IBM’s Jam – a look on the inside


“Jam” is IBM’s term for a “massively parallel conference” online. IBM had developed its first in 2001 as a way to unite the organization. More and more employees were working at home or at client sites, rarely coming to IBM offices. The idea was that a Jam — a group of interlinked bulletin boards and related Web pages on IBM’s intranet, with systems for centrally managing everything and seeking substantive answers to important questions in three days or so — would give people a sense of participation and of being listened to, as well as generate valuable new ideas. From the beginning, the Jam process showed it could engage tens of thousands of people at a time. There were 52,000 posts in the 2001 Jam, addressing questions like “How do you work in an increasingly mobile organization?” and “How do we get IBM Consulting into the C-suite?” Subsequent Jams helped clarify IBM’s values and produced good ideas for improving IBM’s operations. A carefully designed system for reviewing huge numbers of posts enabled the company to initiate important courses of action.

This article explores this innovation effort, unique in size and unusual in the amount of management resources invested in it. The article is based on participant observation in the Jam itself, review of Jam Web pages and postings after its completion, online use of some of the emerging technologies and more than 20 interviews with Jam organizers, participants, idea sponsors, senior scientists, senior executives and others.

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