I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but years ago I heard a story about tulips. With advances in transportation and in technology, there were people interested in time-shifting tulip production. So they tried various methods associated with making tulips believe it was spring already, placing them in hothouses, keeping the surroundings springlike, and so on. The bulbs refused to budge and the experiments were gigantic failures.
Until someone figured out, maybe it’s not worth conning the bulb into thinking it’s spring. Maybe the bulb needed to know that winter was over. So they tried to keep the bulbs in artificial cold, and bingo the tulips had been time-shifted.
I felt the same way when I made the decision, some years ago, to open up my mailbox to my direct reports. My intention was to let them see precisely what I did by showing them what I faced, the incoming mail. That they could somehow vicariously gain the experience of sitting where I sat, doing what I did, thinking what I thought, by seeing what I saw.
And then I observed what they did. Boy was I wrong. Most of them were far more interested in my “sent mail”. They felt they could learn more by watching my outgoing rather than my incoming, they felt they could get “into my head” faster by focusing on my responses rather than on the stimuli.
I am no expert in knowledge management; I just like watching people and learning from them; I like teaching and mentoring people as well; and I try and do all this with an open and “sharing” management style. More trust and less verify until the need for verification keeps presenting itself, so to say.
What I saw with the opening up of my mailboxÂ confirmed a number of prior suspicions, suspicions that I had held ever since I’d seen early versions of Autonomy and Verity, suspicions enhanced as I got used to Copernic and Momma and Google.
People learn best by watching what you do. Not what you say.
And it is with this perspective that I am fascinated by the potential provided by Facebook and its ilk.
For example, one of the Story Types available in Facebook goes something like this:
John Smith used Blog Friends to read 24 Hours Left to Apply to Join Tulsa. John surfed from his own profile. The post was written by Fred Jones.
I think this is very powerful. Let me explain why.
I believe there are three primary reasons why an enterprise would want to “manage its knowledge”:
One, to share learning, so that the same mistake is not made multiple times.
Two, to share learning, so that activities get sped up.
Three, to share learning, so that people are motivated to learn and to teach.
To share learning.
Knowledge management is not really about the content, it is about creating an environment where learning takes place. Maybe we spend too much time trying to create an environment where teaching takes place, rather than focus on the learning.
Since people want to learn by watching others, what we need to do is to improve the toolsets and the environment that allows people to watch others. It could be as simple as: What does my boss do? Whom does she talk to? What are her surfing habits like? Whom does she treat as high priority in terms of communications received? What applications does she use? Which ones does she not use? When she has a particular Ghost to deal with, which particular Ghostbuster does she call?
What makes her tick. That’s what they want to understand, that’s what they want to learn from.
This type of learning is not just about subordinate-to-boss and succession-plan related, it is also about newbie-to-old-hand, mentored-to-mentor. A picture of the activities and relationships and paths followed, a “let me show you” session, is worth a thousand “let me tell you” sessions.
More and more, knowledge management is going to be about reducing the cost of, and simplifying the process for, letting someone watch what you do. Nonintrusively. Time-shifted. Place-shifted. Searchable. Archivable. Retrievable.
That’s how we are going to create the right learning environments. I think Facebook has the tools to capture much of this in the nonintrusive time-shifted place-shifted shareable way. Let the patterns emerge. Share the patterns. Get inside people’s heads. More to follow, let me see how the comments flow from this Starter-For-Ten.