Archives For July 2010

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Nicholas Carr’s recent book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains touches on an issue that APQC has been grappling with for several years–namely, that knowledge management is limited by the capacity of human attention, which many claim is being damaged by digital immersion, or excessive exposure to digital media.

Absolutely agreed, which is why it is important not only to capture information right away, but capture the meta-information as well. This is why the dynamic signal (flows, as is getting a lot of use these days) is important.

Lessons learned are important (they’re a stock), but equally as important is the context in which the lesson was captured.

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In my last post I wrote about communication being an important aspect of knowledge work and decision making.  I can sometimes get a little too academic with how things are supposed to work and so I thought I’d write a follow-up post that uses a concrete example (IRL for some) of how communication helped me and my colleague, Tom Cummings, just the other night.

The setup here isn’t that important other than to to say we were at the beginning stages of a new project and decided a brainstorming session was in order.  We found an empty conference room, a whiteboard and started to get our ideas down.

Social Business Design aside:  This conference room is what we commonly refer to as a silo.  A silo is anything (an organization, software…a conference room) that keeps information within its walls, making it hard for an outsider to discover what is going on behind them.  Tom and I were working alone, the rest of the company had no visibility into what we were doing.

Five minutes in to our brainstorm we were interrupted by a much more responsible group of colleagues who actually reserved the conference room for a meeting.  We packed up our stuff, white board included, and as there were no other conference rooms available, made camp in the hallway.  It’s important to note that this is really the only hallway that exists in our open floor plan office, so by default it is the highest trafficked hallway we have.

Social Business Design aside: A hallway is very much like a dynamic signal, a ‘dynamic information flow produced by constituents.’ As Tom and I were working in the hallway we were being passed by other employees with different experiences, expertise, points-of-view and tacit knowledge. Our activities were now visible to the rest of the company.

In the hallway we were being passed by colleagues.  They could see what we were working on and chose to either keep walking or stop and engage us.  We experienced both.  Within ten minutes, Tom and I found oursleves in a conversation with two colleagues each knowledgeable and experienced on the work we were doing.  Over the next 30 minutes we discussed our current situation, the vision and goals for the project, recent trends and developments and lessons learned from having ‘been there and done that.’  Afterwards, Tom and I literally went back to the drawing board to incorporate what we had just learned.

Social Business Design aside:  I mentioned that colleagues in the hallway would either keep on walking or stop to talk to us.  This is an example of a metafilter, ‘what’s important to one person may be meaningless to another.’   Those who wanted to participate could, those who had other interests could keep on going.  By being in the hallway (the dynamic signal) we were making ourselves visible to the rest of the company so they could decide to participate or not.

It’s impossible to compare the Dave & Tom-only project to the Dave & Tom + Colleague Feedback project (because the former will never happen) but everyone involved felt much better about latter: more input, more experience, more tacit knowledge.  We had engaged in communication and collaboration that resulted in a much more holistic approach to our work.  Our path forward became more clear, informed and actionable.

You might not have the collaboration luxury of working in the same office as the rest of your company, so this might not be your everyday experience.  The good thing is you don’t have to be in the same office to collaborate with colleagues.  There are fantastic tools available that will give your company all the virtual hallways, metafilters and whiteboards it needs.  But, tools are the easy part these days.  Your company is filled with smart people, gathering knowledge and insights every day…are you prepared to use them?

Communication as Work

July 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

A knowledge worker spends a good portion of the day communicating – meetings, status reports, emails, phone calls, water cooler talks.  Much of this activity is considered unproductive overhead; when you look at a calendar full of meetings you wonder when you’re going to get any REAL work done.  And while many popular forms of communication may be inefficient and ineffective, communication is work; perhaps the most important work knowledge workers do.

Knowledge work is aimed at turning information into something decisionable and actionable; too often reports, presentations, survey results are mistaken for such.  While they are a key part of the decision equation, they are not enough.  They don’t provide insight.  The only thing they’re good for on their own is filling repositories.

Knowledge, unlike the data and information contained in reports, is a living & breathing thing.  It can’t be put in your enterprise content management system.  It exists in the heads of employees (often referred to as ‘tacit’ knowledge), constantly being shaped by different stimuli: articles, blog posts, pictures, models, books, conversations with colleagues, etc…  Communication is the process by which this constantly evolving knowledge is applied on data and information to a decisionable end.  This process will generate insights on how to take advantage of the information you have gathered.  Unless the reports, presentations and survey results are subjected to scrutiny and analysis through communication, no insights are created and decisions are delayed or malinformed.

Communication is more than just a block of time on your calendar.  It’s an opportunity to  share knowledge, gain insight, make better decisions and create for your company a competitive advantage.

What does communication look like where you work?  Is it enabling the application of knowledge to data and information?  Where do your company’s insights come from?