In A Better Way to Manage Knowledge, a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog, John Hagel III and John Seely Brown share some interesting ideas on what they call “creation spaces — places where individuals and teams interact and collaborate within a broader learning ecology so that performance accelerates.”
This is a central concern, given my work in the Professional Services group at Socialtext, a vendor in the enterprise collaboration software market.
Hagel and Brown start by refuting the idea that enterprise collaboration tools are just knowledge management (KM) systems in another guise. The problem with traditional approaches to KM, they say, is that:
“The folks with the knowledge were often reluctant to put what they knew into the database. The folks seeking the knowledge often had trouble finding what they needed.”
What’s different about socially-based collaboration tools, they say, is that they’re generative:
“Creation spaces have the potential to generate increasing returns — the more participants that join, the faster new knowledge gets created and the more rapidly performance improves. They bring into play network effects in the generation of new knowledge. In contrast, traditional knowledge management systems are inherently diminishing returns propositions.”
But to benefit from network effects, you still need to get people to participate. From observing collaborative environments such as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft, Hegel and Brown report that:
“new knowledge comes into being when people who share passions for a given endeavor interact and collaborate around difficult performance challenges.”
They’re right, of course. But the lessons of World of Warcraft are not so easily applied in business. In developing content for a corporate wiki, the best practice is to assign each section to someone who cares passionately about that area, whether it’s blueberries or basketball. That’s a different motivation than mining for gold so you can breed more orcs.
Personally, I’m still trying to understand the factors that motivate people to read, comment on, and initiate conversations in shared workspaces. In particular, what triggers the leap from observing to participating? Because the real value is in creating new knowledge, not just warehousing what you already know.