E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Open Business – From Document-Centric to People-Centric Collaboration

Gran Canaria - Roque BentaygaLately, I have been thinking quite a bit around the topic of Social / Open Business Transformation. Something completely different to what we may have experienced so far in the last three to four years on living social for the sake of social, which is perhaps what we pretty much keep seeing today all over the place. Instead, I keep pondering about how we can transform and redefine the way we do business through our day to day workflow(s) and if there is an idea that keeps coming back stronger by the day is that one of perhaps facilitating the transition from document-centric collaboration into a people-centric one. Essentially, making the successful transition from content is king to people AND their conversations are king.

This whole reflection was triggered, once more, when earlier on today I bumped into this rather intriguing and refreshing article by Conor Neill under the heading “Amazon Staff Meetings: “No PowerPoint”” where it comments how Amazon apparently no longer advocates for PowerPoint-led meetings and instead they require people to read memos, while present at the meetings, as an opportunity to elaborate deeper thoughts and perhaps a bit more involvement from the meeting attendees themselves while going through a specific set of agenda items. Somehow I still feel that I’m missing something on that approach to transform how we work through the meetings we held till I eventually remembered this brilliant article by Aleh Cherp where he states what I think is the main problem with that document-centric computing we all seem to be very good at. To quote: 

Les Posen, a psychologist and the author of Presentation Magic recently hosted on MPU Episode 111 explained this point very well. He said that the presentations are becoming a de-personalized knowledge transfer tool, supposed to be used without seeing or listening to the presenter. Such presentations can be sent around so that even other people can speak to the same ‘powerpoints’. People become unnecessary. ‘Powerpoints’ become omnipresent and omnipotent. This is where the frontline of the battle is, not whether to choose Mac or PC but whether to respect your topic and your audience so highly as not to leave them to the mercy of power points.” [Emphasis mine]

How spot on! What a superb observation! Nothing more to add, really.

This is exactly the point where plenty of our document-centric social collaboration keeps failing to deliver, time and time again, in terms of helping us out provoke that social / open business transformation we are all embarked on and where people are right at the centre of the equation, and very much needed, still. Apparently, it’s not happening, because we all keep being engaged on the influx of exchanging attachments, presentations, documents, spreadsheets, etc. that been sent around through either traditional tools like *cough* email *cough* or Instant Messaging or, even worse, through social file sharing services. 

As such, it looks like we are ignoring people, but, most worrying, we are ignoring their conversations and their rapid, free access to information in order to make better decisions, without having to handle additional frictions. Have you measured the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours we spend every year just processing attachments or shared documents, when, for instance, we could have used that precious time for something much more relevant and insightful? Don’t worry, I know it’s just too mind-boggling to even think about that, but you know what I mean. Yes, indeed, “The root of suffering is attachment” – The Buddha, as my good friend, Prof. Paul Jones wonderfully stated a few days back.

Now, imagine this, imagine that use case scenario where we obviously have the need to generate a specific piece of content and to share it with others. Imagine that instead of just trapping that knowledge inside a document-based format, which is always going to be tougher to process and digest accordingly, we actually decide to set it up out there, free from any restrictions or unnecessary frictions, through the use of social software tools like blogs, wikis, forums, activities, social bookmarks, and what not. Imagine if instead of being stuck trying to open up a document, you have its contents readily available on that one single pager (Or maybe two) and you would just need to do a single click, and you are there. 

Imagine that. Just for a minute, and while you keep elaborating further up on that thought, let me tell you what would happen: people-centric computing (Or collaboration around and amongst people, for that matter). Indeed, people, all of a sudden, become the centre of attention. Specially, the conversations they are entertaining with other collaborators around that specific piece of content stored on a Web site (a blog post, a link, a wiki page, an activity) where all of a sudden knowledge transfer accelerates tremendously, where frictions are non-existent and where everyone participating from that set of interactions are on the same page. When was the last time that you had that happening around a document itself without wondering who may have the latest copy, or how many duplicates are out there, or who should be updating what content in that document based on the feedback scattered all over the place? 

This is actually one of the many reasons why about two years ago I decided to declare war on document-centric computing, specially, for public speaking events when the output was going to be trapped in a file. Why should we? Why can’t we just elaborate on our thoughts through all of these powerful social collaboration tools that have got almost no friction in terms of helping accelerate our decision making process by not just having the right information at the right time, but also with the right audiences, i.e. your peers (colleagues, customers, or business partners) engaging on some meaningful conversations to get our work done. 

Right there I was reminded about this brilliant quote from David Whyte, shared across by John Kellden over in Google Plus, which I thought was just right on the money, once again: 

You do not have a conversation to get work done; the conversation is the work

And in our social / open business transformation, that’s perhaps the main problem that we have in terms of why we may not have moved from Social into Open, from Social into Work, from Social documents into People. 

Fortunately, this one is an easy one to address. At least, I think so. People keep saying that practitioners who would want to shine and thrive around Social / Open Business need to put together a good bunch of relevant and insightful use cases that would help them progress further with that transformation. Well, next time that you are required, or requested to trap your own knowledge into a file, think about it twice. Think about how perhaps you could achieve that very same goal through the use of a blog post, or a microblog entry, or a wiki page, or just an activity. Whatever. Just think that next time that someone asks you to document something, you may as well come back stating that, instead, you want to have a conversation about a post you shared online in your favourite social networking space for business. 

Chances are that, right there, without you not knowing, you may have just gotten started with your own Social / Open Business Transformation. One that would affect not just your day to day work interactions, but also those from those knowledge workers around you. And that’s when things would get really interesting, because we would then finally be able to confirm that that transformation happens through our very own behaviours and mindset, which is what open business is all about. The technology, finally, will become what it should have been all along: an enabler to facilitate conversations amongst knowledge workers to get that activity, that ask, done in a timely and effective manner.

That doesn’t seem to be that difficult, don’t you think? Thus what are you waiting for to put together that blog post or that other wiki page? 

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  1. Thank you Luis for posting these great thoughts. My latest experience is that by the time something is documented (even if it has been well thought and peer reviewed) it is already obsolete… One should be open for continuous enhancements and improvements… and in the end we build together the future by our undocumented “experience”. So, I would see the future as “facilitating the right conversations” which realizes the “conversation is the work”. The inititial difficulty I see here is to convince superiors that this is the work… Any ideas on this?
    PS 1: avoid endless and pointless power-showing business meetings
    PS 2: there are cases that documenting is a must e.g. next generations shall avoid remaking our mistakes…

    1. Hi Aristeidis, much appreciated the kind feedback comments and thanks for dropping by! Oh, gosh, absolutely spot on with this remark > “ One should be open for continuous enhancements and improvements“. In fact, one of the main KM principles from way way back (circa 18 years) is that the moment you hit *Publish* on whatever the piece of content you may be trying to share across, the moment that piece is out of date, obsolete and antiquated. Just like that!

      I think the convincing to executives needs to come from having them on board from that same user experience of focusing on the conversations vs. the .PPTs. What’s happening is that they are perhaps a bit too comfortable in their own spaces consuming those .PPTs where they would require little work / effort, whereas in a conversation there is a whole lot more to build on, based on how to keep it up, draw the business value, iterate and relate it to work items.

      PS 1 sounds like a plan and I am actually working on that one myself. I am putting together a blog post where I am sharing how social networks do help reduce quite dramatically the time you spend on meetings, so that would be helpful to share across. Hoping to do so soon enough!

      On PS 2. true, don’t take me wrong, we have a need to document, but what what I am after is reducing the frictions, the countless ones, of having to handle attachments, when that documentation can happen through wikis, blogs, microblogs, social bookmarks, activities and what not… That’s where we need to aim at the moment… Break down the silo created by the document and free up the information through these digital tools.

      It’s about time that we challenge the status quo of documents and instead embrace open knowledge sharing and collaboration.

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