Last week Luis Suarez posted a fantastic piece KM, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business: One and The Same, which was not only dead on, but also brought to the forefront many discussions I have been having over the past few years. The discussions revolve around depth of understanding the social tools inside organizations and the troubles many organizations run into about 6 months to 18 months in (I’ve had many long discussions with Stewart Mader about this, which he calls the One Year Club). This One Year Club continually triggers organizations to consider what tools and practices around them and deeply question if they made the correct choices. Often they selected tools based on initial interaction patterns with the tools and how the tools and services are considered in popular circles and memes.
Luis piece triggers these discussions as I have been coming back to some of my knowledge management (KM) foundations laid in the late 90s. By then I had a few years dealing with social software in organizations running into the usual headaches and questions around, “is it people, humans being social, the organization, and/or the tools interwoven into all of this that are the crux of the problem” needed to be asked with every bump and hurdle. When touching on KM I was finding solid thinking on not only information management issues (that echoed under graduate work in my major of organizational communication and communication theory, but also social networking and social interactions that were the underpinnings of my masters degree in public policy), but the intersection of how humans are social and how they communicate.
In 2007 I had the fortune to speak at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference on the subject of folksonomy and I found a good connection with people in organizations trying social software deployments and running into the same issues I had in the mid-90s. Those who were speaking and presenting who were laying out solid methods for thinking through the issues and the potential path(s) forward had one similarity, they had a KM background. I also was finding similar with some vendors who grasped the complexity of the issues around information, people, social interactions, and organizations. Here too, many of them had backgrounds in KM either having built KM tools that didn’t work optimally (KM tools in the late 90s to mid-00s were miserable piles of technology that rarely enabled people to easily get what they knew out of their wonderful minds and into a system to share it with others - having been responsible for more than a few flavors of these beasts they all were far from easy and kept people from sharing easily - it wasn't KM that was bad it was the tools). But, finding this pocket of people I who grasped the difficulties around tools, humans being social, and business felt like home, a little bit more like home than the pure Web 2.0 slice of social tools, as it required dealing with mainstream as well as early adopters (who comprised much of the Web 2.0 fan base then).
You may notice I didn't mention consultants in that mix for Enterprise 2.0 in 2007, I didn't as most (a rare few exceptions) really didn't have deep understanding, nor seems to want it, as they were trying to figure out how to get a jump on this new term and potential pond of money around a buzzword. In 2007 the people in companies trying to do things had the best understanding of needs, problems, and potential way forward with the vendors following rather close behind.
The core of this understanding and seeing potential and problems at hand was a foundation in KM. You ask, “Why is that important?” One of the things happening in the mid to late 90s in organizations along with this increasing buzz around KM as another buzz around the promise of e-groups and e-collaboration. These “e” tools (far from being an “E ticket” to anything) were often put under the purview of KM people as these tools not only were aimed helping people work together in a digital environment, but they were key to a key aim of KM, getting the tacit knowledge people have out of their minds and in shared making it explicit so it can be found and used by others. This core tenet of KM was one of the key gems that was going to solve the organization’s problems, but the problem was the tools were not up to the task. This gap around the tools (which got increasingly worse as the tech solution was not to ease use and map to how people were social and interact, but was to make more complex and structured interfaces (more form fields and hurdles)) lead nearly everybody working with this social tools to have the common headache around is it the people, how people are social (culture), business, and/or tools that are the problem.
This became an valuable experience of trying to sort out what is and where are the problems that are holding the social and KM solutions back from achieving their potential. One of the things that came out of it was a rather robust understanding of how people in organizations are social (or are not) and how important the existing culture is to tool selection and development of practices. Not only is culture valuable, but the need for different interfaces for different uses of the tools as well as breaking down the wide variety of different social interaction needs for different phases and stages of information sharing, use, and reuse.
KM World 2009
In 2009 I was asked if I would be one of the keynote presenters for KM World 2009, I was honored and felt a bit out of my depth at first as this was KM, which I still held a deep regard for the practices and foundations that were put in place more than a decade back. I was humbled as the two other keynote presenters were Andrew McCaffe and Charlene Li. Much of my presentation focussed on lessons learned from the One Year Club and problems that seem common from social software use in organizations, which I was fearing a bit would dampen the hope and promise and way forward presentations that McCaffee and Li provided. But, having spent a fair amount of time talking and listening to attendees, I was realizing that there are many in the KM community running into these issues today, but many that have been dealing with these issues going back to the 90s. There is depth in the KM community that has long been there and many in the KM community are still sharing their incredible depth and experience bringing the whole community forward that wishes to come a long. As I presented many of the stumbling blocks I have seen companies hit and try to work through, as well as “did we choose the right tool for our organization, needs, and culture?” I saw near ubiquitous waves of head nods across the whole of the conference. The attendees are not just new to social tools, but know enough about the hype memes to have been bitten by them or run across them enough to look for ways forward.
This last year I was back at KMWorld, which also co-hosts the Taxonomy Bootcamp (which I keynoted this past 2010), Enterprise Search Summit" (I did a workshop on Enterprise Social Search this past year and will be keynoting the conference in May in NYC this year(2011)), and SharePoint Symposium where I found the offerings for organizations considering and using social tools inside the organization to be incredibly robust, with presenters and workshops by some of the best and most experienced in the industry (oddly they have never been at Enterprise 2.0 Conference, that really must get fixed). The sessions I sat in on were getting to the heart of real problems and people were sharing years of experience and pointing out the “it depends” questions and how to work through them (in my opinion there is no better aid than that). But, also heard people talking in depth about tools, their gaps, and where good fits for them may be. I also spent time talking with vendors who were finding the attendees to be incredibly well informed and asking solid questions that showed they understood not only their organizations well, but the type of tools that would fit their organization’s culture and needs. A couple of the vendors said this is a rare occurrence at other conferences.
There is a There There in KM
What KM World highlighted for me was there is and long has been a core and deep value that exists in KM. The depth of understanding that has been building and iterating over 15 or more years of experience learned (often the hard way), deep long research, and tackling the hard problems by going deep has incredible value. This value is deeply needed in other communities. As I pointed out in my last post, Social Scaling and Maturity social software in the organization starts out simple and relatively easy, but that changes quite a bit as it gets used.
There isn't a KM 2.0 as there is no need for it. The practices of KM have iterated and matured deeply and wonderfully and not that social software for organizations have started getting out of the way to allow people to get what they know out of their minds and share it more broadly, as has always been the aim of KM, we could start seeing real progress. Understanding the needs around the organization, culture, practice needs, and the tools that can best map to these needs, as well as more easily enable people to be social as humans are social can only give a nice spark to that promise and long vibrant vision.