Control Freaks Need Not Apply

If you’re a control freak, you might want to think twice about a career in social media.  After all,  some of the most successful social networks have flourished precisely because the control freaks got out of the way and, in their own words, let the lunatics run the asylum.

Ceding control to the participants is so counter-intuitive for many managers, yet time and time again we see the impressive results of this approach.  Take Craigslist, for example.  It’s  a revolutionary online community that has changed the way regular folks think about matching supply and demand.  In a recent report by ReadWriteWeb of the keynote address by Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) at the User Generated Content Conference, we find the following statements that are guaranteed to send a control freak through the roof:

  • “Getting out of the way is really important…”
  • “We didn’t care that the site wasn’t being used how we had imagined…”

Now, imagine a member of a law firm knowledge management department uttering either of those statements.


In the words of Jeff Jarvis:

As Google built the most powerful tool imaginable–the entire world of digital knowledge revealed behind a simple search box–so did Craig build a simple tool that changed society (and newspapers and real estate and more) without prescribing how we should use it. They create platforms to enable us to do what we want to do and then, instead of giving us rules about their use, then they stand back and put us in charge. [emphasis added]

The clear message in all of this is that if you try to control or constrain a social network too tightly, you will choke it.  Far better to set in place the minimum precautions necessary to ensure nothing blows up or melts down, and then let the participants work their magic.  If you start obsessing too much about policies governing access to or use of social media tools, chances are you’ve missed the whole point of social media and may well end up being a hurdle on the path to success for your Enterprise 2.0 initiative.

[Photo Credit:  H4cks, Creative Commons license]


Take An Expansive View

Knowledge managers around the world can learn a great deal from the example of the Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York, whose tenure ends on December 31st. Besides being the first woman to hold the state’s highest judiciary office and author of some landmark decisions, she will be remembered for her reform of the judicial system in New York. Chief among these reforms was expansion of the jury pool by eliminating the automatic exemptions that excused far too many from serving on a jury. Prior to the repeal of these exemptions, you could be excused from jury service if you were, for example, a doctor, a lawyer, an embalmer, a maker of prosthetic limbs, a wearer of prosthetic limbs, etc.

Chief Judge Kaye tells an amusing story about why expanding the jury pool was necessary: her daughter discovered that it was “a great place to meet guys.” As any loving mother knows, you increase your daughter’s chances of making a good match by increasing the number of potential mates in the pool (regardless of the real purpose of the pool).

What works in matchmaking works in knowledge sharing as well. The bigger the pool, the greater the available knowledge on which you can draw. Users of social media are discovering that by interacting more regularly and transparently with their social networks they are able to learn and share more than ever before. In the process, the pool grows and the participants themselves grow. Despite this reality, finding a way to bring the power of the bigger pool inside enterprises via social media tools continues to be a challenge for knowledge management.

In 2009, look for more ways to take an expansive view — not only in how you work, but in the tools you provide that help make the pool bigger for everyone. If social computing has taught us anything, it is that this generosity is returned time and time again.


Innovation is a Team Sport

A recent New York Times article touted the benefits of collaborating to innovate. Debunking the myth of the lone genius who creates in solitude, the article suggests that the best innovation comes about through collaboration — where many people and perspectives intersect to create and refine ideas. However, it isn’t enough just to put a group of people in a room and ask them to brainstorm. In fact, according to the article, brainstorming is not nearly as productive as we’d like to believe. Instead of asking folks to “solve a problem” or “devise a new strategy” (favorite brainstorming topics), the better path is “systematic inventive thinking” in which the participants are asked to identify products and processes that work, break those down into their components, and then think about how those components can be put to other productive uses.

When I read this description of systematic inventive thinking, I realized that it appeared to share some of the principles of appreciative inquiry, which encourages us to build on our strengths. What a difference from the traditional approach of focusing on what does not work! (In a prior post I talked about the benefits of asking What Went Right rather than What Went Wrong?) Further, when you ask a group to focus on what’s good, you stand a better chance of avoiding some of the negative dynamics that emerge in problem-solving sessions such as refusing to speak up out of fear of failure or a desire to hoard ideas.

Whether you attempt innovation in solitary confinement or through a group process, research has shown that innovation isn’t a flash in the pan. According to Keith Sawyer, a professor of psychology and education and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration:

Innovation today isn’t a sudden break with the past, a brilliant insight that one lone outsider pushes through to save the company …. Just the opposite: innovation today is a continuous process of small and constant change, and it’s built into the culture of successful companies.

So what would it take to build innovation into the culture of your company? Sawyer believes that even the lone genius is part of a wider web of ideas and people — the people the genius talks to, the people who write the things the genius reads, etc. This suggests that a company that wants a robust innovation culture has to build robust social networks that facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas.

How can knowledge management help? KM knows all about social networks and social media tools. KM knows how to reduce information silos and enable information sharing. KM knows how to foster collaboration. We’ve often said that the whole point of knowledge management is innovation. With this focus on group genius, it’s becoming clearer how the things that knowledge management does well can be deployed to build a vibrant culture of innovation within every company.

[Thanks to Kevin O’Keefe at LexBlog for pointing out this article.]


Sending Out an SOS

Help! Woman drowning!

That’s increasingly my reaction as I consider the Herculean task that social networking presents to time-strapped people. It started with this blog. Then LinkedIn and a little Twitter action. Now I’m told I’ve got to invest in both Facebook and FriendFeed, not to mention several social bookmarking sites.

In a recent post, Chris Brogan laid out a personal social media strategy. It’s filled with great tips, however, I need something more: clear guidance on how to engage with social media while still holding down a job, spending face-to-face time with family and friends, and taking care of the mundane chores of life.

If you’ve got some useful advice, I’d love to hear it. Just toss that life preserver in my direction soon, please.


Getting Serious About Collaboration

A large number of professionals in knowledge management appear to have drunk the kool-aid regarding the value of collaboration. And now, collaboration is the latest buzzword tripping off the tongues of academics, activists, reformers, consultants and web 2.0 vendors. That many people can’t be wrong, can they?

Perhaps it’s time each collaboration advocate put their money where their mouth is. Now is the time to collaborate on a project worth doing. And what is currently the most critical BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) we could address? How about finding a viable way to achieve a sensible bailout of the US economy? (Is that big enough for you?)

There has been a complete failure of leadership in Washington. Given where we are in the US political calendar, it will take a great deal of leadership and goodwill for politicians of both parties to abandon any perceived election year advantages to help each other (and the world) to a sensible solution. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be optimistic about this after the empty theatrics of the last week.

So how could the rest of us model good collaborative behavior to address the economic crisis? We could, for example, create an “open source” solution for a Better Bailout. How about a wiki to collect and refine the best proposals for reforming and restoring the US economy? What if anyone with a positive contribution to make were able to participate? Could we harness the energies and intellect of a world-wide community to solve this problem?

Clearly, not all of us have the training to conceive effective solutions to the complicated problems presented by the current economic crisis. However, I’ve got to believe that somewhere in our respective social networks, we have friends or acquaintances who could add value to such an effort. Perhaps those of us who did not get past Economics 101 could make our contribution to the solution by recruiting to the effort capable people with the requisite integrity, training and freedom from partisan rancor to make a meaningful contribution.

If you’re happy with the job your representatives are doing in Washington, feel free to sit this out. If, however, you’d like to see a solution that deals honestly and fairly with the US taxpayer who has to foot the bill, now is the time to get involved. And, if you really believe in the power of collaboration, now is the time to prove its value.

[If you’d like to participate in A Better Bailout, e-mail]


Hitting the Twitter Wall

It’s a sad commentary on life in a web 2.0 world when a successful social networker discovers that there’s an inverse relationship between the size of her network and the quality of her network. Corvida, guest blogging on Chris Brogan’s blog, recently disclosed that she’s decreasing her connections while increasing her network. And it’s not a good thing. Here’s how it works: when she had no more than 400 (!) followers on Twitter, she claims she was able to make real connections with them. As she put it,

I knew who the majority of my followers were, thereby enabling me to utilize Twitter to its maximum potential. I was able to connect, refer, analyze, and reflect on what I was getting from my followers.

Unfortunately, Corvida has been a victim of her own cybersuccess. Here’s her description of her current sorry state:

Now, I couldn’t tell you who half of my followers are. I really don’t know who I’m following and who I’m not following. I don’t even know why certain people are following me. In turn, my conversation on Twitter has deteriorated along with the amount of time I used to spend on Twitter.

Corvida has hit the Twitter Wall. She can grow her network of followers infinitely, but she can’t sustain a human connection with all of them. When this happens, it leads to some perfectly predictable results: a loss of energy, a loss of interest, a loss of enjoyment.

There’s a limit to the number of meaningful relationships any human being can nurture on a regular basis. While web 2.0 tools provide an easy way to make contact, that ease can also get in the way of focusing on the relationships that matter. We’ve been swept up in the allure of easy connections and they are cluttering our lives.

That’s when we hit the Twitter Wall or the Facebook Wall or the LinkedIn Wall. At that point, what exactly do you do with the 500+ or 1000+ people who think they have a claim on you? As Corvida points out, now we’ve got a problem:

We don’t have a clue on where to begin to make deeper connections as our networks continue to grow. In turn, things may just get out of hand. You start adding people just because they added you with no desire to establish a real relationship with anyone that you haven’t already befriended beforehand.

Corvida wonders if we just need better electronic tools? I don’t think so. What we need is a bit more focus and discipline. (These are key to any successful personal knowledge management effort.) While size matters with respect to certain issues, quality matters much more than size if you want a meaningful social network. Perhaps someday someone will come up with a great (open source) social media tool that ensures quality relationships within a network, but until then we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: identify the folks that matter in our lives and then focus on developing a meaningful relationship with them.

It’s either that or face an extended period hitting our heads against the Twitter Wall.


You Haven’t Missed the Train — Yet

With all the flurry in the blogosphere and blawgosphere about web 2.0 and social media tools, it’s easy to believe that you are the last Luddite left standing without a Facebook friend, LinkedIn connection or personal blog. Fear not — you have lots of company. According to a recent global survey by Synovate, 58% of the population is clueless about social networking. Steve Garton, Synovate’s global head of media research reports:

“We spoke with over 13,000 respondents aged 18-65 years in 17 markets around the world to find out who’s connected and who’s not, as well as attitudes and online behaviours. Some of what we found surprised us… like more than a third of social networkers say they are losing interest in social media. And how many people do not even know what it is.”

That said, if they had interviewed only 18-35 year olds, they would have seen a different picture. However, the demographic they covered reflects the demographic in many enterprises and should not be ignored.

Interestingly, there also appear to be geographical differences in awareness of social networking:

“The Dutch were most likely to know the term with 89% answering ‘yes’, followed by Japan at 71% and Americans with 70% answering in the affirmative. Still, that leaves three in every ten Americans (the home of social networking) outside the world of digital friends and relationships.”

“Overall, 26% across the markets surveyed are members of social networking sites. This peaked with the Netherlands at 49%, United Arab Emirates (UAE) at 46%, Canada at 44% and the US at 40% (though keep in mind that’s 40% of a huge population).”

This suggests that a social networking strategy within a firm may have more success if targeted at workers within specific countries. Clearly one size does not fit all.

In the context of law firm knowledge management, it’s time we stopped complaining about how hard it is to convince lawyers to use social media tools. We shouldn’t be surprised at how slowly social media tools are being adopted within our firms since the data provided by Synovate appear to indicate that the rate of adoption outside the enterprise is not as broad and high as the hype in the popular press would suggest.

The good news is that you can stop hyperventilating. There is still time to implement a social media program at your firm without falling hopelessly behind your competitors. And, it is worth the effort to do so. These tools are a rich resource for law firms willing to use them creatively. But don’t dally unnecessarily. While the social networking train has not left the station yet, it’s only a matter of time.

[Thanks to HeadShift for the link to the Synovate survey report.]


Managing Social Media

One of my favorite 40-somethings told me yesterday that he had created a Facebook page for himself. Upon further questioning, I learned that the page actually had been created by the teenage summer intern working in his office. (Nonetheless, I gave the 40-something full credit for finding a low tech way of dealing with what for other Baby Boomers/Generation Xers can seem like an impossible barrier to entry to new technology.) When I asked why he decided to take the plunge, he told me that he felt he had to since the organization he led had an affinity group on Facebook and he, as CEO, needed to be there as well.

And then came the interesting part: he told me that he was going to keep it “strictly professional.”

“What happens when a high school or college buddy finds you on Facebook and wants to friend you?” I asked. “I’ll accept, of course, but they’ll have to `friend’ me in a `strictly professional’ way,” he responded. I was silent, but made a mental note to myself to check back in a few months to see if it actually worked the way he anticipated.

He then told me that the helpful teenage intern no longer had a Facebook page himself. When I asked why, I was told that the intern felt he had no choice when his mother “friended” him and the intern then realized that his mother would be able to see what he was up to with his other friends on Facebook.

Strangely, this gave me heart. Even Generation Y has a hard time managing the consequences of human action and connection with social media tools.


Good Fences and Good Neighbors

Good fences make good neighbors. That’s what Boomers were taught as children. But does that still hold true in a Web 2.0/Gen Y world where the public and the private seem to be constantly converging?

For example, at a recent meeting of law firm knowledge managers in New York City I asked how people were handling the public/private, professional/personal divide when it came to things like accepting and issuing invitations to LinkedIn. Some said that they accepted all invitations regardless of whether they came from an office colleague, a vendor or their Aunt Millie. Others said that they were confining LinkedIn to business colleagues who really didn’t need to know about or be in touch with Aunt Millie.

Doug Cornelius has written about the difficulties of finding the dividing line between personal and professional contacts. (Nonetheless, through his enthusiastic adoption of social media, he seems to be advocating the benefits of fewer fences in order to share information across the various social media systems.) David Mullen, on the other hand, carefully maintains his professional contacts in LinkedIn and his personal contacts via Facebook. Taking this one step further, Paul Blunden’s advice is direct and to the point: Don’t mix friends, family and business contacts.

And then there is Twitter. Do you Twitter about your personal life, your professional life, both, neither? And, even if you try to maintain fences regarding your contacts, how do you feel about work colleagues seeing your beach photos on Flickr?

But there’s more than just contacts, Twitter and Flickr — there’s the rest of your life. And, that’s where things get even more complicated. In a post entitled 7 Things to Look Past When Managing Gen Y, Ryan Healy makes the point that for Gen Y there is no divide between the public and the private, the personal and the professional. In fact, you’re given the impression that Gen Y actually doesn’t see the utility in maintaining good fences between neighbors or between their various spheres of life. Here’s what he has to say on this subject:

When you were an entry level worker, maybe you wouldn’t have dreamed of calling your girlfriend to say hello right after lunch or dialing up your mechanic to schedule a time to drop your car off for service. But work and life are no longer two distinct entities and this goes for both the office and at home.

Look past the fact that it’s not business for everyone all the time at the office. Because just as I have no problem making personal calls at the office, I also have no problem making a business call or sending an email during my “personal” hours in front of the TV. Life happens 24 hours a day and now, so does work. So look past the personal phone calls at the office and enjoy how your Gen Y worker will use the whole day to get those results you need for the business.

The implications of this “blended life” are not inconsequential. For example, most lawyers work under the rule of the billable hour. How on earth do you accurately track your billable time if you’re drifting in and out of client work 24/7? Given how hard it is to track accurately the work done via Blackberry “after regular office hours,” for example, why do we think we’ll do a good job of starting the clock when we deal with a client matter or of stopping the clock when we deal with personal business when we no longer have a firm sense of business time and personal time?

So what’s right? Fences or convergence? Or is the better question, which approach works best for you?


Twitter and the Dinosaur

On the days when I feel like a total technology dinosaur, I’ve found myself completely mystified by Twitter. I’ve heard people raving about it, but have always been left with the same three questions:

1. Who has the time to send updates?
2. Who has the time to read them?
3. Who (other than a mother) actually cares about the minutiae of another person’s life?

Today, even this dinosaur began to comprehend the potential power of Twitter when I read the story of James Karl Buck who used Twitter to let his network know that he had been arrested in Egypt. Here’s an excerpt from the summary from CNN:

On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The message only had one word. “Arrested.”

Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his blogger-friends in Egypt — the same ones who had taught him the tool only a week earlier — were alerted that he was being held.

Buck’s network then acted to spread news of his circumstances and help win his release. It’s a great story that depended on one piece of good luck — the police let Buck keep his cellphone.

So, while I mostly still don’t want to know that you’re about to go to a movie or have just had lunch, news of your arrest probably would rouse this dinosaur. Maybe it’s time for me to take another look at Twitter…

PS: Look out for the inevitable blogpile on this story. It will be hard to avoid.