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The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections — Collaborating Effectively through Wikis

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo & SurroundingsEarlier on today, and through various different sources, both inside and outside the firewall, I got alerted by several folks on the latest blog post put together by Andy McAfee on a very thought-provoking, insightful, and dear to my heart, topic, that I thought I would share over here a few more insights on it, since a bunch of the folks who told me about it indicated how Andy might have called me out for my endeavour on living "A World Without Email".

The title of the article is "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Email" and I can certainly tell you it’s a very worthwhile read. It will make you think twice about how you may have viewed email as a collaboration tool all along. It will also make you question, as a social computing evangelist / enthusiast (If you are one), what you have been advocating all along with regards to email and its (mis)use within the corporate world, to the point where perhaps it is not such evil after all. I tell you, a very worthy read.

Now, I am already preparing a much lengthier response to Andy’s thoughtful article (I will probably be sharing it over the weekend, in case you are wondering…), but I thought I would put together a blog post on something that can certainly introduce quite a bit the main core idea that you will see on that extended response.

Andy comes to question whether e-mail has got a place in the current collaboration landscape within the enterprise, as perhaps the one and only that works, the one that cannot die, the one that knowledge workers cannot do without as an essential tool to collaborate and share their knowledge with their peers. In short, he comes to propose that those folks who have been saying that e-mail is nowadays pretty much dead, as a collaboration tool (After all, "Email is where knowledge goes to die" — does that quote ring a bell?), should probably cut off some slack and stop attacking it in the first place.

Like I said, I’m already putting together a much more extended response than this one, but I thought I would get the conversation going questioning the validity of email as a collaboration tool altogether (which is not the same as communication either, by the way!). If you have been following my project on living "A World Without Email", you will know how all along, for the last 19 months, and going!, I have never mentioned that email is dead. Quite the opposite. I still see plenty of value in using email as a communication tool for one-on-one confidential / sensitive exchanges as well as to process calendaring and scheduling events altogether.

However, during that time that I have been doing this, I’m now more convinced than ever before that for the rest of the various different interactions email is as bad as it can get. So why don’t we see that with a story? With a hilarious one actually. One of those scenarios that I am sure everyone can relate to, because we may all have experienced it a couple of times already. Perhaps far too often even!

No, not to worry, I won’t try to kill e-mail right away (Like I said, I still see the value of it. Very much so!), I am way beyond that level. What I’m going to share with you is a story that will explain, very nicely, why its misuse keeps falling short of everyone’s expectations as a powerful collaborative and knowledge sharing tool.

Actually, it’s not one story, but three. All coming from the same source, my fellow IBM colleague Jean Francois Chenier, who over the last few weeks has put together a series of video clips under the heading "The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections", demonstrating, very effectively, why email does not cut it any more in our current collaboration landscape.

If you remember, I have already blogged about episodes #1 (See "The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections – On the Misuse of Email" for more information) and #2 (See "The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections – On the Business Case for Corporate Blogging" for more details) and it is now the turn of episode #3: "The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections — Collaborating Effectively through Wikis".

In this particular video clip put together by Jean Francois, and over the course of nearly 6 minutes, you will see that particular scenario where I was mentioning what group collaboration has been all along (Not a pleasant experience, as you’re about to watch. Quite the opposite!), and what it would be like by making use of something so relatively simple as a wiki. Yes, a wiki. That online web collaborative space where people can keep adding content top of each other’s content in a very open and transparent manner.

Not to worry, I’m not going to spoil the contents of the video for you. I would just ask you to sit back, relax, and watch through it. Not only will you be nodding, like crazy, all along agreeing with most of the various different points that are made throughout the video, but you will also have a really good laugh. Once again Jean Francois has done a terrific job in describing, very faithfully, some of the most fundamental flaws behind email as a collaboration tool, in my opinion. But I will let you go and watch the clip, so that you can have a look and judge for yourself:

So, after watching all the three different episodes I’m sure you will probably understand a little better why I still keep going further with this endeavour of living "A World Without Email"; not really because of email itself as a system to communicate effectively, but more because I don’t feel it is very good as a tool that will allow me to collaborate, share my knowledge across and innovate with all knowledge workers and my peers. More than anything else now, because we have been misusing it all along! And in cases pretty badly, too!

And that’s just what I keep fighting against. Not the tool itself, but how we keep on misusing it, left and right, to no avail. So, over 19 months ago, it was about time for me to say "STOP! Think before you fire a new memo. There may be a better way. Let’s find it! Together!" And after having said that, even more, after having lived through it all along till today, there is no way that I would go back! No way!

I saw the light. I saw how I stopped getting headaches, or getting stressed repeatedly for something that was always out of my control or having that strong sense of not being productive enough (Because my inbox was being used as a delegation machine by the rest of the world! Literally!) and so forth! Just like the man in the video I learned to stop worrying about email and eventually moved away to more proper collaboration and knowledge sharing tools: social software.

(Like I said, I will be responding to Andy’s blog post with a bit more detail later on this week… for now let’s go and enjoy "The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections" — episode #3 and see how much you could relate to the story shared… Or not.)

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When Wikis Won’t Work: 10 Questions to Ask Before Full Adoption

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In the past you would remember how I have been talking about wikis over here to reflect how they are some of the most interesting and refreshing social software tools out there to help boost knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst different teams, communities and whatever other groups. I am a big advocate of them more than anything else because of the strong capabilities they offer to help democratise the way knowledge workers get to share their knowledge with others and collaborate with one another.

However, one has got to realise that wikis may not be the ultimate solution for each and every single scenario while trying to address a specific problem. And that is exactly what Lucas McDonnell has tried to put together over at When Wikis Won’t Work: 5 Questions to Ask. Lucas references a previous blog post put together by Doug Cornelius under the title "Getting Wikis to Work" after commenting on CNN Money’s "Why Commercial Wikis Don’t Work" and which I will be talking about at some point in time. Not to worry.

The interesting thing from Lucas is that he ventures to put together five different questions that knowledge workers should ask in order to establish whether they would need to use a wiki or not. So in a way, he is already helping out folks identify whether wikis would meet their needs or not by answering those questions. To help speed things into what those questions may well be, here you have got them:

"1. Is a wiki the best technology for what I am seeking to accomplish?
2. Is my community cohesive and focused enough to be able to work together?
3. Am I asking my community to create a universal truth based on tangible facts?
4. Is my community going to be able to agree on these facts?
5. Is my community both knowledgeable and interested about the subject of the wiki?"

I must say that while I was going through the blog post, and the different questions mentioned above, there were a number of other questions that popped into my mind and which I always ask different knowledge workers, and their communities, before they would start making use of their own wiki. So I thought about creating a follow up weblog post where I could mention those additional 5 questions and make a list of 10 questions to find out whether your team or your community needs a wiki or not to help improve the already existing collaborative efforts.

Yes, that is right. This is a weblog post to indicate how despite all of the buzz and hype around wikis they may not well be your best tool after all. At least, for that particular task. Thus without much further ado, here you have got the additional five questions I would ask as well on whether people would need to have a wiki or not:

1. Does my team / community have got the necessary resources to support and facilitate the participation on the wiki?
2. Is the team / community capable of maintaining the wiki with a robust enough infrastructure?
3. Do team / community members trust each other good enough to be able to update content on top of each other’s content without risking the quality of the knowledge shared?
4. Will the team / community provide the necessary education and training materials on how to effectively make use of the wiki for that specific purpose?
5. And, finally, the killer question: can the team / community perform that task at hand with the same quality and participation using other tools than a wiki? If so, why don’t you would use whichever of those tools?

As you would be able to see, those are some questions that I get to use myself on a daily basis to help guide different knowledge workers on whether they would be ready to adopt a wiki for their daily interactions or not. One of the interesting points from those questions that I try to make time and time again is that I try not to position wikis as the killer application for whatever the scenario or whatever the purpose. Adopting social software does not necessarily mean that you would have to leave whatever you have been doing before in the past, just because someone told you that you needed to be there. Social software needs to meet a set of requirements, of needs, that the group would need to be able to fix and if the current collaboration and knowledge sharing tools do not fit in the profile, then it would be when you can starting exploring those other possibilities.

In such a way that social software tools would become an enhancement of the already existing tools suite, because after all, why would you need to give up on what you have been using already with some good results, if you can improve even more that same experience by adopting different social computing tools, right?

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APQC KM & Innovation 2007 – “The Promise of Passion of Collective Wisdom … Through Wikis and the wiki Way” by Ann Majchrzak

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And so we carry on with more reviews from the different sessions I attended at the APQC KM & Innovation event in Houston back in May. And this time around attending one of the sessions, that I was surely looking forward to, and which would resonate quite a bit with you folks, since I have been talking about the same subject a few times over here already. Oh, and with perfect timing while the Enterprise 2.0 conference is taking place in Boston, which, by the way, I am hoping you are all catching up with as some of the conversations are incredibly exciting.

Yes, that is right! Ann Majchrzak‘s session was one of the very few that touched on the subject of social computing within the corporate world and how different businesses are making extensive use of it. In particular, this time around, of wikis. I was actually surprised about how there weren’t many sessions around the impact of social software within the enterprise, so this particular elective session from Ann was very much appreciated and refreshing!

I wish I were able to share the slide deck online. My comments in here are not going to make it much justice so I am hoping that at some point I may be able to bump into them and share them over here. But in her presentation Ann put together some really nice, brief and straight forward background as to what wikis are, how they operate and how different organisations are starting making heavy use of them. Yes, one of the reasons why I really enjoyed Ann’s pitch was the fact that she was using concrete real examples of how businesses are already making use of wikis in order to help boost their knowledge sharing and collaboration efforts for a wide range of different tasks: company intranet; distributed meeting coordination, project management and documentation, recruiting process management, competition tracking, bug tracking (Help Desk), CRM, etc. etc.

Really nice and an eye opener for those folks out there who may still be skeptic. But not to worry, it got better! Indeed, during the course of the session she actually shared some really good tips on how to get different wikis off to a great start! Here are some of the highlights she went through:

"- Start small with seeds
- Let anyone in
- Don’t duplicate content; point to shared content instead
- Don’t just add ideas, build on others
- Don’t just ask questions and criticise; build and evolve
- Revel in diversity of openness

Multi-user, evolutionary, error-correcting, knowledge integrating, idea-stretching"

From there onwards Ann mentioned a number of different reasons as to why wikis may just well be *that* quasi-perfect collaborative and knowledge sharing tool that you may have been looking for:

"* Coordination across time zones (vs. chat)
* Service entire enterprise of collaborators (vs. groupware)
* Encourage diverse knowledge sources (vs. portals)
* Allow lurkers (i.e. non-contributing readers) from anywhere
* Hi knowledge organisation and maintenance (vs. discussion forums)"

After showing those different reasons with some really good and crystal clear explanations we were off to check out through the different slides a good number of companies who are already using wikis both inside and outside of the firewall in order to encourage that non-hierarchical and democratic collaboration across the board. Quite interesting to see how a good bunch of these companies are already heavily involved with adopting wikis, and a clear sign that there is no way back. Almost everyone out there is testing the tools and see if they would meet their requirements and needs. And the good thing is that most businesses out there are trying them out to see if they would be able to help out improve the current knowledge sharing and collaboration tools suite as opposed to replace it, which is something that I have been saying myself for a while:

No need to kill the current collaborative tools suite in place, rather, much much better, augment it with what is coming up in the social software space!

Finally, after detailing some differences between the Shapers and the Adders and a brief description of  how they each contribute and regard a particular wiki she came to the following conclusion, which, I think, was right spot on!:

"We are just beginning to explore and exploit collaborative knowledge exchange, knowledge relationships, and the arising meta-knowledge"

Thus, who said that wikis didn’t have a chance within the corporate world? Who said that wikis are just fun tools with no further business value for the enterprise? Well, this is one of those presentations that will certainly prove otherwise, and, like I said, this weblog post does not make it any justice from the great stuff that Ann shared with us. At a later time in the conference, I had the chance to talk to her at the cocktail reception and the conversation on wikis, mashups and social computing was certainly one of the highlights of the event for me. Incredibly re-energising and very enlightening and educational. If you ever get a chance to listen to her, by all means, do! She has got a few things to say in this space, for sure!

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