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Overcoming Barriers to Change

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
248

Folks:

The posting below looks at the fascinating idea of that instead of being

smarter about information we need information to be smarter about us. The

abstract is prepared by Dr. Ade Mabogunje of the Stanford University

Learning Laboratory (SLL) and under the direction of Dr. John Nash. It is

another in a series of learning summaries prepared regularly by the Lab. All

abstracts in this series are copyright ?1999 Board of Trustees Leland

Stanford Junior University.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Adapting to Change

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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MAKING E-MAIL SMARTER ABOUT US

Assessment Abstract Series #3 - Learning organizations

 

Abstracted by Dr. Ade Mabogunje

Stanford Learning Lab

Tacit Knowledge Systems, Inc. "Making E-mail Smarter About

US," International Data Corporation White Paper

Executive Summary

All across the corporate landscape, boardrooms are buzzing about knowledge.

It's a subject that inspires great controversy, because we don't know how to

capitalize on knowledge, yet we are convinced that it is the key to future

competitiveness. Furthermore, we are painfully aware of how much knowledge

we possess yet fail to use throughout our organizations. New capabilities

are therefore needed in order to provide coordinated resources for creating,

sharing, and improving the enterprise IQ. Tacit Knowledge Systems has

developed a new way to harvest one of the most widely used and baldly

managed sources of corporate knowledge--e-mail.

Background:

In the new information economy, industry leaders will be the companies that

quickly customize their offerings to suit the individual needs of each

customer across the widest variety of market segments. The basis of

competition is the knowledge gap between how well you understand your

customers' businesses and how well your competition understands them.

Survival depends on the efficiency with which you acquire and share this

expertise. The cumulative knowledge of the whole organization, no matter how

large or widely dispersed, must always be available to every individual

working for it and by association, available to its customers. Two factors

determine whether your company is on the leading or trailing edge of the

knowledge gap: business culture and information systems. Culture plays a

critical role because innovation and competitive leadership require an

ability not only to tolerate change, but to encourage it. The second

component is the infrastructure that provides, manages, and processes

information. However, after plugging in all the information available to us

through reports, EDI, image, fax, and the Internet, we have discovered that

our existing systems and existing organizations are ill-equipped to keep

pace. We cannot process and respond to information as fast as it pours in.

As a result, the key to defining the leading edge of the knowledge gap in

your industry is the ability to effectively assimilate information into your

organizations. This cannot be accomplished without both cultural and

information processing leadership.

Content Explosion:

We are in the midst of an extraordinary explosion of content. The

International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that the amount of information

available on corporate intranets will grow by a factor of more than 37 in

just the four years from 1998-2002. Obviously, something very significant is

happening and new opportunities will arise for those prepared to recognize

and adapt to this new world order. We can no longer look at everything and

choose what we want. Every single drop of information shooting through those

electronic fire hoses must automatically go where it is most needed even if

that means it must be in dozens of different places for dozens of different

reasons. The only practical solution to this problem is to make each drop of

information smarter about the organization into which it has just arrived.

Instead of being smarter about information we need information to be smarter

about us.

Types of Knowledge: The knowledge management industry has established two

primary categories of knowledge:

* Explicit

* Tacit

Explicit knowledge is everything that we have recorded somewhere, in other

words, information. Explicit information tends to come in two familiar

forms: structured and unstructured. Figure 1 [NOT AVAILABLE IN THIS MESSAGE]

depicts the spectrum of explicit resources.)

Tacit comprises everything we hold in our heads: ideas, facts, stories,

biases, misconceptions, know how, networks of friends and acquaintances, as

well as our latent ability to invent solutions to problems we haven't faced

before. It is valuable to define a third type of knowledge for the purposes

of this paper. Private knowledge is information that users may be unwilling

to publish but may still be willing to share- under appropriate

circumstances. Private knowledge can include valuable opinions, incomplete

work, confidential or sensitive information, or any other knowledge which,

for whatever reason, may not be suitable for publishing or capture into a

content repository.

Traditional approaches to information technology and corporate management

have failed to effectively harness the power of tacit and private knowledge,

largely because it was inaccessible and prohibitively expensive to make

explicit. We are now discovering that with new tools and techniques tacit

knowledge can be facilitated, drawn out, and converted into explicit

knowledge. The result is that as each individual's expertise and experience

grows, so does that of the whole organization.

The E-mail Exception:

There is a challenging exception to this seemingly well defined division

between explicit and tacit knowledge- e-mail. The reason e-mail is a unique

case is because despite the fact that e-mail is written correspondence and

thus by definition explicit, the knowledge contained in e-mail repositories

is not available to the organization at large. Therefore e-mail exists as a

vastly underutilized tacit resource with regard to the organization. Of

course, there are good reasons why e-mail is not public domain:

* Privacy

* Pollution

* Disorganization

Privacy, personal use, and security are all extremely powerful cultural and

legal barriers to making e-mail an explicit resource. We all know that our

inboxes are "polluted" with all sorts of useless information. However, as

with the web, where noise, silence and redundancy are rampant, just because

the good stuff is hard to find does not mean it is not worth the effort of

finding it. E-mail is also a tremendously disorganized and fragmented

resource. Individuals make their own rules about how they use email, how

they manage e-mails, and which e-mails they save and delete. This individual

email control is an immutable fact of email and for traditionally

centralized approaches to information management, represents an

insurmountable obstacle to leveraging e-mail content. Despite these

challenges, e-mail represents an extremely valuable source of corporate

knowledge. Critical decisions, ideas, and services are increasingly

developed and delivered via e-mail. This activity represents the freshest,

most current activity of your business. E-mail is thus potentially a

treasure trove of best practices, insights, and innovations that could all

be re-purposed and used by individuals with similar business situations. It

then makes sense to include the e-mail repository as an important asset to

any knowledge management initiative.

Making E-mail Smarter about Us:

It is a bit ironic, perhaps, that the secret to opening e-mail to the

organization lies not in compromising user controls, but in increasing them.

Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. (Tacit) has developed software that utilizes

this radical idea in a number of powerfully intuitive ways. Tacit provides a

platform that monitors users' e-mail to discover and profile the knowledge

and interest of the user. This is done within the privacy of each users'

personal profile. Users can then see a categorical description of the

content in their "private" profile and manually select terms in the profile

to promote their "public" profiles on the corporate intranet and therefore

publicly to the enterprise. Tacit then allows users to search the public

profiles with sophisticated search algorithms based on keywords or example

text.

Tacit also inter-mediates the exchange of "private" knowledge without

sacrificing user privacy. It allows users to query all of the private and

public profiles of their corporation, but the private knowledge holder must

first approve the release of their private information and identity. The

searcher is never informed of people who match based on the private file

until such time as the recipient user chooses to be revealed.

Private Content, Public Concept:

With new capabilities to "read", classify, tag, and associate everything

employees do, aren't we crossing a cultural barrier for knowledge sharing?

No. We are moving to a model of computing that IDC calls "Private Content,

Public Concept." This model allows privacy at any level, from individual to

department. For example, suppose a product engineering team is working on a

new application for creating artificial muscle with electronically

stimulated Gore-Tex fibers. They may want to know if any other of the

hundreds of engineering teams in the company have worked on similar or

related applications. The information from the other teams, however, may

only be shared at the individual or project team level and to the whole

through "public concept." Access to these knowledge holders and objects they

contain is controlled by the private content owners. But they can now be

contacted by others in the organization, through the public concept, to ask

about the nature of each other¼s work. It is up to the private knowledge

holders to decide to formalize the relationship and to what degree. The

result is the immediate application of organizational learning when and

where it is needed, instead of discovering expensively redundant efforts

months or years after the fact.

This "Private Concept/Public Concept" approach simultaneously addressed the

privacy, pollution, and disorganization issues associated with e-mail. Users

themselves decide what to make public and furthermore, must take a

deliberate action to authorize public awareness of profiles built from their

own work. They are then granted a second authorization process so they know

exactly who is accessing their files and for what reasons. This should

satisfy even the staunchest defenders of personal privacy.

Conclusion

The information economy demands that companies attain new levels of

efficiency for using information. Traditional approaches have laid a

foundation for gathering, processing, and sharing information, but have

failed to effectively re-purpose that information on a need-to-know basis.

This failure is particularly acute with respect to e-mail, and leads to

fragmented expertise, intellectual rework, and sub-standard performance. If

your key personnel are heavy users of email, then you must incorporate

e-mail into your knowledge management capabilities.