Monday, August 26, 2002

Weblogs are Critical to KM Success

Jim McGee’s post “Making people smarter isn’t the point“ got me thinking about a couple parallel threads going on in a number of blogs in the past week:

  1. Phil Windley points out that he has trouble pulling ideas out of people’s heads, and I respond that you wouldn’t always know which ideas to pull.

  2. Matt Mower and Lilia Efimova discuss the discrepancy between smart people and good teachers.

  3. Jim McGee responds to Matt and Lilia’s posts that people who learn are getting smarter. He further suggests that smarter people = healthier organizations, and finally concludes tha the market will reward healthier organizations.

From this, I get a couple interesting deductions:

  • Organizations should want their employees to get smarter. Smarter in this context means that they know more than they did the day before; it’s not necessary that their knowledge be tied to their job. An employee who is learning is one who is challenged and engaged – and someone fitting that description is more likely to contribute to the organization’s success.

  • Employees learn by getting exposed to others in the organization. Simply knowing what others are doing – what problems they ran into, what they did about them – can go a long way to helping them see issues in a different light.

  • Management’s role is to encourage people to capture what they know – without making a distinction between information that’s valuable and not valuable. Common sense should dictate whether the information should get captured or not.

  • Employees can and should act as their own editor – to identify people who help them learn. These filters will be dynamic, but the goal is to simply identify people who can shed light on a particular topic.

  • To be successful over the long haul, employees must be recognized for their contributions.

Finally, why I think weblogs are a key piece of the puzzle:

  • Simple capturing of text. It’s easy for anyone who participates to quickly jot down a few notes and instantly share them with others.

  • Weblog applications facilitate distribution of information – not just on the web, but also in XML for easy aggregation in applications like Radio‘s aggregator, AmphetaDesk, NewsIsFree, FeedReader, and others.

  • Complementary pieces of web technology – referral logs, statistics trackers, TrackBack – make it easy to see possible connections between related threads. In this way, individuals can make connections to related information – and possibly synthesize that into knowledge.

  • Weblogs reduce the clutter in a user’s inbox.

A few months ago we had an interesting dialogue about measurement. One important challenge left unresolved in this discussion is measurement. How do you measure the individual’s contribution to the system? How do you measure the success of the initiative? Jim suggests that the ultimate measurement is reflected in the marketplace. I think there is some merit in this, but it’s hardly the only measurement. (And Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma suggests that occasionally, healthy companies die from listening to customers. But that’s a separate discussion.)

For me, much of this comes back to executive leadership. Little of what’s described above will happen at a grass-roots level. If an individual isn’t rewarded for what they do, there’s little to no incentive to go out of their way to do it. If, on the other hand, a CEO makes it clear that the organization is committed to learning (both as a noun and a verb, by the way) – then a culture can grow around that. Executives must lead by example – not commandment. And CEOs need some evidence that this commitment will be rewarded in the marketplace – which brings us back to measurement.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote that the truly great CEOs aren’t the rock star types. They’re the ones who quietly work in the background to make others smarter. They promote the organization, take credit for the failures and point the finger when there are successes. At the end of the day, that’s what a good teacher does – and what learning is all about.

With their focus on distribution of information, identification of individual contributions, and sharing of credit, weblogs may very well be critical to the long-term success of any KM effort.

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