A friend shared with me a fantastic story that emphasizes the lesson from my recent post, though in a very different way than I originally put forward.  If you missed it, here is the general take-away from that post:

When norms, policies, and institutions fail to evolve and stay relevant, people develop new norms and institutions that align with their needs and beliefs and compete, often “illegally,” with the established frameworks.

My friend works for a corporation that has been struggling to understand and leverage social networking technologies within the company in order to build a stronger sense of community and facilitate information-sharing.  They have tried a few officially-sanctioned tools, but nothing has really worked due to lack of adoption by the employee population.

Recently, however, a rogue group of employees began to build a company community using another, free and publicly available technology that works much like Twitter for the enterprise.  Perhaps not surprisingly, people took to it.  The community grew rapidly, reportedly with over 10% of the company’s employees opting in over the course of less than a week.

The growing popularity of the tool, however, and the fact that it was not controllable by corporate IT, created a stir.  Within days of catching the wind of the non-sanctioned corporate community, the company blocked access and threatened to take action against any employees caught using it in the future.

Amazing.  Textbook, in fact. Relating it back to our above lesson, you can see how Corporate IT (i.e. government) failed to keep up with employee needs to communicate and share information, and provide tools that employees found relevant and useful (i.e. norms and institutions), and so employees went outside the system to have their needs met.

In this case, however, “illegality” was not left to fester and produce long-term negative dynamics/norms.  But nor did institutions adapt.  Instead, the corporation apparently had the means, at least in the short-term, to enforce existing policies and quash the “illegality.”

Certainly, it will be interesting to hear how this develops.  Will the norms and institutions developed by the employees prevail?  Stay tuned!