I find both arguments very compelling. Being as dim-witted as I am, here are my conclusions:
- The tools don't matter
- The tools do matter
The tools DON'T matter if you don't have the Right EnvironmentLast year, I'd written a post that talked about how little things can help your enterprise 2.0 efforts succeed. Let me be very clear about my opinions here. The most sophisticated tools will not help knowledge sharing thrive, if you don't have the following socio-cultural elements nailed down.
An Engaged CommunityPeople are naturally helpful -- they want to contribute. Unfortunately, most corporate intranets are so restrictive that they discourage the most enthusiastic contributors. When they're permissive, they just have all the wrong workflows. Add to that the participation inequality principle by Jakob Nielsen and you have a fairly huge challenge on hand. Andrew McAfee talks about the importance of making your knowledge ecosystem freeform, frictionless and emergent. That's a first step. To deal with participation inequality, communities need to find creative ways such as the ones described here.
Committed Community Management
The concept of self-organisation is pretty cool, but in my experience of working with a strongly self-organising company, I can say a couple of things:
- To self-organise, the first thing people need is a shared objective. It's naive to imagine that people will self-organise without clear goals.
- Once there's a clear objective, every self-organising team needs a facilitator. In the case of communities, this person is the community lead or the community manager.
Content StewardshipKnowledge is everywhere. Its on email, it's on IM, it's on discussion forums, conferences, unconferences, team wikis; it's in people's heads! It's in every possible place you can imagine. Most of this knowledge never finds it's way into an organisational knowledge base. Without establishing the right workflows to ensure that knowledge can move from these day to day channels to a universal platform, we run the risk of losing valuable information. As a consequence, we lose the opportunity to create the critical mass of information that attracts contributors. This is where traditional knowledge managers can still play a huge role and channel emerging knowledge from a silo to the rest of the organisation.
The Right Incentives
"People usually have no more than 10 minutes each day to contribute content 'for the benefit of others'. When they have a choice between the broad, appreciative, internet and the puny, thankless intranet, the decision is quite simple."The last socio-cultural factor which I think we often overlook, is the question of incentives. Whether it's a soft toy, overall recognition or a rating on their performance reviews, people should have a clear idea of what's in it for them if they contribute. In the initial stages of an enterprise 2.0 rollout, this is crucial. I say this because there's very little reason why someone should spend time out of their regular work hours trying to contribute to a knowledge platform if they don't see a strong incentive. I'm not saying that there has to be a defined incentive here. The incentive could just be that it's 'the cool thing' or 'the fun thing' to do. In which case you need to invest heavily in the design of your knowledge system.
In the Right Environment, you DO need Capable ToolsIf you manage to take care of everything that I mentioned in my rather long discourse until now, then you will need a set of tools that plays well with your ecosystem. Simply layering 'search' over an archaic document management system will not do the trick. Knowledge sharing in this age is much more than just organising documents. You need a system that:
- Can scale to hundreds of pages without adminstrative oversight.
- Is easy to contribute to and integrates with the users' preferred channels (email?).
- Accepts contributions in various formats and isn't tied to one method of content creation.
- Has support for metadata.
In a subsequent post, I want to touch upon the importance of metadata in a world of search, but let's just say for now, that metadata has four distinct uses:
- illustrate relationships between discrete pieces of information;
- illustrate the value of some information;
- illustrate appropriateness (self-policing);
- and to gather opinions about the information itself
So what do you think? Do the tools truly matter? Or do they not? I'm I taking the right view of this debate? I'd love to hear from you - so please comment liberally and let me know what you think. If you liked my post today, you may also like my other posts on the topic of enterprise 2.0. I'm quite passionate about organisational knowledge sharing, so feel free to reach out to me directly if there's a topic you'd like me to contribute to!