Wednesday, July 09, 2008

GE, Social Networking, and Collaboration

Just a quick post to point out an article in the 7-21-08 issue of Fortune Magazine (not online yet). It has an interview with Gary Reiner, CIO of General Electric, and there were two quotes that I thought were particularly interesting.
We’ve gone out of our way to call it professional networking rather than social networking. We’ve been building a professional networking capability that allows everybody to put in the organization directory the skills that they bring to bear. It’s very searchable, so if someone is looking for a particular skill, they can go to that site. That gets about 25 million hits a day so it really is becoming sort of a heartbeat of the company. (p. 78)
I found that quote interesting for two reasons. First, it seems obvious that whether you call it social networking or professional networking, this is a skill and a habit of mind our students are going to need in their professional futures. I think it’s going to be harder and harder for schools to simply block all access to anything that smacks of social networking, both for the educational uses and the preparation for its use in students’ future careers.

Second, I found it interesting in light of some of the ideas in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. I’m just starting to re-read it and digest it more thoroughly, but I wonder about the capacity we all now have to create similar professional networks without the necessity of the organization. GE is using this to tap into the skills and potential of all its employees, but that doesn’t depend on GE being in the equation anymore. Individuals (or even software algorithms) can now make those connections without the overhead of the institutional dilemma.

The second quote that intrigued me was this one.
Over the next five years there will be distinct change in the man-machine interface. We’ve all grown up with keyboards and mice, but I’d be surprised if five years from now we didn’t all interact with our computers via multitouch gestures . . .

Another big change is going to be OLED, organic light-emitting diodes, which are extremely thin screens that will start out as TV’s but will quickly become available as computers. They have better resolution than either LCD or plasma, and they’re so thin that you’ll be able to roll them up or fold them up and carry them. This will happen within the next five or six years: You’ll be carrying around the screen, you roll it out, and it’s got multitouch capability, and that’s all you’ll need.

Something that has already grown dramatically but will continue to grow even more and ultimately become core to enterprises, as well as consumers, is what’s known as cloud computing – having all the applications centrally located. If you ask what percent of the documents you create are just for you, it’s almost zero. Almost every document you create is for collaboration in one way, shape, or form. So why not start by building it on the web and providing permissions to people that you expect to view it and edit it and leverage it? (p. 78)
That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone who should know what they’re talking about go on record that multitouch and roll-out OLED screens will be mainstream in only five to six years. If accurate, that has a host of implications for what schools are doing now and will have a tremendous impact before any student currently in elementary school graduates from high school.

The emphasis on web-based applications and collaboration is not surprising to me, but I guess it’s surprising that he’s so open and forthright about it. It’s a given for him, and therefore for GE, so that also has many implications for schools – and, again, our filtering policies. If arguably the most successful company on the planet thinks that everything they create is for collaboration in one way, shape or form, why is it still so difficult for schools to incorporate that into our thinking (and policies)?


  1. Very cool post! I think you might find the following article interesting. Our school was actually conceived through a conversation with GE and local public schools about what type of employee they are looking for:) Here is the article:

    and here is a link to our school:

    Enjoy :)

  2. Thanks again Karl for another article that's got me thinking. Ever since reading about and seeing how your teachers, at least, can bypass the filters, I've been struggling with my county to allow for the same access. I'm sending your post along to those I hope can help.

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  4. I wonder if schools will ever be at the same understanding vs. being "big brother."

  5. Opening up the network in order to share and edit ideas is a great idea. I can't even imagine how districts will be able to keep up with technology much less be able to afford to replace computers in order to teach to the 21st century learner.

  6. Thanks for the push, Karl. This is the type of article that forces me to examine the irrelevancy schools as they are currently composed. Not at this moment, per se, but how will a school function in the near future without not just a cursory knowledge of networking on the professional level, but also the ability to leverage it for their students' learning?

    I look at quotes like these here and realize just how much work there is to be done. Better start movin'...

  7. @sallie - Thanks for commenting with that info - I think that's probably more important than the post itself!

    @mike - good luck with that!

    @patrick higgins - glad I wrote something - well, quoted something mostly - that helped somebody's thinking.

  8. Absolutely amazing post!!!sometimes this two terms are in contrast. I do really agree with you Patrick."This is the type of article that forces me to examine the irrelevancy schools as they are currently composed. Not at this moment, per se, but how will a school function in the near future without not just a cursory knowledge of networking on the professional level"
    Keep it up!!!