If We Only Knew What We Know

Collaboration tools, such as blogs and Twitter, are changing the way people interact and the way information can flow within and across organizations. In a recent interview in MIT Sloan Review with Andree McAfee of the Center for Digital Business at MIT shared his take on what sells CEO’s on social media. He uses the following key frames to position the potential value of these tools:

  • Lew Platt, who was CEO of Hewlett-Packard, once said “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.” This resonates with most people, realizing the tremendous amount of knowledge, experience, connections, and creative ideas that exist within any group of people…and recognizing that we are coming up short in accessing that effectively. How do you tap that knowledge?
  • Research on innovation and careers shows the value of “weak ties,” meaning the people who are not your closest friends but who can be helpful. Consider how a service such as Linked-In enables us to stay loosely connected to people so that we can ask them a question or connect to them once in a while when we need to. 
  • The younger generation is fully adept at using Facebook, texting, Tweeting, etc. McAfee says “when these kids turn into the brand-new hires entering the workforce, there is a demographic change taking place. The millennials have some very different ideas about how they want to do their work, what tools will be helpful to them, what kind of constraints or limitations are and aren’t acceptable.”

On one of my early consulting assignments right out of college, I worked with the corporate environmental audit program of a major oil company. The organization chart had many layers of managers. Our direct client oversaw the environmental audit program and he had two levels of managers above him who eventually reported to a Vice President. The company had a rule that someone at his level could only report information to the level above him. So, the information flow was constricted and subject to the “what will look good to my boss” screening, plus time delays, etc.

Contrast that kind of controlling of information flows with this new era we are in. McAfee says “we can get out of the business of predefining and controlling those information flows. We get out of the business of defining who is entitled to generate information, who’s entitled to share it with whom, who is entitled to talk on different subjects. When you get out of that business, you allow a huge amount of spontaneous activity, spontaneous collaboration, spontaneous interaction emerge. And then you can harvest for business purposes the good stuff that emerges.”

Now when we have a challenge, we can put it out on a collaborative platform to thousands of employees across a company who might be able to help. People can link up and find other people who have similar interests or expertise, sharing information and ideas. Information from customers and employees can flow in freer ways than when it is vetted and controlled in an organizational hierarchy. Likewise, through networks, we can find new information, learn from others, and connect to collaborators to enable us to achieve greater impact.

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