Itís the Vision Thing
If you've spent any time in Knowledge Management, you know that on some level it's about sharing information. Whether you
opt to share it with a personalization strategy (connecting people to people) or with a codification strategy (connecting people to artifacts), it's harder than it sounds. Peter Drucker said that being
born naked and defenseless, we naturally want to keep our backs to the wall (and our knowledge to ourselves).
Sometimes, it takes a vision of disaster to break down the barriers. In a recent article in KMWorld, Art Murray described how the World Health Organization recognized the need to change its operating model when confronted with the threat of bird flu. Historically, the WHO had been a traditional hierarchy, organized by medical specialization.
That was before H5N1. Bird flu was recognized as a uniquely dangerous threat, given the potential for rapid and unpredictable spread. Dealing with an outbreak would require a complex,
multi-functional team with expertise in public health, communicable diseases, immunology, pharmacology, communications and transportation, to name a few. The good news is that this realization led the
WHO to develop faster response protocols and better mechanisms for knowledge sharing. But it was that vision of a global pandemic that got people moving.
Beyond the Agenda
Lots of us work in environments that are more virtual than real, but doing the work still requires the
kind of information exchange that can only happen in a meeting. Since today's meetings often involve people who never actually meet, they present a special challenge. Virtual meetings need more than an
agenda: they need a program.
This inspiration came to us from Rick Brenner of Chaco Canyon Consulting and it was one of those "Aha!" moments. We support a lot of our business with conference calls, and appreciate how limited they can be. We always prefer sitting around a table to hanging on the phone, since a face-to-face setting delivers so much additional bandwidth. Rick's suggestion is to provide a richer collection of supporting material, building in the kind of detail you'd find in a theater program.
For example, you could go beyond the agenda by distributing bios of the participants. Maybe some head shots, too, so that everyone can get a sense of each other. If the meetings are important,
you should be taking minutes, and links to those minutes could be another part of the program. The same thing goes for any exhibits that might be needed. Make sure people have them ahead of time, and if
you can't do it with links, pack everything up in a handy-dandy zip file.
If people are going to work effectively, they need to establish trust and understanding, separate from whatever business
decisions they may be called upon to make. You need to work a little harder to establish that trust in a virtual meeting, but it's still do-able.
It's hardly news, but it's still interesting to watch the steady migration of business functions to some
sort of Web-based technology. It's like seeing evolution in action, as a given function settles into the place where it makes the most sense. We've stumbled across a few examples in the past month, and
although we hadn't heard of any of them before, it's no surprise to discover them -- they make sense.
Take file storage, for example. Box.net lets you upload files and share them with others, or keep them private. You can publish through their Web site, via email or even from a cell phone. Box.net can do anything you can do on a LAN, and more. You can enable RSS feeds to let people know when a new file is available, and get an automatic notification when it's been read. It's available for free until you need more than a Gig of space.
How about Fax machines? eFax.com lets you use your email client to send Faxes, while also giving you a dedicated number for receiving them. It's free, too, if you have fewer than 20 incoming pages per month. At scanR.com, you can submit a digital image (from camera or phone) and they'll email you a PDF file. It uses image-recognition technology that's been
optimized for documents, business cards or white boards, and it works surprisingly well. The cost? Yep, it's free.
We're not endorsing any particular tool, and while scanR is pretty unique, there
are lots of Web file servers and virtual Fax machines. We're just considering how the Web is becoming a kind of all-purpose platform for getting things done. Every day, there are more things you can do
on-line. And most of the time, unless you're really doing them a lot, you can do them for free.
The Power of Belief Systems
Human beings are simply outstanding when it comes to pattern recognition. In fact, we're so
good at it that we even see patterns where there aren't any. That also leads us to invest in belief systems that may or may not be connected to reality.
Writing in The Skeptic, Harriet Hall notes that over the last 18 or so months, Hoodia Gordonii has taken the dieting world by storm. It grows in the deserts of southern Africa, where
it's used by the San people as a thirst quencher and appetite suppressant. But there have been no published studies of its use in humans, and there's no evidence that it helps in weight loss. It's also a
protected species that's never been successfully cultivated. There isn't enough to go around, and testing labs have found that some products contain no Hoodia at all.
So there's no evidence it
works, it may have been obtained illegally, and the products may not even be what they claim. People keep buying it, though. Breaking through an established belief system is very, very hard --
something that every communicator needs to remember.
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