Social Eminence

A discussion I was having the other day with colleagues about eminence and the role of social media in creating the persona of people who are experts at things brought out some rather interesting thoughts. One of the ideas that came out was that social reputation is based on one’s willingness to share knowledge. While I completely agree with that, this viewpoint confuses knowledge with the act of sharing. One can actually share things on social media without really knowing much about them. One of the things I see, for instance, on twitter, is that the rate at which people share links must mean they are reading like probably a thousand words per minute. Quite a few people I know just glance through an article or blog, and share it on social media. This is why I say hat sometime knowledge can be confused with the act of sharing.

Another important thing to understand is that it is very easy to manufacture things on social media. You might have seen a number of quotes from Albert Einstein on the web, and I don’t know how many of them are attributable to him. Taking an instance of a talk show I was watching, the analyst on the show was quoting a long-departed leader as having said something. This didn’t quite sound logical to me, so I started searching. After much searching, I found a blog which told how a lie was fabricated and why, and how it was circulated all over the world over social media. The “fact” may find it’s way twice around the world before folks start finding out. Also, there will be a number of folks on social media who will have spread the word, and very few who would take the effort to validate. What this means is that social eminence can be manufactured, and while there are self-correcting mechanisms which are there in the social ecosystem, these methods may not always be effective in a world with a very short memory. By the time you figure out something is wrong, nobody’s really interested, and setting the record straight is a moot point.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be selective in the sources we subscribe to, and that we need to do our research before publishing something, a thing which is seldom done.

Training’s Khan Academy

Theres lot said about the way the principles of Khan Academy can be applied in the world of education. However, i see education and training as two essentially linked areas, and so, if there are lessons for education from Khan Academy, there must also be lessons for corporate training teams.

This made me think about what could be the key take-aways for a training manager from the way content is structured in Khan Academy. And an immediate answer that comes to mind is brevity.

Today, organizations are under pressure to increase productivity so that organizations are able to deliver more with the same number of employees. This means that employees need to deliver more in the same period of time. In consulting organizations, this is a euphemism for utilization pressure. Many of us would have heard those, havent we? And while L&D managers are under pressure to deliver training to enhance employee capabilities, there is also the constraint of getting participants away from their work for a few days to attend classroom sessions. There is of course e-learning, but can e-learning be an en bloc alternative for classroom or virtual education? I dont think so.

And this is where the Khan Academy concept comes in. This is something i had championed to some extent over a period of the last few years. I am talking about training modules which are a twitterized form of training. In other words, module videos which are to youtube what twitter is to blogs.

In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that people are more interested in training to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. This means that they would be more interested in short, crisp programs (not more than 5 minutes) which help them learn how to do specific tasks as part of their job. Just the things which are required for them to become more effective in their work.

Think job aids meet youtube meets twitter.

Tweets & Updates

Reading a blog today, and I was reminded of a discussion I had a few days back. I opened the blog, gazed through it, and thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to read it. It looked quite long, and I wasn’t sure I was quite up to it. This is not to say that the blog wasn’t quite nice … Its just me getting into old age.

So what was the discussion I talked about? This was about management books, and why I usually don’t get around to reading them. This is because before I think about reading a book, I usually read the summary of the book on the back cover or the inside flap. From what I have seen, most books give you an adequate idea of what the book is about, anmd the book itself is a lot about specifics, illustrations, etc., which means I can gather quite a bit from the back cover.

Which brings me to what I am writing about … And this I will try to keep short, for reasons obvious.

If you can’t express yourself adequately in half a page, you probably can’t … I feel if you have understood a subject, you can describe it in very little, and shouldn’t have to write on and on about it.

This, I feel, is something to training much more … Explain a concept in a simple form, and with illustrations, build more around the concept in chewable layers.

The KM Perspective

This is something i come across whenever someone asks me what i work on. Well, i tell them i work on KM. Usually this leaves a kind of glassy look in their eyes, and earlier this look used to make me a bit uncomfortable. Now though, instead of trying to explain what KM is (why i cant seem to be able to do in less than 5 sentences, which by the way is the limit i think that one should have for defining something, outside of which you dont really know what you are trying to define), i just tell them what i think they would understand. Some of the things which work are best practices, portals, search … Not much more which people really relate to the idea of Knowledge Management.

Which is why this blog seems quite nice. The analogy seems to work, and i agree that everyone looks at KM from what it means to them. Support engineers like to look at KM as a KEDB, while sales folks like to look at KM as presentations, while delivery folks like to look at KM as project repositories. Which is why i agree with Allan when he writes:

Tapping into what others know so I can build on what they have done in order to do my job better.

Now this might mean different things to different people but thats meant to be because after all different people have different kind of work to do and hence would require different tools from KM to be able to do their work better. What is important here is that the same reason is what i feel must get us to make KM more relevant. People should be able to look at KM from the perspective which makes their life simpler, whether it is expertise-location, document repositories, communities or any other tool which knowledge managers may have put to them. Why this is also more important is because as repositories grow, conversations increase, you will find that people will find it more and more difficult to actually distill what they need to do their work better from all the conversation and content and be able to find it easily. Already we are seeing this, one of the reasons i am not too regular on twitter. This is because there are so many updates when i login the morning that by the time i go through them there is already a backlog of more updates to read. If we keep KM like this there will be a time when people may switch off (at least at work) which means that we need to make sure we can present content which is useful and relevant to users so they can then choose what they want to leverage to do their work.

Twitter …

I have an on-and-off kind of interaction with twitter. There are days when i am online most of the day, and there are days, when i just dont login. I wonder why. But, this gets me wondering … What is twitter all about? I mean, i understand twitter from the perspective we are familiar with, but given my interactions with twitter, i am wondering … what are the implications of a twitter within the organization. And this is something i havent been able to figure out.

There is lots written about the value of a twitter-like tool within the firewall, but i am thinking … lets look at it simply. Twitter is a platform which lets you write short messages about whatever it is that you want to write, and your friends to follow those messages, and comment on them, if they like. The 140 character limit is quite nice … stops people like me from ranting on and on. But, having said that, there is the other aspect of this … the volume. There are so many activities people do. Which is why, oftentimes i find some kind of overload from twitter … theres just too many tweets to go through. Which is actually nice the way i am using twitter today, but if you were to replace your connections on twitter with your colleagues at work, would you be so keen? Maybe … or then, maybe not.

There is also the idea that by following what your colleagues are doing, you yourself can learn a bit. Colleague reading a blog? If they tweet about it, you could get to know about an interesting blog, which you might find helpful at work. But then, looking at it from a different perspective, how about social networking? Wouldnt a social networking platform do just about something similar? With the additional functionality for building your social networks, and interacting with people as they go about their day-to-day work? In other words, what about social networking (aka facebook) as an aggregator for the activities that people are doing? There is definitely an overlap here, though i tend to believe that maybe a facebook is something which i find easier to interact with, because it brings in a more social aspect to the interactions. And if one could link up a corporate facebook with some of the other systems, it could actually be an interesting concept.

I have posted a poll to find out what you think … care to post your comments? Look forward to hearing.

Social Computing … Observations And Implications

I was watching this awesome video which Luis Suarez has made, posted over at his blog. There are some very imortant point that Luis is making over here, especially when he says that with social computing it is no longer you versus others, its you as part of a team, of a community.

What i liked probably the most was the idea that in an open platform as social computing can provide, it quickly becomes clear who is contributing how much, and what. The whole idea of free-riding is something which can be taken care of. Though, to my mind, that is a tad oversimplistic. Folks will find out ways to get around this. This also could have implications for the way people work … bringing in more transparency … and, to my mind, this is one of the very reasons this kind of a change would be resisted in a large number of organizations. Not just because change is usually resisted (which i believe is not, its just that the value proposition of the change is not usually communicated well enough …), but also because a lot of people are not comfortable saying out things in the open.

What is also interesting is that unlike with email, you can control what you read. Of course, this might mean you miss out on something. But, as Luis says, networks have a way of informing you. While this is valid logic, this rests on the assumption of adoption. And, this is where the chicken-and-egg situation i have written about earlier comes into the picture … the network cannot deliver value till there are plenty of people in it, and you wont have plenty of people in the network till it start delivering value.

There are two things i would add to the number of excellent points Luis has made …

Let us first ask, what is the most important asset for an organization (knowledge-based, i am assuming here …)! The most probable answer you would get to this question is … People! Yes, they sure are. But, if people are the most important asset, why is it that Knowledge Management systems are content-centric, and not people centric? After all, content is a proxy for people, isnt it?

Look at facebook, for instance … the focus of the entire network is the people … when you login, you see what your friends are doing … you are seeing content which is generated, for sure … but, content that is generated by people, or, in other words, content in the context of people, which brings people to the centre of the entire schema. Ditto for twitter, too … the first thing on a tweet is the picture, and the name of the person who has written it. Even your favourites are content, but they are about the people … the focus being on the people who are generating the content.

This has another benefit … Unlike documents, or static content, which goes obsolete over a period of time (by the time you post it, as Luis says), the people who write the content dont! People are more up-to-date than platforms are!

Another thing which comes up is, if you are emailing a document to ten different people, you are sending ten different copies, one to each one of them … you are in effect isolating one from another. Contrast this to the social computing paradigm, where you are bringing people together, by bringing them to a single copy of the document.

Fantasy App …

Is it a pointer to me being a wierdo if i am fantasizing about an application? Well … maybe! But then, whatever …

I have been using both facebook and twitter for over a week now. And the way i see it, both of these applications actually complement each other. While facebook is about connecting with folks, and doing your own thing, twitter is about being yourself, and just penning down your thoughts from time to time. I am thinking of a facebook homepage where updates from twitter, from my network get reflected, and where i can not just keep in touch with what my friends are doing, with their statuses, photos, work, play, etc., i can also keep in touch with what they are thinking.

And, this is a pointer to a larger thought process … Right now, i am confused about which social network i want to log into. So, i log into twitter, because i want to share my “thoughts of the moment” with others, and i log into facebook to connect with friends. And, i log into ning for communities, and … What is required, to an extent, is an aggregator, which can give the functionality of the social networks i am a part of, in a single place. This way, i am sure a lot of folks would save a lot of time not having to update multiple social networks?

There is, of course, the argument of diversity which multiple social networks brings in, but i dont see too much logic in that, considering that most of the folks on my network in facebook overlap with those on twitter, and hence, the impact of diversity is only minimal.

About Twitter …

I have logged onto twitter … finally! OK … so i was trying out facebook all this while. And, for all the cool things that twitter gives, i somehow find the functionality at facebook way too cool. Actually, this is early days yet, but from what i am seeing, one thing which is really like about facebook, which i am missing at twitter is the way i can see all the applications my friends are installing, all the groups they are joining, etc., etc. … this, to my mind, is a wonderful way of easing the process of discovery. These were my thoughts when i had joined facebook. And not much which is changing here.

Though, the thing i really like about twitter is the way short, sweet, quick messages can just be shot out. This is an interesting thing to do, especially because this enables me to capture the “thought of the moment”. Rather than writing a long blog, i can write a series of short snippets, which could basically become the source for my blog. Its akin to something i have been thinking of doing for some time now (since i started writing my book … yes, more about that soon!), that is, carrying a dictaphone and just recording whatever thought occurs right at the moment when it occurs. Its this kind of functionality that i find quite interesting. More so, in the organizational context, this could be really nice, because with this, rather than asking folks to write their experiences in a blog which could be quite lengthy for people to write, or worse still, asking them to write documents, people can simple capture this “thought of the moment”, and share this with whoever wants to see what they are reading … especially with their social networks!