Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Think for a minute about how you used to book your holidays, buy your music, find an address or select insurance – 10 or even 5 years ago?  Do you even bother to search for things these days or do you just rely on the recommendations from your network via Facebook, Twitter, Zemanta or even Amazon?

These prolific and radical changes are not limited to social and consumer interactions on the internet.  They also impact the nature, shape and conduct of business both internally and externally.

Companies are increasingly working in networks, whether they be loosely coupled or tightly integrated because of technology and the globalisation that technology has brought with it.  Those networks are essentially virtual entities, and this trend will accelerate over the coming years.  To be in or join a network, people need insight and connections, as well as appropriate processes capable of supporting various business needs across the virtual entity.  That signals fundamental shifts in the way people do business and the underlying business models.

This was one of the issues Leo Apotheker (co-CEO and a member of the Executive Board of SAP AG) and Andrew McAfee discussed during an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week.

It echoes the message from Pisano & Verganti in their article Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You? (Harvard Business Review December 2008):

In an era when great ideas can sprout from any corner of the world and IT has dramatically reduced the cost of accessing them, it’s now conventional wisdom that virtually no company should innovate on its own. … [But] greater choice has made the perennial management challenge of selecting the best options much more difficult. … [How] open or closed should your firm’s network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will tackle and which solutions will be adopted?

Those opportunities and challenges are equally applicable within organisations, with changes affecting the way people are now able to work together and the nature and style of management. Everything happens and needs to happen so much faster just so businesses can stay in the same (market) position and not loose ground to competitors.  But whilst the technology is there to expedite work processes and help people work better and smarter, often barriers in the form of cultural, organisational and behavioural changes are stifling.

As McAfee points out, it’s in this ever-changing technology context that management is being pressed more than ever to rethink the boundary between (i) control -> dictating how things will be executed and by who and (ii) autonomy -> allowing people to organise themselves and seeing what emerges. Frederic Baud explores similar themes in his interesting post Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organisations? More particularly, he considers whether an organisation viewing itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects can greatly augment the output by loosing control of the nature of that output.  The ensuing discussion is also worth a read!

In any case, the ‘control’ model prevails in many orgaisations, where decision-making processes are closed or simply pay lip-service to employee involvement, the few decide for the many based on their view of what people want, and networking of information and expertise occurs in very localised instances.

Yet when we look around for examples of successful businesses to emulate, who do we look to?  Google?  Proctor & Gamble? Toyota?  Hubbards? Headshift 😉 ? There are plenty more.  And what do they tell us?  Well, to quote Eric Schmidt – Google CEO (The Mckinsey Quarterly November 2008):

There’s a lot of evidence that groups make better decisions than individuals. Especially when the groups are selected to be among the smartest and most interesting people. The wisdom of crowds argument is that you can operate a company by consensus, which is, indeed, how Google operates.  …

One of the things that we’ve tried very hard to avoid at Google is the sort of divisional structure and the business unit structure that prevents collaboration across units. It’s difficult. So, I understand why people want to build business units, and have their presidents. But by doing that you cut down the informal ties that, in an open culture, drive so much collaboration. If people in the organization understand the values of the company, they should be able to self organize to work on the most interesting problems. And if they haven’t, or are not able to do that, you haven’t talked to them about what’s important. You haven’t built a shared value culture.

For me, those views are examples of organisational learning theory in practice.  I’ve described the themes within that theory before, and for present purposes would just like to reiterate a couple of those themes:

  1. Learning requires challenging existing mindsets that form the basis of (possibly out-of-date) behaviour.
  2. Managers should encourage the generation and spreading of new ideas and practices about purpose, values and vision.
  3. That vision requires the maximum number of people to contribute to and share a picture of the where the organisation is going, and how personal and business goals coincide.
  4. Feedback is central to this system as it is critical to learning and adaptation.

Those ideas have been around alot longer than much of the technology that has caused such radical change to the way things are done in the public domain.  That same technology is steadily entering and disrupting the way things are and can be done in organisations.  But for that technology to be of real value, progress needs to occur simultaneously in respect of each of those ‘organisational learning’ elements.  And if you’re reading this thinking that this type of change doesn’t apply to your business or your industry sector, best you start with #1 on that list.

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There have been numerous discussions about how to evaluate social software implementations, and the shortcomings of ROI and reductionist models for illustrating ‘success’ in terms of bottom-line profitability (e.g. Why Bother with Social Software, Musing About the Value of Social Software, Calculating the ROI of Blogging).

Because traditional financial accounting measures like ROI give misleading signals about continuous improvement and innovation, more integrated approaches to performance measurement are needed.  An obvious candidate here is Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Scorecard (BSC), which assess performance from the perspectives of (i) staff development/learning (ii) internal processes (iii) customer service and satisfaction and (iv) financial effectiveness, efficiency and cash flow.

The different perspectives of the BSC can be linked by outlining a ‘story’ of the social software implementation.  That story also helps test the thinking/assumptions behind a project’s goals and what exactly should be measured or evaluated.  The underlying logic of the story would be along the following lines:

  • If we increase the capability of our staff to connect with information, expertise and colleagues and/or clients
  • Then they will be able to improve and innovate our products, services and processes
  • Then the customer will be delighted and customer loyalty will improve, and
  • We will keep/get more business, which has a positive impact on our finances.

The beauty of the model is that it provides a more visual flexible approach to project evaluation, and moves away from a restrictive quantitative approach.  It allows the focus to shift from time to time depending on the business strategy, and for the nature of measures to change overtime, depending on people’s information/social networking needs and the (adoption) phase of the implementation.

That shifting relationship is the subject of Mark Gould’s post “Measuring Maturity“.   In his post, Mark cites the following scenario by Jonathan Wolff highlighting the relationship between experience, measures and proxies:

Suppose you have applied for a job, any job. You are at one of those macho interviews where the panel members compete to see who can make you sweat the most. And this is the winning question: how do you plan to monitor and evaluate your own performance in the role? …

Suppose your job is in business of some sort and, ultimately, you are employed to make the company money… In the end, the only thing that matters, then, is the profit you bring in. But it may take some time to build up a client base and to gather the dosh. It would be foolish to say that in the short term you should be judged on how much profit you make for the company. Rather you should monitor your activity: how many meetings you have taken, how many letters and emails you have sent, how many briefings you have been to. But, of course, that is only for openers. If the meetings don’t result in business, then you are wasting your time. So in the second phase of monitoring, you stop counting meetings and start counting things like contracts signed, goods shipped, turnover generated, or any other objective sign of real interaction.

But, once more, this is only an interim goal. You are there not to generate turnover, but profit. And once you have been around long enough that is the only thing that matters. In the third and final phase you count how much you make for the company, and stop worrying about meetings, letters or contracts signed. Who cares about how many of these there are if the bottom line stays juicy enough?

There are several messages here about taking account of the right things, and how those things change over time as people, technology and processes mature.  This resonates with Bessant’s Continuous Improvement (CI) Maturity Model (2001), which was based on extensive research exploring how high involvement in continuous improvement can be built and sustained as an organisational capability.  The model facilitates assessment of progress in the evolution of behavioural changes necessary to establish innovation routines in business.  It emphasises that effective management of the process depends upon seeing CI not as a short-term activity “but as the evolution and aggregation of a set of key behavioural routines within the firm”.  As CI practices in firms mature and become more systematic, strategic and autonomous, there are flow-on effects for performance which drive improvements measurable in terms of bottom-line impact, major innovation and incremental problem solving.  But, these improvements accrue incrementally, with co-ordinated management support, and appropriate on-going assessments of the organisation’s structure, systems and processes.

So what’s the upshot of these models for social software implementation evaluation and measures?

Adopting an holistic approach to evaluation, based on the multiple BSC perspectives, will highlight a range of behaviours and outcomes which need to be targeted, not just the financial ones.  Those measures will change overtime depending on the phase (or maturity) of the implementation, and improvements to routines and learning within the organisation.  Taking a staged approach also helps in working through the different phases associated with the adoption of new technologies, and thinking about types of behaviours and outcomes necessary for progress in the future.

Early measures may include simple activities like number of pages created or edited, number of posts, comments or views, or number of (different) users contributing content, reduction in email volume and associated time savings (e.g. fewer distracting blanket emails).  However those measures only give part of the picture – they do not indicate why people are doing what they are doing or what the effect of the behaviour is on organisational structure, culture and profitability.  So, as the implementation matures, it would be useful to assess changes (if any) to organisational routines, levels and structure of communications, and workflows, as well as asking people about the attitudes and behaviours behind their activities.

But, connecting these qualitative (‘soft’) measures to any improvements on the balance sheet is key.  That’s a reasonably complex question best left for a future post. For now, let me close with a thought from Mark Clare (2002 ) (cited in Anthony Rhem’s blog: Realizing ROI in KM Initiatives) about the way to estimate the value of intangible benefits and related them back to cashflow:

The value created from managing knowledge [or other social/information networking programmes] is a function of the costs, benefits and risks of the … initiative. Thus mathematically stated: Initaitive Value = F (cost, benefit, risk), which equals Total Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) created over the life of the … investment.

This is just one formula which could be used to enhance the BSC – let me know if you have any others!

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Yesterday, I mentioned how Cleary Gottlieb had borrowed knowledge engineering techniques from the military, to capture the expertise of senior staff, embed it in a computer system and pass it on to junior lawyers online, in the form intelligent online textbooks and knowledge maps. But I was left wondering about the system’s interactivity, intelligence, and the currency of information therein.

Today, having read about iLink – another military-funded project – I’m now wondering if the Cleary Gottlieb system incorporates any of the social-networking ‘AI’ features mentioned in that article (given the military connection!)?

iLink was developed as a part of the SRI-led CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes) programme and was funded and managed under DARPA’s PAL (Personalized Assistant that Learns) programme.  Mark Rutherford reports that:

iLink is a machine learning-based system that models users and content in a social network and then points the user to relevant content, discussions, and other network members with shared interests and goals across a broad range of scenarios.

To do this, the system uses message-matching technologies for finding related information, and algorithms for gathering data from multiple sources and compiling it together, whilst differentiating private information from that which is safe to share.

Now certain of those technology features/capabilities don’t sound too removed from some social software tools currently on (or almost ready for) the market.  For instance there’s:

  • Newsgator ES – has smart feeds and recommendations.
  • PagesPlus – allows content to be pushed out to the categories and pages corresponding to the tags, and to the users who are subscribing to feeds from those categories.
  • IBM’s Beehive – currently in the research phase – with the capability to ‘recommend’ connections based on activities, tags, bookmarking, etc.
  • Zemanta – blog posts, articles or web pages are directly “read” by Zemanta, which recognizes all contextual content. It then combs the web for the most relevant images, smart links, keywords and text, instantly serving these results to the user to enrich and inform their content.

Nevertheless, it is iLink’s learning capabilities, and SRI’s work in modeling how real-time, dynamic social networks communicate and cooperate to solve problems, that really spark the imagination.  Sarah Perez indicates that the technology:

[has been] used to develop a system for FAQ generation within a network – they call this technology “FAQtory”. With this technology implemented on a social network, FAQs are continuously generated and revised by the community using a Wikipedia-like model, as opposed to being static creations made by the site’s authors. [But it’s no ordinary user-generated FAQ system] – instead, iLink’s FAQtory technology allows for incremental bits of information [to be added] – even those that don’t qualify as answers to the question. As the members contribute these bits of information, the learning system in iLink monitors how users are [attempting] to resolve queries and is then capable of drafting off the social network’s learning.

Potential commercial benefits and applications of such learning technology abound in business. Like expertise identification, comprehensive client information aggregation and delivery, FAQ generation and smart RSS filtering.  As members of, and information in, social networks increase exponentially, there is a growing need to move away from search and retrieval models of information and expertise location.  This is where smarter social technologies will help to streamline the process of recommending, and delivering, information and expertise (as well as filling-in information gaps as they go) to help people get their jobs done more effectively and efficiently.

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The Financial Times collates and commends a variety law firm ‘innovations’ in its latest annual report on “Innovative Lawyers”.  But ‘innovation’ is now being used so loosely and frequently that it seems any old initiative is tagged as ‘innovative’.  So what is ‘innovation’ and how do firms generate it?

Peter Drucker succinctly described ‘innovation’ as “change that creates a new dimension of performance”.  Such change can occur on a spectrum of incremental -> radical innovation.  The former tends to be less costly, risky and dramatic, and the latter shifts us to a whole new paradigm in the way things are done or the products/services that are offered.  In each case, “innovation” drives businesses forward into producing new products and services, new markets, new ways of doing things, and, in particular, new ways of making money.

But the ‘change to something new’ isn’t just about coming up with good ideas, or technology pushing innovation.  John Soat records Ram Charan’s thoughts on innovation, which are right on point here:

“1. [It is a myth that a]nybody who comes up with a good idea — [is innovative]
2. [T]echnology for technology’s sake doesn’t work.  It must intersect with the consumer to fulfill a need or demand.

Charan’s other tips for transforming business (reported by Mitch Wagner) include:

  • Participating in true innovative growth projects for business, which means a change to the cost-cutting mentality to a mindset that goes after revenue growth
  • Enhancing the brand
  • Increasing customer consumption of the company’s product not just market share.

Those points echo the position expressed by DeMarco & Lister (1987) in Peopleware 20 years ago:

“Organisations that build products [or services] with the most value to their customers win.  Those that build products [or services] that make the world yawn lose, even though they build them very, very efficiently.  Even those who stumble while building products [or services] of high value win over the efficient yawners.”

Those views pitch ‘innovation’ as a social activity, which requires the development of appropriate competencies and resources for creativity, to encourage learning, growth and delivery of high value products/services.

The FT report, however, commends numerous out-sourcing, off-shoring and cost-cutting initiatives in the sections about ‘Thought Leadership’ (!), ‘Client Service’ and ‘In-house Lawyer’.  Apart from the obvious drivers in the current economic climate to tighten budget-belts, those initiatives focus only on the efficient performance (or production) of commoditised processes (or products/services).  Whilst demystifying, simplifying, or simply outsourcing, legal processes can help in reducing the cost of delivering legal products/services, those activities don’t assist in building/renewing capabilities overtime via an environment of learning and creativity.

Consequently, the types of knowledge-creating and diffusion activities leading to innovation capabilities I was looking for in the FT report involved experimenting, importing knowledge, problem solving and implementing and integrating (Leonard-Barton Model of Technology Capability (1992)).  Which is why I chose the following examples from the report (of Client Services, Marketing and Technology/Knowhow) to illustrate elements of the foregoing activities, as well as the approaches to innovation advocated by Charan and DeMarco/Lister.

In particular, the examples emphasise the importance of relationships/social networking, autonomy, knowledge sharing and information personalisation. They provide some insight into how firms are trying to get closer to their clients so as to provide them with the highest value products and services, as well as development of robust knowledge-bases.  And whilst the initiatives may be common or obvious to companies in other sectors, they are creating new dimensions of performance within the legal sector.  As such, there seems to be tremendous potential for firms who are capable (and willing) to experiment and import knowledge from a variety of sources and industry sectors.

Client Services (“Pleasing Results”)
Clifford Chance introduced what is essentially a social networking programme connecting its more junior lawyers with their peers in Citigroup.  A structured programme of events has been designed “to give its more junior lawyers a broader understanding of Citi’s core product areas, strategic objectives and, most importantly, the client’s concerns”.  The hope is that the scheme will develop long-lasting connections with Citi by cementing peer-level contacts and “even [form] a basis for succession planning in managing the Citi relationship”.  The approach was welcomed as “a common-sense move and a first-of-its-kind among [Citi’s] law firms”.

Comment:  There are signs here of organisational learning about ‘control’ and power of networks (i.e. client relationship building no longer ring-fenced to partners).  Given that this initiative involves junior lawyers and their peers (i.e. Gen Y), I wonder if it is also, or will be, supported by online social networking, which enables people to ‘friend’ and ‘follow’ others, create communities of interest, post photos, events and status updates, and generally connect in ways they have become accustomed to on the internet?

Marketing (“Sweetening the Deal”)
Malcolm Cannon, chief executive of Hunter Boot, the boot maker, indicated in the report that he is bombarded with information from other firms. “KnowlEDGE is extremely simple to use and lets you tailor it.  …  Maclay Murray & Spens is so different from other law firms in simplifying things and giving a much more human touch. The branding is strong and consistent and the marketing is reassuring, so you feel you are buying into something that is special to them and so is special to you.”

Comment: This is a great example of the enormous strategic value of technology, which coincides well with Charan’s point about technology intersecting with the consumer to fulfill a consumer need or demand”.  It also illustrates innovation in the form of law firm ‘brand enhancement’.

Technology/Knowhow (“Use IT or lose it”)
Cleary Gottlieb features for “knowledge engineering techniques to capture the expertise of senior staff, embed it in a computer system and pass it on to junior lawyers online.”  The report goes on to state that “this collective experience is distributed on the firm’s intranet as knowledge maps – graphic presentations of how to perform key transactional processes, with each stage backed up by extensive documentation … [described] as intelligent online textbooks”.

Latham & Watkins was also highly commended for its creation of “structured” wikis or “twikis”, which enable the firm’s lawyers to create their own applications without involving the firm’s software developers.

Comment: The knowledge capture and codification idea in the Cleary Gottlieb imports technology/knowhow form the military arena.  However, it does leave me wondering about how:

  • information flows through the knowledge maps (and documentation) to keep them current,
  • they are linked to expertise, networks and new projects, and
  • people interact with them – tagging what’s relevant, leaving comments or asking questions about ambiguities?

Unfortunately, there was no further detail on the types of mash-ups at Latham & Watkins.  I’m speculating here, but the innovation could provide the firm’s lawyers with personalised dashboard (Netvibes style), promotes the usability and efficiency of the wiki.  Mash-ups are a key tool in user adoption of the technology, allowing each user to easily select and organise his/her information flows, social networks, activity streams, and tools depending on individual preferences and work needs.  They can also push to the fore important content, specific to the person, based on that person’s activity and preferences.

In light of the examples of innovation (and technology cross-over) outline above, I’d like to finish with a thought from Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith Esq. – 13 June 2008) about the role of technology in innovation, empowering people and binding a firm together.  After relaying almost-forgotten aspects of the personal computer revolution in the 1980s, and the enormous strategic value of the shift, he suggests that:

“[T]oday the goal is … to embrace the range of Web 2.0 technologies–social networking software in general, which enables people to collaborate at a distance.  Because, after all, what do lawyers do?  They collaborate.  And in today’s economy, they are almost surely collaborating “at a distance”–in space or in time or both.”

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With the 2008 Olympics now only a few days away, we’ll have another opportunity to witness how much higher, faster and stronger athletes have become. Having endured countless hours of gruelling training, stringently monitored diets, and worked on carefully designed competition schedules and race tactics, many can expect to achieve great returns in the form of higher standards and superior performances.

In his recent post about the dysfunctionality of business, Leberecht asks why this mentality apparent in sport and the arts is lacking in the world of business. In particular he asks:

[T]he operational rigor and prowess that has long been a calling card of companies like GE – has that become a nostalgic idea in the work-life balanced world of millennials? Do commitment and attention to detail still matter? Is perfection a desirable goal at all in the accelerated economy of permanent beta?

A ‘good is good enough’ work ethic clearly wouldn’t cut it at Blackstone. In his recent HBR article ( June 2008 ) Stephen A Schwarzman reminisces about his track coach’s advice shouted during bitter cold training days (“Remember – you’ve got to make your deposits before you can make a withdrawal“) and how that translates into business practice, viz meeting a deadline simply isn’t enough if the output isn’t 100% correct. He advises that unless you’re completely sure about the validity of the analysis, don’t put anything forward. Instead insist on more information and doing extra laps around the intellectual carpark.

I’d like to think I subscribe to a concept of excellence, commitment and attention to detail. But I also wonder what the opportunities and costs are for me in adopting this line. On the one hand, I get tremendous satisfaction from having done the best I possibly could with whatever I do. On the other hand, that takes time, and I probably output less than somebody who is going for 75% rather than 100%. But I guess I’m not well placed to deliver an objective opinion about the quality of the outputs.

In commercial terms, I’ve regularly heard the proverbial comparison between the ‘Mini’ and the ‘Rolls Royce’. Of course, Agile methods like SCRUM help us to build the best system possible within the budget available. But, too often there is an expectation that a system can be developed or social tools put in place without adequate investment in analysing the root causes of key issues which need solving, and designing solutions without the people who are actually going to use the tools. Is it then any surprise that the deposits aren’t going to cover the withdrawal?

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It’s taken a few days for my hippocampus to process and tag all the choice nuggets shared during Interesting2008. And during that short time, stories from the day are already infusing the internet. Russell Davies (Interesting’s instigator) suggested the day would offer ‘guides to interestingness’. It certainly did that – and I’m still revisiting the places the 30-odd speakers guided me to.

Stories were told, not so much for meaning, as for possibility, and providing new perspectives. Like Daniel Raven Ellison‘s illustrations of the world map – moving away from a traditional depiction of landmass to representation of countries based on their ecological footprint. He explained that Salisbury’s ecological footprint is larger than Greater London, and that our present consumption rates mean we are exhausting at least 2.5 planets’ worth of resources. One explanation for this is our emotional and physical distance from the actual consequences of our excesses.

There were echoes of those themes in Matt Webb‘s inglorious tale about the Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia. Apparently, the Patagonian civilisation was moved towards great sophistication due to its science of optics. When vast mirrored spheres were raised over the giant edifice which comprised the legendary Library of Patagonia, people scattered smaller spheres outside windows and inside rooms, so they could view every mirroed piece of text, making the library visible from any point in the country. Effectively, cities and villages were connected through those lenses.

The imagery of this story hooked me, and I found myself wanting it to be true, even if there are some physical impossibilities to do with defraction. Of course, there’s always the reality of the internet and social network theory – not quite so mythical, but a clear metaphorical reflection of the network of spheres! Matt’s thoughts (written up in 2003) dovetail so well with ideas of perspective and distance:

“Can we ever learn to see as others do, and how many alternative ways have we destroyed in our reckless expansion and desire to observe? … We have much to understand. We have much to contemplate.”

Then Steve Hardy introduced the ‘creative generalist’. Someone interested in everything;a connector with eclectic curiosity. These people have a foot in so many different worlds they have the effect of bringing them together. (That sounds very much like the power of weak ties.) Someone with experience and empathy – which brings us back to perspectives and perception – about people, behaviour and motivations. In other words, being genuinely interested in other people’s points of reference.

After so many words, Jim Le Fevre titilated us with these fabulous images of little people doing their ‘things’:

I suppose it’s no coincidence that Penguin was giving away copies of “The Black Swan” during the day. I don’t know if Russell is an ornithologist, but he certainly does know how to bring about a rare event! (Thanks a mill Cybersoc for the ticket!)

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From time to time it’s instructive (and fun) to explore other systems and theories, as a way of learning and coping with problems in our projects, company or wider business environment. Take, for instance complexity theory and life in the Kruger National Park.

Broadly speaking, complexity theory suggests there is an underlying natural order to the behaviour and evolution of complex systems – be they ecosystems, financial systems, business operations or herds of buffalo. The following clip illustrates how herds and prides comprise sub-systems in the greater (Savannah) system. Each buffalo (or lion) operating with its fellow herd (or pride) member to form a unit, seeking to achieve a common goal, without anyone of them managing the operation! Each unit in the clip responded to the action of the other (and a third party intervention – in this case that of the crocodiles) – and together effected a pattern of self-organising behaviour, where the group was responsible for dividing and attacking the target. Something that each individual could not have achieved alone.

In other words, the disparate elements worked together in a self-directed manner to achieve coherence in the overall outcome. With each actor having some freedom to attack or kick from a certain angle or at a given target, allowing them to spontaneously adapt to the situation – all elements of ‘survival learning’.

So what are the implications for our work with people, information and technology?

Many organisations, in particular legal and professional services firms, are eternally challenged with ‘managing’ knowledge (and associated spin-offs for innovation). Until recently, they have been trying to do this through standardised inflexible top-down controlled systems, which require ‘knowledge’ to be distilled, refined and polished (all as separate time consuming activities to people’s daily work load), and then ‘filed’ in pre-determined siloed categories with associated taxonomies. Not much room in there for self-directed action!

That has led some to implement more flexible solutions and processes – including the use of social tools. Complexity theory suggests that, given enough latitude, people will self-organise and bring about their own natural order by using tools such as wikis, blogs, tagging, etc, to suit their information and process needs. (Social tools having the innate flexibility to support that type of behaviour.) That has direct implications, amongst other things, in respect of any top-down structuring of content, and managerial support and direction in the use of the tools.

It follows that people should be allowed and encouraged to use the tools to create their own view of the information, by tagging, linking and bookmarking content which is useful to them – i.e. bottom-up activity. Not only will that help the individual later find and use the content, but when each individual’s activity in the wiki is aggregated with that of others, it creates a collective intelligence and signals about the information people find most useful and the way they are categorising/labeling it to promote its future findability (because people use terms and content which are relevant and useful – rather than ‘miscellaneous’). As people use the tools, and reflect on and update the information/knowledge therein, they learn how to adapt their behaviour and what works best in their circumstances.

In other words, this behaviour is self-directed and emergent because it is dependent on the current issues and opportunities people have to deal with. Those issues and opportunities in turn impact on the value of yesterday’s information, which usually needs constant attention and updating to ensure it is current and relevant, so as to be able to help in solving today’s problems. So, as people query, discuss, update and re-categorise information, they leave crucial footprints and create new information – all of which can be captured (as part of the participation process) within the social tools, and collated to form new information which is fed into the stream of current awareness people use to make decisions about the issues they face. As such, trying to plan for and create wholly top-down structures (like categories and taxonomies) for information, and responsibilities for its capture and upkeep, is somewhat futile. That approach cannot reflect real-time changes and learning derived from people’s experience with the system.

And the take-away point here is: Allow people to self-organise in their use of social tools, and the creation, updating and maintenance of information/knowledge therein.

As I outlined in my last post, that will require businesses to take a different tact regarding control – i.e. stepping back and letting people develop their own patterns rather than trying to predict and standardise the structure of information and its use from the outset.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean a wholesale departure from top-down categorisation since the system may, to a certain extent, still depend on the interactions with certain pre-defined/categorised elements. Nor does it mean that the use of social tools, and the management of information therein, should be devoid of strategic planning for their development, enhancement and future growth. Planned emergence can play a key role here in helping to ensure we develop our ideas, knowledge and expertise, and systems in support thereof, in a way that helps us best deal with our everyday problems and ambuguities. As the lions demonstrated, it’s just not enough to catch your prey, you’ve got to be able to follow through in uncertain rapidy changing circumstances.

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