Are We Organizing the Right Stuff?

As a self-confessed pack rat, I’ve had a morbid fascination for folks who preach and practice the virtues of minimalism and a clutter-free existence.  Call it a form of self-abuse, but I just can’t help reading their propaganda.  And then, I come every workday to a business that never has a shortage of stuff to organize.  No matter how much we try to move away from the old KM 1.0 chores of building, organizing, maintaining and searching data repositories, the reality is that as long as we work in a document-intensive business, law firm knowledge management will always include a significant portion of KM 1.0 work. Vendors promise silver bullets in the form of super search and auto-profiling to help us manage all this data, but even still we hear stories of people spending hours searching fruitlessly.

Recently Kathleen Hogan reported that studies show that managers and executives spend 6 weeks each year just looking for stuff. My initial reaction was what a waste of time! Can’t they get a better search engine? And then, I had a radical thought — what if we really aren’t supposed to save and organize all this stuff? What if there really is too much to organize effectively? What if there’s no reasonable way to stay on top of it all? Are our taxonomies and search engines designed to cope comfortably with our exploding data collections? What if they can’t?

If you take a look at all the anti-clutter propaganda I’ve been saving for a rainy day, you’ll soon discover that the first step to organizing stuff is — get rid of what you don’t need.  By so doing, you reduce the amount of material you actually have to organize and maintain.  I know we think we need to organize all the data in our firms, but do we really?  Does it all matter?  Does it all need to be saved and organized for posterity?  Or, is some of it truly ephemeral?

Greg Lambert suggests that law firms have been saving all this stuff for all the wrong reasons:

There are certain things we should legally and/or ethically keep for a specific period of time. But, most of the data that we handle does not fall under these requirements. In fact, I’d wager that 90% of the emails, electronic documents, or paper documents we keep, we do because we are implementing the “CYA” rule.

Folks who drink the super search kool-aid will say that the cost of saving and searching data is becoming increasingly trivial, so why spend any time at all trying to weed the collection?  Rather, save it all and then try Filtering on the Way Out.  On the other hand, look at the search engine so many of us envy — Google.  It indexes and searches enormous amounts of data, but even Google doesn’t try to do it all.  Google doesn’t tackle the Deep Web.

So why are we trying to do it all?

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For information on searching the Deep Web:

From my deep stores of anti-clutter information:

[Photo Credit:  Jason Rust]

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4 thoughts on “Are We Organizing the Right Stuff?

  • August 12, 2009 at 7:01 pm
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    For deep web solution you should take a look at what Internous is up to. see http://www.isen.org

  • August 13, 2009 at 8:59 am
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    Thanks for the link, Matt. This looks like a fascinating project.

    – Mary

  • August 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm
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    Thanks for the link, Matt. This looks like a fascinating project.

    – Mary

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