Personal knowledge management (PKM) is something that we all do all the time, but often take for granted. I suppose, in that respect, it’s not unlike the other 2 KMs, Big KM and Little KM. There is always (has always been) some kind of KM going around, but until it was brought into the foreground as a distinct topic we did not approach it intentionally. Intentionally, at a gross level, PKM is about the tools that we use and strategies we employ that make it easier for us to identify, locate, and process knowledge.
“Being unconscious about your tool set is unconscionable.” — Tony Karrer
The idea of personal knowledge management was initially related to personal information management. Perhaps some of you recall the the days when those devices, called PIMs, did not have telephones built in! In 2003-2004, Tom Davenport conducted research with the Information Work Productivity Council to look at the current state of knowledge workers with respect to their handling of personal information and knowledge. (See Thinking for a Living for more detail.) Addressing managers of corporations (for whom productivity is a business issue), Davenport summarized the key learnings as:
Individuals need to recognize how much of their time and productivity is tied up in PKM (the average user in the survey spent 40% of their time each day using technologies to process work-related information)
Companies need to realize that their workers are wasting lots of time trying to manage information and that better personal information management means greater organizational success
However as recently as March 2008, a LexisNexis productivity survey found that “sixty-two percent of professionals report that they spend a lot of time sifting through irrelevant information to find what they need.” What applies to knowledge workers inside corporations applies equally well to the community of independents.
Note that this study just preceded the explosion in the availability of Web 2.0 tools.So we have a lot more tools to manage our information but don’t appear to be much closer to becoming more productive. But productivity isn’t the only benefit of personal KM, especially as our world and our knowledge becomes more social and more fragmented.
I reviewed some of the great work done by colleagues on the topic over the past 5 years, and found some common threads.
Distinguish Skills from Tools
Tools enable us to augment our skills, or (as Steve Barth puts it): “PKM tools help an individual knowledge worker to automate, accelerate, augment, articulate and activate the information and the ideas that he or she works with every day to perform their job.” A critical set of seven skills (catalogued by Paul Dorsey at Milliken and written up by Steve) begins with Accessing Information and Ideas and concludes with Securing Information, and in between describes the skills of organizing, evaluating, analyzing, collaborating around, and conveying information.
So what are KM “tools?” Paper is still the key tool of preference for many; it supported information work for many centuries before the advent of the computer. But today we think more in terms of desktop productivity and personal content management applications (document processing,spreadsheet applications, file folders, desktop search, concept mapping tools, Internet browsers, specialized applications, and so on) and Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, RSS feeds and filters, microblogging, and so on).
(Tony Karrer’s Tool Set 2009 is a great place to start if you want to think from the purpose outward; that is, don’t start with the tool. This link is also the source of the quotation from Tony, above.)
Tool Selection is a Matter of Personal Preference
Tools are only as good as the skills that exist or evolve to make the best use of them. File folders, for example, are an excellent PKM tool, but people who don’t have experience or training in categorization may not find them very useful. These people (or people who can’t always remember their own classification schemes) may rely exclusively on a good desktop search tool to retrieve content when they want it.
People are not Born Knowing How to Use Tools
This is a phrase I use often when I talk with clients who are fretful about the adoption of their collaboration platforms. Training is not the only answer, of course, but the integration of the tool into the knowledge processes, and adequate time for users to become comfortable with the tool is a big step. (I am probably showing my age here, as I should probably say — in light of Gens Y and Z, that “people were not always born knowing how to use tools.” Sigh.)
The more tools we have ready to hand as we work, the more productive and effective we can be. But all of knowledge workers know that we probably use only a fraction of the features of any one of our favorite tools. One of the best PKM practices I know is to set aside even 10 minutes a day to explore a new tool or a new feature of a tool that you already use. The payoff can be huge.
Distinguish the Private from the Social
Harold Jarche has developed a model for thinking about PKM in terms of the internal knowledge activities (sort, categorize, make explicit, retrieve) and the external activities (connect, exchange, and contribute). He goes on to list which social tools support internal activities vs. external activities; for example he aligns the use of social bookmarks (deli.cio.us and Diigo) as follows:
(It’s a nicely done piece of work. You should go look at the whole thing.)
This idea of connecting and exchanging as part of personal knowledge management has been well developed by another colleague who has been writing about PKM for years, Dave Pollard.In his talk at KMWorld last year, he described the shift in knowledge management as:
from content & collection to context & connection
In this sense, all KM (big and little) needs to think about personal KM at the center. On the content side, everyone manages their own content which (in Dave’s words) is “just-in-time and harvestable.” Another key component is to set mechanisms in place for people to connect. Canvassing for expertise is one mechanism — “old fashioned” Listservs are still good for this; expertise location capabilities in social networking platforms represent a slightly new wave — as are processes and mechanisms for telling and sharing stories about experiences and sense-making methods.
The Leader’s Net Work and Personal Net Work
The great shift in the world of KM has been the recognition that knowledge about people and context can be more important than content knowledge. To ensure that knowledge flows — is created and accessible — across an organization requires work on the part of the organization’s leadership. What I call the leader’s “net work” are those sets of activities that ensure that strong networks will support individuals and ultimately the organization:
Network intentionally and practice network stewardship
Create the capacity for net work — encourage people to think about “context & connection” and make it easy for them to build their networks (with and without technology)
I will have more to say about “personal net work” at the Boston KM Forum on October 22 (which is all about personal knowledge management). I’ll write about that here as well.
Conclusion: The 3 KMs
Selecting one of the 3 KMs is not an either/or/or. As in economics and practically everything else, it depends. Different purposes, the target audience, and available resources will guide the approach that is used. To recap:
Big KM is about top-down, structured and organizationally distinct “knowledge management”
Little KM is about safe-fail experiments embedded in the organizational structure
Personal KM is about access to tools and methods to ensurethat knowledge, context, bits, fragments, thoughts, ideas are harvestable
In this last, the role of the corporation in supporting KM then becomes facilitating personal content management, providing methods (and training) to support information processing, and providing a rich and integrated infrastructure for employees to use the personal content management and the social tools that make sense for each them, their teams, and their communities.
Social media holds great advantages, whether for improving internal collaboration, communication and social learning, or for building and enhancing trust through more responsive communications with key stakeholders and clients. Unfortunately, some organisations still hold onto a number of fears that hold them back from utilising these tools:
1. Employees will waste time
Fear: Employees will waste time regardless of whether social computing tools are available to them or not.
Fact: Research from MIT notes that 40% of employees productivity is directly explained by the amoung of communication they have with others to discover, gather and internalise information. Employees with the most extensive digital networks are 7% more productive than their colleagues. 
2. Social media is for kids
Fear: Social media is used by a lot of kids, therefore it is only a toy and not to be taken seriously for assessment as a business tool.
Fact: Use of internet technologies has its highest penetration rates in the 15-17 y.o. demographic — 83.9% in Australia. The next highest usage is by 35-44 y.o.’s with 74.1% penetration, followed by 18-24 at 72.8% and 25-34 at 71%. Overall, 76% of Australian adults use social media at least monthly . Age demographics from the world’s hottest social media platforms also support this finding.Overall, the use of Web 2.0 technologies internationally has grown rapidly in the last few years with an increase in from approximately 0.5 billion to 0.67 billion participants between 2007 and 2008. Research by Nielsen in 2009  showed that use of Web 2.0 websites is now more popular than email with an estimated growth three times as fast as the pace of general online growth. Importantly, the survey shows that rather than the province of the young, the biggest increase in use of Web 2.0 websites in 2009 comes from the 35-49 year old age group – an increase in 11.3 million people.The highlights from Nielsen’s report:
Global share of time accounted for by people using social media increased by 38%.
Men and women aged 65 and above moving to social media websites grew by 7 per cent
The 17-and-under category dropped by 9 per cent
3. We will lose control to the ’nutters’
Fear: If allowed to interact freely online, people will post spam and abuse online forums
Fact: In the wiki forum FutureMelbourne, the Melbourne city council in Australia engaged citizens to discern their view of the city in order to contribute to planning for the future. Their results may surprise some:
“We received over 7000 individual visits to the site and several hundred edits to the plan by members of the public. Not a single instance of spam, offensive or off-topic content was recorded during the consultation period. We employed a process of direct community management, directly engaging with citizens as edits were made, answering questions, referring them to the appropriate area of expertise or correcting formatting errors should they occur.” 
Developing a clear social media strategy and plan is the best way to achieve success. Rather than automatically implementing a program on the four major social media avenues — blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — it’s important to first step back and see what makes sense to reach your stakeholders and customers. Ultimately, because social media is about relationships, it is important to thoroughly understand what matters to them, rather than what is easiest for you.
In the end, having good, simple, and easy-to-understand policies for managing online communities with dedicated, trained people, is key to ensuring control remains with you. The policy should also encompass how your employees should interact with clients. If everything has to be vetted by legal and corporate comms, though, before a conversation can take place, though, you’ll be dooming the venture before it begins.
4. Social media is a security risk
Fear: Employees will share the organisations IP or say something that could land the company in legal trouble if they depart from their traditional editorial control processes. A study from Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law finds that 81% of companies believe social media is a corporate security risk. As a result, many organisations place a blanket ban on all social media platforms.
Fact: [find the WW2 posters]Despite this fear from corporate heads, the study also found that 69 percent of those surveyed said they did not have a written social media policy in place. Of this group, 25 percent said they were unsure what the policy should include while 9 percent said it was unimportant.
5. There is no clear ROI
Fear: What we’ve done has worked til now, there’s no reason to change!
Fact: With Baby Boomers about to retire from the workforce that leaves Gen-Xs to move into senior management and Gen-Ys into positions of power. One thing we know for certain about these later two demographics is that they’re very technology literate. This, of course, has its consequences for the workplace and how organisations communicate with their stakeholders.The importance of the adoption of these tools within organisations is highlighted by a Telindus survey of more than 1,000 European office workers. The survey found that employees have begun to expect that the Web 2.0 tools they use at home will now be available in their workplace:
39% of 18 to 24 year-olds would consider leaving if they were not allowed to access sites like Facebook and YouTube
A further 21% indicated that they would feel ‘annoyed’ by such a ban
The problem is less acute with 25 to 65 year-olds, of whom just 16% would consider leaving and 13% would be annoyed
These expectations are generated because individuals use these tools in their personal lives to help them process data effectively and reduce information overload . This need is all the more important in a work context, therefore, where business silos and network drives make it all the more difficult to share knowledge, communicate information, and collaborate. Web 2.0 tools can help essentially because they are designed to enable people to collaborate more efficiently, preserve and share corporate knowledge, and thereby reduce expenses.
No ROI? What price do you put on keeping your workforce?
Proceeding from fear to managing these aspects of social computing as risks is the obvious next step.
- – - -
1. Bulleit, B. 2006. Effectively managing team conflict. Cary, NC: Global Knowledge Training LLC
2. Analysis of ABS cat no. 8146.0 and ABS cat no. 3201.0
3. The Nielsen Company, 2009. Social networks & blogs now 4th most popular online activity, ahead of personal email, News Release. New York, NY. 9 March.
4. Dale Bowerman comments to Atkins, D. 2008. Using a Wiki to Improve Town Governance, 9 Jan. Online at: blog.davewrites.com/index.php/2008/01/09/using_a_wiki_to_improve_town_governance#c886
5. Robert Half Technology, 2009. CIOs Weigh in on most popular communication tools at work, 7 Aug. Online at: http://www.roberthalftechnology.com/portal/site/rht-us/menuitem.8e8f9ba1fb1aaad656932a0202f3dfa0/?vgnextoid=368b9926053d8010VgnVCM1000002d3ffd0aRCRD&javax.portlet.prp_392cb099d6a955fd8bbe7a8902f3dfa0_request_type=RenderPressRelease&javax.portlet.prp_392cb099d6a955fd8bbe7a8902f3dfa0_releaseId=2301
By now, everyone has probably heard of Google Wave, the innovative communications and collaboration tool that’s been turning heads since it debuted last May. With its rich feature set, it definitely seems to have a promising future, both for consumers and the enterprise. However, the thing that struck me most about Google Wave is that it’s not just an application, but a powerful open platform.
This means that APIs can extend its functionalities even more, in ways faster and more creative than if Google decided to keep it inside a walled garden. Since its launch, thousands of eager developers have been given an access pass for testing, and the company has held events to sustain interest in the platform, as well as showcase what the community has done so far. Here are some of the more enterprise-friendly extensions under development today from the Google Wave gallery:
Twiliobot. This extension uses the Twilio Phone API to recognize phone numbers in a wave, making them clickable links. If the user selects one of these links, the number is dialed (click-to-call). The conversation can be recorded and transcribed automatically, with the text available for pasting back into the wave. Twiliobot can be further enhanced to include a voicemail manager.
Groupy-the-bot. A wave robot for creating and managing groups using Python. It also has a web interface to make management easier. Administrators can add new groups, remove a group, add someone to a group, remove someone from a group, moderate add request, etc. When finished, this should be very useful for project collaboration.
MediaWiki Wave. Enables you to embed Google Waves inside wikis. Part of an initiative to improve the usability of the MediaWiki engine for editors. It adds Wave’s real-time collaboration, unlimited viewable versioning and WYSIWYG editor to an already popular platform.
Checky. A clean and simple checklist gadget. It takes its inspiration from Basecamp’s to-do lists, supporting drag and drop. Checky offers just a glimpse of how PIM (Personal Information Management) can be integrated into Google Wave.
Apart from these, there are even some games and musical extensions being created. It seems the only limit to Google Wave is the developers’ imagination. During the Google I/O Conference, the team behind Google Wave was clear that they wanted to involve the developer community early so that by the time the service is ready for public use, a good number of extensions can go along with it. Perhaps this is part of their learning experience with the Chrome browser, and I think it’s a great decision on their part.
As many of you will know, there’s been a debate going on for some time now about the relative effectiveness and the ROI of formal and informal learning (formal learning being structured-and-scheduled courses and other measurable forms of content delivery, informal learning being the myriad ways people exchange information that becomes incorporated into one’s perspective or ways of doing things).
This debate has been intensified by the growing presence and uptake of collaborative platforms which seek to engage peoples’ social tendencies and mimic the ways they interact with information and each other to get things done.
The points made by these three executives from T Rowe Price, Sun Microsystems and Booz Allen Hamilton aren’t new to those of us who have been following and facilitating the uptake of this new generation of knowledge work tools and methods.
They do, however, underscore how clear it is that the dynamics spawned by a half-decade’s experience with social computing and social networks will undergo a massive migration into the knowledge workplace of the near future.
Learning Executives Discuss Social Learning at the ASTD 2009 International Conference
I’d saved a wonderful story by Michael Idinopulos of Socialtext about how moving from a shared space to private offices (What my Granddaddy Taught me about Information Flow). In the days before computers, brokers worked in a large open space in which information moved vary rapidly from one end of the floor to another. When the office layout was changed to give more people private offices and people began focusing their attention on their PCs, people “…lost the ability to communicate, and nobody had the slightest idea what was going on.”
You can’t read the story, of course without catching on that the open office floor in which information moves in waves is a lot like Web 2.0. From our PC (and Mac!) silos, we are finally liberated and can catch the breath of new ideas rolling over our shared spaces. This is happening, outside.
Inside, adoption of Web 2.0 tools is not so much of a wave as a trickle. Inside companies, managers think about technologies in terms of security (bring it inside) and cost (it costs money to maintain something inside, so we can’t let people use free tools. [Hat tip to John Bordeaux for pointing to the irony in this story.]).
Inside, we deal with a series of waves, incremental introductions of technology and Web 2.0 services and look for the best way to encourage adoption. I’m guilty myself of responding to clients’ reason for lack of adoption as “the culture” when it can often be the manner in which the new tool was introduced, or a lack of attention to the user interface/experience.
Adoption and culture being very much on my mind, I was interested to see Hutch Carpenter‘s post in the Social Computing Journal Enterprise 2.0: Culture is as Culture Does. He argues that most companies are ready for social software at least to the extent that they acknowledge that employees are their most important asset.
He goes on to put together a wonderful graphic illustrating two paths to adoption of social tool pilots. He anchors the flow chart by two decision points.
Defined use case? is the determinant of whether adoption goes in an official or a viral flow. This assumes that a well-defined use case has proven business value and that undefined use cases may not. I agree that for a successful pilot in an organization, the defined “use case” must be centered around teams or groups that are engaged in some joint activity that requires flow of information.
Exceed expectations? is the measurement that occurs when the two flows come back together and employee feedback has been processed. This decision point really implies that there is a funding decision to be made at this point.
Enterprise 2.0: Pilot Deployment Flow
There’s some good stuff in this diagram, and it’s flexible enough for adapting to specific circumstances. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if, at the dawn of the PC era, Michael’s Granddaddy had through to work through the use cases of how PCs would affect the information flow on the trading floor.
At the Razorfish 9th Annual Client Summit, I presented five big ideas for social influence marketing. These were ideas that I felt would matter in the next two years. The audience for the presentation was 600 senior marketers but the ideas I emphasized have relevance to all decision makers within an organization. Here’s the presentation with the five ideas. Let me know what you think.
“Twitter customer service: It’s the hot new thing that all the kids are doing! Salesforce has added a new application to its “app exchange” so that clients who use its Service Cloud product can better wrangle Twitter for customer service purposes. It’ll be available this summer.
With the app, called Salesforce CRM for Twitter, clients can monitor Twitter messages that pertain to their company, aggregate the replies and conversations around those messages, and then respond to the inquiries and complaints and whatnot.
Be sure to catch Bill Ives' ongoing review series in which he looks at online, sharable database apps. The focus of Bill's reviews: web-based business software that enables companies and individuals to better organize, track, and share information, as well as better manage projects, processes and workflows.
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The AppGap is a blog and resource on the future of work and how new tools are addressing age-old challenges of organization, collaboration, and innovation. But it is also an idea: that there remains a gap between the toolset that exists and what's needed...
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