Thursday, September 30, 2004

Managing by Blog

It's hard to manage if you Don't Blog, says Fortune Magazine.

"I don't have the advertising budget to get our message to, for instance, Java developers working on handset applications for the medical industry. But one of our developers, just by taking time to write a blog, can do a great job getting our message out to a fanatic readership.
Blogs are no more mandated at Sun than e-mail. But I have a hard time seeing how a manager can be effective without both."
- Jonathan Schwartz, President and COO, Sun Microsystems.

I wonder, how long will it be before blogs show up as classroom discussion material in b-schools ?

I believe that blogging is here to stay big time, though it might take a while to go mainstream. At a corporate, or even business school level, the 'support' for blogging appears, to me, to be a function of culture. At the core is probably the desire of the powers-that-be for control or, rather, the disdain for nonconformity. Control over not necessarily the people who are part of the community, but more likely the carefully crafted message they want to convey. But, that is missing the bigger picture.

I read many student blogs, and there are cases where I have found students who do things that are very closely aligned to my interests. I can instantly set up a dialogue to explore what is important to me. In a non-blog world, the path to getting there is much harder. Another example is from my workplace. I was at a meeting a couple of years ago when a senior person was talking about research his team had been working on for a few years. This stuff was so aligned with my thesis research at grad school that after the meeting I talked with him, and was collaborating with his team from the next day. If we had had internal blogs, say, then it is quite possible that I would have been blogging about my research interests, and they about theirs, and we could have hooked up much earlier for mutual benefit.

In my experience, one of the hardest things to do is staff new projects that are started internally within a company. Especially in the last few years, when new hiring has crawled to a halt, and internal resources have to be redeployed. In the software world, almost everyone has knowledge, interests, and skills in areas that are beyond the current or most-recent job description. The problem is, how do the two parties know what the requirement-availability is ? job postings, resumes etc are the way this is done now, but I think blogs can have an important role to play in bridging this gap.

I think Wharton is an interesting, though i'm not sure if it was so intended, experiment in exploring the collaborative use of blogging. It's great for us prospectives to get a sense for what goes on behind those curved red-brick walls. However, it would be interesting to learn if students themselves benefit from reading what 20-odd classmates write about. Does someone's mentioning of an issue on a blog provoke a widespread discussion ? Or the creation of a new club ? Do you get approached to do things based on what you blogged, but never would have had the time to talk to people in detail about ?

At the very basic level, corporations, b-schools, non-profits, etc. are nothing but a bunch of like-minded people pursuing common goals. Blogs are a great medium to find and form such communities. For this reason alone, I believe blogs will thrive.
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