The Rise of Groupthink
In a recent New York Times article, author Susan Cain pointed out that we're living in a time when people seem crazy for connection. So much so that solitude has come to seem a tad eccentric. Everybody's part of some kind of team, real or virtual, constantly in contact via Twitter and Facebook. Collaboration is king.
However, research suggests that people may actually be more creative when they work privately, without interruption. And extremely creative people are often introverts, according to studies by
psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. It's a subject Cane explores at length in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.
Despite evidence to the contrary, what Cain calls "groupthink" has taken over at work, in schools and even in religious institutions. It's one thing to participate in a group where
members work autonomously toward a common goal. It's another to be dragged from meeting to conference call, being robbed of the time to think or get something done. The need for solitude may even be a
factor in an interesting demographic shift. More people are living alone now than at any point in human history. If we
can't get away from people at work, many of us are finding solitude at home.
In the end, people need both. We need human contact, and we also need autonomy. So we need to work toward a more
nuanced approach to management that encourages casual interaction without eliminating personalized, private spaces.
We read last week that in 2011, smartphones outsold personal computers for the first time (with desktops, laptops, notebooks and tablets all counted in the PC category). The article implied that we've entered the Age of the Smartphone, which has gone from being a high-end niche product to something that's a true mass-market proposition. That had an ominous ring for us. It's not universal, but in our experience people who rely on mobile devices tend toward shorter and shorter messages. Sometimes the communication gets abbreviated to the point that you can't be sure what's being said without some decoding work. Is this a step forward, or a step backward?
Blaise Pascal famously apologized for writing a long letter by explaining that he didn't have time to write a short one. Shorter is harder. Explaining something in one sentence is harder than
doing it in one paragraph. So we're unpersuaded that being entirely untethered from the keyboard is a good thing. And while it's great to be able to check in on the road, it's probably better to find
time for thoughtful interaction, whether that's face to face or virtual. Otherwise we may be entering the Age of Confusion.
Jobs, Roles and Archetypes
Back in the early days of KM, practitioners like us were often called upon to help develop job descriptions for Knowledge Management. People got the basic idea pretty well, but needed help in making it
understand what you're about, but what is it that you do?") Working in a corporate KM department, we moved pretty quickly from job descriptions to roles, primarily because so few departments were willing to fund dedicated KM resources. In small units, one person might cover all the roles, part time. Larger units could mix and match appropriately. We defined three: Knowledge Journalists who would work to find and document things worth saving, Knowledge Librarians who would codify and store material for reuse and also help people find information, and Knowledge Managers who would serve as team leaders and KM evangelists.
A recent article in Forbes takes this idea to a new level, by suggesting there are actually KM archetypes in most organizations. Among those identified, are Connectors who are the go-to sources of information. They like knowing what's up and are eager to share what they know. There are Compasses who use information to set strategic direction, working with the latest facts in a long term context. And there are Scouts, who monitor specific topics and report on changes in the landscape. So it seems our collective understanding of KM continues to evolve. But it's sure taking longer than we expected.
We came across the Kickstarter website last month, and thought it was cool enough to pass on to our readers. It's a tool to help creative entrepreneurs raise funds for some specific project. Each project is described in a short video, as well as in text, and backers receive a variety of incentives according to their level of commitment.
You might find an organic farmer offering thank you notes for small contributions, or a tour of the farm and a home-cooked dinner for those with deep pockets. A toy maker who's paying its backers with assembly sets of increasing size and complexity. Or a songwriter who'll send an MP3 from her new CD or buy you dinner at her favorite restaurant. If you opt to back a project, the funds don't transfer unless the project reaches its declared goal. But an unscientific survey suggests most projects actually raise more than they need. The whole Kickstarter concept hangs together beautifully, and if you ever wanted to be a venture capitalist, now's your chance.
For us, it's also an example of social networking in action, since we discovered the site via a Facebook recommendation from a friend of the above-mentioned songwriter. And it's interesting how
all of its little moving parts (email, Web technology, secure funds transfer systems, social networking tools, etc.) have been developed separately and pulled together into something new. The Web has
been with us for a little over 20 years now, but it's still just getting started.
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