Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Neglected Human Element in Web 2.0

Most of the talk around "Web 2.0" rarely touches on the human element. There is lots of rhetoric about the promise and potential of emerging social / collaborative technologies, but no one connects these as tools that enable human processes / practices. There seems to be an underlying assumption of "build it and they will come" or "give the group these technologies and magic will happen."

I think this is a problematic and potentially costly assumption.

Example. Wiki technology enables a group of people to jointly create and edit a document, track who made what changes, and have a related on-line discussion about the document/content. A much more productive tool than using only Microsoft word and those ugly revision marks.

But without common purpose and motivation to contribute, the required skills and knowledge to contribute, agreement to basic ground rules and processes, clear decision making around what content stays and what goes, and a transparent, agreed to arbitration process in the case of irreconcilable conflict -- all the basic things guide group work even in the absence of technology - the tool in and of itself is ineffective and desired outcomes will not be reached.

Related to this idea is that the word "collaboration" has become a generic term to refer to ANY form of interaction between individuals and groups. Yet there are multiple forms, including consulting (asking for input), co-operating, coordinating.

In each one the motivation, process and outcomes are different than real collaboration, which can be defined as exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of another to achieve a commonly agreed to outcome through an agreed to process.

Common, explicit understanding and agreement about the outcome / goal, and HOW a group will interact together is important for establishing roles/responsibilities and rules to govern the interaction, and the choice of technology or tool.

I think when "collaboration" is used generically it leads to multiple interpretations and assumptions, which causes breakdown in processes/practices and prevents groups from achieving their potential.

Adding technology in the mix only multiplies the risks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Information Persistence in a Networked World

I was thinking back to a Google presentation at the APQC KMEdge conference, where the presenter challenged the need to delete information, and suggested that with the current and anticipated future state of search technologies and capabilities, there is no issue finding the right information.

Of course, that proposition tends to make Information Management professionals react quite strongly, in particular around the issue of ensuring that business is properly documented by retaining accurate, relevant corporate records and deleting transitory information from corporate systems.

But what about in the "networked world?" Imagine a not-so-distant future when a range of social technologies are in use inside the organization, and individuals link to internal/external shared content, others' personal / team spaces, URLs etc., very much like what is happening on the Internet today. They build on the ideas /information in those links, and presume that if a reader chooses to follow the path of precedence, they can. Multiply this by the number of people using these linking strategies, yielding an exponential rise in a "network" of connected information.

So, what happens if a number of links in the chain break because they are to information considered transitory in one circumstance, but provided a great foundation of ideas in another? What happens if the originating source is not longer available? (Perhaps a bit like a research paper footnoting another paper or book that ceased to exist.)

In a future of social technologies in the enterprise, can organizations afford to delete any information, regardless of its value, or lack thereof, as a corporate record?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Important Nature of Context in Learning and Knowledge Sharing

Back in 1982, the first half hour animated televised special based on the Garfield comic strip was aired - Here Comes Garfield. In it Desirée Goyette sings So Long Old Friend as a vehicle for remembering Odie before he is to be euthanized at the pound (he's rescued of course.) In the context, it's a real "tear jerker" of a song that never fails to tug on heart strings if you transpose the song/lyrics to your personal experiences of losing a friend or loved one. I was touched by the song, and have remembered it ever since.

Interestingly, the song was also used in the recently released Sweeney Todd movie featuring Johnny Depp. I rented the movie and watched it at home. Because of the context of the movie, I believe, I never connected the song in Sweeney Todd with the Garfield special until someone mentioned it - though it is exactly the same song performed in both instances by Desirée.

Perhaps it's a little like meeting up with an acquaintenace in a totally different/new circumstance and not recognizing them. I've heard many people share that experience.

Below are YouTube clips of the song in the two circumstances if you too need a reminder.
(Apparently it was also used on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Defining a Commitment Management Protocol

In today's fast paced work, we are all negotiating with suppliers, partners, colleagues, subordinates, managers etc. I had in my hand Stephan Haeckel's book titled Adaptive Enterprise, and dropped it on my desk. It opened to page 148 and a section titled The Commitment Management Protocol, an a few lines grabbed my attention:

"Its rigor imposes clarity on processes that may otherwise be rife with ambiguity and misunderstanding. "

"The commitment management protocol consists of four task phases - define, negotiate, perform and assess - and seven communications of a special kind - offer, request, agree, report, accept, reject and withdraw."

And on page 150 the author mentions "The commitments made must also be authentic. By authentic I mean two things. First, both parties must mean what they say and say what they mean - they must be sincere. Second, each party must know and understand what they mean - they must be competent."

Perhaps this could be the root of a protocol that enables collaboration/cooperation/coordination across hierarchical boundaries.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

KM as an Enabler of the Agile Enterprise

I just started reading Response Ability: The Language, Structure, and Culture of the Agile Enterprise by Rick Dove and it promises to be a very interesting read.

What virtually jumped of the page for me was his working definition of agility - the ability to manage and apply knowledge effectively so that an organization has the potential to thrive in a continuously changing and unpredictable business environment. He suggests that agility is derived from "both the physical ability to act (response ability) and the intellectual ability to find the right things to act on (knowledge management.)

Over the last number of years, threats and risks of retiring baby boomers was often suggested as the hook upon which to hang KM's hat (to demonstrate the value of KM.)

In only reading the first few pages of the book, it looks to me that increasing agility is a far more value add for KM, which would also include dealing with knowledge continuity in the face of retirements.

Rick Dove's book also looks at agile enterprises in the context of culture, structure, frameworks, change and management.

If you're interested, you can read the Table of Contents and synopsis of the chapters on the Paradigm Shift International web site.

On a final note, Rick Dove seems is well versed in organizational agility, flexibility, decision making and change management. This book is well worth the read.