“Women love drama!” I overheard this pearl of wisdom on the street the other day. If I hadn’t been racing to a meeting, I might have stopped to engage with the two “gentlemen” who were pontificating about women on a busy street corner in Manhattan. Perhaps it’s just as well that I was in a rush. After all, how do you begin to address a hopeless generalization like “women love drama”? Somehow I doubt that creating my own drama on that corner would have helped the cause of women.
As I walked away, I wondered how often we make generalizations in our lives and thereby avoid the need to analyze closely what’s really going on around us. For example, in law firm knowledge management circles I often hear statements that begin with the words: “THE LAWYERS…” As a lawyer and a knowledge manager, I know that I’m not part of a monolithic indistinguishable mass. In fact, I know lots of quirky people who act in unexpected ways — even though they are lawyers. Therefore, building a knowledge management system around someone’s personal generalization of an entire group of people makes no sense at all. However, it does happen.
What’s the antidote? Start by being honest about your sample size. How many lawyers have you spoken to or observed with respect to a particular generalization? Then, look outside your experience of your firm to the experience of other firms. Does your generalization hold up? If not, is it because you’re working with a truly unique group of lawyers or are you working with a flawed view of lawyers?
If we can’t safely rely on personal generalizations, what other shortcuts can we reliably use in planning, deploying and maintaining KM systems? There are by now many studies (backed by lots of data) regarding human behavior and usability preferences. Make sure you stay aware of this literature. And, if you’re working with a good vendor, you should be able to take advantage of their experience of deploying their product in a variety of environments and with a range of users.
At the end of the day, don’t assume that all users are like the handful you actually know. Failure to follow this rule could lead to a great deal of unwelcome drama that is a whole lot more substantial than the female drama some think they’ve experienced!
[Photo Credit: Schroedinger’s Cat]