Post and Smart Pull vs. Smart Smart Push (from Bill Gates on Blogging)

Came across this on Mathemagenic.

The following is an excerpt of remarks by Bill Gates that addresses the value of blogs over e-mail for certain business processes:

And so, getting away from the drawbacks of e-mail — that it’s too imposing — and yet the drawbacks of the Web site — that you don’t know if there’s something new and interesting there — this is about solving that.

The ultimate idea is that you should get the information you want when you want it, and we’re progressively getting better and better at that by watching your behavior, ranking things in different ways.

The book Power to the Edge (.pdf file), published by the Department of Defense Command and Control Research Program (DoD CCRP), presents an analysis of this situation in the context of Network Centric Operations.

E-mail is essentially a “smart smart push” method of distributing information. The owner of the information must know who is or might be interested in the information (the first smart) and then must know how to contact those people in order to share the information (the second smart). The owner then must “push” the information out to each of the people previously identified.

Blogs and RSS are an example of a “post and smart pull” method of information distribution. The information owner posts the information in a blog. In a corporate environment, for instance, the existence and purpose of the blog would be (hopefully) well known, allowing the people who are interested to subscribe to be notified when changes are made (that’s the smart part of the pull) and then review in detail the info they are interested in.

Looking out for number one

From my experience over the last couple of years in the field of knowledge management, both as a “knowledge advocate” and as a “knowledge officer,” most of us involved in this type of work take a very big picture view of things – a system view, using system thinking. Although we may look at “small” problems, helping individuals and teams to do things better, our overall goal really is to make the larger organization work better to provide the most value possible to all the stakeholders, whether it is share holders, customers, employees, etc. At the extreme this translates into an interest and desire to, quite literally, save the world.

You just have to look at the people that make up the field to see that they are mainly interested in how organizations work and figuring out how to make the organization work better. In my case, this description of my personality type (INTP – Utilitarian Rational, from the Kiersey Temperament Sorter) pretty much sums it up:

Utilitarian Rationals focus on competence, repertoire, and the need to improve everyday. They do not have a strong interest in actions as such, but work under a stringent self-imposed standard of excellence, and they live for their work: work is work, play is work, fun is work. THey often communicate at a level of abstraction others might find unintelligible and they tend to put work aside when the real challenge has been mastered. They have no function-lust like the Artisans and they are not always sensitive to the complexities of inter-personal relations. They are science and technology people, and posess “strategical intelligence.”

Even though I kind of knew this already, I had an epiphany of sorts in a meeting not too long ago in which I realized that most people really don’t care about the big picture. They are, in almost every way, looking out for themselves with very little interest in the effect it has on the larger picture. And if they do have concerns about the big picture, it is primarily in the context of what impact the effect on the big picture will have on themselves.

“Looking out for themselves” obviously has many interpretations. At the most basic, individuals do what is in their individual best interest. If a member of a team, the individual will do what needs to be done to ensure the success of the team, but still with a strong desire to benifit individually. Similarly, team leaders want success for the team which means success for them as an individual. (Another way to look at a team leader is that he/she is the “conscious” part of the team, that looks out for the team as an “individual”.) All the way up the ladder to the very top of an organization.

My point here is not to say how bad these people are, thinking primarily of themselves, because this is really just human nature. In fact, it is probably crucial that most people look out for themselves and their teams instead of thinking of the best picture. From an ‘evolutionary’ standpoint, the individual or organization that is best able to meet its own needs while at the same time supporting the “survival” of the larger organization [bio-sphere / econo-sphere] is the one most likely to survive and grow. And the organization or individual that is able to do this intuitively, as part of their regular business, has even better chances than one that has to make a conscious and deliberate effort to fit in. (Mainly because the former has more resources available to allocate to their own business, while the latter has to dedicate valuable resources external to their own efforts.)

But it is important to keep this fact in mind when trying to sell an organization-wide KM solution that benefits the whole organization. You have to make sure that the solution provides benefit to the people that will actually use it. Too often I’ve seen KM or decision support systems designed for top leaders of an organization that required a significant amount of effort on the part of subordinates but provided absolutely no benefit to those subordinates. It was just something else they had to do because someone told them to. As more team resources are diverted to non-team business, less resources are available for the team to do what they need to do.

Faking it: Explicit knowledge posing as tacit (or – Going through the motions)

When I saw the first Matrix movie, I remember thinking of the distinctions between explicit and tacit knowledge. If you remember the scene with the helicopter, you know what I mean. The “knowledge” of how to fly a helicopter was made explicit in the form of a computer program/disk. When a person needed the knowledge so they could actually fly the helicopter, the “explicit” knowledge was downloaded into the person’s brain (mind?) and became “tacit”. Though this is probably a good jumping off point for a discussion of explicit vs. tacit knowledge and how to manage the two (if you can), what I really want to address is something I noticed while recently watching the second of the series, The Matrix Reloaded.

During one of the fight scenes, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is fighting against several “bad guys” at a chateau in the mountains. I know that the actors went through a lot of training to prepare for these fight scenes, but watching this particular scene I couldn’t help noticing that Keanu Reeves seemed stiff as he was fighting, and that the moves were choreographed.

Of course the moves were choreographed, but I guess that’s my point. The fight choreographers developed the fight scenes, then made the “knowledge” of the fight (in this case the choreography) explicit so the actors could “learn” the fight. But, and here is the important part, the actors did not learn “how to fight” but rather “how to perform the fight” for the film. They were acting on explicit knowledge, but it never really became “tacit.”

On the other hand, the stunt men portraying the bad guys obviously had the tacit knowledge of how to fight – you can see it in how they carry themselves and the weapons. For them, it was a matter of taking the new choreography and incorporating it into what they already knew.

Intelligence and organizations

Last night I began re-reading The Genius Within: Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing by Frank Vertosick, Jr. In the introduction, Vertosick sets up the book with these comments:

To survive, all living beings must respond to an incessant barrage of stimuli: good, bad, and neutral. Some stimuli are so potently bad they provoke an immediate, reflexive response…. [M]ost hazards can’t be handled so simplistically. If I blindly leapt from every threat, I would soon exhaust myself. Moreover, some threats, such as a menacing animal, are better handled by walking slowly away.

Of course, even better would be to avoid running into menacing animals in the first place.

I couldn’t help thinking of this passage when I came across If it’s urgent, ignore it on McGee’s Musings (which in turn points to the original FastCompany article by Seth Godin and a posting about the article on Frank Patrick’s Focused Performance Weblog.) A couple of quick excerpts:

Urgent issues are easy to address. They are the ones that get everyone in the room for the final go-ahead. They are the ones we need to decide on right now, before it’s too late.

Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.

Organizations manage to justify draconian measures–laying people off, declaring bankruptcy, stiffing their suppliers, and closing stores–by pointing out the urgency of the situation. They refuse to make the difficult decisions when the difficult decisions are cheap. They don’t want to expend the effort to respond to their competition or fire the intransigent VP of development. Instead, they focus on the events that are urgent at that moment and let the important stuff slide.

Or in other words they are, to use Dr. Vertosick’s words, blindly leaping from every threat, and will soon exhaust themselves. This is another sign of a “stupid,” or in this case non-intelligent, organization.

A few more words on “intelligence” in organisms from Dr. Vertosick:

No creature can make it through life equipped solely with dumb reflexes. Reflexes alone do not constitute intelligence. Organisms must temper their reflexes with judgment, and that implies reason.

When reflex alone proves inadequate or counterproductive, living things resort to more subtle ways of dealing with environmental data. They begin by determining the predictive value of their experiences and storing those experiences for later application.

In other words, organisms learn from experience and apply this knowledge to future challenges. Learning is central to all intelligent behavior.

Since the organization that focuses on the urgent, instead of the important, is apparently not learning from the past, it stands to reason they are un-intelligent and doomed to an earlier demise than might otherwise occur if they could start learning. Unfortunately, this type of organization takes a lot of people, money, and other resources and capabilities down with it.*

* Of course, you can look at this as a kind of “circle of life” kind of thing, as most of those resources will eventually find their way back into the system. Unfortunately for the “human resources” involved, though, this will be a very unenjoyable process.