Is Knowledge Power?
It used to be a given that your value as an individual was based largely on what you knew. It might have been knowledge in
the form of domain expertise or business strategy, or perhaps the less savory knowledge about where the bodies were buried. But knowledge was clearly a form of power, so it was not unreasonable to
safeguard it. If you told people everything you knew, your own importance would be diminished.
These days, though, there's so much information and so many channels for moving it that it's almost
impossible to control. Some companies are giving up on the idea of managing knowledge flows and instead are building collaboration networks in which everyone has access to everything.
sharing may be the way of the future, but establishing the kind of trust that's needed for collaboration is not so easy. Incentive programs will not convince people to do things they don't feel are in
their own best interest. Collaboration tools can help, but only as enablers. The culture has to come first.
IDC executive Michael Fauscette considers this in a blog post at Enterprise Irregulars. In a recent IDC survey, companies reported productivity gains as high as 30% from collaboration programs. That's impressive, but making it happen remains more art than science.
Taking Chances, Making Mistakes
No one likes to make mistakes, but it's important not to sweat the small ones. You have
to make room for them.
"Zero Defects" might be a good goal for manufacturing, when the intent is to produce gazillions of identical widgets. But in the realm of knowledge work, an
excessive focus on mistake-avoidance only serves to discourage risk taking and innovation. If you've ever worked for someone who declared that failure was not an option, you know what we mean. (Failure
is always an option -- it's the elimination of failure that's unattainable.) Whether you think of it at the level of well-intentioned ideas that don't work out as planned, or at the level of genetic mutation, mistakes are a necessary part of evolution. They can lead to new and better ways of doing things, for individuals as well as organizations.
Writer Alina Tugend has a new book out on this topic, called Better by Mistake, and you can also read an abstract of her ideas as a Change This manifesto. She thinks we need to go back to our roots, and remember that as children, we still believed
we could learn through our mistakes. It may be that the problem in America today isn't that we're making too many mistakes, but that we're making too few.
Worth a Thousand Words
Before we got involved in Knowledge Management we were interested in information design, a
discipline that applies graphic concepts to complex or unstructured data. Edward Tufte has several beautiful books on the subject, and also gives seminars from time to time. They're worth your time.
It's not a new field. Perhaps the most famous example is a diagram of Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812-1813, drawn by Charles Joseph Minard in 1861. It's a multi-variate display that combines six different variables in one image: latitude, longitude, topography, troop strength, direction of travel and temperature. It's a heartbreaking thing to consider: an army of 422,000 marching east, and only 10,000 coming back. There are more contemporary examples, too. Check out David McCandless's "information is beautiful" blog, and browse through his visualization section.
It's a missing link in the KM picture.
Knowledge Management tends to emphasize the collection, storage and retrieval of information, without doing much to make that information more comprehensible. Information design tries to bridge the gap,
and bring hidden meanings to the surface.
Farewell to the Flip
You might have seen the Flip video camera in the news this week. A little gadget designed and manufactured by San Francisco-based Pure Digital Technologies, it was one of the hottest products going four years ago. Easy to carry, easy to use and not too pricey. With a Flip, anyone could record HD video on the go. It seemed so promising as a consumer device that Cisco paid $590 million to acquire Pure Digital in March 2009. Today they're shutting it down.
Cisco has never been deeply invested in consumer products, although it does make some routers for home use. But the Flip is more likely a victim of the continued proliferation of smart phones. As
phones have evolved into multi-purpose tools capable of doing many things, why would someone carry another device that could do only one? The Flip also stayed with its original architecture, which tied
the camera to a computer. To share a video on the Internet, you had to move it to a PC first, then upload it. How 1.0.
The pace of technological change is relentless, and the smart phone is a key
driver for the social networking revolution. Smart phones make it incredibly easy to capture, upload and share information, and might even be the foundation for the KM systems of the future. Onward and upward.
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