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.