Thursday, February 08, 2007

My head is goig to explode!

Yes, it’s true. Not unlike the cycle of technology that has come “full circle,” I have now decided that my head will explode from “infoglut.” Remember that term? What do I mean by this? Think of the original use of computers in business. They were mainframes—big (physically), and they were centralized—one corporate brain that kept all the enterprise’s important data. Somewhere along came PCs—small and individual—creating fragmented brains all over the place. To manage that, the server/thin client model was born so that some of the information could be reined back in to the corporate brain. Today, the internet/intranet has exploded that model even more toward a future where a single brain can be envisioned. Think of your life—your spreadsheets, calendars, mail, photos, directions, etc., all hosted by Google.

Similarly, I am now mired in infoglut once again. How ironic for someone engaged in knowledge management, no? It goes something like this: years ago I had trouble reading everything I wanted to read—couldn’t afford all the magazines and journals, couldn’t carry them all around, and so on. Then along came the internet that at least allowed me to save my back and briefcase space (if not the expense). I could save my favorites and read stuff on demand even if I had only a few minutes to sneak the reading time in. I felt empowered to be able to control even my fragments of time—choice was good!

What I discovered though, is a corollary—too much choice is not good! Now I’m inundated by all the possibilities, which leads me back to the problem of reading everything I want to read. Listening to some of it would be helpful (think of podcasts), but even sourcing that content is a chore for me. RSS? For me that just means Really Swamped Sometimes. I was lucky enough to get an 80Gb iPod from my family for Christmas. In a month’s time, I’ve gone from 0 bytes of digital media to over 35Gb of stuff—songs, podcasts, videos, notes, etc.—and feel like I can’t keep up with all that now. Where did all that stuff come from? And why didn’t I need it before?

For a change, I made a conscious effort to read some printed material on a cross country flight this week from my home in Cleveland (where it was -1 degree when I left) to San Diego (where thankfully, it is considerably warmer). The local paper, Laptop magazine, Fast Company, and some car magazines (my favorites). What did I read? More about social networking. Blogging. Live mobile TV. Simulations. Second Life. That doesn’t even include some good advice from Jack Vinson and Dale Arseneault regarding checking out other similar topics and the “Info Islands.” By the way, in my last post, I promised to get out to Second Life—haven’t found the time yet.

Where am I going with all this? Back to the next generation. For me, applying technology has been something I’ve had to learn in my lifetime, and while I enjoy it, today’s and tomorrow’s knowledge workers are saying, “what’s the big deal?” After all, this is their life; what they’ve grown up with and have always known. So how will they work together? Connect? Stay connected? And how will they choose who and how to stay connected with? In previous posts others have responded saying that the incentive to collaborate is the same for any generation, and perhaps that is true. On the other hand, I still want to know if the technology enablement available today will change behaviors or motivations? And who knows what tomorrow will bring?

By the way, on a somewhat related note, I’ve decided that one of the reasons I don’t like to blog is the fact that I have to type this thing. As an industrial engineer in a previous life, the man-machine interface has always interested me. Typing has never been a skill of mine. When Tablet PCs first came out, I rushed to get one. Being able to communicate in my own (bad) handwriting has improved my productivity by orders of magnitude—but even that has its limitations. I’ve tried both the tablet PC’s built-in voice recognition app as well as the leading voice recognition software available, and have found them to be less than satisfactory, but maybe if I could dictate this blog, I might find it more to my liking.

One last thing: something I found especially enjoyable and satisfying recently was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the bejillionth time—even if it was while sitting in a plane squinting at a tiny iPod screen.


Vincent Clark said...

Jim, Your article rings true to me and to many others in the knowledge management world. I like your term 'infoglut'. I ran across this article about Marketing Why Software Business Models of the Future Probably Won't Come in a Box and thought how the real problem is that Internet businesses and all their various ways of vying for my attention, money, and time have contributed to this problem. I currently am using General Knowledge Base to try to corral my various bits of 'knowledge' and inventory of data types of value to me. Soon it will transform itself into a 'Web Interface' and will be accessible from anywhere. Even my software will be there, whether it is marketed by advertising, subscription, timeshare, or in a box. Vincent

Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon said...


the next question is: what are the implications of 'infoglut'?

Does it mean there is a need for a new layer of interpreters and distillers - trusted channels we can go to to collate, distill, and synthesise this information into a form we can consume and handle? Does it mean a need for new forms of search to find the information we really need? Does it mean people will be swamped, and will only be able to keep up in specific interest areas while the world moves on in other respects?

I think some consideration of how the world will change in the 'scenario' of increased infoglut would be interesting . . .

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Dr. Mackinnon, you’ve diagnosed my symptoms and anxiety exactly! That feeling of being overwhelmed and worrying about whether some sliver—albeit important—bit of knowledge is hidden from me due to my inability to keep up. While I’ve resurrected the term “infoglut” to describe the provider side phenomena, a term used by APQC to describe the dilemma (consumer side) to keep up with it is “absorbtive capacity.” Wanting to know all so that I can synthesize it myself is a grand but misguided goal. Allowing others to perform the role of interpreter and distiller on the surface feels even worse to me, as I already believe that many people are not familiar with the concepts of critical thinking and because of that may fall prey to incorrect or even malicious information (no political tomes here please, this isn’t the place for it).

So personal knowledge management (as described in a keynote presentation by Tom Davenport at APQC’s 9th annual KM conference a few years ago) is clearly not a strength of mine. So if I can’t get my own “repository” of knowledge in order, what implications does this have for those who I may want to collaborate with? And that’s not even thinking of what kinds of knowledge I want from others to add to my own pile of knowledge.

Searching in new ways doesn’t seem like the answer—at least for me that is. For example, my living room floor is littered with piles of magazines. One pile for computer and technology magazines, another for my monthly project management journal, yet another for business, a big pile for car magazines, and finally, a stack for military history stuff. So I know what I’ve got—sort of. It’s there in plain view, and the reason I got them in the first place is because I had previously vetted their content via the table of contents, or the sexy photo on the cover (in the case of the car magazines at least). I just can’t assimilate it all. More proof of that is evident in the number of duplicate copies I have of magazines I bought earlier but forgot that I did because I never got around to reading them.

The magazine problem represents only a portion of my absorbtive capacity problem. For example, how many websites are there devoted to KM? Must be in the hundreds I might guess. How many of them are any good, or at least ones I should be aware of and familiar with? In 2006, I was away from home 246 days—exactly two-thirds of the year. The vast majority of those days away were at clients developing their KM strategy, or overseeing their KM implementation, or delivering KM training. I’m lucky enough to see KM from a variety of angles, industries, maturities, and so on. Staying current in the field isn’t the problem. I’m awash in KM! So if most of my time is already spent “doing” KM for clients, how much time should I spend reading thought leadership versus creating the thought leadership myself?

Like Dr. Mackinnon, I too want to know how the continued fractionalization of “knowledge” (think of 3 minute YouTube videos, or the ubiquitous “news” feeds of the major search engines) will impact how future knowledge workers work and interact. A keynote speaker at our recent APQC Member Meeting tapped into this generational phenomenon as well. He cited an example where a “millennial” professional was more comfortable working with his iPod in his ear than without, because it would be “too quiet” otherwise! Somehow the millenials have re-wired their brains to simultaneously work and absorb music (probably played too loudly). This is not just high tech Muzak, it’s an entirely different way of thinking in my book. There was also an article I read recently that coined a term for this parsing of attention—suggesting that on balance it is more negative than positive—but I won’t cite its specifics until I can find the article again for proper attribution.

By the way, in looking back at Tom Davenport’s presentation mentioned earlier, I found his “tools that waste my time.” In no particular order (I presume), he listed: Blogging tools; Wikis; Tablet PCs, OneNote, and anything that doesn’t use keys (ouch on these); and, Outlook (although he admits to using Outlook).

Anonymous said...

I hear ya brother..

I think Dr. Mackinnon actually asked leading questions.. to which all the answers are yes.

Something I've noticed, certainly in the media, is an ever increasing amount of "reuse" through aggregation. You see the same video clips, photos, and stories across multiple channels, and even across multiple media. For example, a number of free dailies have sprung up in my city that repurpose content from their parent news papers, who in turn leverage content from other sources.

Then if you subscribe to the notion that this "reuse" happens more broadly, perhaps there is some merit in picking a few key sources and tracking them. The odds are that what ever else out there is likely not too different and you won't miss much.

Perhaps the best knowledge worker is a discerning knowledge worker.


(PS: Jim, it might be worth considering setting this up as a KM group / practice blog. I think if Cindy, Ron, Darcy and other thought leaders would join in and contribute, the content would be more diverse, there would be more activity on the blog, and it sure would take a lot of the burden off you.)

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