Bill Gates as Anthropologist

A report in NYT says Fortune Small Business magazine has grouped Bill Gates among greatest anthropologists. The article goes on to say:
In an effort to grow ever closer to its customers, Microsoft has hired numerous social scientists, including anthropologists, to help it understand the natives, who in this case are the small-business owners who use its software.” 

More on Lurking in communities

Found this research report on why lurkers lurk. Nancy and I had an exchange of comments in response to one of my eariler posts on the social capital implications of lurking.
The findings of this research are pretty interesting.My understanding of the resons behind lurking were perhaps limited.

Reasons why lurkers don’t post
Reasons why lurkers did not post [brackets indicate % of respondents (N=219)]
Didn’t need to post
Just reading/browsing is enough (53.9)
No requirement to post (21.5)
Had no intention of posting (13.2)

Needed to find out about the group
Still learning about the group (29.7)

Thought I was being helpful
Nothing to offer (22.8)
Others have said it (18.7)

Couldn’t make the software work
Not enough time (9.1)
Do not know how to post (7.8)
Too many messages (4.6)

Didn’t like the group (poor dynamics/fit)
Shy about posting (28.3)
Want to remain anonymous (15.1)
Of no value to me (11.0)
Messages or group low quality (7.8)
Wrong group (7.3)
Long delay getting response (6.8)
Concern about aggressive responses (5.9)
Fear of commitment (4.1)
New members treated poorly (1.4)

Other reasons (1.4)

Some of the key findings of the research are:(Quoting the authors)

  • These results provide a valuable insight into why lurkers lurk. Interestingly, only
    13.2% of lurkers indicated they intended to lurk from the outset. This implies that
    the majority of lurkers become lurkers through their interaction with the community.
  • …suggests that lurkers are, in general, more negative about their community experiences.
  • Most of the issues raised by lurkers as reasons for not posting can be
    corrected or ameliorated to create a better environment for both lurkers and posters.
  • problems concerned with creating a good environment for communication and social interaction are primarily the responsibility of the moderator, community manager and the community members themselves. Who does what varies from community to community.
  • To help newcomers, established members could be encouraged to take on the role
    of the archetype ‘‘greeter’’. Other strategies could include guided tours, mentoring,
    and discussion summary pages.
  • Another strategy would be to divide the community up into more people-friendly units, which might form permanent or ephemeral sub-communities. This scaling issue has been posed many times, but as yet techniques for gracefully facilitating a scaling mechanism
    have not been developed.

The need to create a good and safe environment for newcomers resonates pretty well with the the the success of communities like Javaranch. Nancy has written a recent post on this.

More on Community funding models

My comments in the APQC blog relating to Community funding models:
I have not come across these models of funding within organizations.Most of the communities are either funded(by the organization or jointly) or not funded at all.

Couple of observations:

1. I agree with what Farida says about “donating money”.If a community has evolved to a certain point where the members themselves start investing money (apart from time and enery)-it should be a wakeup call to the organization. Managers need to understand the increasing influence for organic structures like communities on how decisions are made. They need to step-in and ensure that the communitie’s objectives are aligned with that of the organization(They need to do this without trampling the freeform of conmmunities).

2.Organizations would be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of having a parallel funding source-more so today than ever before because of compliance issues. Again as Farida points out if there is clear alignment of objectives between the organization,the parallel funding source and the members it may make sense.But in either case if the funding is coming from somewhere else,managers in the parent organization have got to take a serious look at why this is happening?

While communities for the sake of it is a good idea,Im increasingly seeing the relationship between organic entities and formal units as a “symbiotic relationship”.Managers need to align community objectives to organizational objectives to ensure value is created.And the community has to realise that to have susbtantial influence it has to be institutionalized.(Funding would be one of the dimensions).

Funding cross-company communities

Farida Hasanali who writes the APQC blog on KM in her recent post says:

“The very notion of going to an external source for funding would mean that the funding source would own some of the community or at least some rights to it and that may not be in the best interest of the organization.”

There are scenarios where joint funding as opposed to exclusive external funding(by the organization with an external entity like a partner,supplier,customer)may make solid business sense.While information security is absolutely crucial,that should not become the bottleneck to effective knowledge sharing across the value chain. Let me explain two scenarios where this may help:

Each one sets context first and then speaks about why joint funding makes sense.

1.In the IT services sector,alliances with vendors is very crucial to deliver end-to-end solutions to customers. While many IT services companies have formal alliance groups in place to manage vendor relationship,it may make sense to augment this group with a cross-company community.However,there is a very clear understanding of what can be shared and what cannot and there are processess in place to ensure that these are adhered to.(Over a period of time this “process adherance” becomes a part of the common context of those involved).

The knowledge activities could range from addressing customer issues in a joint engagement to bringing employees within the IT services comapny upto speed on the latest products from the vendor.So,if the community can augment formal structures and help accelerate the companies involved towards a win-win situation,joint funding does make sense.Where the funding should go and who will contribute what depends so much on the problem that the formal groups is trying to address. IBM Institute of Business Value’s paper on Community budgets may help comapnies see where they can share the costs. Could not find the original paper online. A recent review of this by Shawn here.

2.Again in the IT services sector addressing the needs of global customer needs requires a combination of nearshoring/offshoring.And most of this work is usually distributed across the globe in facilities dedicated for the customer. These facilities act as an extension of the customer’s organization .There is a need to share knowledge across these facilities to adddress typical KM challenges like ensuring that we reuse best practices,present one face to the customer etc.,

There have been instances when the customer recommends/suggests setting up a Community to address these issues and more.The customer could completely fund the community(As all the facilities involved serve the same customer) or the service provider and the customer could share the costs.Again unlike a typical community,the lines have to be drawn clearly.It again boils down to being a balancing act.Do the serivice provider and the customer see a win-win situation if communities are jointly funded?

I feel that exclusive funding of a community by an external entity might be a bit over board.My gut feeling is that this may make sense in not-for-profit community attempts.(Like the WHO or the FAO communities where the sources of funding may not always be the parent body). For all other organizations “Joint funding” to solve common issues makes more business sense.

Is there value in Communities?

There is an interesting debate in Farida Hasanali’s APQC KM Blog on whether communities need to show tangible value to get funded. I had posted my comments in her blog and thought I should blog it here as well.

I said:

“At the heart of the problem are the mental models of managers.David Meggitt writes about a paradigm shift that managers need to go through to appreciate the value of communities. He calls it the “newer thinking”. Once this shift happens, managers realize that these organic systems need “nurturing”(via support systems) as opposed to typical manegerial interventions. “

One of my earlier blogs on Lurking and its impact on social capital and Nancy White’s comments on that are also useful in to understand this better. Trying to pin down the ROI of a community is going to be tough-tougher if you are looking at quick results. One of the key areas to address would be to convince managers that it takes a lot of effort to reap tangible/intangible benefits from communities. Wenger says:”If I were talking to a CEO, I would say to him or her, ‘If you choose to build communities of practice for your members, understand that significant communication and nurturing will be required.These communities are completely voluntary. If your communities don’t create value, people will vote with their feet. … Don’t just open a few discussion boards on your Web site. You have decided to cultivate something that is alive.”

Which also suggests that if there was no value(tangible & intangible) being created in the community ,the community would cease to exist(iresspective of the funding it gets). If a bunch of guys are meeting regularly and are having sustained interactions over a period of time and if the organization feels that the domain is of strategic importance to them-it should be funded.

Behaving as if intangible benefits dont affect the company’s bottomline would be foolish. Yeah,we dont know how to measure it perfectly but we “know” that ties and trust do have an impact on how quickly work gets done. Would a typical manager treat a serious anecdote from a community member on the value the CoP created for him on par with a more rigorous ROI statement. If he does, he understands the inherent complexities(social nature) of work and has crossed the rubicon into the “newer thinking”.

Organizations also need to make this shift-to understand that communties are about building long term capabilities. This snippet from a CIO article sums it up pretty well:

In his book The Living Company (Harvard Business School Press, 1997), Arie de Geus says that the average life span of Fortune 500 companies is only about 50 years. The reason they don’t live up to their potential, de Geus argues, is because most companies have a heavy economic bent rather than an organic one. In other words, de Geus believes, companies are so focused on turning a profit that they effectively shut down any feedback mechanisms that could promote learning and growth“. Full article here

I think Communities are one such “feedback mechanism that could promote learning and growth” or rather is part of the “learning loop”(Assuming an individual is a member of both a team and a community within the organization).

Hannover-The future of Notes

IBM has showcased the next generation Notes Client at the IBM Lotus Technical Forum in Hannover, Germany on tuesday. Apart from presence awareness in the inbox and calender it has an impressive spectrum of features including a lot of Workplace client technology.

The goal of this release, which may end up being called Notes 7.5, is “all about moving from an e-mail-centric to activity-centric [model],” said Art Fontaine, marketing manager for the Workplace Managed Client at IBM. ” Full article here

One of the features that is critical from a collaboration/community/KM perspective is the activity explorer. The ability to store “knowledge assets” around activities seems to be profound. These assets could be documents,chat logs,related activities,people who worked/work on this activity etc.,

Screenshots are available at EdBrill’s blog