Missing the Point of Social Media

There’s an interesting conversation starting over at ReadWriteWeb in a post entitled, Driving Change:  Selling SharePoint and Social Media inside the Enterprise.  In it Jason Harris suggests some strategies for introducing social media within an organization that isn’t terribly keen on it.  He begins with an interesting premise, but then gets trapped by his product:

Analyze your particular circumstances. Technology alone won’t fix or alleviate a business problem. Merely throwing up a wiki and publicizing it doesn’t guarantee its success. Instead, use collaborative technologies such as SharePoint to solve the problem.

The reality is that SharePoint is not a social media silver bullet.  In fact, as Christoph Schmaltz points out in his comment on Jason’s post, SharePoint isn’t particularly social in and of itself.  If anything, it’s a platform that merely facilitates the deployment of social media tools developed outside Microsoft.

Sharepoint built connectors to Enterprise wikis like Socialtext and Confluence because they realized that their patched wiki functionality could simply not do the job and help people to collaborate. Why is MS partnering with Newsgator to deliver social capabilities? MS has missed the train and they are desperately trying to catch up, because their customers are demanding more flexible, light-weight and easy-to-use tools.

Clearly there is a different approach to social media and collaboration that isn’t primarily about SharePoint evangelism, even though we all understand that SharePoint is the 800lb gorilla in the social media playroom. For those of you attending LegalTech 2009, please do stop by the Web 2.0 track on Tuesday. Christoph’s Headshift colleague, Lee Bryant, and I will be leading a conversation about how to unleash social media within law practices (with or without SharePoint).  I do hope you’ll join us.

And then, let’s see if Dewey or Truman (or McCain) wins this social media debate.

[Photo Credit:  Tony Buser, Creative Commons license]


How We Manage Junk

A person stuck in KM1.0 spends much of their time maintaining their various content repositories.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to keep up with those maintenance tasks.  And if you fall behind, it becomes increasingly difficult to retrieve your content — even if that content is pure gold.  If you have dross mixed in with the gold and you’re not a diligent housekeeper, then you have a real mess on your hands.

If you spend too much time with database-loving people, it becomes far too easy to think of those repositories in clinical terms, as if they were pristine, properly structured and well-maintained.  However, that doesn’t reflect reality and it doesn’t reflect how most of us interact with information.  So I thought I might provide three alternative views of your content organizational scheme:
The Junk Yard:

[Photo Credit:  sigma, Creative Commons license]

The Junk Shop:

















[Photo Credit:  hortulus, Creative Commons license]



Vintage Chic:






[Photo Credit:  Tammy Manet, Creative Commons license]

Which is your reality?  Do you need to do anything about it?


If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free

Enterprise 2.0 finally has a fight song.

While reading Andrew McAfee’s discussion of the key criteria by which to judge whether a collaboration software deployment meets the requirements of E2.0 and Alexander van Elsa’s post on how old-fashioned business models are holding back Web 2.0,  I found myself thinking about the importance of user independence, as well as the related importance of management, IT, and knowledge management trusting their users, removing the safety wheels, and letting their colleagues work with minimal constraints.  And that’s when I remembered a song that really should be the E2.0 fight song:  “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free.”

For those of us who manage employees and systems in risk-focused businesses, this level of freedom can be downright terrifying.  Over time, many managers have come to believe that unless employees are severely constrained, they will be a danger to themselves and the organization.  If that really is true, don’t we need to take a closer look at our recruiting practices and internal training methods?  Clearly, they are deficient.

You can find an interesting analogy in child-rearing.  There are few of us who would let a toddler play with matches.   However, there comes a day when you do need to teach a young person how to use matches safely.  And then, you leave them to it.  There may be the occasional burn, but most of us do master this task.  And so it is with social media tools.  We definitely do need to provide training on responsible use and reasonable expectations, but after that, leave users free to explore and create.  It’s only when you lift the stifling weight of anxiety and control that you discover just how creative your colleagues can be.  And that’s when the power of social media tools finally becomes evident to all.

If you’d like to see a video of a great live performance of the E2.0 Fight Song, here’s your link: Sting: If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free

[Photo Credit:  Creativity + Timothy K Hamilton, Creative Commons license]


KM Should Be An Absent Clockmaker

During the Enlightenment, philosophers described God as an “absent clockmaker,” who created the world and then stepped out of the way — letting the creation run itself.  I found myself thinking about this as I read Andrew McAfee’s excellent post, I Know It When I See It.    In his post he describes the criteria by which he identifies whether an organization really has become an Enterprise 2.0:   “Is it freeform?  How frictionless is contribution? And is it emergent?”

These criteria are critical and worth unpacking a little.  Here’s how Andrew McAfee explains them:

Freeform means that the technology does not in any meaningful way impose, hardwire, or make and enforce assumptions about
– Workflows
– Roles
– Privileges
– Content
– Decision right allocations
Instead, people come together as equals within the environment created by technology, and do pretty much whatever they want.


Frictionless means that users perceive it to be easy to participate in the platform, and can do so with very little time or effort. One measure of friction is the total time required between having an idea for a contribution (while sitting in front of the computer, carrying the iPhone, etc.) and the appearance of that contribution on the platform.


Emergent is both most intuitive of these three terms and the hardest to pin down. It really does bring to mind Justice Potter Stewart’s famous yet unhelpful definition of obscenity “I know it when I see it.” My best-effort definition of the phenomenon is the appearance over time within a system of higher-level patterns or structure arising from large numbers of unplanned and undirected low-level interactions.

In the E2.0 world, you put the mechanism in place and then you step aside, allowing the users to do what they will.  The proof of your abilities is the degree to which those users actually are free to realize their own goals using the tools you’ve provided.  For knowledge management, this means using our expertise to design effective systems that can operate effortlessly without us.  We are no longer exercising command and control.  We no longer run the risk of being a bottleneck in the system. We neither manage nor manipulate the system.  We simply let it be.

For insecure knowledge managers, this is a terrifying prospect.  After all, if you aren’t in the middle of things how do you prove that you are still relevant?


KM Core Values

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, wrote a great endorsement of Twitter in his recent post, How Twitter Can Make You A Better (and Happier) Person. For him, Twitter was instrumental in the following four areas:

  1. Transparency & Values: Twitter constantly reminds me of who I want to be, and what I want Zappos to stand for
  2. Reframing Reality: Twitter encourages me to search for ways to view reality in a funnier and/or more positive way
  3. Helping Others: Twitter makes me think about how to make a positive impact on other people’s lives
  4. Gratitude: Twitter helps me notice and appreciate the little things in life

I’ll let you read his post to find out exactly what makes Twitter so wonderful for him.  However, for our purposes, I wanted to take a closer look at his discussion of values.  In his post he explains that living life in a public forum like Twitter means that there is a constant spotlight on him and on how he embodies his company’s core values in his daily life and his daily tweets.

The Zappos core values were created by the employees of Zappos working together to explain what mattered to them. Here are the values they identified as their “core values”:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Now, take another look at this list and tell if you don’t think it would be a great statement of knowledge management’s core values?  We may not be delivering shoes and clothing, but these core values speak to our work as service providers and midwives to change.  In fairness, there are few businesses that could not be improved by following these core values so, in that respect, there isn’t much that is particular to KM in this list.  Nonetheless, I’d suggest that we haven’t always done a great job of embodying these values and that failure is reflected in our spotty results as a discipline.  As the economic news gets grimmer, it might be timely to think harder about what our core values are and how we live them out in our workplaces.  And then, we need to commit.

I’ll give the last word to Tony Hsieh, from his post Your Culture Is Your Brand:

We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them.

[Photo credit: bluedharma, Creative Commons license]


One Year Later

Just over one year ago, I dipped my toes in the blogging water and was delighted to discover that the temperature was fine.  In fact, swimming in this pool during the last year has been a ton of fun.  And, along the way I’ve learned a great deal — about knowledge management and about life.  Most of all, I’ve been taught time and time again how wonderfully generous bloggers can be.

I’d like to take a moment in my (extended) first anniversary celebration to thank some marvelous folks who have supported my blogging and Twitter efforts by their timely encouragement, stimulating comments, helpful linking and good advice about social media and life:

Over the course of this year, I’ve learned from each of these people and have come to appreciate deeply their expertise and kindness.  They’ve gone above and beyond the call duty in extending a helping hand to me.  To each of them I offer my sincere thanks.

And, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the many wonderful folks who have taken the time to read my posts and leave comments or send me an e-mail.  Every time you do this, you remind me that the real fun in this exercise is the conversation we have and the learning that results.   Your input has been priceless and I truly appreciate it.

Now, on to another year of blogging and conversation.

[Photo credit:  Camera Slayer, Creative Commons license]



Change happens.  Today’s historic events were breathtaking and, if you weren’t paying attention, completely startling.  However, as with most change, the inauguration of Barack Obama was the culmination of lots of work and lots of incremental change over a long time.  Granted, it took an extraordinary man with a formidable team who ran a disciplined campaign.  But more than that, it took a nation ready to embrace change.

So here we are — hopeful, but aware of the awesome challenges facing this country and the world.  The President’s speech warned of tough days ahead.  However, he also promised some new solutions.  It is within our grasp, provided we remain open to Change.

[Photo credit:  Huffington Post]


The Power of Symbols

On this national holiday to celebrate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and on the eve of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, I found myself thinking about the power of symbols and images to convey messages without words. This country has come far, but not fast enough.

[Photo Credits: RPhotos2008 (Marian Anderson); Civil Rights (MLK); Presidential Inaugural Committee]


Leaving Your Octagonal Outhouse

We were touring Kings Landing, the historical Loyalist settlement outside Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada, when a child in our group asked, “What’s that?”  “That” turned out to be a little white octagonal building in the pretty gardens outside the Ingraham House (visible in the picture above).  Upon closer inspection, we discovered that it was in fact an octagonal outhouse.  This led to a humorous explanation given to a mystified child who previously was unaware that some people lived without the comforts of indoor plumbing.

After visiting the house and gardens, it was apparent that Mr. Ingraham had been a person of means in his small community.  His octagonal outhouse was probably considered in its time to be very modern and sophisticated.  (In fact, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson constructed octagonal outhouses on their properties.)  And yet, looking back on it from the vantage point of the 21st century, it’s clear that the best was yet to come.

While standing in the Ingraham House gardens I found myself wondering what octagonal outhouses we were most proud of.  In other words, what 21st century things did we consider modern and sophisticated that would, with the passage of time, seem odd and outdated?  It’s worth asking that question of the technology and business processes you once prized.  Do you really have a clear view of their capabilities?  Do they still meet your needs?  Do they represent the best of current thinking or are they shopworn and past their sell by date?  If you don’t ask these questions periodically, you may find yourself hobbled by systems that no longer adequately support your work.

It’s astonishing how long we can tolerate substandard systems, seemingly unconscious of the toll they take on our productivity and morale.  Unlike the dinosaurs, we too often adapt to the shortcomings of our environment and soldier on without complaint. One of the functions of knowledge management is to help organizations upgrade their business processes and technology over time so that they continue to meet the needs of an evolving enterprise.  This requires identifying the octagonal outhouses in your organization and regularly asking tough questions about them.  Above all, it requires a willingness to leave your octagonal outhouses behind and lead the way to more modern solutions.

[Photo Credit:  Kings Landing Historical Settlement]


Does Your Firm Need A Chief Performance Officer?

The Obama transition team recently announced the nomination of the first Chief Performance Officer for the United States.  Nancy Killefer, a senior management consultant at McKinsey & Company, is to be given responsibility for eliminating unnecessary government programs and streamlining bureaucracy.  She will be an official watchdog charged with rooting out and eradicating waste.  One commentator spoke approvingly of the nomination, saying

A person who cares about good business practices, and who takes the results-oriented approach of reinventing government rather than the compliance-oriented approach to management that has had more visibility recently, is exactly what we need.

Given the current state of the economy, more than one law firm might be considering the advisability of appointing a chief performance officer as a way of saving money.  However, before we head down that path, I’d suggest that focusing on financial waste alone misses the point. In fact, there are several areas in which top performance is necessary in order to ensure the health and long-term viability of a law firm:

  • How well do we deliver client service?
  • How well do we manage our resources (chief among which are our people)?
  • How well do we design and implement our business processes?
  • How well do we manage our costs?

Measuring performance in each of these areas is challenging. Yet, the law firm that masters this will be in prime condition to weather the current economic storms and exploit the next upturn in the business cycle.

[Photo Credit:  Luke Redmond, Creative Commons license]