Risk and Opportunity: The Web 2.0 Challenge

How do we keep fear of risk from blinding us to opportunity? That was the provocative question that pulled me up short midway through a slide deck Andy Piper prepared a few years ago to describe the use of social media at IBM.  I’ve found myself thinking about this question a great deal lately in the context of law firm knowledge management.  During our recent LegalTech 2009 session, Five Things Every Law Practice Should Know About Web 2.0, one of the audience members asked me how best to guard against the risk of unvetted and inaccurate information proliferating in law firm wikis.  There are two obvious answers:

  1. Draft a foolproof governance policy that places tight controls on users and incorporates an elaborate system of permissions and approvals to ensure the content is properly vetted and safe for use.   OR
  2. Ask your colleagues to use their commonsense and good judgment.

A firm of determined lawyers and knowledge managers can probably come up with an extensive list of rules that attempt to safeguard the purity and accuracy of content shared via Web 2.0 tools, but I can pretty much guarantee that it will be frustrating and won’t be comprehensive.  It’s the wrong approach.  It would be far better to take the time to ensure you are hiring the best and then give them the training necessary to develop the judgment to read with a critical eye the information they find via social media tools.  In the long-term, equipping colleagues to work independently is far more productive than corralling them with a complicated set of operating rules.

For those of you who truly fear the risk of unvetted content, consider for a moment whether your fear of risk is blinding you to the opportunities afforded by social media tools:  the opportunities to build communities and leverage social networks, share knowledge without intermediaries, and facilitate the easier organization and retrieval of information.  And then, think really hard about the nature of the risk you fear.  As I responded to the person who posed the question about the risk of unvetted and inaccurate content in a wiki — what about the unvetted and inaccurate content currently sitting in your document management system?  What are you doing about that?

Sometimes the Web 2.0 bogeyman that you’re fixated on is only a pale shadow of the very real risks you currently have and ignore today.  Don’t allow your fears to blind you to the opportunities that await.

[Photo Credit:  szlea, Creative Commons license]

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