Friday, December 29, 2006

Blog? This ain't no blog!

Incredible--over two months since I last posted to this. Were it not for a few kind souls who added some comments, this blog would be as dead as morse code (it's true; I understand even the Boy Scouts have given up on offering a morse code merit badge these days). So what is this thing good for?

That's what I intend to research to find out. My personal research agenda from now on will be about the "next generation" of professionals. That is, what are the "young" professionals of today--those of you who know what Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, and texting are all about--doing about knowledge sharing? How do they do it? Why do they do it? What makes them do it? My hypothesis is that their rationale for knowledge sharing (read: KM) is or will be, radically different than that of previous generations of professionals.

Why do I think that? Well, let's look at the easy part of this hypothesis: the technology enablement that didn't exist before recently. Let's start with the phone. Sure, the phone's been around for quite a while, but now it's personal. While I'm not quite old enough to remember when you had to ring up a live operator to connect a call (I did see how that works in the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" though), I am old enough to remember that we had a "party line" (for you younger ones, it's not anything like what the name implies) and a phone number that went something like CHerry 1-1234.

So what's the big deal? We've always had an ability to connect to others through the phone--even in far away places. The big deal is accessibility. I liken this to stored knowledge in a public library. Now I grew up with public libraries, and I still love them but, they're not always convenient. Today's young professionals probably wouldn't step into a library unless they had to get out of the rain. Now that's not a criticism--it's just a feeling that today's professionals have grown up with knowledge accessibility through the internet--not through scouring dusty bookshelves.

Like libraries v. internet, so is the phone of the past and today's mobile phone service. As recently as a decade ago, cell phone service was a new thing. My first cell phone was permanently mounted to the floor of my car, with a little pigtail looking antenna glued to the back window (that's how you determined in the old days who was up with technology). I paid $30 a month for 20 minutes of service--and I thought that was a good deal! With cell technology however, came the beginnings of accessibility.

It also meant that a proliferation of accessibility was beginning to emerge. I took an inventory once. For me, my son, and my daughter, we once had 8 different phone numbers at which we could be reached if necessary: cell, home, work, fax, school, etc. Accessibility was possible then, but not convenient. Interestingly enough (to me at least), having more ways to reach people isn't nearly as good as reaching them in one consistent way--all the time. That's what I'm talking about regarding today's young professionals. They need only their mobile numbers. Many don't even have a "land line" at home (I wonder when that term will become nothing more than a trivia question).

So now, young professionals can reach anyone anywhere, anytime, 24/7. And because they've grown up with that paradigm, they might just do that (is there any etiquette about not calling after a certain hour of the evening anymore?). This, dare I say--convergence--of accessibility is what is different from the past. I haven't even mentioned texting, or presence indication yet--that's for a later post.

For me then, the bottom line of this accessibility is, how will organizations create, share, qualify, and retain their institutional knowledge in the future given the habits and preferences of the newer generations of professionals? They're here, and they're coming to replace us dinosaurs of previous generations. How will we work with them today given our own habits and preferences? And what will that mean to our organizations in total?

If I can get my head back into this blogging thing soon (right now it hurts from all this thinking), I'll ruminate on blogs, wikis, VoIP, presence indication, texting, IM, social networking sites, and other technologies that make it both easier to access knowledge as well as provide a dizzying number of sources of knowledge.

Happy New Year to you!


Anonymous said...

I don't think this generation is any different from the last. In fact they are more like us (me being a bit older than those who know about Jessica Simpson and Justin Timberlake, and this being my first public blog) than we or they will ever admit.

As the CKO for a military agency attempting to make huge changes in the knowledge sharing mindset within the U.S. military, I believe it comes down to rewards.

That being said, the things that different generations "value" are different - up to a point. As an example, I know of a young college student that had a "myspace" page where he shared everything he did. Living from the social rewards of being "out there", sharing every aspect of his live, it was all that he could do to "share" his ideas and his lifestyle with whomever wanted to consume it.

However, once he graduated, his reward system shifted to a more conservative model - he wanted to join the business world and his reward system shifted quite a bit. He did everything he could to remove what he had posted and started to control / limit his sharing to only what others "needed to know" - a concept I'm all too familiar with.

Sharing isn't about what give, it's about what we get in return. People are naturally selfish - they share because of what they get - sometimes it is more knowledge, sometimes it is money, and still yet others it is the social interaction that will result from the openness.

As you you at the younger generation, I think you need to look at what each age group holds dear - what they value. Only then will you understand why they share and whether or not it will last as they mature and grow. And finally, even more importantly, it will help us all figure out how to reward the sharing in a world where most reward systems are built around control of information.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Thanks JJ Reich for a thoughtful response that not only gives me another data point, it gives me an opportunity to extend the conversation as well. We have always stressed that actual sharing occurs when the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is answered for the individuals collaborate—either as providers or users. So I’d say we’re in agreement there. That doesn’t seem to be a generational divide as far as my experience indicates.

What does seem to be different between the generations, or at least feels like it, is the openness by which today’s newest professionals seem to be willing to share, particularly with respect to the details of their lives. Your “MySpace” example is exactly that phenomena in action. Let’s assume that young professionals are sharing personal information that more senior professionals would not, as you point out. The fact remains that they’ll probably still use the venue in a modified way to share something about themselves.

Similar venues already exist for a “professional” only type of sharing where those details of our professional resume can be shared across the world. I use one myself. However, I see it as not quite tedious to update, but at least not something that I intently go to for sharing—either of myself or to seek others. I could make the argument that my profession and interest in KM would make it not only ideal for spreading the word, it should in theory provide my resume with visibility that few other mechanisms could. In that sense it would answer the WIIFM for me. New career opportunities should be pouring in all the time. Yet they don’t, and I don’t really care.

I’ve shared there, others have looked (I know because they contact me to get in my “circle of friends”), but yet we haven’t found it a source of sufficient collegiality to interact beyond being connected electronically. Contrast that with what I see happening all the time with younger professionals. They often immediately update their social networking spaces after some event just so that it can be immediately known to the world. I suggest that even if their content changes over time, their behavior may not. They may have an affinity to share in that way forever simply because that’s what they’ve “grown up” with. I liken that to behaviors similar to an older person doing arithmetic by writing it out in longhand, and a younger person grabbing a calculator to do the same task. Certainly calculators have been around long enough for the older person to learn to use, yet something else unseen makes him eschew it.

Maybe there isn’t a significant difference in the motivation to share among today’s newest professionals and those of earlier generations, but it’s clear to me that there’s still a difference in sharing going on. Since this is now my personal research interest, I’m sort of glad no one has the answer yet.

By the way, on a different subject, but because JJ offered some background in his response, I find the US military to be a rich source of learning with respect to knowledge sharing and creating a culture of collaboration. APQC is currently working with a major element of the US Army to build a knowledge sharing environment. We assessed their readiness, we developed their KM strategy, and we’re in the middle of engaging them in proof of concept projects to deploy the strategy. This organization—very hierarchical and command and control (as JJ alludes to)—has provided us with insight into the workings and difficulties of that particular management style.

Even more interesting is the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. My personal largest client is the US Navy. Here, where the word (order) of a CO is next to law, I’ve found their willingness to share incredibly refreshing, particularly as they still co-exist with the “big Navy” and the necessary constraints of command and control. This Navy unit has broken down barriers to collaboration in 3 years that I would have thought impossible for a 231-year old institution. What makes the military especially exciting for me to observe and work with are all the hurdles that it must deal with: short term billets; young and old serving at the same time; active duty, civil service, contractors working together; congressional marks; changes in orders; and, as JJ points out reward and recognition systems that don’t necessarily incent sharing behaviors.

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