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Deliberate serendipty

March 17, 2014

A chance encounter with key information in her own organization makes a manager wince with lament about lost opportunity. On a teleconference call with her team, a manager learns in casual conversation that one of her employees has some key experience that was unknown to the team.

Is there a more systematic way to surface this type of information in a team? in a company? across a business? Yes of course but it is not easy to do effectively.

The many years of forced march with knowledge management systems that no one kept up to date have given way to a more fluid sharing of knowledge through more informal systems, facilitated by easier social collaboration tooling – namely, blogs, wikis, communities, activity streams, photosharing, etc. But the tricks to getting the right information out of these systems are challenging, too – what information is worthy of attention, how to get busy people to participate, and how to evaluate whether time spent on these endeavors is worthwhile.

At IBM I worked on these issues in several capacities. The central problems we addressed were finding expertise and finding information in a company of 400K+ people, and then, once that was humming, to extend it to the ecosystem of customers and partners so all could engage with each other. I managed programs to train IBM employees on the art of collaboration and built evangelism communities to support the programs when it quickly became clear this was about behavior change, not tools. We were challenged by what to measure – activity measures such as likes or followers only tell you so much – and I think the industry as a whole is still searching for viable metrics.

The biggest lesson learned is how much deliberate effort it takes to create serendipity when you have a busy, often virtual, workforce. But once people experience the benefit of collaboration in a connection made, or time saved, or a win because someone has the right info at the right time – it is a very powerful endorsement for expending that effort.

From → Collaboration

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