It’s a funny thing working for a “stealth” startup. There’s two very diametric forces at work. In one corner, you have the notion that you aren’t willing to share precisely what you’re working on with everyone until you’re sure that it’s ready. And in the other, the fact that as a young organization, you really want to engage with potential customers and partners already in the kind of space that you’re aiming to get to.
This kind of “Come Here – Go Away” paradox is pretty common in startups and their blogs (ours included).
But, after a bunch of long hours writing code, and consulting with designers, and doing other fairly insular activities, Dean and I have decided that we couldn’t possibly miss the big Enterprise 2.0 Conference. So, we’re dusting off our nice clothes, and emerging from the comfortable darkness of the Infovark Burrow to join everyone in Boston next week.
We’ll be in town Tuesday to Thursday – so if you happen to be able to make it, and you’d like to catch up and talk with us about Enterprise 2.0, the stuff we’re working on, the stuff you’re working on, (or any thing at all) — we would absolutely love to see you! You can leave us a comment here, find us on twitter, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dean and I are leaving the Burrow today to visit the kids at George Marshall High School. We’ve been invited to talk to a couple of senior classes about running a startup, our product, our business plan, and generally share how Infovark came to be.
We’re really excited to be given the opportunity to speak, so we took a few days out from our hectic schedule to put together some slides and prepare a talk.
Thinking back to when I was a fresh-faced young graduate, entering the business world for the first time, one of the really important lessons that I remember was when I realized that business systems tend to change much slower than I would have liked. And not just the adoption of new systems — but the very ideas that underpin the design of those systems take a long time to evolve.
I like to refer to the problem as one of legacy thinking — so as to distinguish it from legacy systems.
Take for example, the replacing of paper filing solutions with digital systems. This has happened over a period of about 20 years (and it’s still going on today). But initially, these computer systems were just electronic versions of those paper systems. They held onto a lot of ideas from the past:
And so the systems that we built were kind of like Virtual Filing Cabinets. Files within folders within drawers and so on. But none of those points apply to digital information. We had new tools to manage the data, but we were still using old paradigms to organize it.
It wasn’t until the rise of the Internet search engine — and particularly Google — that people started entertaining the notion that you could perhaps manage information without a comprehensive underlying taxonomy.
People’s willingness to let go of old ideas is the only thing that can really facilitate new ways of working.
On that note, we’d better go. We don’t want to be late for class!
Puneet Gupta over at ConnectBeam has an interesting post about the Enterprise Knowledge market. He references an intriguing study from McKinsey:
…An individual’s knowledge is self-contained, always available. But in companies—including small ones—it can be hard to exploit the valuable knowledge in the heads of even a few hundred employees, particularly if they are scattered in different locations…
Knowledge Management as a technology discipline is one that I’ve never really been comfortable with. And it’s really only been since I started working on Infovark that I realized why — because using your computer for knowledge is like trying to get your pocket calculator to write you a love song.
Computer’s can’t actually know anything.
To your computer, that brilliantly composed document you just wrote is a bunch of bits on a disk. They are no different to the bits that make up the pictures of your cat or your operating system.
The real knowledge in your enterprise is in your colleagues’ brains. There may be a great deal of information lying around the place too, but that isn’t knowledge.
Let’s look at Twitter. Somewhere, Twitter is a collection of servers siting in a dark server room. Those computers are managing lots of bits on lots of disks. The only thing that Twitter really “knows” is how to connect blobs of data that represent people to the blobs of data that represent tweets.
So Twitter is certainly not a knowledge management system — there’s no managing of anything going on. And yet Twitter is an immensely powerful knowledge catalyst. Huge volumes of information are exchanged every minute. I learn something nearly every day by using Twitter, not because Twitter itself has much to say, but because my twitterfriends are so interesting.
Knowledge, in the Oxford English sense of “expertise gained through experience or study”, can’t be effectively stored, retained, or disposed of. It can’t be centralized or codified easily. Most attempts at knowledge management to date amount to little more than information collection and storage.
This “build a giant library of things we know” approach is a lousy way to transmit knowledge from one person to another. And distributing knowledge is the only sure way of making sure that your organization will retain it. The reason that this “social revolution” is sweeping the enterprise is that by connecting people with better communication and collaboration tools, we facilitate the exchange of information and increase the opportunity to learn.
Most people learn more things from each other than from reading a procedure manual or browsing the corporate library. They learn through on-the-job training and through discussion with their colleagues.
Let’s leave the technology to manage the bits — knowledge is for humans.
Software vendors, ourselves included, love to talk about productivity. On that note…
Productivity can be roughly defined as: Output per unit of input: a measure of efficiency.
Perhaps the only reason to buy any piece of business software is to increase this ratio. “You can do more with what you already have!”. “Think smarter, not harder!”. These are the silver bullets that enterprise software has been touting since its inception. But as the world shifts more and more towards knowledge-based work — work that often involves abstract concepts and ‘ideation’, how can we effectively measure it?
As Jon Husband pointed out on the FASTForward blog, productivity as we know it had its genesis with the Scientific Management of F.W. Taylor at the turn of the 20th century. Right at the heart of the industrial revolution, the ratio of inputs to outputs was a very measurable thing. An automobile factory had discrete, tangible output: a car. The number of cars produced per employee was a measure of the factory’s productivity.
Modern knowledge workers, on the other hand, don’t have such clear and measurable outputs. I was speaking to a friend who works for a consulting firm here in DC, and she was saying that her deliverables were status reports. Quarterly status reports, written by her, based on the services provided in the quarter. Now obviously, Paula isn’t more efficient if she produces twice as many status reports. The traditional manufacturing approach to management doesn’t work here.
Instead, Paula’s employer gauges her efficiency by evaluating the content of those status reports and by surveying her customers to find out how well she is doing. These measures are extremely subjective, and as a result are prone to errors, bias, or manipulation. (Not that any of these things actually happen, of course. We’re speaking hypothetically.)
Enterprise 2.0 claims to improve efficiency by increasing social productivity. The theory is that by making more information available to more people, and allowing them to connect with each other easily, we can collectively get more done. But does this claim hold true? I’m seeing more and more posts from good folks who can’t deal with the overload of this new social graph. The time spent keeping track of all the communications from all of your contacts might actually make you less productive.
There’s no doubt that a more aware and better connected knowledge worker has the potential to be a more productive one. But the social dimension is only one part of the Enterprise 2.0 equation. In a business context, making connections and managing relationships is a means, not an end.
This is the Big Difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 needs to deliver measurable value – not just get a bunch of people together to click on advertisements.
The tweets of every Zappos employee, including the CEO, can be found aggregated on the company web site.
I think this is a really inspired piece of thinking. Twitter allows me to see that the company is made up of people — real people, with thoughts and feelings, and senses of humor. It allows a transparent view into the company, which tells me that Zappos must actually trust and value it’s employees. (Hey — It even made me want to write this blog post about them).
There was a time when the most important thing a CEO did was to constantly present a “professional business” approach to the community. Zappos’ CEO, on the other hand, is apparently having troubles getting his pants to stay on.
Is that going to hurt sales? is it going to be ‘bad for business’?
Nope. In fact, I bet it does just the opposite.
(Dean and I are so busy right now, that we don’t update as much as we should, but you can find us on twitter too – we’d love to hear from you!)