Happy 10th Anniversary!

On January 21, 2008, I tried something new. I blogged for the first time.

My reasons for starting this blog were fairly simple. I realized there was an interesting conversation happening online about technology, knowledge management, innovation, and collaboration; however, I did not have any way to be a part of it. At the time, the best way into the conversation seemed to be through blogging. So I started blogging.

Over the intervening 10 years, I’ve had more than my fair share of fascinating conversations thanks to this blog. I’ve also discovered that my approach to blogging provides the collateral benefit of really expanding my education. This is due in large part to my tendency to be a knowledge broker. According to Professor Andrew Hargadon (UC Davis), brokers learn from domains outside their own and then bring that new learning back to their own domain. For him, this is a critical element of innovation: “…revolutionary innovations do not result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organizations. In fact, innovation is really about creatively recombining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies in ways that spark new technological revolutions.”

Understanding that information for information’s sake is not as powerful as information put to use, Hargadon has identified the powerful role brokers play in creating social networks that can spread new information and put it to work: “…brokers simultaneously bridge the gaps in existing networks that separate distant industries, firms, and divisions to see how established ideas can be applied in new ways and places, and build new networks to guide these creative recombinations to mass acceptance.”

Tracking just one idea shows the power of combining brokering with a network. Take the example of the Failure Party. I learned about the failure party phenomenon through conversation with someone in the pharmaceutical industry. Further research turned up a 2004 article in the Wall Street Journal. Given the clear benefits of failure parties, I was surprised that I had never heard of them in the legal industry. So, putting on my knowledge broker hat, I wrote: “Host a Failure Party” in 2009. While I’m not willing to claim cause and effect, I will note that since that post the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference has included several failure party sessions and one city-wide group of law firm KM professionals hosts an annual failure party.

Blogging is an inherently social practice for me. It is an opportunity to share information, shape debate, and expand horizons. In the process, I’ve been truly grateful for the response of my readers. Some of you retweet my posts or email them to colleagues. Others send me private messages letting me know when a particular post struck a chord or was helpful. One friend and colleague sent me the following text message in response to my blog post, “Pick a Fight in 2018“:

Happy New Year Mary! Once again I am inspired by your blog. I definitely have a few fights to pick in 2018! Thank you for your generous inspiration! All the best to you and your family.

This message arrived out of the blue and is one I will treasure. When I write I have no idea sometimes if any of it helps anyone else. So I truly appreciate hearing from my readers and seeing ideas from this blog gain traction.

Let me end where I should have begun — by thanking my readers. You have been amazing partners on this journey. I look forward to the adventures the next 10 years together bring. Thank you!

[Photo Credit: Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash]


Broadli: KM Theory in Action

Broadli Icon.175x175-75 In some law firm knowledge management circles it is fashionable to disdain theory in favor practical realities. To be honest, there was a time in my career when I chose to ignore theory and focused instead on learning the lessons provided by the school of hard knocks. The problem was that while those lessons were abundant, they often were rather painful. Further, while they made sense in the context of my experience, that experience was by necessity limited and I couldn’t always safely extrapolate from that specific experience to develop a solid theory of more general application.

Once I acknowledged these shortcomings, I had to find a better way. And that way led me back … to theory.  As I began reading, I discovered that I was not the first to experience certain KM challenges and I learned that some of the “clever” solutions I was contemplating had been tried and discarded by smarter minds and braver souls than mine. That’s when it dawned on me that, at its best, the KM literature could save me from a world of hurt by allowing me to learn from the experiences of others.

That made me a convert. Yet even still, I wasn’t entirely sure how far I could safely take KM theory and apply it to the real world.

In the last few months, I’ve been part of a group testing some KM theory and discovering once again that there is a lot KM can teach the real world. In particular, I’ve been testing what I’ve read in the KM literature about social capital and behavior in social networks. Together with my stellar partners Alessandra Lariu, Claudia Batten, John Weiss and Matt Null, I’ve taken those theories out for a trial run in the world of mobile apps. On December 31, a company we co-founded released a mobile app called Broadli. This app helps users sort their cluttered collection of contacts to uncover their trusted network. Then the app helps users activate their trusted network to move forward the projects that matter most to them. Along the way, participants create networks of generosity in which they “pay it forward” by providing a helping hand to people within their extended network.

Thanks to a fabulous feature article in Fast Company and some energetic social media activity, Broadli has become an idea that has captured the imagination of thousands of users. And we hope that many thousands more will see the light.

So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been blogging lately, now you know. If you have an iPhone 5 and would like to be part of these networks of generosity, please download the app and start using it. To be sure you get the full experience, invite members of your trusted network to join in as well. We welcome your participation and your comments.


What’s the Right Question for a Better Answer?

QuestionsThey say that getting the right answer depends upon asking the right question. Perhaps that works in the courtroom, but lately I’ve begun to wonder how well it works in our networked world.

Here’s a case in point: I was puzzling through a technical problem and realized I needed the input of an expert. So I contacted an expert to set up a meeting. Mindful of the many demands on his time, I carefully thought through my problem and sent him before the meeting a list of the questions whose I answers I thought would solve my problem.

As soon as we sat down to discuss my questions I realized that I had made a critical mistake. By setting out the questions beforehand, I had limited the range of answers and set up false boundaries for our conversation. Now we could ultimately have reached the right answers, but he would be forced to first answer and dispose of my questions before we could progress past the limits of my knowledge to get to the heart of the problem. And he would have to clear this path through the undergrowth because I had insufficient expertise to frame the problem with sufficient precision.

Thankfully, I saved us both this slog through the undergrowth by changing course on the spot. Just as he pulled out my list of questions and prepared to answer the first one, I apologized to him and asked him to put the list away. I explained that while I had the best of intentions when I sent him the questions, it was the wrong approach. Instead, since I didn’t know enough to articulate the problem properly, I would explain what I wanted to accomplish (and why) and describe the roadblocks in my way.  Then I would leave it to my expert to draw on his knowledge appropriately to help me achieve my goal.

The fruitful conversation that followed proved my intuition correct. The right answer was within the expert’s range of knowledge, not mine. In fact, my careful questions would have led us down the garden path to a dead end. By throwing away the questions and focusing on my goal, I immediately tapped into the full range of my expert’s experience rather than restricting us to that part of his experience that seemed most directly applicable to my questions. I also got him invested in the ultimate goal rather than merely focused on answering a discrete set of questions.

Now, why does this matter in a networked world? Because limiting the conversation at the start limits the opportunities and insights available through your network. As much as I might dress it up in good intentions,the reality is that the questions I sent the expert were an attempt to control the conversation and the outcome. Granted, it was done in the name of efficiency, but ultimately would have resulted in inefficiency. The more efficient and effective method was to give up the command-and-control approach in favor of a more open and collaborative attitude that acknowledged the strengths of my colleague and the limits of my ability to control. For those of us raised in a command-and-control organization this open approach can seem risky, but it is the best way to tap the tacit knowledge of your network.

True collaboration results in something better than just my answer or yours. But to get to that better answer, you might need to throw away your questions and focus instead on a goal worth sharing.

[Photo Credit: Oberazzi]


When Collaboration is For the Birds

Collaboration is key.  We’re told by social media mavens that it powers networks and unlocks the potential within individuals and the groups with which they associate.  However, collaboration is not always an unalloyed good. Sometimes it can go badly wrong.

Now, before you throw me out of the social media club, consider the following: collaboration isn’t just about working together; it’s about working together towards a shared goal.   However, sharing a goal is not enough it you are looking to optimize the situation for your group.  Merely accomplishing a shared goal doesn’t guarantee good if the goal itself is flawed.

If you aren’t convinced, watch these two brief videos in which groups of birds act together to achieve a common goal:

Here’s an example of great collaboration to achieve a worthy goal:

Now, here’s an example of a crowd realizing too late that the goal towards which it was working was the wrong goal:

So here’s the takeaway:  If you’re going to go to the trouble of collaborating, make very sure that the goal towards which you are working is worth the effort.  Otherwise, you might discover that your collaboration effort is for the birds.



Measuring E2.0 Success & Business Value – Metrics & Analysis

Here are my notes from the third session of the Enterprise 2.o Black Belt Workshop:  Measuring Success and Business Value – Metrics and Analysis


  • Ted Hopton, Wiki Community Manager, United Business Media
  • Donna Cuomo, Chief Information Architect, the MITRE Corporation


[These are my quick notes, complete with  (what I hope is no more than) the occasional typo and grammatical error.  Please excuse those. Thanks!

From time to time, I’ll insert my own editorial comments – exercising the prerogatives of the blogger.  I’ll show those in brackets. ]


Ted Hopton:

  • His company organized the Enterprise 2.0 conference
  • They use Jive software for their enterprise 2.0 platform
  • Focus first on participation
    • Use the analytics module of your enterprise 2.0 tool to see who is visiting the site, where the activity is taking place, who is creating and viewing content, etc.
    • Analyze active members by level of activity
  • Problem: Make sure the metrics tie back to your project goals
  • Use qualitative measures to improve your understanding
    • Use a survey – ask how and how often people use the community
    • List possible positive outcomes and ask users which of these outcomes they have experienced
    • Ask why they don’t use the tool more
      • Use blunt, negative statements
      • Encourage them to tell you exactly how they feel
    • Use this information to benchmark (and draw out the venom – otherwise it festers)
    • Net Promoter Score – give users a scale of 1-10 and ask them how likely they are to promote your work.  Scores above 6 indicate that they will promote rather than detract your promoter. Subtract your scores below 6  from your scores of 6 and above. This yields your “Net Promoter Score.”  Obviously, the higher the better.
    • Track your success stories and share them
  • Lessons Learned
    • While it’s good to have consistent metrics, be aware that metrics evolve and your methods should evolve too
    • Beware of benchmarks (e.g., the 90-9-1 standard of participation). Make sure the benchmark you are using really applies to E2.0 projects.

Donna Cuomo:

  • The Mitre Company runs four differently federally funded programs (including for the Dept. of Homeland Security and the Dept. of Defense)
  • Use Case 1:  Improve MITRE’s Research Program Selection Process
    • They used Spiggot to be their “innovation management tool”
    • They wanted to codify their research competition process
    • They wanted to stop people further down the food chain from weeding out ideas too early
    • They wanted to encourage broader participation (from a review perspective)
    • They created an “Idea Market”based on a SharePoint wiki
    • Their first-year metrics indicated broad participation
    • They were able to create widespread transparency
    • They used surveys to compare the new tools (and user satisfaction) against the old tools/methodologies
  • Use Case 2: Social Bookmarking
    • Hypothesized that social bookmarking would inmprove resource sharing, leveraging the research of others across teams and the corporation
    • They also thought the tagging would help identify experts within the organization
    • They used a tool similar to Delicious
    • Bookmarks helped create a lightweight newsletter (this was an unexpected benefit)
    • You don’t need many participants in order to provide real value to the entire organization
  • Use Case 3: Babson SNA Study
    • They identified super users of their internal social networks and social media (brokers) and then interviewed their colleagues
    • They discovered that these super users tended to be innovative and provide huge value to their networks
    • Frequency of interactions was not as important as the number of unique connections each broker had (indicative of their ability to have an impact on a wider range of people).


  • What are the most important things you are NOW measuring?
    • Number of communities
    • Number of community members
    • Percentage of contributors versus consumers
    • Usage across geographies, business units, etc.
    • Number of visits
    • Dwell time (how long is each visit)
    • Number of concurrent users at any one time
    • Number of people editing (indicates collaboration)
    • Number (and identity of ) lurkers
    • Measuring conversion of lurkers to active participants
    • Participation in community activities (who is sharing, who is editing, who is tagging, etc.)
    • Utilization of the various social tools
    • Success stories
  • What are the most important things you should be measuring?
    • Abandonment rate – when do visits/activity drop off
    • Tracking against business goals
    • Net Promoter Score
    • Day/time of highest activity
    • first and last page viewed
    • business improvement metrics
      • = correlation of usage to operating metrics
      • = correlation of usage to improved business process
    • Measuring cross-fertilization (the extent to which people choose to go outside their community for information)
    • Number of new ideas/ rate of innovation
    • What’s the reduction in other forms of overhead activities (e.g., now that the subject matter expert is posting answers on a social platform, what is the resulting decline in repetitive e-mail requests?)
    • Percentage of profile completion
    • Rating content
    • Ability to determine a dollar value to participation
    • Where was the content reused, how was it reused, and what were the results of the reuse (e.g., cost savings, process improvement, etc.)
  • Presentations:  www.e2conf.com/boston/2010/presentations/workshop
    • User name: Workshop
    • Password: Boston
  • Presentations also on Slideshare: http://slideshare.net/20adoption

The Kindness of Strangers

We’ve never met. Nonetheless, Samuel Driessen was most generous to me yesterday. What did he do? He very kindly offered me his full pass to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference to be held in June.

This conference provides a prime opportunity to learn first-hand from people who have had success with Enterprise 2.0 tools. For those of us in the E2.0 trenches, it promises guidance and inspiration. Along the way, we also get to meet (and commiserate with) folks who are part of the wider E2.0 community.

Samuel is a well-known proponent of social media tools.  Consequently, it isn’t too surprising that he chose to let the world know via his blog and Twitter that he wouldn’t be able to use his conference pass.  He then invited anyone interested in attending in his stead to leave a comment on his blog.  By using these Web 2.0 tools and spreading the message through various online networks, Samuel made a wonderful opportunity available to someone he had never met before, someone who lives in a different continent and works in a completely different industry.

Blanche DuBois famously said in A Streetcar Named Desire that she had “always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  Samuel’s approach reminded me that the world of social media is populated with generous people who are kind to strangers every day.  Thanks to social media tools, we have the opportunity to expand our networks beyond geographical and industry boundaries, making friends of strangers.

So let me end where I should have begun — with my heartfelt thanks to Samuel Driessen.  As I’ve promised Samuel, I’ll report in this blog the pearls of wisdom I’m sure to find at the conference.  That’s the best way I know to demonstrate my thanks in a practical fashion.

[Photo Credit: Betizuka]


Are Law Firms Ready for Mobile and Social?

An eminent Mary (Mary Meeker that is, not Mary Abraham!) has just presented her views on Internet Trends 2009 at the Web 2.0 Summit. Her key trend for 2009 was “Mobile Internet – Is and Will Be Bigger Than Most Think.” She goes on to list 8 key mobile internet themes, but here’s the one that caught my eye:

Next Generation Platforms (Social Networking + Mobile) Driving Unprecedented Change in Communications + Commerce.

I know we lawyers love our BlackBerries, but is this where the action is?  Maybe not so much.  According to one report, iPhone users account for 65% of the mobile data usage even though they constitute only 11% of the market share in the US.  What does this mean for the future of BlackBerries in the enterprise?  Meeker suggests that RIM’s installed base will give it a 1-2 year advantage, but after that all bets are off given the sky-high rate of iPhone purchases.

So if we don’t have passing grades when it comes to mobile, how are we doing with social networking?  Meeker’s data show that huge numbers of users are flocking to powerful new publishing/distribution platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Demand Media.  Yet every day we hear more and more alarming statistics about the number of companies that are blocking access to social networking platforms.  If this is true, does Mary Meeker’s prediction apply only to folks outside the corporate/legal world?  Or are we about to see a shift in acceptance and participation behind the corporate firewall?

And what about your law firm?  Is it ready for mobile + social?  Or are you hoping to try to sit this one out?

[Photo Credit: mattjb]


The Cost of a Dysfunctional Community

Cynics sneer at what they characterize as the Kumbaya tone of some social media advocates. As far as these cynics (or as they prefer to say, realists)  are concerned, only Pollyanna would make such rosy projections of network effects and community building.  Exhortations to share and share alike, or to just give your personal intellectual property away without charge or expectation of reciprocity are met with disbelief.  This is so far outside the reality of life within many businesses that it’s not surprising that management occasionally finds the social media talk high on new age bromides and low on concrete facts.

One of the problems facing those of us who try to explain the value of Enterprise 2.0 tools is that most companies have not measured the cost to the enterprise of their failure to nurture internal social networks and a spirit of collaboration. Does management know how many deals weren’t closed because expertise was hidden rather than shared? Has management measured the hits to efficiency and effectiveness that result when critical information is buried in a silo rather than easily accessible via the community?  Does management understand the impact that dysfunctional communities have on employee morale and productivity?

Until you’ve counted the cost of a dysfunctional community, how can you properly value the potential benefits of social media tools that could help build and strengthen a healthy community?

[Photo Credit:  Niall Kennedy]


Are These Social Media Relationships Real?

He and I have never met.  And yet, he sent me the following message on Twitter a few days ago:

You are very quiet at the moment. Is all well? (Or maybe you are away.) See you soon (virtually speaking), I hope.

This message was prompted by the fact that I hadn’t published a blog post or tweeted on Twitter since March 13.  His was the first of several messages I received recently from folks I’ve only ever “met” via this blog or on Twitter.  They suspected something was up, and took the time to check.  As those messages accumulated,  I began to wonder if all of us were underestimating the strength of the human connections that are created and then flourish virtually via social media tools.

If you listen to the social media skeptics, you’d find it hard to believe that people who haven’t met physically (but interact only virtually) could possibly have a “real” relationship.  Even social media proponents have on occasion suggested that the true value of social media tools is that the virtual interactions they enable pave the way for old-fashioned, face to face interactions.   Given my recent experience, however, I’m beginning to question if that’s right.  Granted, I’m working primarily from my own experience and some anecdotal evidence from friends, yet this (admittedly unscientific) sample suggests that many of us are finding that some of our more meaningful social relationships are virtual.  And, that’s not necessarily something to be pitied.

No matter where you stand on the subject of social media, it would be wise to think objectively about the nature of the relationships you have. How do you determine if any relationship is “real”?  For me, it’s more than a matter of physical proximity.  Instead, I’d suggest evaluating the “reality” of your relationships on the basis of some or all of the following questions:  Like the inhabitants of the Cheers Bar, do these folks  “know your name“? Are they in regular conversation with you?  Do they offer information or questions that help you learn and grow? Are they supportive? Do they notice when you’re not participating?  And, when you are not around, do they check on your well-being?   If you can answer yes to these questions, does it truly matter if they live in your town or on the other side of the world?

Ray Oldenburg suggested 20 years ago that most of us need three places in our lives:  the first place is our home; the second place is our workplace; and the Third Place is where we engage with the wider community.  For some, this Third Place is their place of worship, their social club, the barber shop or their equivalent of the Cheers Bar.  For increasing numbers of us, that Third Place in an online community that interacts via social media tools.

When I received the various messages inquiring about my well-being during the last few weeks, I had to re-evaluate my own perceptions of online relationships.   What I’ve discovered is that my social media Third Place is increasingly important to me and the relationships I’ve formed online are just as “real” as some of the relationships I’ve formed the old-fashioned, face to face way.  So this blog post is my note of thanks to those of you who have checked in with me lately.   You are much appreciated.

[Photo Credit:  Rob Dunfey]


Managing the Fire Hose

People talk about the velocity of current flows of information and inputs and say it’s like drinking from a fire hose.  That’s wishful thinking.  On far too many days, it feels more like living in the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina.  For Clay Shirky, that sense of drowning in information is a sure sign not of overload but, rather, of inadequate filters.  If he’s right (and I think he is), we have to find a better way of coping.

A great deal of daily life now consists of filtering and managing the inputs so that we can be productive.  For me, this is a matter of personal knowledge management:  the art of gathering, organizing, storing, searching and retrieving the information we need to live well.   I’m an avid  student of the subject and have discovered that one never quite masters it.  There is always a new challenge and always something to learn.  So I thought I would collect some resources in this post for myself and any others who are seeking a slightly saner way of managing the fire hose.

Gathering Information:

  • People First – If you’re looking for reliable information, you need not look any further than your friends and trusted colleagues.  Building your social network and ensuring you have accurate contact information will go a long way to helping you find what you need when you need it.  Once you know who is in your trusted network, how do you tap it?  Social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed help you stay in touch and share information you consider interesting or important.  The beautiful thing is that when you use your social networks to gather information, your friends do the filtering for you.
    • See the quick tutorial in the Common Craft video:  Social Networking in Plain English
    • Twitter does much more than simply provide updates on your friends.  It can also be a great research tool.  However, it all starts with connecting online and here is a Common Craft video to explain how:  Twitter in Plain English
  • Let the Information Come to You – Through the magic of electronic subscriptions and web feeds (e.g., Really Simple Syndication (RSS)), you no longer have to go hunting for current information.  It will come to you.  All you have to do is place your order — and that just takes a couple of clicks of your mouse — and then sit back and wait for the content to be sent to your e-mail inbox or your RSS reader (e.g., Google Reader).
    • See the quick tutorial on how RSS readers work and how to subscribe in the Common Craft video:  RSS in Plain English.

Organizing Information:

  • Create a Personal Archive – When I first started practicing law, each lawyer would create an elaborate set of folders (aka the “form file”) that housed every piece of paper that seemed interesting.  That’s where you stored precedent documents, research results, notes, etc.  The idea was that you created a private archive of useful information designed to help you work more efficiently.  We still need personal archives, but today they consist primarily of electronic content.  And, given how cheap electronic storage has become, there really are not many physical limits on how large your personal archive can be.
  • Organize Your Electronic Materials Electronically – A few years ago hand held label makers were all the rage.  They allowed you to create the illusion of order despite the underlying chaos of your system.  An electronic storage system can be every bit as chaotic and electronic labels every bit as illusory.  However, employed properly (according to a scheme that makes sense to you and that you diligently apply in a consistent fashion), these electronic labels can help you organize enormous amounts of information.  You can apply these labels via a variety of Google applications (e.g., Bookmarks, Mail, Reader, etc.) or through social bookmarking, as discussed in the next section.
  • Let Others Help You Organize Information – through social bookmarking tools (e.g., Delicious), you can enjoy the benefits of the organizational efforts of others.  When they identify interesting content and label that content electronically, that creates an organizational scheme that is available to anyone else who is interested in that content.

Storing Information:

  • People Information – In the olden days, all you needed was a simple address book (hard copy or electronic).  Now, just sign up to that giant rolodex in the sky known as LinkedIn and let others take care of keeping contact information up to date for you.
    • For information on how LinkedIn works, see this Common Craft video:  What is LinkedIn?
  • Electronic Storage Only – Don’t store information in hard copy unless it is something you really need at hand in a physical format.  Otherwise, store it all online.  If you don’t have concerns about information security, store it remotely in an externally-hosted blog or wiki, or via Google or any other comparable service provider.
  • Minimize the Number of Storage Sites – Remember that old paper form file?  The great thing was that it was the only place you had to check for information you had saved.  Now, you have to check your e-mail folders, the favorites on your web browser, your social bookmarks, your hard drive, etc.  Stop the Madness! Try to consolidate as much as you can in just one or two places online so that you don’t have to search over and over again for the information you have saved.
  • Make Your Personal Archive Portable – If you work exclusively at the office,  relying on a hard copy form file is still feasible (barely).  But if you have lots of electronic information you need to keep, then putting it in a paper file is neither convenient nor considerate of the environment.  Further, if you’re ever working at a client’s office, at home or in a hotel, you won’t have access to those paper files and then you’ll understand why so many of us believe in the value of a portable electronic archive that is accessible anywhere you have an internet connection.  And, given today’s economic realities, I should mention that having a portable personal archive means that if you should ever part company with your current employer, you can keep the archive you’ve built up so carefully, provided it is outside your employer’s firewall.  (Obviously, client confidential information should not be stored outside the firewall, but information you obtain publicly via the internet is yours to store and organize outside the firewall.)

There you are — an introduction to some personal knowledge management information and techniques.  Try them out and see what works for you.  And if you have other suggestions for effective personal KM, please leave a comment below and let us all know.

[Photo Credit:  Anxious223, Creative Commons license]