Using the Right Map

In these days of Google Maps and Mapquest, it can be hard to remember that you actually do need to use different kinds of maps for different kinds of journeys. Members of my family have on more than one occasion rescued sailor wannabees who made the mistake of renting a boat for the day and then tried to navigate with the assistance of only a road map. (It’s true. You can’t make this stuff up.)

A similar situation has sprung up around the conversation Venkatesh Rao started regarding what he viewed as the Social Media vs Knowledge Management battle for the soul of users. He used a specific map (generalizations about generational differences) to navigate the discussion. This map led him to his desired destination: KM is doomed to fail because it is championed by the rapidly aging and completely misguided Baby Boomer generation. By contrast, he believes that SM will prevail because it is championed by Millenials, who are as we speak defining the new dominant ways of interacting online.

Venkat has posted a response to the reactions of this blog and others. I suspect this discussion isn’t over yet, but I would make the following observation: generalizations about generational differences are just that — generalizations. It’s like using the map the car rental company provides when you really need a detailed road atlas. The generalizations can help orient you (maybe), but you’re unlikely to reach your destination without the necessary detailed analysis.

In the case of law firm knowledge management, it’s probably fine to start your analysis regarding your chances of launching social media tools with the generational map provided by Venkat. However, generalizations set in abstract situations are no better than that car rental company map. You need to know the topography of your particular firm. How exactly do the employees in your firm fit within the generational boundaries — as determined by date of birth AND by preferences? Despite the chronological facts, do you have a firm culture that is adventurous when it comes to technology? Despite the generational distribution, does your firm have a tightwad culture, making any investment in new social media tools difficult? Has your firm taken on so many financial obligations that it doesn’t have the necessary economic cushion to weather the current market turmoil, much less launch a new way of working online?

As you can see, most of these questions have very little to do with the age of the employees of your law firm, but the answers can have a profound influence on the discussion and ultimate decision regarding social media in your firm. As you head down this path, be sure you are equipped with more than generalizations. Otherwise, I can virtually guarantee that you will get lost.

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