Monday, May 30, 2011

Unstructured Web 2.0 tools and structured systems

For some time now, I have been using and evaluating different 'Enterprise 2.0' systems.

This has led me to believe that Enterprise 2.0 has, potentially, some very powerful possibilities that go beyond Web 2.0, provided we approach it and think differently to standard web 2.0 usage.

In Web 2.0 we have separate tools, provided by separate providers. We can choose, and mix and match our tools to tweet, to blog, to create wiki's, to search, to be alerted, to collaborate in virtual teams, to conduct social bookmarking, social networking etc.

Because we tend to start with one tool, maybe blogging, we focus on the simple use of this until we gain confidence and understand its full potential. One by one, we may add these tools, initially, for simple reasons. But often, we only want to use one tool for one specific job.

The result is that we have people today on the Web who specialise, for example, as star bloggers with an enormous following and reputation as good writers, or thought leaders, or critics or whatever.

We have celebrities whose tweets are followed by fans.

People tweet from their phones to organize a revolution.

People use wikipedia as their online encyclopedia.

We use the social network facebook to keep connected to friends and their activities.

By and large, in our private lives, we use Web 2.0 tools to perform separate functions that help us communicate, learn and share in those areas that interest us.

They are hugely successful because they are each, very simple to get started, very intuitive, free at entry point, and enable us to participate globally, and to gain recognition to potentially huge audiences.

But now, through Enterprise initiatives, and pressures from private users of Web 2.0 tools, people are developing ways to use the same tools in the workplace, because as knowledge workers, we also need to find ways to better communicate, collaborate, learn and share knowledge and experiences, to help us become more productive, at least.

We start off by using the tools, one by one, in the workplace, for different activities. Frankly, if this improves our communications and ability to work better, in any way, that's simply great.

Eventually, however, some of us reach a stage that makes us think about how we could better use these separate tools by combining them, systematically, to create knowledge flows, perhaps to support our own work processes and knowledge deliverables?

But here, I suggest, we have to think differently from a simple to use and intuitive approach.

Here, we need BOTH unstructured AND structured information, we need to think both in intuitive and logical ways, we need both discovery and serendipity, and logical search and scanning, we need both creativity and innovation and knowledge management.

To me, its like the way our brains best function. Not totally logical (left hemisphere) and not totally creative (right hemisphere) but BOTH / AND. Interestingly, the Oxford Dictionary definition of genius is 'utilizing both the left brain and right brain faculties to the full'

So I suggest that successful Enterprise 2.0, if you are happy with that term, is beyond Web 2.0, and should allow BOTH free intuitive, informal, simple, unstructured, participation from which natural wisdom may emerge from the diverse crowds, on the one hand, AND logical, formal, structured process and review from experts and peer groups, working together towards organizational excellence. An organizational 'whole brain' approach.

What do you think?

Does this delight you or horrify you?

Could we start capturing ideas and blog learnings and insights spontaneously, yet within a framework towards structured knowledge flows towards Good Practices, for example?

In this case, the structure is achieved by chanelling the knowledge flow and knowledge objects towards managed wiki's, as well as self-managed wiki's, as appropriate.

Or should we restrict ourselves to the more unstructured usage only, as a key benefit to our work, and consider it as just one of the powerful tools to be used with other more structured tools in our organizations, to achieve specific objectives?

What's your take on this?

Ron Young

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My first successful experience of global knowledge sharing

It was actually in the early 1970's that I had my first successful experience of global knowledge sharing.

It happened by accident and through a great tragedy.

A very good friend and business colleague of mine was, like me, a passionate private pilot. But very sadly, he crashed and died with his wife and friends on board, in the misty hills and mountains of Snowdonia in Wales.

As the only computer programmer around that could understand his COBOL program, at the time, his employees asked me to keep running this main business application, to keep the company running.

This is how it worked.

Quite simply, all the major manufacturers of agricultural tractors, worldwide, all knew each other well. (Ford, Massey Ferguson, International Harvester, John Deere etc.) The agricultural industry was very old and mature indeed. As a result, most people had, at one time or another, worked also in several of the competitor companies.

The problem was that the tractor component manufacturers and the tractor manufacturers themselves were always either greatly overproducing or greatly underproducing to try to meet market demands.

So the manufacturers agreed to share, each month, their total shipments to their dealers and other production and distribution information and knowledge.

This was achieved by submitting their information, in strict confidence, to an independant computer bureau that would then produce the total picture without revealing the identity of the individual contributions. That was what I did each month.

It was perfect. It really helped tractor manufacturers and component manufacturers with their production. It saved lots of money. It increased efficiency and effectiveness.

This global information and knowledge sharing was so successful that within a few years only, we were running lots of global exchanges for all types of agricultural and construction machinery and equipment.

This really was a first successful experience of global knowledge sharing.

There was so much to be gained by collaborating and not just competing.

Eventually, the manufacturers gained enough confidence and trust in the exchange system that they even then started to reveal their identities to one another, and not just anonymous totals.

Unfortunately, this successful evolution of global information and knowledge sharing had to end.

The European Commission decided that there was nothing at all wrong with the global exchanges of information and knowledge, but it had been brought to their attention that the annual meetings we held, with all manufacturers present, could be a potential breeding ground for collusion on prices and market shares etc.

It got so bad that every manufacturer even had to fully report the next day if they even accidentally met a competitor anywhere at, say, a trade fair or any event.

Eventually, the manufacturers had to greatly reduce this activity into remote, anonymous, monthly submissions of broad information only. This was in order to comply with European Commission, Treaty of Rome Article 85, on unfair competition.

But that was a long time ago. And I imagine it was one of the first, if not the pioneering, global exchanges of information and knowledge which had, initially, huge business benefits and success.

Ultimately, it could not be sustained because of issues of 'ethics and trust'

What can we learn from this today in our 21st Century knowledge driven corporates, organizations and institutions?

Ron Young

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