Search, knowledge reuse, and productivity

In his March 29, 2004 Alertbox, Productivity in the Service Economy, Jakob Nielsen states:

For intranets, we know that good design can double employee productivity. This estimate comes from our intranet usability testing, where people using the worst 25% of intranets required 99 hours per year to perform typical employee tasks, whereas people using the best 25% of intranets accomplished the same tasks in 51 hours per year.

While this is likely true, it assumes that employees actually use the Intranet to find information.

Over at Mathemagenic, Lilia presents some info in The high cost of not finding information: Reinventing is more fun than reusingthat supports the idea:

  • knowledge workers spend 15-35% of their time searching
  • only 50% searches are successful
  • 40% of corporate users can’t find information they need to do their job on their intranets

Lilia has, I believe, an excellent insight into the knowledge creation process: reinventing is more fun than reusing. Though I’ve not thought of it in terms of fun before, it is definitely more challenging and satisfying to create something than to simply use what someone else has created. The nature of knowledge work is to learn so you can create and apply new knowledge. Simply looking for and reusing existing “knowledge” (which in this explicit form is, I believe, really just information) to accomplish something is not so much knowledge work as it is an information assembly line.*

You can only truly learn and understand something if you are able to create it yourself.

*Having said this, it is important to note that some aspects of being a worker in an organization lend themselves very well to an assembly line mentality, for instance filling in time sheets, activity reports, travel vouchers, etc. But these types of activities are not so much value-added knowledge work as they are the price of doing business.

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