KM, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business: One and The Same

Luis Suarez By Luis Suarez
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Another week at work gone by in a flash, another business trip to visit one of our customers in mainland Spain done and dealt with and back to the grid again, till the next upcoming trip happening in the next few days… That seems to be the story of my life lately, which means that blog posts are getting more and more scattered around, so I better do something about it, right?, before you all go away and don’t come back again!

So here I am again, thanks for sticking around and for all of the insightful comments shared across so far! It’s greatly appreciated, as usual. Seriously, I need to figure out a way I can do moblogging effectively, since I know the business travelling is not going to ease up any time soon. Any ideas out there folks would want to share across? Thanks!!

Anyway, that’s not the topic of this blog entry for today, although I suspect I will be covering it at some point in time. I actually wanted to share with you folks a reflection of something I have been hinting already over here in this blog for a while now, as well as in some of my twitterings, and which, as time goes forward, is starting to become a dangerous reality. For a good number of years you have probably heard me state how Enterprise 2.0 (Now morphed into Social Business) has started already to follow the same path that traditional Knowledge Management did back in the day. To the point where I have been mentioning how some of the key aspects from both Enterprise 2.0 and KM are, essentially, one and the same! Including making some of the very same mistakes KM went through back in the day. And that’s when it gets tricky, because, if you ask knowledge workers out there nowadays, their thoughts and opinions of traditional KM are no longer that positive anymore. Actually, quite the opposite! For a good number of years, KM has been enjoying, unjustly to be honest, a rather negative reputation, even more prevalent with the emergence of social computing within the Enterprise.

And now am I stating they are both one and the same, because they seem to be following a very similar path, only with 15 years, or more, in between one and the other? Really? Well, probably so! If you ask KMers about Social Computing, Social Networking or Enterprise 2.0 they would probably tell you how uncomfortable they all feel about that unstructured chaos of data that these social tools seem to foster more and more by the day. If you flip the coin and you ask social software advocates about KM they all freak out at the whole concept of attempting to manage (your) knowledge, stating, very vehemently, how you can never manage, nor even attempt to, one’s own knowledge. It’s just an impossible task to achieve.

Well, they all bring up very good points; they are both quite right, too! Of course, there are plenty of good things, and not so good things, for both Enterprise 2.0 and KM alike; yet, they share lots of commonalities that we seem to keep ignoring time and time again, to the point where I am starting to feel like we haven’t learned much in the last 15 years of what went wrong with KM and we are bound to make the very same mistakes, as we did back then, with Enterprise 2.0, now Social Business (Yes, I know, I still distinguish, very clearly, between one and the other). If you don’t believe me, have a look and check out this recent presentation that one of my all time favourite, the always insightful and KM blogger extraordinaire, David Gurteen (A good friend and long time KM mentor, too!) put together under “Don’t Do KM!“.

But, hang on in there for a minute; before you actually go ahead and do it, let me point you as well to a recent blog post that he put together under the title “Knowledge, Awareness and Understanding“, which surely highlights some of the main key issues behind traditional KM, just as much as Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business today. I am pretty sure that, after you have read that article, you will be agreeing with me how close both Enterprise 2.0 and KM have always been and how we seem to have entered that dangerous road that I referenced above already. In fact, it’s a bit too scary to see how similar things have evolved in between all of those years!

Ok, let’s move on. Let’s see what I mean with both of those concepts walking hand in hand and try to help us identify those areas where we need to be extra careful. David’s presentation will work wonders for us in this particular case. He starts by saying something we are all rather familiar with: “Most KM Projects Fail!” (Does it ring a bell for E2.0 as well?); then from there onwards, he comes to share across four different KM related questions that are exactly the same ones that we have seen being proposed for E2.0 as well all over the place. To name:

  1. What are the business problems we are trying to solve?
  2. How do we ensure support from senior management and how do we sustain that support?
  3. How do we engage the people in our organisation?
  4. How do we clearly demonstrate success?

Too close for comfort, don’t you think? Let’s keep going. Not going to spoil the rest of the presentation, but his overview of how little thinking is taking place at the moment in general is very much the same scenario / background from when KM first came about, back in the day. There is just one slide in there on the whole concept of “Best Practices“, for instance, that demolishes the entire concept altogether, along with it! And I can surely see me reusing it time and time again! Just as much as thought provoking as these other two quotes from that same deck:

  • “People will not share their knowledge” is NOT a business issue
  • “Implementing a knowledge sharing system” is NOT a business outcome”

Replace “Knowledge Sharing System” with “Enterprise 2.0″ and we are even getting closer by the minute, don’t you think? Well, the follow up slides from those quotes certainly put it together nicely on what are business outcomes and what not, also very much applicable to E2.0 and, yet again, we are falling under the same trap! But it gets better and closer home, as you flip further through the charts?

Like, for instance, the set of slides on the topic of Motivation and Rewards, for instance. Once again, prepare to read about some interesting insights on what most businesses are thinking nowadays in terms of those two concepts and what KM attempted to do, back in the day, at some point in time. Very thought-provoking!

Probably just as much as the overall final conclusion of that superb presentation where David quotes one, in my opinion, of the KM fathers that pretty much nails it down on thinking of KM and Enterprise 2.0 (And Social Business for that matter!) as one and the same. Of course, I am talking about Bob Buckman who once said: “Knowledge Sharing is your job. Do it!” and David kindly adds on to that final slide as well with “As a reward you may keep your job“.

And there you have it. If you thought that Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business do not have much to do with traditional Knowledge Management, after going through David’s excellent presentation, I guess we will have to think about it once again, because, in my opinion, it surely has. In fact, if folks have stated how Enterprise 2.0 is the father of Social Business I would venture to say that KM is the father and grandfather of E2.0 and Social Business, respectively. And that’s a good thing, for certain, as we get to close the loop successfully, as long we move further on and don’t make the very same mistakes as we did back then. Once again?

David Gurteen – KM Middle East 2011

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About Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has been working in the fields of Knowledge Management, collaboration, communities, and learning for the past seven years, and is heavily involved in social computing and its adoption within the enterprise. Luis shares his insights on important KM issues of today through The Knowledge Management Blog and ELSUA.NET, and is an active participant in the ITtoolbox blogging community.

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