The Conundrums of Control and Adaptability – A TTW Guest Post by Dr. Troy Swanson

Administrators face two conundrums with Web 2.0 tools. David Weinberger called the first a “conundrum of control” in his book Everything is Miscellaneous. This conundrum states that organizational leaders have an important interest in ensuring that 2.0 tools are used to further the organization’s mission. However, the more controls that they put in place (such as approval processes for blog posts) the less useful the 2.0 tools become.

The second conundrum is what I call a conundrum of adaptibility. This conundrum states that organizations with looser controls allow for more experimentation by individuals as they work to solve problems. However, organizations with tighter controls more easily communicate innovations across the organization. So, less control brings about innovation but may also mean that few people in the organization will actually learn about the innovation.

You can think of controls on a continuum of looseness and tightness.

Too Tight: Organizations with controls that are too tight lock down 2.0 tools to the point where they are too cumbersome to use. Tight controls do foster a shared vision of technologies and standardize use. However, tight controls prevent adaptability because users can not experiment and play with tools. Policies, approvals, resource limitations, and restrictive organizations can kill adaptations.

Too Loose: I used to assume that absolute freedom is an advantage because then staff members would widely adapt tools to solve problems. But, absolute freedom presents several problems that revolve around a lack of definition and context for 2.0 tools. Absolute freedom puts the individual and organization at risk for misuse of technology on a legal and political level. More importantly, this lack of definition prevents the adaptation of technology by not clarifying how tools can be used to solve problems and by not having structures in place to facilitate the diffusion of ideas across the organization. People are either not clear about how a tool can be useful, or they do not know about existing adaptations of technologies to problems.

Balance: When a system is in balance, there is enough freedom to experiment and adapt, but there is enough definition and connections that organizational members than utilize innovations. Sometimes this may mean that administrators and leaders step forward to promote and give a push to new innovations. Other times, it may mean that administrators stay out of the way as organizational members wrestle with the local problems facing their department or subunit.

Control and adaptability are clearly intertwined. Most technologies go through a “loose” period followed by a more defined “tight” period. In healthy situations, the pendulum will adjust itself as needed. In unhealthy situations, tools can be locked up or underutilized.

Troy A. Swanson is Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.