Leaders are in the business of knowledge management and the use of digital media helps and hinders that management process. The observation about the use of email to manage knowledge made by a software usability expert, Merlin Mann, resonated with me in this weeks reading.
“Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What pile? It’s just a pebble!” (as cited in Shirky, 2008, p.94-95)
I often find myself having lunch with a pile of pebbles because the volume of email that I get as an administrator everyday. On the positive side, I get to read volumes of content and then filter the specific information that meets my needs. On the negative side, much of the content is not of high quality because the senders know that I can quickly and easily ask for additional information or delete the information. As a leader who wants to connect with colleagues, I am unable to respond in a timely and effective manner to all email and this causes me great frustration. Email fits the concept described by Shirky (2008) as publish, and then filter. In this case my co-workers publish and I filter.
As a former media dietitian, it has been fascinating to watch information flow move from broadcast media to social media. In 1997, I started doing “media tours” with all of the major media markets in Indiana. The objective of the media tour was to broadcast five to seven key nutrition messages through radio, television, and newspapers. These messages were pitched to the media as timely and unique stories that would have broad audience appeal. My goal was to deliver those five to seven messages into every media outlet within a one week time period. The idea here is if people hear the messages multiple times through multiple channels (television, radio, and print) they would begin to remember the message. This form of communication was one way and I got credit for the number of times I got the message delivered. In this model of delivering nutrition messages we chose very specific messages that had been through rigorous message testing to ensure that people understood the message we wanted them to hear.
I am no longer a media dietitian, but I still manage nutrition information (knowledge) just in different ways. My role now is to facilitate groupthink the way Dixon explains inclusion of cognitively diverse perspectives. I bring researchers, educators, practitioners, and clients together around community health needs using various tools including webinars, social media, email, and face-to-face meetings to consider nutrition and health issues and strategies for improvement. This flow of information does not test messages and push them to an audience; instead this method brings various expertise and experience together and builds knowledge based on various perspectives and inputs. The web-based tools make it possible for various stakeholders to form together regardless of location or expertise.
The web has created an opportunity to publish than filter through social media and other web-based tools. It seems that knowledge management should take advantage of this opportunity to bring diverse groups together around specific issues to have unfiltered conversations in an effort to better understand each other and the issues. As a leader in a large organization with various geographic locations, the use of web-based tools can facilitate these important conversations. The use of Yammer (the tool I researched last week) seems a perfect fit to facilitate the collective knowledge in my organization. If we moved to Yammer, perhaps I could join the conversation at lunch instead of having lunch with a pile of pebbles!
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin.