The Connected Company

To understand how business runs in the 21st century, just look at the business end of the military. It's all about connectedness. Connections to outsiders lead to vital information: Saddam-istas in a compound near a Baghdad restaurant. From there, a well-designed cascade of communications kicks in. And in 45 minutes, not much more time than it takes to deliver a pizza, deadly ordnance connects with the target.

Fortunately, the consequences aren't as dire in corporate conflicts, but the lesson is clear: persistent, smart connections lead to successful outcomes. The leaders of connected companies--like the ones featured in the following pages--have long ago boarded this particular cluetrain. They know that to thrive in today's Mad Max competitive landscape CEOs must keep open lines and open minds to a critical trifecta: fellow workers, suppliers and customers. They understand that the palette of tools available is broad--from instant messaging to wireless technologies named after stereo components (Wi-Fi) or dead Scandinavian kings (Bluetooth)--but the gizmos are less important than the mind-set.

Building connective tissue within a company means that everybody can instantly know where resources are and speed them to where they're needed most. It greases the wheels of collaboration and dramatically decreases the chances that a good idea will wither in isolation. And by extending the tendrils of communication outside the company--using everything from Web services to corporate blogs--customers themselves begin to look more like colleagues.

Groove Networks founder Ray Ozzie says there are two ways to look at company connectedness: "Most people use it only thinking of reducing costs--a negative value." But the most advanced companies, he says, get that being connected inside and outside the organization recalibrates their field of vision and allows them to rethink what they can do--often enabling them to do what was previously unthinkable. Smart generals and CEOs, take note.