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Social Networks; from knowledge Management to Knowing

Its an interesting point as to whether any organisation of size can function with out both ‘Business Intelligence’ meaning reporting on how well it is succeeding against the operational measures it has set itself, and its Knowledge Management system as its reference base of experience gained. However both are also strongly internally focussed and make assumptions that activities will happen with in the structure of the internal enterprise operational model. Today external events, and shifting to an increasingly citizen centric view are the challenges in terms of what do we know about these shifting issues. And as a second part to this comes the challenge that our colleagues are already using new technology such as Twitter in some new way that it’s difficult for many managers to understand.

Let me try to break this down in practical manner using a metaphor and starting with the challenge that we don’t know what we don’t know, so have no way of knowing how complete a picture we are using to form our decisions. Think of it this way: you’re hungry (event), and see what looks like a good restaurant (opportunity). Then you study the menu (knowledge), and subsequently decide to eat there (decision). The food is okay, but the evening is not great as you are lonely, so the experience is poor (optimisation).

Now add into the equation Twitter, which is up to a staggering number of users now. Our friends are offering continual insights to their activities so now we have the benefit of ‘knowing’ more about the whole experience. We could ask for feedback on the restaurant, or others near by, even see that we have a friend nearby with whom we could share the meal. We could describe ourselves as being ‘in the know’ – a unique English phrase used to describe someone who always seems to have connections and experiences to be able to do better than most people.

Is this the secret of Twitter’s success? That it enables us to feel that we are ‘in the know’? And can this be replicated across an enterprise through social tools? That’s what lies behind the title of this post: From Knowledge to Knowing.

I am not sure when I first heard this phrase, but having researched the topic of Business Intelligence at length, I’m sure it’s a fundamental supporting concept. Actually, I discovered as I delved into this deeper that this is a topic that has been aired in a number of different ways: ranging from the ‘spiritual issues’ to the science. But the real turning point for me is in an interesting book that came out this summer called ‘Knowing Knowledge’ by George Siemens. There is a good summarising review to be found here. http://www.freepint.com/bookshelf/know.htm .

If I put all of this together I think I am beginning to understand the power of adding ‘social networking’ and other associated tools/technologies to an enterprise, at least for a certain proportion of roles. Not just knowledge workers, but those whose job contains significant numbers of variables. As many of these roles are more frontline, with younger people, than managerial positions which are to some extent more abstracted from the ‘churn’ of activities, you can see where and how instant messaging, Twitter and social networks are creeping into the enterprise.

Maybe it’s time to stop assuming from a more managerial standpoint that these are distracting ‘toys’, but to do some serious investigation into what and how they are being used beneficially. The barrier? It’s the fear of managers finding that they are not ‘in the know’ and that their staff knows more about the circumstances than they do. Overcome this and with an open mind what might you find?

Think of the potential power of each individual if they’re acting as a real time ‘sensor’ of circumstances. If this can be harnessed through reference by the individual to past experiences of their enterprise through knowledge management, this can be combined and focused upon to use joint expertise to optimise the opportunity and enhance the quality of the decision. Its not quite ‘crowd sourcing’ because it should be a careful selection of a sub-section of the crowd who is relevant and contextual to the situation. Now by most of the definitions I can find that is ‘intelligence’!

As a footnote, just consider that in most enterprises I hear the tale that the smokers are the best informed group. Why? Because they form a social network across the enterprise that meets regularly in their little external circles to exchange information.

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Gerry La Londe-Berg

“…it should be a careful selection of a sub-section of the crowd who is relevant and contextual to the situation.”

This is a great insight. It’s actually what we do when we consult among supervisors, managers, and analysts. This happens frequently and informally before, during and right after meetings. It also happens in the hallway and over cubicle walls. It’s what responsible people do to assure they are doing the right thing based on consensus and collaboration. And it is done with discretion; this is the “sub-section” you described.

It happens all the time in bureaucracy of all kinds. This discussion of technology applied to our existing process may get us to a different way of doing what we already do.

andy mulholland

good pount Gerry about relevant in the context, the other point that i didnt mention is trust. the conditions that you describe are alos trigger by us getting together – usually – with those we trust to try to work out together a win win to the event.

Chris Jones

Excellent post Andy. You move beyond the more common ‘why are we here?’ debates to state some of the fundamental opportunities inherent within Gov 2.0. Let me restate what I see as the most critical takeaways from your post – to both call attention to them, shape them a little from my own perspective, but most importantly – to make sure I heard you right !!

– knowledge skills are important to growing % of workforce
– knowing where to find insights is more useful than captive knowledge
– Web2.0 is not frivolous, it introduces powerful “collaboration tools” (see below)
– Web2.0 reduces control that managers have over information
– reduced control creates fear; having an open mind may mitigate that (culture issue!)
– individuals can/should act as sensors, filtering input thru personal context
– crowd sourcing concept needs more refinement, ie., targeted & filtered selection of SME’s

On the topic of semantics of the new Web2.0 tools, Andy K (@krazykris) is moderating a debate in another thread on this. Some popular entries on the list so far include:

– social media (the status quo)
– knowledge media
– information media
– new media
– collaborative technology
– collaborative media (late breaking, as of last night)

At one level, we can clearly get bogged down on this; at another, I think it is important to define a solution language to build consensus for communicating what Gov 2.0 is all about. Not everyone gets it, as I shared in this post.

Culture change is and will remain a key issue. I hope to be posting on that shortly.

And yes, collective intelligence is a tangible goal in what I’m describing lately as the networked learning organization. Again, solution language is key. Aren’t these key elements of the desired end state?

Thanks for bringing insight and clarity to the discussion. Looking forward to more.

andy mulholland

Hi Chris

i think i can say that you more than understand my point and have added some great additions to it as well! The real impact of web 2.0 and clouds to me is that they reverse both the business and technology models from being focused at one end of the stack around the application and the computer to being focussed on the other end around people and services.