September 26, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 9/26

Well, considering I'm knee deep in acquainting myself with SPAWAR's KM strategy and trying to understand OracleAS Portals (and why anyone would choose OracleAS to build out a knowledge base in the first place), I'm surprised I have the time or energy to spend on my blog, but I'm trying to avoid being a flogger ('flaky blogger') and get back into the swing of things. At least I was finally able to get my Gossip Girl/KM rant posted!

Unless you live under a rock (or in's only funny if you pronounce it properly) you know that most of the news these days is either politics (yay politics) or the economy (boo economy)...or some combination of the two. Between the impending election, the bail out of AIG, and the fall of WaMu (which, as a customer for the last 12 months really didn't shock me - contrary to the commercials that woo'd me, WaMU was almost as bad as Verizon in the customer service department) I haven't read much this past week that sparked any KM-interest.

Not much, but enough to kick out an OOTB post for this week.
  • No time like a crappy time to get creative and take stock of business practices and technologies. Check out these Tech Trends.
  • No duh! of The Week: Clay is gay. Shocking. Really.
  • Quote of the Week: "Business success isn't about having better technology; it's about using technology better."
  • "With economists predicting one of the weakest Decembers since 1991, merchants must put their best foot forward for top customers" and knowledge management professionals can gain insight from these tips to keep the sharing flowing by targeting top contributors.
  • How To of the Week: How to Persuade People With Subconscious Techniques.
  • It just so happens that I love my new job, but what about when you don't? This podcast offers some advice on steps to take when the honeymoon ends before the ink isn't even dry on your offer letter.
  • Cool Tool: Apture. Click on WaMU above to check it out in this post.

September 23, 2008

Cross-Posted: The Wisdom of Crowds Reigns Supreme

“Generally, no one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of the group," James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds
Before leaving my post at the CDC a few weeks ago, I snagged the following article which was posted to the CDC intranet. It's a brief article that I thought contained great insight for KM professionals. In 2004, Dave Pollard presented a model of how to implement Surowiecki's principles which can be found here.

The collective wisdom of diverse crowds generally gets it right, was the message of best-selling author James Surowiecki, who gave the opening plenary address to over 950 attendees at the recent CDC-sponsored National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media. Longtime HIV/AIDS activist Sandra Thurman was also a featured plenary presenter. Both speakers had important messages about expanding our traditional methods for all CDC staff in addition to attendees.

The Wisdom of Crowds: Tapping Collective Wisdom of your Organization

In the opening plenary, New York Times best-selling author James Surowiecki mentioned several key points from his book The Wisdom of Crowds, subtitled: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. “Tapping into the collective wisdom of your organization can radically improve your ability to solve problems, make forecasts, and think strategically,” he said. “Under the right conditions, groups of people can be very intelligent and can be smarter than the smartest person among them.”

As an example of the wisdom of crowds, Surowiecki talked about finance professor Jack Treynor’s classic jellybean experiment of having students guess the number of jellybeans in a jar. The group’s guess was 850; the actual number of jellybeans was 871. The number of people who did better than the group: 1 out of 56. “Generally, no one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of the group,” said Surowiecki.

In another example, Surowiecki made reference to the TV show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? whereby contestants can get help in answering a question by phoning an “expert” friend in a particular subject, or polling the audience. The friend gets it right 65 percent of the time. The audience: 91 percent. “Even as problems get more complicated, we can see this phenomenon take place,” Surowiecki said.
To make crowds smarter, and to take advantage of the collective wisdom of crowds, Surowiecki mentioned three things that are needed:
  1. A tool or method to aggregate lots of individual judgments into a collective one. Aggregation matters.
  2. Diversity — The more diverse the group, the better the decisions it will make, and the less likely that everyone in the crowd will make the same mistake. The errors people make will cancel themselves out. Diversity should expand beyond background and experience to cognitive diversity, which relates to how a person represents a problem and solves a problem.
  3. Independence — People like to think of themselves as independent thinkers, but oftentend to follow the imitation route. Imitation can be rational, easy, and safe, but if everyone is imitating, they’re not tapping into the wisdom of crowds. Genuine disagreement is needed for the wisdom of crowds to emerge.
Surowiecki reminded the audience that knowledge is often located in places they may not usually consider. “So look beyond the surface when you think about who should be among the crowd.” Attendees buzzed about the need for expanding our traditional “crowds” and tapping into the larger group’s wisdom.

September 2, 2008

What Gossip Girl Has Taught (and Reaffirmed For) Me About Sharing Knowledge

I recently received (and accepted) an offer for an exciting KM gig and that's kept me pretty occupied for the last few weeks so I haven't gotten around to doing much blogging. many articles last week. On top of that, when I haven't been interviewing, negotiating the offer, or apartment hunting online I've been sitting on my duff religiously watching the US Open and working on increasing my ability points on my new Facebook obsession, "My Heroes Ability".

Anywho, I haven't put much thought into my latest blog topic (though I'm sure the next few weeks will bring much blog-worthy activity) and I wasn't quite sure what to write about, but then something happened that was more compelling than hours upon hours of tennis, more nerve-wracking than apartment hunting via Craigslist, and yes, even more exciting than my new job offer.

Season two of Gossip Girl.

When the first season of my current pop culture fetish came to a close, I had hoped that immersing myself in ALTA and USTA tennis and hanging out in our rooftop 'japoozi' admiring Atlanta's cityscape would be enough to stave off the sadness of being without the weekly exploits of my fictional Upper East Side set.

Then I got it into my head to commemorate my affection for GG by writing a KM-related post about the show, but the untimely passing of my friend Fiona zapped pretty much any desire in me to do anything more than just get through each day.

However, now that my spirits are higher and I'm back on track with my blog and - praise Comcast! - GG is back on the telly, since I haven't prepared anything else worth blogging about, I thought I'd celebrate the return of my favorite guilty pleasure with a little light reading on what Gossip Girl has taught (and reaffirmed for) me about KM.

In true Adult Ed fashion I am a firm believer that every experience, relationship, situation, and tele-drama provides a teachable moment and learning opportunity, if only we're willing (and bent enough) to see it.

For the uninitiated, Gossip Girl is a popular TV Show, based on the NY Times bestselling series of the same name, that chronicles the lives of the young elite of New York's Upper East Side. At first glance, it hardly seems KM worthy, but when you consider the meteoric adoption rates (and out of the box usage) of social networking technologies by the show's characters (and demo audience) and adjust your perspective of the show's titular character from gossip columnist to an SME (subject-matter-expert) who manages knowledge and information on and about her "subject", then it's not difficult to see some valid take-aways.

When I initially had the idea to write this post one of the articles among that week's reads discussed a study of how young adult's consumed news and the way in which today's youth is bombarded by news they can't adequately process: "Today's youth receive their news from far more sources than older people, consuming modern media from "online video, blogs, online social networks, mobile devices, RSS, word of mouth, Web portals and search engines," according to the study findings. This glut of technological news sources has led consumers to experience an "imbalance in their news diet," specifically trouble keeping up with news stories that went on too long or were too in-depth.

The AP study can be found here.

While I challenge the idea that young adults are suffering from "newstritional disorder" as the Time's article suggests, (it's interesting to note here that, one, the study's primary focus is on how young adults access the news, not how they process it, and, two, the study has a very narrow definition of what is "news" and what young adults consider "news"), as a Knowledge Manager, I've certainly seen the problem of information overload with knowledgebases and content management systems. In this sense, access to too much information, coming at you from all directions, tends to turn users off to using the system entirely. The core of the problem lies with information managers and/or producers either disregarding or misunderstanding the information needed/desired and the way(s) in which their target audience shares and consumes information.

In its depiction of how young adults manage information, I think Gossip Girl certainly debunks the Times' pessissm. Furthermore, I think as people of all ages become more comfortable with technology that has become increasingly more inclusive...more plug-n-play, if you will...that they are taking more control over the information they consume, process, and share. The challenge then, for news and information providers, is to improve their target marketing strategies. In fact, Louise Druce, Editor of, published an article on 'Target Marketing Through KM' just a few weeks ago).

Most importantly, I've learned (and been reminded) from Gossip Girl that when it comes to sharing knowledge and information, people will participate when the knowledge is meaningful to them, when both the knowledge and the act of sharing has value, and when they are free to use the tools that are most convenient to them

Gossip-Girl-as-knowledge-manager isn't just some all-knowing narrator that guides viewers through each episode. Though anonymous, she is an active character who serves as a valued information resource for the other characters, who, in return, participates in the knowledge sharing cycle by contributing to the body of information that GG manages, demonstrating both the culture of sharing and the value perceived in sharing. For her part, GG builds the credibility of her role as a knoweldge manager by managing, organizing, delivering, and validating "contributed content" (in the way one would expect from a primtime soap).

Of course, it might seem that her success and popularity is attributable purely to the often scandalous nature of the information she's sharing, I mean, people love to dish the dirt and, heck, even parents go to Gossip Girl to get the inside track on what's happening with their children and their children's friends. However, whether your pedaling the latest society dirt or spreadsheets replete with financial data, sharing is sharing!

  1. Sharing when the knowledge is meaningful
  2. Knowledge that is meaningful is relevant, it serves a purpose. This isn't knowledge for the sake of knowledge. This is knowledge that has an impact on a person's life, job, role or position. If people can't clearly identify the need or if you have to create meaning for them, odds are good that your knowledge sharing efforts will be for naught

  3. Sharing when both the knowledge and the act of sharing has value
  4. It's pretty obvious that knowledge or information considered valuable will be regarded as a commodity. People will want it, pursue it, hoarde it, and use it to achieve their goals. That's a no-brainer. What I find intriguing is the value placed on the act of sharing. This is a topic of much interest to KM professionals because understanding what motivates folks to share (e.g., peer pressure, self-interest, keeping up with Joneses, trendsetting, accountability, acquiring a sense of power and authority, etc.) is key to improving participation in knowledge sharing efforts. In my opinion, any perceived value of knowledge is secondary to the perception of the value of sharing. Why? For one, it's important to maintain the sharing-cycle even when the knowledge being shared is of little or no value; two, sometimes it's the process of sharing itself which gives knowledge value; and, three, knowledge only has value when it's used, 'sitting on it' merely renders it moot.

  5. Sharing when free to use the tools that are most convenient
  6. The Times' articles was absolutely correct that the modern information age provides far more media channels than the days of 'yore', but rather than being confusing and distracting, it simply provides a variety of options for content/information/knowledge managers to reach your audience...and for them to reach you! Not only does GG reach her audience via the web and a host of mobile applications, but her audience utilizes the same technology to share information with GG. Now, that's not a call to exploit the full range of available technologies in your KM endeavors. One of the biggest hurdles to KM efforts is the insistence of so many KM implementers on introducing new technology in conjunction with their KM iniative rather than relying upon the use of existing technologies with which folks are already comfortable. After all, one of your goals should be to reduce as many barriers to sharing as possible. Instead, consider incorporating existing practices/process for sharing knowledge and introducing new ways of using "old" tech.