Is Social the Future of Knowledge? Help Me Find Out

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the role of Knowledge and Knowledge Management in the age of Social.

I am not going to offer links here, sorry, since I consider most of the entries out there to be hype-full and wrong. Yes, I am entitled to my opinion. I have not seen many people correctly determine the role of knowledge in the new era (I do like this post by Kate Leggett from Forrester, my new favorite analyst).  For the most part, most of the discussion focuses on how the whole world is going to change, how outdated workflows and processes for knowledge generation and management are going to be the ruin of the organization, and how any person in any community is completely capable (without training, assistance, knowledge of the enterprise need and processes, or supervision) of creating exceptional, functional knowledge.

Truth be told, there is a lot more to consider.  There are issues of transparency, openness, control, distribution, legal, and even moral issues that are not being discussed in depth.  There are issues of regulation, compliance, workflow and work processing, subject-matter-expertise, and even roles and responsibilities for each participant to address. There are many more, mostly related to how to better leverage the knowledge and expertise available in the best possible way for all involved.  These are what  will  make or break the next generation of knowledge management – and the lack of discussion is almost worrisome.  As a complete  and unabashed pat-on-the-self-back and plug, I wrote a lot about this when I did the Product Report for FuzeDigital (client), which you can read here (no product endorsement; it contains a good discussion of community-generated, community-managed knowledge).

I want to know your opinions on this, and I will tell you mine.  Here is the catch — not on this post or blog. Let me explain…

My friends (and client) at Moxie Software had the same questions and concerns about Knowledge Management (or I might have pressed them into having them – chicken-egg type of question)

Moxie  is trying to break the barrier between internal and external knowledge, to create better ways to manage expertise regardless of where it exists – and they want to know what is going on around the world of Knowledge.  They asked me to put together a webinar to discuss it (this is where I will show you my perspectives).  It is on March 16th, at 11:00 AM PST and you can get more information and register here.

But wait! There’s more… This is not just a webinar promotion post, not by far — it is the start of a research project.

I suggested, and they were gracious enough to indulge me, to do a research study on the State of Knowledge in the world today.  I told you earlier this year I was going to spend more time doing research studies – this is just the beginning.  I put together a small, eight questions survey on the role of social today, investments, what people are doing and how, and what are they planning to do.  All in all, a very brief  State of the Knowledge World survey.

I’d like your help.  I would like you to complete this survey (if you are working in Knowledge initiatives). When you do, you will  also be given the chance to register for the webinar — which is where we will present the results of the survey.  A little bit of an experiment – even more daring by the short time we have available to make it happen.

Even if you cannot or don’t want to attend the webinar, please take the time to complete the survey and give us your impressions.

So, what do you say — would you like to help us put together an accurate picture of the world of Knowledge today and into the near future? (link to the survey goes here – yes, I intentionally wrote that).

Three Lessons Watson Taught Us to Improve Customer Service

Well, I had to do it.  I had to rip off the headlines and apply it to our customer service problems.

In case you call a rock your comfortable abode (or have a life outside of the echo chamber of Twitter that does not include watching Jeopardy), the news is that IBM created a super-computer that — what’s the best way to put it… trounced, annihilated, destroyed, humiliated… I know — summarily defeated two human opponents playing Jeopardy (this is a trivia questions-and-answers game that is very popular in the United States, and quite hard for most normal human beings to master – not me, of course).  The computer played against the top two jeopardy mega champions: Ken Jennings (who won every game for almost six months straight), and Brad Rutter (who won the largest sum of money in the game’s history).  Here is a wrap-up article by Ken Jennings that explains most of what you need to k now about this event.

Why does it matter to Customer Service?

It took IBM 25 scientists and four years to program the computer to understand the language used in jeopardy, select and store the necessary knowledge (if could not be connected to the Internet, federal regulations — ever seen the movie “Quiz Show”), and have it learn the rules and regulations of the game – in addition to train it to play the game.  Four years, 25 language scientists.

The problem to be solved is far larger than your customer service implementation, right? Right? Well, this is where the lessons learned come in – if you take the time to analyze the results…

Lesson One – Constraint. The scientists started with the premise that the game show could ask any question, about anything, from any time and any place.  That is a lot of knowledge to condense and feed a computer.  They had to, somehow, constraint the knowledge base; to define better what they had to understand, where the answers may be, and where to find it.  Watson had 15TB of data available.  Far more than your standard customer service setup for sure, but a minuscule, tiny, insignificant amount compared to the 3.6 ZettaBytes (don’t try, cannot even picture it) we consume each day, or the more than 20 petabytes that Google processes every day (just for your information, that number was 10 petabytes less than 12 months ago).  As you can see, there was lots of constraint shown in choosing the 15TB of data that Watson had available to generate answers.  Same principle applies to your service and support solution – I am sure that the knowledge base with 120,000 articles is a source of joy for your organization – but keeping articles in there than tell you how to solve your Windows Bob, Newton, or CP/M problems only muddle the process of finding the right answer.  Chose the knowledge you need to use wisely, and be very, very good at keeping that number small and manageable; trim unnecessary and add necessary swiftly.  It is far worse to not find the one you need that to have 119,999 you don’t.

Lesson Two – Simplify. Bells and Whistles are awesome – you can do lots of things to call attention to something good you are doing, try to make it more powerful, more attractive, and further reaching.  Bells and Whistles, however, don’t prove to be a solution.  The key to Watson winning was not only having the right knowledge, but understanding the process.  Now, think about the many decisions you as a human would have to make if you were playing Jeopardy, and the speed at which you would have to execute those actions.  If you could simplify the process, reduce the number of steps, and focus on the core of what you are doing you’d be far ahead of the game.  You can do this with your customer service setup: simplify the process, make sure that both customers and agents can get to THE answer faster and easier.  The researchers at IBM sought the best examples of how to play Jeopardy (Ken Jennings in this case) and reduced the complex model they had built to accommodate his specific style of play – simplification at its best. Simplifying makes it also far simpler to maintain a solution  if you already know what is not necessary to have.

Lesson Three – Learn. What can I say about learning and training your systems that I have not said? the world of support is divided into two: those that learn from their operations, errors, and successes – and those that are no longer in business.  A client of mine in the old days deployed a very costly knowledge management solution, but “forgot” to add the necessary routines to learn from its mistakes, grow the solution by trial and error.  By the time they figured out they needed it, almost 3 months later, it was impossible to control the monster they had created and they had to go back to the starting block.  Learning from the successes and failures of your solution, whether automatically or not, is what is going to make your certainty increase, the right answers show up more often, and your knowledge base remain simple and effective.  Virtually everywhere you read about Watson it says how he learned from playing, and it became better the more it learned.

Finally, one word of warning – among the many interviews that IBM researchers and scientists gave during the three day monster-computer-demolition-event, one of them said that the real excitement was not that Watson could win playing Jeopardy, or that they could program it to do so – but that they had real-life applications waiting to take on using the same technology.  At the top of the list: Customer Support.

I don’t, for once, welcome our computer overlords (that was Ken Jennings closing phrase after being “p0wn3d” by the computer).  Apparently, neither does Andy.

What do you think? What were your impressions of Watson versus Humans? Over-hyped and under-delivered? Over-delivered and Under-hyped? Mixed? Would love to hear your thoughts — and whether or not you welcome your computer overlords.

Time to Ask the Adult Questions for Social Business

You all know uber-smart Sameer Patel.  If you don’t, you must.

He tweeted something yesterday that stuck with me through my excellent meetings and phone conversations (if I talked to you yesterday, please consider yourself thanked for restoring my faith in technology and business – it was a most awesome day as Bill & Ted would say — no, not that TED – the other one).  He said:

In case you are wondering, he is referring to this post he wrote post Lotusphere ’11.  A very good read that provides an interesting perspective (European interesting, not American interesting) on Social Business.

What stuck with me was the term adult questions.  I kept thinking about  how it applies here, what it means.  Does it mean that we need to prove ROI? Create a business plan? Design a 10-year strategy? Then I remembered a story that happened to me.

When I was 19 a good friend of mine was absorbed in a magnificent business opportunity.

With a very small initial investment she could make millions, yes – millions, in a very short time.  all she had to do was bring people into her organization to help her sell an amazing product, so good it sold itself.  She could then keep a commission on what she sold – even on what the people in her organization sold.  Even better, if her salespeople brought in more people to build their own organization, she could keep a percentage of their sales as well.  The key, as you can imagine, is to build a very large organization quickly and sit back and enjoy the rewards.

They even had an ROI calculator what I could use to see when I would get my return back based on how many people I could bring in, and how fast.  Why, the worse case scenario had me breaking-even within 3-4  months, making some serious money within a year.

It was a golden dream come true.

Of course, you know it is a multi-level marketing “scam”, but I did not know that at the time.  Sounded good, went to a meeting, pitch was interesting, investment was not that much ($200 for entry level).  However, if I wanted to, I could buy my way into a distributor level immediately since they were looking for someone to grow my friend’s network rapidly.  I was lucky to be offered this opportunity, since it would’ve taken me at least two or three years to get there by myself.  To seal the deal, if I could act that week I could attend the party for distributors where I would be taught how to grow my network even faster, and many other secrets of the business.  Investment was just $400 more.

I did not have the money, but I wanted to do it so bad.  I was going to ask my father to give me the money – after all, I always got what I wanted (yeah, I was spoiled as a kid – deal with it).

I went to see Dad and ask for the money, explained the model and the need, the desire to become a distributor and build my business, and how it was a limited time offer – I needed to act fast!  I was ready for him to hand me the money right then and there, say let me know how it goes – as he had done many times in the past.

Instead he said “Let me ask you some Adult questions”.  Uh-oh, what was going on there.  This was not the way we did things… let’s see where it goes.

He said “You are now out of high school, going to college and learning how to run the rest of your life.  It is time to stop making investments into the latest and greatest thing that comes you way, time to begin to face reality as a maturing adult.  Let me ask you a few questions about this business opportunity:

  • How exactly does it work? What is the purpose?
  • What are other investments you have to make?
  • How do sales work? Who is going to do it? How?
  • How much time is it going to require? When will you be able to do it?
  • How much money can you make in exchange for that time?
  • Who will work with you? Who is the president, vice president, manager of this business? When can I meet them?
  • When am I going to get my money back?”

Wow, what happened to daddy? Now he was being mean, he was no longer interested in financing my dreams of grandeur – he wanted me to think of it as a business endeavor.  I was shocked.  Since I did not have all the answers (and the ROI calculator was “cute”, but not real), I promised I would think about it, get the answers and come back to him.  You can imagine the rest – answers were not very satisfactory once I started looking into it.  There was, still there is not – in case you are thinking about it, a way to make money or even survive long-term in a MLM scheme.

It was those darn adult questions that made me figure out the real business value and model behind it.

Are you asking the adult questions for your Social Business?

Top Ten Posts for Week Ending 02-05-2011

These are the top ten posts in my blog for this past week:

How Salesforce Missed their Golden Opportunity with Free Chatter
Even With a Culture of Listening – You Still Need Surveys
What Social Business Needs Now
The Hype of Collaboration? I Could do Without It for One Day…
Best Buy Has Nothing to Cool Runnings
A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences – Part 2
What Does SAP Think of Social Business?
Is KANA Making a Comeback?
The SCRM Roadmap – Part 1 of 5
Debunking Three Myths About the Gartner Social CRM Magic Quadrant

Thanks for reading, please let me know any questions or comments!