sensitive to the word of Enterprise 2.0. so i decided not to say at a time of enterprise 2.0. i said Let’s say we use a Blog. No matter the name. It is important a product or service to the final customer go better and better and collaboration increase and so profit of stakeholderas. not?

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