29 June 2002

Mi casa, su oficina

Faster internet connections means more telecommuting. That's at least one - possibly unsurprising - workplace-related implication from the Pew Internet Project's report on "The Broadband Difference: How online Americans' behavior changes with high-speed Internet connections at home". And two-thirds of telecommuters say they do more work-related tasks at home since they have gotten broadband. Telecommuters also seem to help out with groups in their local communities a little more. Broadbanders number 24 million people in the US (about a fifth of all internet-connected Americans).

26 June 2002

An idea bubbles up through the building

The thing that interests me most about the Guinness visitors centre in Dublin is the notion of a physical token that both enables the visit and serves as a reminder of it. For the Guinness centre, the token is a plastic 'pebble' that contains a little drop of the black magic itself. Apply that to a corporate work environment: instead of the standard visitors' badge, what physical token might serve - for example - as both a temporary pass and as a tiny memory of the visit? Is there some value in that? One for the brand people to ponder.

24 June 2002

Organisational network mapping: a cautionary note

Social network analysis is one way of figuring out who knows what inside an organisation - or at least, who thinks who knows what. But network mapping has its pitfalls inside organisations, as Xenia Stanford argues in this thoughtful piece.

13 June 2002

Third-generation knowledge management

I'm not sure why my heart sinks when I hear something prefaced with the epithet 'third generation'. Perhaps too often the hype exceeds the innovation. In this instance, though, David Snowden - a leading protagonist in the organic approach to knowledge management - makes a compelling case. Having been one of the founders of the Institute for Knowledge Management, he's founded another new IBM-sponsored venture, the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity. It's described as "global network of members and partners applying complexity theory to organisations by developing a diverse portfolio of pragmatic sensemaking methods and models that can help solve problems for which structured approaches have failed." Anyway, if you want to know what this brave new generation is all about, take the time to read his article describing a sense-making model [pdf] that treats knowledge as both a thing and a process, and embraces established scientific management practices even as it borrows newer approaches from complexity and chaos research. It's exciting stuff, but you'll find it heavy going if you view knowledge as a set of documents and databases, rather than as a socially-mediated phenomenon.

It's not the book, it's the borrower

Books are a likely to be a great way to share knowledge in an organisation. Not for their content - but because of the people who borrow them. I've suggested to our company librarian to provide a space inside library books for borrowers to record their names, if they want (a bit like that little sheet where the due dates are recorded). That way, anyone who borrows a book can see who else may have similar interests - a possible benefit in large companies where knowledge of who knows what, or cares about what, is harder to get to.

Meanwhile, I've just found another example of something similar, albeit on a global scale.BookCrossing is a kind of open book club in which people can 'track' and review shared books that they pass on to friends or just leave lying around for others to pick up. The attractive aspect are the reviews, where I can see who has read a book and what other books they've read. (Yes, it's a bit like Amazon without the purchasing element.) I get a sense right away if an individual betokens a productive conversation. You can of course be 'anonymous' in this very public environment -- but imagine taking this kind of approach inside an organisation, where anonymity might be less of an concern.

09 June 2002

The way we talk at work - DeLillo

When it comes to language and innovation inside the corporation, in my darker moments I'm convinced Don DeLillo has it about right, when his protagonist describes the climb up the greasy pole:
"Once out of the mailroom, I began to learn more about fear. As soon as fear begins to ascend, anatomically, from the pit of the stomach to the throat and brain, from fear of violence to the more nameless kind, you come to believe you are part of a horrible experiment. I learned to distrust those superiors who encouraged independent thinking. When you gave it to them, they returned it in the form of terror, for they knew that ideas, only that, could hasten their obsolescence. Management asked for new ideas all the time; memos circulated down the echelons, requesting bold and challenging concepts. But I learned that new ideas could finish you unless you wrapped them in a plastic bag. I learned that most of the secretaries were more intelligent than most of the executives and that the executive secretaries were to be feared more than anyone. I learned what closed doors meant and that friendship was not negotiable currency and how important it was to lie even when there was no need to lie. Words and meanings were at odds. Words did not say what was being said nor even its reverse. I learned to speak a new language and soon mastered the special elements of that tongue." [From his novel Americana]

08 June 2002

To err is human - why isn't to succeed?

Whenever MBAtypes talk about success, it's in terms of terms like business models, economic profit, cost of capital, competitive advantage, return on equity, participation strategy, and total shareholder return. Failure, one assumes, is the absence of those things. Fortune's recent take on why companies fail was a refreshing reminder that success and failure can be rather more human than what's in the spreadsheets: fear of the boss, a dangerous culture, quick fix strategising, complacency of success. These sound like the human factors that really matter.