Archive for March, 2010


It turns out touchy feely does matter

March 30, 2010

In today’s NYTimes, David Brooks wrote an OpEd piece in which he asks the question, “Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?”

He then goes on to describe recent research into happiness that shows that although the US is much richer than it was 50 years ago, overall happiness has not increased accordingly. Likewise, even though income inequality has increased dramatically in that same time period, happiness has remained unchanged.

The reason? It turns out social ties are what mediate personal happiness, not wealth. And apparently we have a strong communitarian bent in the US that enables us to maintain social ties with neighbors and institutions despite television and Twitter.

Brooks finishes up saying:

Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most.

It struck me that that is more than a little similar to what I see behind many decisions that take place in companies as they wrestle with nebulous concepts like knowledge management and employee engagement. In their efforts to stimulate more collaboration that could lead to increased innovation and productivity, companies time and again default to focusing on things that are measurable. This results in overlooking or giving short shrift to the things that would actually make a difference.

It’s much easier to build a database and ask people to go in and add their lessons learned or best practices, than it is to figure out how to redesign the workplace and the work that is done there in a way that would foster relationship building, leading to more collaboration. I can measure how many entries are in a database, and I can allocate budget for its construction and maintenance.

Changing the workplace, or thinking about how work is organized is difficult. And it’s not obvious how to measure it. And it could cost a lot of money and downtime. Too touchy feely.

And then there’s culture – the management hierarchy, deference to authority, fear of retribution in speaking up, lack of trust among colleagues who are in competition with one another for the next promotion. All serve to undermine the basic stuff of happiness, which it turns out would be of great benefit to companies, not to mention society as a whole.

So get busy rolling out that Sharepoint. Make sure you keep track of how much you’re spending on the software licenses and servers, and bring it in under budget.

Just don’t be surprised if you don’t see any change in your employee engagement scores on next year’s survey. Or any noticable uptick on your P&L.

The stuff that’s most important – increasing social capital and fostering collaboration – isn’t easy to bring about or measure. But it sure can make a real difference. Read the rest of this entry ?


The evolution of knowledge management and the Technology Eras hypothesis

March 26, 2010
  • or When Will Companies Finally Get It?

  • The other day a member of a web group I’m in asked, somewhat rhetorically, when we thought the US Fed would incorporate knowledge management into its official work agreements and policies the way it had information management (thank you, Albert S). His question arose from a discussion about how difficult it is to get mainstream buy in for KM as a legitimate body of concepts and practices in mature enterprises.

    This is a great question, prompting me to draft up for the first time a hypothesis I’ve mulled around for a decade or longer. So here goes.

    I believe one approach to detecting when KM will going “mainstream” is based on my own Hypothesis of Technology Eras. It goes like this:

    Upon the dawn of a new technology era the first application of the new technology is the optimization of the one that preceded it.

    For instance, when we moved from the agrarian to the industrial age, one of the first things that happened was industrialization of farming, leading to massive improvements in farm productivity. Ditto for the transition from the industrial age to the information age. IT was applied to manufacturing (and farming) in a series of successive waves to optimize it, resulting, again, in massive gains in productivity.

    KM is a bit trickier, or what comes after the information age for that matter. One way to tackle this question is to divide the Information Age up into a few smaller epochs or eras: you could identify the MIS era (<1993, pre-web), Web 1.0 era (1993-2006ish?), Web 2.0 (social media era, 2006 – present), Web 3.0 (mashup era, 2010/11?- ?).

    I’d locate KM’s true genesis within the Web1.0 era, even though Peter Drucker foresaw it several years earlier. Those of us who started practicing it then had a lot of trouble with the mainstream, and many mature enterprises used the principles to optimize information/document management (which emerged in the MIS era that preceded it). As the Social Media/Web 2.0 era picks up steam and has become mainstream in business, KM seems to be hitting its ascendancy as a legitimate body of knowledge and concepts. Perhaps we are now in the real KM era – social media being the last puzzle piece that was needed to make it truly viable at an enterprise scale. If that be true, then one could posit that as Web3.0 gains widespread traction one of the early uses of it will be to turbo-charge real KM in large enterprises that have so far only embraced limited or point-solution implementations.

    When will KM enter the slope of enlightenment?

    Gartner’s Hype Cycle ©2005 Gartner, Inc

    When will KM enter the slope of enlightenment?

    Of course all of this is pretty speculative, and even to me feels a bit forced. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see where things go next – after social media gets over the top of the hype cycle (inflated expectations) and down into the more realistic stage of using it for what it can do to make things work better. Heck, maybe that’s when KM will see another lift – people will realize business use of social media is much more than just tools and tech. It’s systemic, enterprise-level implementation of whole new ways of working that support strategic intent. And to me, that’s where KM gets interesting.

    We shall see.