Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blogs to the left of me, blogs to the right of me…

that’s how I described one of the findings from our just completed consortium benchmarking research on enterprise 2.0 tools. With about 120 of some our closest friends gathered together at APQC for 1-1/2 days to share their experiences, blogs were definitely on the minds and lips of everyone. Whether used as a communication or as a collaboration tool, blogs seemed to be considered THE way to connect people among many in the audience. So, with that wisdom in mind, I ask, “Who’s using blogs for business purposes, and what results have you seen?” Or, in other words, “Show me the money!” Comments welcome; encouraged; hoped for.

P.S. From the knowledge transfer session I described above, we created a new blog—just for participants only. They’re going to keep the discussion going in there. Those of you who missed out, well, you missed out. BUT—if you comment here, I’ll make sure they get a chance to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Et tu, web 2.0?

Well, another KMWorld has come and gone, and beyond catching up with old friends and meeting new folks, there was a lot to learn this time around. I’d have to say in fact, that this was the most productive of the many KMWorld conferences I’ve had the opportunity to attend. Stuff was cutting edge—and applied—not just theoretical “here’s what we’d like to do in KM if we could”.

If I had to pick out the two themes I was most fascinated by it would be the web 2.0 stuff of course, and the number of times I saw social network analysis (SNA) used. While I use as much of the web 2.0 stuff as I can—RSS, IM, blogs, wikis, mashups, VoIP, social networking sites, podcasts, etc.—some of that is due to the fact that I’m both a remote employee as well as someone who’s on the road nearly 100% of the time. Using the web 2.0 stuff is about the only way for me to even attempt to stay on top of current events. Still, hearing all these speakers made me stop and take inventory of just what it is I’m using and if they’re really making my life easier or not. So let’s see:

  • RSS feeds: I’m inundated with enough reading material already, so my feeds are mostly entertainment oriented. Things like the language podcasts, talk radio, and old movies and radio shows. On the trip out to San Jose, I listened to the 1939 radio broadcast of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It might have only been November, but it was still comforting to hear the story that I’ve seen so many times in film in so many ways (the Mr. Magoo version is still by far and away my favorite). On the whole, RSS is true to its namesake, and since I only use it through iTunes, it’s a no-brainer. I give this one a thumbs up.

  • Podcasts: Literally half of my 80Gb iPod is loaded with this stuff. Again, they’re mostly diversionary things like travel advice columns. Rick Steves is my favorite since I watch his TV shows also, but his podcasts are somewhat long so I have to be in the mood to pay attention that long. That also goes for some of the others, like Frommers, and the BusinessWeek ones, so I’m less apt to actually listen to them. My main client has a daily news podcast that I try to catch up on at least weekly, but that’s just because I feel like I must. The learn a language stuff? Not a chance. Spanish? Chinese? Japanese? Nada. I’ve got all three, but can’t figure out how to learn and retain the stuff after listening to them. A far bit more fun are the video podcasts like old movies (I’ve watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on that tiny 3” screen), and other public domain stuff. I’m too cheap to actually pay for content. So while I could learn something using podcasts, I don’t, so this is a neutral.

  • IM: This is one of my favorites because it’s so easy to use and unobtrusive. Using Trillian to cobble together my AOL, Yahoo, and MSN IMs at least leaves me with only one interface to deal with. Unlike some folks, I’m not bothered by a spontaneous, out of nowhere IM popping up on my screen. For work colleagues, I like to use it just for signaling purposes—to ask if they have time for a call. For friends, just to say “hi” or have them let me know that I’ve (unintentionally) ignored them for too long. It’s quick, easy, and most importantly doesn’t clog up my email. For those who have their IMs forwarded to their cell phones even better. I hate texting on my phone, but being able to type out text messages to the phones of others is a good thing. Definitely a life enhancer and a big thumbs up.

  • Blogs: Well, truth be told, not so much—interest that is. Maybe folks have a story to tell, but first I’ve got to get out there to read them. Maybe I should use RSS to at least bring them into one place and read the headlines, but then I’m back to reading just to figure out if I should read more. I wonder what this really means for the knowledge marketplace. After all, the supply siders are definitely out there, just offering up their knowledge wares for the taking; but I’m not buying. In most cases, I haven’t even found the market. I had a running dialog with a reader of this blog once. I thought my rationale—and math skills—were spot on for supporting my non-reading of blogs. So it’s fait accompli—I generally don’t get around to them unless I have a specific topic I’m looking for. So what do I expect for this blog? Hello out there…out there…out there…A thumbs down here (so far).

  • Wikis: To be fair, I’ve only been a user and not a contributor to this most democratic of publishing mediums. Power to the people has never rung more true than for wikis. In spite of that—you can call me old school, or even just old—I don’t allow my MBA students to use wikis (read: wikipedia) as citations in their papers. Although I’ve discovered the value of wikis, mostly for arcane subjects that the Enclycopaedia Britannica would consider blasphemy even to breath the words, I’m still not ready to think of wikis as authoritative as those sources sporting an ISBN. A solid neutral here, since I have had fun with wikis.

  • Mashups: A cool idea. To be against them would be like challenging motherhood and apple pie (Sorry, that last inference was clearly intended for an American reader. Let’s just say they’re both really good things.). I’ve used a few, with the most memorable being someone’s mashup of Google Earth with music and locations of famous WW II battle locations like Iwo Jima or Pearl Harbor. Each element by themselves isn’t so unusual, but the cleverness of mashing them all together made for an interesting experience. A solid thumbs up for mashups.

  • VoIP (Voice over IP): Probably the best known of this group of apps is Skype, a free application that is also free to use between two users if communicating from computer to computer. There are variations on the theme, such as computer to landline or mobile phone, or personal phone numbers, or voicemail, but those cost money (of course). Still, when I’m able to chat with my daughter half a world away while she’s in Japan sans cost, I’m all for it. Over a DSL or better connection, the sound quality is pretty good, with little lag (although a lag sometimes is annoying, it can also be pretty funny to hear yourself at the other end again—kind of like speaking a ‘round’ by yourself). If there’s a drawback to this app, it’s only that I can’t find enough users to keep the cost to zero. Oh by the way, when I get stationary (this is being done at 35,000 feet), I’m supposed to call a colleague via Skype. She’s in Norway. I’ll be in San Diego. Interestingly, our biggest hurdle won’t be technology related. It’ll be finding a time that we’re both agreeable to. A big thumbs up just because of the frugalness in me.

  • Social networking sites: My site of choice is LinkedIn. Not because it’s so good, but because MySpace seems a bit scary, and FaceBook is off limits to me (according to my twenty-something daughter, who would never get over the embarrassment of her father having a page there!). While I still don’t think LinkedIn is fun to use, a key reason why I rarely go into it, I have used it both to help connect others as well as to ask others to connect me with someone. So for that purpose, the social networking aspect seems to work. A downside to not accessing it much I’ve found, is that changes to my resume or interests, or desire to connect with others doesn’t happen very often. Now fortunately, my resume hasn’t changed in the last 4 years, but I’ve noticed that some of my connections have out-of-date profiles, rendering this tool a bit less reliable. Still, I wouldn’t give it up—thumbs up.

  • Virtual worlds: Now technically, I don’t use VWs, even though technically I could. I do have a Second Life account, but don’t have enough connections with others there to make it worth my while to investigate more fully at this time. And, while the idea of flying around just by flapping my arms appeals to me, I still haven’t even figured out how to do anything but launch my F-18 Super Hornet straight into the ocean off the flightdeck of the CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It’s safe to say that I won’t be picked for Top Gun school anytime soon. If I could figure out a use—with others—then VWs would get my nod. Right now it’s just an idea to me—thumbs sideways for life enhancement.

So if you’ve been keeping score (but why in the world would you?), that makes about half—5 of 9 to be exact—of the web 2.0 tools I’ve discussed a positive experience for me. I’m not exactly a technology luddite, so I wonder if this is just because I’m old? And, if you’ve come this far with me, then you know what comes next. What’s your experience with web 2.0 applications? Any Gen Y’ers out there willing to share?

Friday, October 19, 2007

And the winner is…

IMHO it’s Organization A. And the reason I think so is due to the “knowing-doing gap.” That concept tells us that just because you know something—a strategy, a process, a course of action—doesn’t mean that you actually do it. Similarly, just because you do it without a full appreciation of the strategic implications doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. So in this case, in spite of the fact that Organization A seems to be at a clear disadvantage to Organization B based upon the comparison I created, I’d still go with A to have long term success over B.

While I won’t go so far as to use the analogy that “slow and steady wins the race,” it is a bit of that practically speaking. Organization A has very rudimentary processes in place for knowledge sharing, and their cultural disposition to sharing is about on par with that, but their adherence to good change management principles, process orientation, and even their very mechanical way of executing knowledge management at least keeps them moving forward.

Compare that to Organization B. They have some very complex processes identified. At a high level, they have a picture of the world. Unfortunately for them, at the user level, the identified processes don’t mean a thing. In fact, the big-picture view of the world that Organization B has created for its users is so involved, that to attempt to use it is actually detrimental to getting the nuts and bolts work done. So what does that mean? It means that all the energy put into the identification, development, publishing, and advocating of the processes falls on deaf ears when the users are under daily pressure to get things done. So why does this matter? Well, because everyone is so busy trying to get their own work done, any talk of knowledge sharing also lands on those same overburdened ears.

Consequently, even though Organization A plods along, trying dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s as they attempt to inculcate knowledge sharing into their members, at least the rudimentary requirements of knowledge sharing are acknowledged and practiced. They may not know, but they do. Organization B’s grand plan may never see the light of day (in a practical sense where members are using it effectively). I’ve seen the progress of knowledge sharing in A, and it’s slow and painful, but it’s there. I’ve seen the lack of progress of knowledge sharing in B, and at this snapshot in time, I don’t see how they’re going to get it at all. Any ideas about how both organizations can be helped?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A tale of two organizations

I’ve decided that anyone who thinks that knowledge sharing (aka knowledge management) is easy, or worse, who “doesn’t get it” at all woefully underestimates the complexity of the situation. This came to me recently as I’ve been working completely heads down with two organizations (you’ve been wondering what happened to me, haven’t you?), both which desire to improve their operations. While I won’t name them (for obvious reasons), their characteristics read like a dichotomy of what organizations can be. Just off the top of my head, here are some:

Organization A

Organization B

Have robust business processes defined

Only starting to identify and document them

Methodology is fully developed although its application is variable

Have supporting technology for content and collaboration

Content is provided one-way; technology enabled collaboration doesn’t exist

More collaboration sites than you can shake a stick at

Have well defined knowledge sharing processes in place

Highly developed structure with roles, responsibilities, communication plans, and business rules in use

Ad hoc sharing is encouraged, but no known processes developed to enforce rigorous sharing

Have business and knowledge sharing measures in place

Still developing

Use of scorecards, RYG dashboards, etc. in wide use

Have sufficient content to share among users

No real content management strategy developed yet

More content than you can shake a stick at

Have a documented vision for what knowledge sharing can do for the organization

Their mantra includes the value of knowledge sharing

A consistent idea of what knowledge sharing means hasn’t even been socialized throughout the organization yet.

Have a culture of knowledge sharing in place

Processes in place ensure that the culture is reinforced

Only ad hoc among colleagues

Have mechanisms for identifying, vetting, publicizing, and reusing best practices

Mechanisms in place, but number of best practices is low

By definition, best practices are rolled into methodologies

So—if we can all agree that the purpose (at least one important one that is) for institutional knowledge sharing is to improve processes—then which organization do you think is better at it? Using the traditional measures of time, cost, quality, which organization performs better? Or, maybe they both excel? Or neither?

Of course, I could tell you now, but then I’d have to think of something for my next post, wouldn’t I? I’ll leave this question unanswered for a comment period and get back to you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Social networkers unite!

Self organizing teams…a toolkit of social tools to help…an environment of collegiality never before seen in a “siloed” organization. Is this the brave, new world of work? Let’s hope so. Dale Arsenault has kindly provided a peek into the future, describing a scenario in which project managers can nimbly choose the appropriate tools to aid their projects’ chances of success. Collaboration happens, either in real time or asynchronously, but in any case it happens 24/7. Trying not to sound pessimistic however, how are we going to get there?

Now trying to be a “thought leader” means not constantly throwing roadblocks into what “could be,” but the question still nags me. Current and future needs as I hear them from others seem to indicate that web 2.0 tools aren’t the hurdle—the speedbumps are still basic change management. So maybe our current study on the intersection of KM and web 2.0 comes at a good time for me. It’ll allow me to get my head above the fray of “what is,” and spend more time on visualizing the future.

Actually, of all the web 2.0 apps, the one that holds the most interest to me personally (from a knowledge management perspective that is) is the personal page—the MySpace, Facebook type pages. I use neither of those popular apps, but I am on [note: I’m not endorsing any app, I just happen to be on that one.] Even that is a bit of a chore for me however, as I don’t find myself anxiously awaiting the opportunity to update my profile, or to add some new, pithy comments into it.

So what makes the other sites so popular and what’s missing from the app I use? I think its fun. Yes, fun! Somehow the transition from “personal” to “professional” page takes the fun out of it. Go to any typical personal social page, and you’ll not only find regular updates by the page holder, but they’ll have “friends” that make quick comments—comments that indicate that others are actually reading what’s there. The implications of course, are huge if we can incorporate the personal page look and feel into our professional pages.

A person can list what books they’ve read and recommend, or their research interests, or talk about what others are talking about, or expose some of the tacit knowledge that they’ve accumulated over the years—all good stuff for an organization. No repository could ever even hope to be so rich in content as that provided willingly by the page holder. Let’s assume for a moment that what I’ve said above is true. Let’s also assume that an organization’s leadership understands the value and encourages such pages (they can be internal only—that’s not a show stopper). How do we introduce the fun factor into it so that people will be willing and excited about sharing their knowledge this way? Any success stories are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not too wiki?

Re-reading Tim O’Reilly’s definition of what web 2.0 is (, allows me to consider another aspect of its relationship to enterprise knowledge management. Lately, we’ve heard much buzz about the wisdom of crowds and wikis for example. I happen to agree that the collective perspective, insights, and solution provided by a group are generally better than that generated by a lone individual (or I wouldn’t be in this business). I also think that wikis have a clear advantage to their users, as the potential participative opportunity should allow users to feel invested in the results produced in a way far greater than simply submitting to a corporate repository.

So what’s the issue? The issue is, “How should organizations develop enablers like wikis to make knowledge management more effective?” By definition, wikis ought be somewhat authoritative. Wikis are not a place for wildly divergent ideas although acknowledgement of differences certainly should acknowledged, as they would be in any well researched document. In any case, where is this authoritative content supposed to come from? My guess is subject matter experts. Which subject matter experts? Probably the same ones in the organizations today. So what are we going to do differently to tease out expertise from this group that we haven’t done in the past? It's easy find experts in any organization. You ask around and you hear the same names come up. It's not always so easy to see their expertise in writing because they're busy making use of that expertise, not writing it down.

We’ve been down this path before. Communities of practice are modeled after communities of interest. Communities of interest get their fuel from the passion each member has for the narrow topic of interest they’re involved in. While I don’t have any research at hand, I suspect that it’s possible that some community of interest members are so passionate about their interest, that they may be involved to an extraordinary degree. We try to get CoPs to mimic the same behavior—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What do we miss there? And, what might we miss if we simply tell subject matter experts that now they’ve got a much easier way to publish their knowledge for the benefit of everyone?

Perhaps this will have to be a convergence between the exploratory wiki-thinkers and the stodgy old, formal knowledge management types. Introducing wikis without considering change management, or denying how newer collaboration methods can increase interactivity will likely lead to less than satisfactory results. Neither approach alone will get us there. It’s not a matter of what, it’s a matter of how. So how?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Web 2.0 here I come!

As promised, I’ll now acknowledge that blogs have value. In what ways I’m not sure yet, but it’s a losing proposition to continue down my former path. So—let’s expand the conversation. Let’s talk about what are commonly referred to as “web 2.0” technologies. They usually include such things as blogs, wikis, RSS, mashups, social networking, etc. Taken as a whole, I can get behind web 2.0 much more than I can for any one application. That’s because they all share an underlying driver that transcends a specific use. They all rely on peer-to-peer access. The need for monolithic sources of knowledge is fast becoming irrelevant. I’ve argued this point for some time, so in this case web 2.0 helps my cause.

The only fly in the ointment however, seems to be that organizations just aren’t ready for it. At our KM conference earlier this month, the theme was innovation and the presenters certainly did their best to illustrate the buzz around web 2.0 and the like. But what I heard from folks there were issues around implementing “old” technology, such as collaborative spaces, and repository management. With only a few very notable exceptions (and you know who you are), attendees were concerned about some very practical and long-standing knowledge sharing problems such as getting people to create, share, and reuse regardless of what technologies are available to them.

That leads me to consider that there may be a divide looming—those organizations that are taking a traditional knowledge sharing approach v. those that are testing the web 2.0 technologies to see if more knowledge sharing occurs. And, because web 2.0 technologies rely on the previously mentioned peer-to-peer model, one could argue that expertise location is enhanced as well. After all, if you get something from someone’s blog, being aware that that person has useful content on similar topics naturally allows you to stay connected with a person v. a repository.

Nevertheless, my work in KM—while straddling the divide—has still been in the traditional; taxonomies, repositories, validated content, knowledge maintenance processes, and so on. It’s not a resistance to the new, it’s what’s being asked for. Regardless of the technology used, some basic change management and human nature considerations are still king. Recently, a client senior executive said to me, “There’s nothing to keep my people from sharing; all they have to do is get up out of their chairs and go down the hall.” True enough, as far as I could tell nobody was shackled to their desks. Yet no sharing was going on. And, this organization has enough technology to make most of us jealousy—satellite VTC, webcams on PCs, instant messaging, and on and on. Still no sharing.

In another case, a member of a “gang of four” (her description) told me that she and her colleagues do get together in person to share what they know—but they have to do it secretly out of doors. When I suggested that we could help them with a collaboration space to allow them to share 24/7 (and stay inside during the Winter), she flatly said “no,” that putting those same kinds of comments in electronic form would be too risky.

So those cases and others, IT management’s concerns about effective management of all technologies, and the fact that some organizations haven’t even learned to walk with KM means that web 2.0 technologies would be the equivalent of immediately going to running with KM scissors in hand. But, if you’re worried about me being left in the last century, never fear. APQC’s next consortium learning benchmarking study, KM and Enabling Technologies (principally web 2.0 stuff), launches in July, and I get to play in it. I suspect that they’re taking the approach that making the nay-sayer a part of the experience will open my eyes to a brave, new world. By the way, we may even innovate the way we do studies with this one. There’s been some talk of using a wiki to develop parts of it. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm in! I'm in!

Okay, for all you fans of this blog (all 1 or 2 of you), I'm back! Believe it or not, my absence has been due to: 1) being extremely busy with clients, and 2) not being able to get into this thing. When google decided to take over, they required everyone to switch over to their google accounts. For some time, I was unable to remember my google account name/ID, then when I finally figured out how to get in, my IE 6 browser wouldn't get me past the sign-in page. Finally accepting the fact that I was out of my league, I consulted with my IT guy and he suggested Firefox. I've used Firefox in the past, but always hated the fact that some images don't come through. However, this was no time to be stubborn, so the rest they say, "is history."

More importantly, being able to get back in means that I can continue to blog on what is important. And that is (drum roll please)....blogging! I have now been turned from the dark side and will acknowledge the value of some new(er) technologies, blogs included. Somewhat like being out of breath due lack of exercise however, I am going to finish this post on that note in hopes that you'll all come back for more the next time....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Okay, okay, I take back my words…

not about my position on blogs, but those about having said the last words about them. Let the discussion continue!

Some interesting phenomena have occurred that bear mentioning since I began this public revelation and now discourse. First, I’ve been alerted that I need to be careful what I say, as there may be a misconception about whose position is really advanced here. So, for the record,


With that out of the way, I also realize that my communication skills must need some improvement, as my position on the use of blogs is clearly not clear to those responding. I’ll need time to work on that—please be patient.

This discussion has also given me an opportunity to learn that more people read this blog than I could have imagined, with some of the lurkers now commenting publicly, indicating that I must have hit on a topic with real interest. In fact, there have been more responses to my posts re blogs than on any other topic—what delicious irony. For that I thank you.

On to some of the responses then, which I will comment on as responses. Maybe I will be moved after all, as I’m finding this a bit exciting now…

Blog no more..on the subject of blogging, that is

Last week and this brought me new data points that have convinced me conclusively that blogs won’t be anything I recommend to my clients any time soon for knowledge sharing. For the record, let me again repeat that I think blogs will show some business value in the future—they’re already ubiquitous—but they’re just not going to be on my menu of knowledge sharing devices today. So let’s go over the latest good advice I received:

Describe the business value of the blog—essentially understand the value proposition of using the blog. Fair enough, and the same advice we would give to our clients regarding any aspect of knowledge sharing we would guide them to undertake. Old news. Let’s presume for a moment that an internal company blog is intended to decrease the time to competency of its employees. I’d like to learn of an example from among the 60-million+ blogs out there where the company thinks it has earned back its investment.

Blogs as discussion forums and discussion forums as blogs? Well, discussion forums have so much over blogs that if you want to use the discussion forum device and call it a blog, I’d be very happy. Down with blogs, l ong live the discussion forum!

Next, keep the posts short. I like this one and will do all I can to adhere to it. Interestingly however, our president Carla O’Dell sent me a link to an article regarding blog and wiki security concerns. Within that article was a hotlink to a large technology company’s blog site, where any employee can have a blog—for internal or external consumption. Wanting to conduct research I went to the site, sought out the top read poster, and spent some time reading it. Lots of long personal rants, some links to other information, and in the end, completely useless for anything that I personally care about.

The final nail in the coffin for me was an article in the March 20, 2007 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Ever hear of Twitter or Dodgeball? They’re among the latest rage—wireless instant messaging and social networking all rolled into one. I can hardly wait to hear of a company that espouses the virtues of those sites!

Oh, one last item—to those who would hijack my blog by responding with something like, “I like your blog, please go see mine at” are assured of only one thing—I wouldn’t go to your blog even if you paid me to do so. You obviously don’t understand a key fact of knowledge sharing; that you don’t get any play if you aren’t trusted, and frankly, I don’t trust you.

So that’s it—I kept this as short as I could. And in the words of that famed philosopher Forrest Gump, “That’s all I’m going to say about it.” On to something else!

Friday, March 16, 2007

re: the re: to my blog about blogs

BRILLIANT! (I feel like those guys in the beer commercial)

The latest advice for making this blog useful includes more dialog, more publicity of our capabilities, and more frequency. Okay, got it. Taking them in order, if a blog becomes valuable when a discussion breaks out, what makes that different than a discussion forum? I don’t think it’s a matter of semantics, so I want to understand how blogs are different than discussion forums. And, if they’re not, what’s all the buzz about? Discussion forums have been around for a long time, and IMHO the killer app for communities of practice. So I do like the idea of the exchange! If I now start calling discussion forums blogs, will that change the dynamics of them?

On to the matter of publicizing our smarts… Good idea if I want to push our products and services, but I’m not a particularly good salesman, and this model feels very salesy. In fact, it feels like if all I do is to extol our virtues, pretty soon I’m going to want to apply to our sales and marketing department. I can do this bit of shameless promotion though—here’s our website URL: Note that we’re a “.org” and that we do lots of cool stuff, especially in the area of knowledge management, where our president Carla O’Dell is one of the true thought leaders in the world. Whew! That was a lot for me—more promotion next time.

More frequency? I’ve posted 4-5 times in this one week alone! I’m tired. This is hard work for me, especially when I’m trying to keep my attention focused on client needs. Now in fairness, I still only care about internal knowledge sharing, so this externally facing blog doesn’t answer the WIIFM, but I am still responsible for it. So—a tidbit of external knowledge sharing? How about this? Stan Garfield runs a really cool community where there are discussions about KM related issues; in the community’s discussion forum.

Okay, enough of running down my own blog. Here’s something that is important and that needs more attention: knowledge retention and transfer. I just finished a two-day workshop with an industry group whose main concern is the impending implosion of the industry from the rash of retirements expected in the next five years or so. This is an industry-wide problem, so not only is it an issue at one organization, it creates a poaching problem for all the organizations in the industry. And don't think you don't have to worry about "their" problem. This industry is necessary for every one of us in the U.S. every single day, 24/7/365. If anything, you should be glad that these folks are as far ahead of the curve as they are with this issue--your life may literally depend upon it.

More broadly, many organizations from many industries are also worried about the issue (as evidenced by our study that currently includes 31 sponsoring companies and another half dozen or so best practice partners). So what is your organization doing about this potential meltdown of institutional knowledge? By the way, at this workshop I just attended, a term was used that I had never heard previously—“Y2Gray.” Meaning that perhaps the sky isn’t falling and that the hype of loss of institutional knowledge is just that—similar to the Y2K non-problem of a few years ago. So which is it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More blogging about blogs

First, allow me to state up front and clearly that I truly appreciate the response to my last blog post on blogs. It’s that kind of discourse that I’d love to have on this and other subjects as a way of learning what others are thinking. The valuable time that folks read—and sometimes even respond to—my ramblings humbles me. Since I’m unconvinced of the business value of blogs and am still testing that hypothesis, I struggle with appropriate knowledge (read: useful) to be shared. So please do continue to read if you find value in this, and definitely respond if you don’t.

Before I continue, let me also restate my basic premise about blogs: They’re not ready for business prime time (but I will modify that statement later in this post). I’m no fortune teller, and I don’t even play one on television, but I have been known to be on the bleeding edge on more than several occasions—and been wrong—so there’s precedent here if I’m wrong again.

Sidebar: In thinking of how I’ve arrived at the conclusion I’m often on the bleeding edge, I offer these examples of what I’ve purchased in the past:

  • First fully automated shutter controlled 35mm SLR – Konica – no longer in the SLR business
  • First “portable IBM PC compatible computer” – Columbia Data Systems – company defunct
  • Early consumer videotape recorder (Betamax) – well, you know that story
  • First front wheel drive car since the re-introduction in 1966 – Olds Toronado – company defunct
  • First satellite phone company – Iridium – if you’re still holding their stock (like my son bought based upon my recommendation) use it for scratch paper
  • Early laptop computer – Texas Instruments Travelpro – got out of the business, sold it to Acer
  • Early compact PDA (PCMCIA card size) – Franklin REX – sold to Xircom and immediately discontinued

Bottom line: Before you buy anything technology related, make sure I haven’t already selected it—it’s sure to be a loser.

Having said that, I got a great response that I would like to re-post in its entirety as well as address each of the points the responder made about my blog misgivings. Others on the blogs-are-good side of the fence are also encouraged to respond, since enabling technologies for the next generation of knowledge workers is my academic research interest and I can always use more data points. So, below is the response to my blog about blogs, and my response to that is contained in [brackets]. Again, thanks for the response and insightful perspective.


It seems to me that you are missing some of the main rationales for blogs.

Your article seems to paint blogs as if they are just an extension of the traditional diary, but they are not . . . diaries are private, blogs are public.

[Beyond the obvious that diaries were intended to be private and blogs public, blogs still suffer from the same linear thinking, i.e., chronological order based upon the most recent thoughts. What is considered critical knowledge is purely from the perspective of the blogger, not in collaboration with the receiver, or the business.]

The purpose of a blog is to share thoughts, to build an audience, to communicate, to network, to connect with other people, etc. A blog can be a marketing tool, a social networking software tool, assist with dissemination of knowledge and, in some cases, stewardship of knowledge. Where appropriate in context, it could lead to lead generation and business opportunities.

[We’re in agreement with the above, that blogs can provide leads, connect people, market, and so on, but—because of the ad hoc nature of the blog posts, the value rendered is limited in my humble opinion. The fact remains, that even if blogs are used as knowledge stewarding devices, they still suffer from the same problem as more formal knowledge stewarding devices, valuable content needs to be put into them. I would go on to argue that for formal systems, say Lessons Learned databases for example, their structured nature not only ensures that certain valuable information is made explicit and stewarded, it also ensures that every “post” is considered of value. How many blog posts can be said to be of value? 100%? 50%? 10%?]

So, from the supply side there could be quite a bit 'in it for me'. Looking around, I can see some people have put considerable thought into their blogging strategy and carefully monitor their metrics and the value they add to their readership.

See for more discussion of how blogs can add business value (but bear in mind there has been some discussion around this article in the blogosphere you might want to chase up)

[While I read the nano-marketing article regarding blog ROI, I also attempted to go to the source, Forrester, for the full-text article. With no success there, I then went to an electronic library and found another article I found of interest. In this article, the writer states, “Most blogs are a complete waste of time. They’re often personal labours of love, heavy on personality and light on useful content” (source: Holloway, A. (25 Dec 2006 – 14 Jan 2007). To blog, or not to blog?, Canadian Business, 80(1), p. 15. Retrieved March 12, 2007 from ProQuest electronic database.) By the way, if you were expecting me to reference a quote that doesn’t support my own bias, get real!

Back to the nano-marketing article, GM was cited in it as having calculated a 99% ROI in 2005 from its consumer facing blogging efforts. How they determined that I won’t dispute. However, it does help me focus my argument a bit more. That blogs are not ready for business prime time—as an internal knowledge sharing tool. Use it for marketing and consumer feedback, fine. I happen to be in the business of helping organizations manage their internal knowledge needs, and here I am adamant that their value has yet to be realized. (more on that in my next post if I remember to write about it)

By the way, another side note here. The suggestion that I research other blogs about the value of blogs was well intended, but I simply didn’t feel I had the time available to do that. Still a problem (trust, time, incentive) for knowledge management systems in general, and still a problem for blogs I argue. And, as long as I’m on the subject of other blogs, if I remember correctly, I stated that there are some 60-million blogs out there. If even 1/10 of 1% are business related, that leaves me with 60,000 potential useful blogs to read. If even 1/10 of 1% of those are any good, then I have only 60 blogs to read. But, will I read even 12 per day? WOW! I just realized, if you’re reading my blog—THANKS!]

At the end of the day, a blog is a content management system that because it is simple to use is used, and doubles to serve many business functions e.g. networking, lead generation, information sharing, idea sourcing / sharing, etc.

[Simplicity is good, but not at the expense of usability. If you’re at all familiar with Lotus Notes (no endorsement should be inferred here), you’d note that it is both a formidable content management system that can also accommodate blogs without losing its usability—for the retriever of knowledge. In general, the use of discussion forums—which I humbly submit is the “killer app” of knowledge sharing—is at least the equal of blogs, and can be structured to look like blogs if that’s what people need to see in order to use them. In fact, even with such structure, discussion forums are woefully underused.

In the case of this blog in particular, have you ever even attempted to find something posted more than a year ago? Would you even know that I only took it over last Spring and that any posts prior to that weren’t even mine? Did you notice that I purposely reused a phrase (“don’t need no stinkin’…”) in my last headline to see if you recalled seeing it in an earlier post? All problems of blogs I say.]

On the demand, side, it's like anything else - if you can provide content people are interested in, they'll read it and come back for more, and if they aren't, they probably won't subscribe.

[I think this is the most useful and spot on argument of the response. I sure hope to post something of value before the noise out there is simply the clanging of my un-read blog inside my head. So far it hasn’t provided me a lick of business value (e.g., leads, new markets, contracts!)]

I think you need to rethink your stand! ;) A blog can be a very useful business tool.

[Believe it or not, I really am open to ruminating on this subject—I just need more time. And, remember, I’ve already restated my position to include only those blogs intended for internal consumption.]

However, as a system it is very primitive. No one would design it that way . . . e.g. it is difficult to syndicate comments (you can't get an rss feed to see who's commented in other people's posts you are interested in).

[Therein lies the blog’s key weakness—it’s too primitive for organizational knowledge sharing.]

But I think you'll see this area grow in business value and uptake.

[No doubt you’re right there. I just think that time isn’t today.]

Wikis? Again, they are content management systems, and they are useful for quick and dirty solutions and for some purposes (e.g. you noted Wikipedia). But I think for the corporate world they need extra features. But who cares? The corporate world already has sophisticated content management systems, which are wikis by another name - just not open source. So sure, arguably wikis might not take off in the corporate world, but if content management systems already have, isn't the point moot?

[I promised to tackle the subject of wikis later, and I will but not before we have a full discussion on blogs. So anyone who’s bothered to come this far with me, thank you. Give me your take and make this a real discussion. Oh yeah, I did enjoy the irony of using Wikipedia as a source—I would never allow it to be used as a reference from one of my own students!]

Monday, March 12, 2007

APQC is Hosting a KM Conference

Hey, I just wanted to let you guys know that APQC is hosting a KM conference in May.

It should be pretty cool because Jimmy Wales, founder of wikipedia, will be presenting.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Blog? I don't need no stinkin' blog!

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! Actually, I’ve decided to jump—off the fence that is. I am now clearly on the side of the fence that thinks that blogs and wikis are not ready for business prime time. After many months of mental gymnastics about these two applications, I just don’t think they’re worth the effort put into them—or at least the hype that surrounds them. I’ve come to this conclusion based on both our current consortium study on knowledge retention and transfer, as well as some recent personal experience.

Now let me go on record to say that I do believe that both blogs and wikis have some value—just not business value—at least not yet. Since blogs by definition can be freeform, the rest of this post may be weaving all over the place, but I’ll try to focus it by commenting specifically on how blogs are (are not) useful to knowledge sharing and knowledge management programs. Wikis fall into this same trap, but I’ll tackle them in a later post.

From (ironic, isn’t it?), a blog is defined as, “…a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order.” Wikipedia further goes on to say that some 60-million blogs (give or take a few mil I suppose) are out there these days. So—what does all this mean? Where am I going with this? Simply this: blogs don’t answer the WIIFM for knowledge management!

Pre-internet, a “blog” would have been a journal, or your sibling’s diary. Add the web, video and audio (you could have added pictures already in the old days), stir until blended, and you’ve got a blog! To that I say, “SO WHAT?” Did anyone ever read someone else’s journal in the past and get immediate business value from it? Does your organization host a blog space and tell you that’s where the authoritative knowledge of the firm is, or that it’s at least where good stuff is?

I understand that Einstein kept detailed journals of his work (as I suppose most scientists and inventors do) but did he ever share any of that work with others—while he was in the middle of it? Certainly there must have been a few nuggets of knowledge old Einstein could have imparted to the rest of us. Maybe even I could have described the theory of relativity had I only gotten a boost from some of his notes (editor’s note: I’m not that old—I was born after his death, and therefore, after his work was already published).

Okay, so back to my point. WIIFM for the blogger? WIIFM for the reader? I don’t know. In a business context, I suppose a blogger is to write about some tacit knowledge he/she has that has value to the organization. It’s not just blogging about his/her favorite hobby or foods. So what knowledge has business value? Who determines that? And even if it is determined, how do we make a blogger blog? The first rule of public speaking is to be passionate about what you speak. My personal experience is that it holds true for writing (or blogging) as well. So if I’m not passionate about blogging about my tacit knowledge, how are you going to make me?

Maybe you make me blog (or incent me as we like to say), by offering me some rewards and/or recognition for blogging. Okay, how many organizations do you know that do that? I really do want to learn about specific examples, because I want to talk to those organizations! My organization? I get no reward or recognition for keeping this blog. That’s not a criticism—it’s just a reflection of the reality that I am measured on my client service—not blogging. So in fact, every minute I spend working on this blog reduces my performance as I’m being measured against! WIIFM? And, because I’m not required to share any specific tacit knowledge I have, presumably about knowledge management, I can really blog about anything I darned well please—as long as its knowledge management related. Where the heck is the value in that?

So on the supply side, we’ve got me—no guidelines, no rewards—only passion. What about the demand side? Who the heck wants to read this stuff? What is the universe of users on the demand side, and WIIFM for them? Let’s see, they could be:

· Unaware of my blog
· Aware of my blog but don’t care because it doesn’t interest them
· Aware of my blog but don’t care because they’ve read it before and it really doesn’t interest them
· Aware of my blog, read it (occasionally or otherwise), but just chuckle because it doesn’t give them any knowledge management value
· Aware of my blog, read it, and sometimes comment on it because they have their own agenda—like publicizing their own blogs
· Aware of my blog, read it, and sometimes comment on it because they have something to share in the arena of knowledge management
· Aware of my blog, read it, and get immediate business value from it

If you actually read my list, you’d see that I purposely ordered the items in descending order of likely occurrence. That is, getting any real business value from my blog is not practically nil—it is nil! Inductive reasoning tells me that I’m not meeting the WIIFM for my readers.

By the way, while I’ve addressed the WIIFM problem with blogs, there are also technical problems with them—e.g., chronological format, inability to browse, non-authoritative content, etc. But, those problems pale in comparison to the WIIFM hurdle. In a future post, I hope to discuss podcasts, storytelling, and other mechanisms for knowledge transfer (again, stuff we’re finding out from our current benchmarking study). For now though, I’ve just used 1-1/2 hours of my billable time to blog this, for no more reward than the intrinsic value of taking a stand.

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.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Collaboration: The Next Generation

Since I recently had a “milestone” birthday (so people tell me), it gave me a chance to reflect yet again on the fact that I’ve been in the work world longer than some of my colleagues and clients have been on this earth. While that could be a frightening thought, I figured that I could use that perspective to my advantage. So, I’ve decided that an area of research interest for me will be how the incoming generations of knowledge workers will interact and collaborate with each other. As a researcher—and academic wannabe—I decided to come up with a hypothesis to base my work on. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go into detail about it again, but it’s basically “how do young professionals (as defined by the “millennials” or some other tag) interact differently than those of earlier generations” (as defined by the “geezer” group or similar that I’m a part of)?

I think they do (and will) interact differently than the rest of us in the workplace. Two site visits this week and a keynote speaker that I’m listening to right now as I type this corroborate my view. First, an APQC site visit is what we do with best practice organizations as part of our collaborative benchmarking studies. We physically visit the organization—and in this case it was NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Aerospace Corporation—and have them host a meeting to discuss what they do that makes them considered “best practice” in the knowledge domain we’re studying. For this study its knowledge retention and transfer strategies. Both NASA and Aerospace indicated that they’re using some of the newest technology enablement tools to reach the “younger” professional. The keynote speaker is entertaining the audience with his insights about what makes the boomer different from the Gen X’ers from the Millenials, and so on.

While this is good to hear—and I’ll certainly use them as data points, I just hope this area doesn’t get researched to death before I use it as my dissertation research problem! In the meantime, I’m going to go and check out Second Life. I think I can use a makeover and that sounds like the easiest (and most painless) way.