Archives For January 2009

I’m not sure it’s the first thing that pops into a KM purist’s mind, but it does seem to fit this definition surprisingly well.  

In my current role, I’m responsible for bringing change to the way our employees traditionally do their work.  As a big part of that includes the adoption of social media, one of the agenda items I’m pushing is an enterprise micro-blogging capability.  Outside the walls of work I not only have  fun participating on Twitter, I do derive a great deal of personal value from it as well:  insight into my passions (both personal and professional), peer review & feedback, expertise location, network expansion, timely alerts to pertinent information (I actually first learned the date, location, speakers and topics of my own company’s annual IT Forum on Twitter from a non-employee…that’s crazy!), and innovation & ideation.  

I believe knowledge is highly social and that it happens in the cracks between our published and documented work:  in the water cooler, email & IM conversations we have that aren’t indexed or searchable; in the impromptu meetings and white-board sessions that have no minutes or ‘share this with others’ button.  Imagine moving those interactions to a platform capable of storing, indexing & making searchable those interactions?  By capturing   the lifestreams’ of its users, Twitter does a very good job of  tracking what’s in those cracks and by extension KM.   Maybe a better way of putting it is that the social nature of knowledge lends itself to Twitter.  

Here are the Motivations of KM as Wikipedia defines them:

  • Making available increased knowledge content in the development and provision of products and services
  • Achieving shorter new product development cycles
  • Facilitating and managing innovation and organisational learning
  • Leveraging the expertise of people across the organisation
  • Increasing network connectivity between internal and external individuals
  • Managing business environments and allowing employees to obtain relevant insights and ideas appropriate to their work
  • Solving intractable or wicked problems
  • Managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals)

Well, heck.  I’d say Twitter does most, if not all of those things.  If those are your ‘holes in the wall’ then I’d say Twitter could definitely be your drill.  Here’s a post from Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang (I highly doubt that if you’re reading this you don’t already know who he is) that might help fill in some of this posts’ gaps.

I’m trying to convince my peers and leadership that we don’t necessarily need the traditional threaded discussion board or Ask An Expert-type application; that if we do our change management correctly all we need is micro-blogging, a document management system that gives URL’s and maybe a link-trimmer, a la Snurl.

Those three things are a powerful combination, they’re cheap and low-risk, too (I’m guessing if you’re interested in KM your company already has a document management solution that spits out URL’s).  Twitter may not be your father’s KM solution, but it certainly solves his problems.  I’m getting more and more convinced of this every day…

…instead of the other way around: the world makes sense.  It’s a question of philosophy, but one that’s essential when it comes to knowledge management, at least where I work.  

It’s been a crazy week, and all signs point to it continuing, but I wanted to get a post out on this topic because this difference in philosophy is something I feel strongly about.  

The title and opening sentences of this post are brought on by this article.  For me, the opening and ending sections are the real eye-openers.  The reason it hits home is because we have some ontological efforts going on at work, and as I was reading this article a simple phrase kept popping into my head…’YES!’

Even without a lot of thought (unfortunately, that happens all to frequently with me), it only makes sense that the effort required to classify  the different types of electronic ‘objects’ that exist at work would be monumental.  Seems like a never ending task, akin to a dog chasing its tail.  Is it worth it?  Does it make business sense?  I’m not sure; it seems like over-engineering or over-architecting from where I’m standing.  

Why would a company do this?  I’ve been using the example of the drill vs. the hole in the wall a lot lately.  Makes sense to use it in this case as well.  What are we really getting after with all of this classification?  what’s our hole in the wall?  I’m pretty sure I know what it is and I don’t think we need the ontology-drill to get at it.  

I like the solution the author, Clay Shirkey, provides:  let the users classify the data through tags.  I’m a social media guy, so I guess I’d choose a social media drill.  But it just seems like a lot less work and risk that would give you the same result.  The difference in philosophy here is really dictatorship vs. democracy, command & control vs. power to the edge , the individual vs. the market, and the side you fall on dictates the drill you will use.

This past week has presented me with a new direction at work.  I have been tapped to lead efforts to bring about a more collaborative working environment.  Before this change, I was a willing and eager  participant in my company’s Lotus Connections Pilot.  Now I am leading efforts of a potentially alternative (potentially complementary) effort altogether.   I’ve been thinking and blogging about the change that I believe needs to happen, now I get to lead it.  

However, as much as I have been thinking and blogging, nothing has necessarily prepared me for doing.  I have spent the last few days locked up in a conference room with my architecture lead brainstorming, wire framing, road mapping and most importantly, breaking down how we work & examining our culture.  It was eye-opening.  I had never actually given any thought, nevermind analyzed, the way my company (and yours, most likely) goes about doing its business.  We’ve got our email (boy, do we have email) and Enterprise Content Management systems and different applications engineers use to make stuff that blows up other stuff, but all these systems are so…what’s the word?…’isolated’ gets close.  Using them doesn’t expand my horizons or introduce me to new ideas, ideas that could improve the way I work, make me happier, more productive and make my company a better place to be.  I email & IM the people I already know, use the same techniques I’ve always used, get feedback from the same people that always give me feedback.  However many times we try to introduce a new tool, it ends up being the same thing with different packaging, never bringing about the desired effect.  

This project has forced me to finally put my vision of our workplace down on paper.   That turned the light bulb on for me (it was more like someone turning up the dimmer, but very slowly).  After I got beyond the tools, I started to notice the differnce in the workplace culture that I was defining.  It’s an organization that looks very different from the email based one that I see today.  Instead of the isolated application and employee, everything becomes connected.  Well, at least the potential is there.  It’s then up to you and me to take advantage of that potential, to pull the power out to where we work – at the edge.  And once that happens, your organization looks very different, like flat different.  And once your organization is flat, the rules change.  To what? I don’t know yet.  But they change.


I recently had a chat with Gary Koelling & Steve Bendt of Best Buy. They seem to be at the cornerstone of success when it comes to creating an edge organization. In doing research for our talk I came across this video.  In the first minute of the video they begin to outline how, with the success of Blue Shirt Nation, their organization has become less hierarchical.  This is a perfect example of a developing edge organization.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1442685&dest=-1]

Some of the key takeaways from the video:

  • They are not VPs or C-level, yet they are giving a significant presentation as representatives of Best Buy.  This is a transformation sign away from hierarcy and toward the edge.
  • The initial version of BSN was disliked by the user community.  Iteration was key.
  • They developed the application first.  They shopped a .ppt deck around, but all it received was talk.  They took action and put something together.
  • A top-down approach in developing an edge organization won’t work.  It has to be user driven.
  • Now that BSN has a critical mass, it has become a place of vetting for key strategies.
  • Trust is the key to building the community & the conversation.

Here’s Peter Kim’s post that inspired the (off the cuff, stream of consciousness) riff below.  

I was most interested by the content in the We need to set our sights on a bigger goal  section in the post where Peter talks about transforming the way we live and work, as well as how we connect with co-workers, customers, suppliers & other system participants.  I’ve been working on projects dedicated to transforming the way we work inside the company, so I’m going to focus on that.  The customers/suppliers/other system participant parts are just as important, but I’m slow and need more time to wrap my head around those issues.

The type of organization that is being described in Peter’s vision (or at least what I’ve interpreted it to be) is what I’ve been calling an Edge Organization (not sure if this is the first time this term has been used or not).  I’ve taken this particular concept of the edge from David S. Alberts & Richard E. Hayes’ Power to the Edge.  This is a technology-agnostic must read for anyone interested interested in the transformation of organizations in the information age.  Just read through the table of contents and you’ll see what I mean.  

The best way to summarize the theme of the book is:  Organizations in the information age need to move beyond hierarchy and command and control to become more agile and interoperable.  This is achieved by diffusing information to the edge and enabling those who are on the edge to process & act upon that information.  

So, what does this translate to in the office?  A couple of things come to mind:

  • Expert location (as in the ability to locate SME’s) – many companies don’t know what they know, and even when they do they struggle with who knows it.  
  • Content identification & location – the same thing that applies to locating experts (as in people) applies to documents and data.
  • Reuse – Chances are someone in Engineering is working on a project that has at least one component that’s been designed and developed before in some other part of the company.  They’re not starting from scratch, whether they know it or not – but that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Do they know it?  Which gets back to the first two bullet points. 

The bullets above are end goals supported by different whateverwe’recallingit2.0 tools.  The problem isn’t the tool, the problem is what an Edge Organization imiplies – a flattening of the organization and a shift of power.  In an Edge Organizaiton the employees on the front lines have to be informed (situational awareness) and enabled (trust) to maked decisions on-the-fly.  An Edge Organization means that THEY can make decisions without running it up the chain of command for approval.  It’s a culture shift that scares a lot of people, especially those who currently hold the ‘power’ and they can be big obstacles to the edge (see Power to the Edge’s section on The Demise of the Super Star…it’s awesome).  

Once the edge becomes enabled within the company I think we can then start to focus on how companies interact with one another edge to edge.  But as I said earlier, I still need some time to wrap my head around that one.

One of the more newsworthy events of the week, at least in the social media community, was David Armano’s fundraising efforts to help a family in need.  Details here.  The bottom line is that Armano was able to raise over $15,000 by leveraging the network he has built and his personal brand in the social media community.  The fact that this was even possible is remarkable, to have been witness to it unfold live was eye-popping.  Many, and I would guess that most, of the people contributing to this cause only know Armano through his blog, twitter updates and other publications; basically, they only know him virtually.  

Maybe as recently as a year ago (I’m just hazarding a guess) this would have been unthinkable.  Traditionally, only large, recognizable organizations like the Red Cross have commanded the trust & resouces required to raise this type of money in this way.  What happened in the first half of this week, at least for me, marked a very real shift in terms of power moving from the core (Red Cross types) to the edge (individuals such as Armano).  It reminds me of a book I read, Power to the Edge: Command…Control…in the Information Age.

Command and control (C2) was the traditional method (and is still widely used today) for organizing military forces.  As a soldier (on the edge) you got your orders only once, from the top (the core).  You followed them, no deviation.  One of the main reasons for this approach was lack of bandwidth.  Chances were, once you got into the field, should an unforseen situation arise there was almost no opportunity to communicate back to the top.  You had no choice but to proceed as planned.  And speaking of unforseen situations, C2 assumed that there wouldn’t be any.  We knew who our enemy was and how they operated (think Cold War); not so true in today’s world (think 9/11).  Resulting from this C2 approach was a very strong/smart ‘core’ and a very weak/uninformed/dumb ‘edge.’  That just won’t work today.

Power to the Edge urges the military to change its approach, to empower, educate & sharpen the edge.  Things do happen in the field and the the front lines need the ability & freedom to operate and overcome those obstacles.  Technology & bandwidth have made information flow to the edge possible; the edge can be smarter and more effective than ever before.  However, there is a foundation that must be in place for Power to the Edge to occur (qutoed directly from the book):

• Clear and consistent understanding of command intent;

• High quality information and shared situational awareness;

• Competence at all levels of the force; and

• Trust in the information, subordinates, superiors, peers, and equipment.

What happened the other night fits perfectly into this model. Check, check, check, check.   Armano, himself, takes care of the first two tenents through the Tweets/blog posts & Business Week articles.  We as individuals in the network are responsible for our competence, so that’s number three.  That leaves trust, which in my estimation is a direct result of the first three tenents and is by far the hardest to achieve.  Had any of these four tenents been missing, I’m guessing we wouldn’t have seen the type of success Armano had.  Maybe only those who knew him personally would have contributed; maybe, being suspicious, people would have given fewer $ on average; maybe Armano’s first degree contacts wouldn’t have passed the message along to their first degree contacts, and so on…who knows?

The $15,000 raised, however, was a direct result of power being moved to the edge.  I’m highly encouraged by the results; not only for the charity exibited, but for the reality of social networks to take hold, be meaningful and actually add value.  I encounter people on a daily basis that need to be convinced ‘social’ is more than just entertainment.  Whether you take part in ‘social’ publically or inside of your organization (as I am attempting) what we’ve seen this week is an execution of the theory Power to the Edge sets forth.  It’s very real and can have significant impact.

Here is a slightly edited copy of a blog posting I made internally at work regarding lessons learned (from our Lotus Connections Pilot efforts), originally created on December 18, 2008.  The rest of this post is an expansion on two of the points I made in the previous post, which I had password protected for a while but now fail to see the point in that.  Sorry. 

Anyways, here goes:

 

  • Change Management (user communication in this case).  Just this week I had lunch with a number of eager pilot participants who were confused as to whether it was officially launched or not.  The most recent communication stated that the pilot would go live the week of 12/15.  However, it seems a decision was made to put it off until the first work week of 2009.  I think holding off until 2009 is a great idea, launching while so many people are away reduces the ability to create buzz & momentum. The issue here is that there was no message sent to the user base alerting them of the decision to postpone the launch.  This functionality and culture change this pilot is supposed to bring about revolves around transparency & communication.  If you want to build a community you have to have a foundation of trust, open & honest communication.  Better to err on the side of caution (over-communication) than to let uncertaintly & confusion creep into the equation.
  • The soft-launch allowing the pre-population of content is a tremendous idea.  Not only does it get the uber-motivated involved early to test the waters, but it will allow us to work some of the major bugs out of the system before the major pilot group gets to move in.  The fact that there will already be content will boost morale when the larger group arrives.  Brilliant.