I wasn’t a part of the not quite 3 Beer lunch that Greg and Toby had last week that spawned their last two posts. (They never invite me to anything.) But you know me, ignorance has never kept me from espousing an opinion.

There is a clear connection between Greg’s recognition that certain people have different personalities online and off, while some seem to have no personality in either place, and Toby’s revelation that attorneys only embraced email because it allowed them to avoid speaking with clients or anyone else.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that many attorneys fall into Greg’s 3rd Band Member category.  Generally, they don’t like people. They like to practice law, or play music in a band, and they don’t really care for the social aspect of their job whether online or in real life. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way some people are. I didn’t see the band’s performance (again, not invited) but I would bet no one put more effort or energy into that performance than #3. He probably wasn’t the most exciting to watch on stage, but he put in the most hours of practice and he was the most focused on the job at hand during the performance. He probably didn’t smile, or even look up from the instrument. He was in the zone while the more social hooligans were jumping around the stage and crowd surfing.  Think Slash to Axel, Eddie to David Lee, or Keith to Mick.

While it can be difficult to engage these people about anything other than their one obsession, they serve an important purpose. They’re the ones that keep playing when everyone else is too busy preening to notice that they’ve lost the beat.

The law, accounting, traditional professional services, have historically been a safe havens for these non-people people.  A single minded focus on the minutiae of legal precedence, or a balance sheet, works well for people who can’t be bothered with the niceties of social interaction. Unfortunately, many people who entered the legal profession 20 years ago, with a reasonable expectation that they would become wealthy and successful without needing to shake too many hands or smile at too much inane small talk, suddenly find themselves living and working in a hyper-social world, where even small talk isn’t enough. Now you have to be engaged in other peoples lives on a regular basis or they will think something is wrong with you.  Toby hasn’t exactly called it this, and I’m sure he’ll slap me down if I’m off track, but his approach to pricing is all about being sociable. Go to the client first. Talk to them about the problems they are having. Find ways to alleviate their pain. That’s sociability and it’s more important today than ever, but some people, a lot of attorneys, just aren’t made that way.

Over the last decade, I have seen many friendly, approachable, young associates either quickly change into gruff and prickly types, or burn out after a few years and head to greener pastures, or “settle” for a non-partner career track.  It’s a gross generalization, but sociability and friendliness has not historically been a trait that has marked one as firm management material.  With the economic pressure to engage clients in a new way, and the demographic changes in the workplace, that might be about to change. The friendly types who were once pushed into supporting roles, may eventually be recognized and appreciated for their social assets, while the non-people people – who may have once rocketed to the top, promoted by like-minds above them – will be hidden in internal windowless offices, destined to toil away at non-client facing tasks.  That should make everyone happy.


Jane:  I recently read a short book by Nilofer Merchant called 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era. In this lovely little tome she draws some powerful conclusions about the impact of the Social Era on business and the opportunity it provides to promote the Onlyness of individuals.  Onlyness is the concept that each and every person brings a unique set of knowledge, intuition, and experience to the workplace.  When done correctly, social media allows the organization to tap directly into an individual’s Onlyness and to leverage the vast knowledge and experience that typically goes unnoticed by the enterprise. Take for example, Rosanne, a legal secretary with 25 years of experience supporting litigation lawyers. Rosanne is a great resource for the few lawyers that she supports directly, but her Onlyness is almost entirely unavailable to the rest of the firm. Through social media, her Onlyness could be become a firm-wide resource, easily tapped by anyone and everyone who wants a piece of it.

Dan: Put away the love beads and go wash your Birkenstocks, Jane. The halcyon days of free love have been over for more than 40 years and, last I checked, tapping the Onlyness of a secretary is generally frowned upon in our more enlightened era.  I don’t deny that law firms have plenty of underutilized resources within their employee base, but there is no way that social media is the answer.  Most of the interactions on social networks revolve around gossiping with Facebook friends, or Tweeting your cat’s latest hi-jinx. Spreading around that kind of Onlyness does absolutely nothing to help the business, it is just another distraction from the work that employees should be focusing on.

Jane: Dan, by that logic — and I always use that word loosely when talking about you —  we should brick-up all of the windows in the office. I’ve seen plenty of attorneys and managers (the rest of us don’t have windows) while-away the hours gazing absent-mindedly through the glass.

Dan: It’s not surprising that you would confuse deep thought with absent-mindedness, Jane. Knowledge workers, like attorneys and managers, often focus deeply on a problem. Granted, to the ignorant, such focus could easily be misunderstood as “whiling away the time”.

Jane: Leaving aside you’re “ignorant” jab for the moment (pun intended),  you don’t consider secretaries and other staff to be knowledge workers?

Dan: Not in the same way that attorneys are, no.

Jane: You care to dig your own grave on that one?

Dan: There’s no digging my grave about it. The fact is, most employees in a law firm are task-completers, not creative types like attorneys and managers.  Their access to knowledge is simply, by any measure, not as important as…

Jane: You know what, I think we’ve just hit on another Dan and Jane topic.  Let’s table this for now and come back to it later.  Regardless of whether employees are “knowledge workers” there is clearly value in better connecting people within the enterprise.  It’s important to create relationships where there would otherwise not be any; between offices, regions, practice areas, etc.  It is about building community, Dan. Surely, you don’t deny that it’s important for IT personnel, for example, in various offices and at every level throughout the firm to communicate effortlessly.

Dan: Jane, why in the world would I want IT people to talk to each other?  I, as a partner, am not paying them to talk, I’m paying them to fix things.

Jane:  Wow. I’m speechless… Let me give you an example you might understand, Rumpelstiltskin.  Back in your day, people would congregate around the water cooler. This would provide a connecting point for employees and allow them to discuss ideas, some of which related to work and many that didn’t.  More importantly these conversations, work related or not, created connections between people, and those connections allowed them to more easily work together to solve work related problems.  The water cooler conversations allowed the individual to share their Onlyness with their colleagues. Today, we are too dispersed and everybody is moving too fast for a water cooler to provide that kind of informal and serendipitous communication, however, social networking can accomplish the same thing on a global scale, instantaneously. Social Networking is the new water cooler.

Dan:  I remember the water cooler. We got rid of it because people like you would stand there all day talking instead of getting their work done. You’re suggesting we should now make it possible to achieve that same level of inefficiency from the comfort of your own desk chair?  Your social “tools” will only make it harder to tell when someone is wasting the firm’s time.

Jane: Speaking of wasting time… The point here is not which “tool” we use, Dan, it is that we must unleash the potential knowledge and expertise of ALL of our employees. Law firms have a very strong caste system, and it does not serve the enterprise well. There are many problems to be solved and many long time employees have a much better understanding of the inner workings of the firm, and the legal business in general, than young associates, or even many partners do. In the traditional social model of the law firm, there is no mechanism to incorporate the vast experiences of the lower caste employees into the eventual solutions that will propel the firm to new heights. Social networking levels the old system and makes it possible for little old Roseanne to contribute to the ultimate success of the firm.

Dan: Roseanne?

Jane: Roseanne…uh, Dan!….uh… never mind.


A metal bucket
By Jon Pallbo (Jon.Pallbo@gmail.com)
(Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

I recently watched a TED talk by Michael Idinopulos, called Mr. Manager, tear down these (digital) walls!  It’s a great talk and is well worth your while to view the entire 17 minute presentation.  The story he tells beginning at the 2 minute mark has been haunting me since I first watched it.

He tells of visiting his grandfather’s stock brokerage firm when he was a child and seeing all of the desks lined up in the open office space. Then he tells of returning when he was in high school and seeing his grandfather’s brand new big private office. He assumed his grandfather would be happier with the office, but the grandfather longed for the old office layout. The grandfather tells of how new information traveled in the old space.

“You could almost watch… that information as it traveled from one end of that floor to another.  One broker would tell another broker, it was overheard by a third broker, and within 2 minutes flat that information could go from the first broker to the last and we all knew what was going on as soon as any of us knew anything.  Now, we sit in our private offices. We call our clients on the phone, but really, we have no idea what’s going on.”

Idinopulos uses this story as a launching point to tout the benefits of a social workplace and while I wholehearted agree with his point of view (go watch the video), I’m going to use his story to make a slightly different point.  Given the right conditions human beings are pretty good at instinctively managing knowledge within an organization.

Unfortunately, our modern firms do not conform to those conditions. To compensate we have created large KM infrastructures and systems designed to deliver institutional knowledge to employees across the world at the flip of a switch or the push of a button.  We imagine these tools to be delivery mechanisms akin to plumbing or electrical wiring, but knowledge is not a utility like water or electricity.  It can not be generated at a single spot, or efficiently gathered into a reservoir before being pumped down system.  Sadly, there is no fount of ultimate wisdom from which we can siphon gallons of knowledge to be distributed to the great masses of thirsty thinkers. Instead we ask people to help us capture knowledge “for everyone’s benefit”.  Like asking each person to carry one bucket of water up to the rooftop tower so that we can all benefit from running water for the day. And we wonder why it doesn’t always function as we would like it to.

The ultimate key to designing systems that can facilitate knowledge transfer and flow across a global enterprise is not to better incorporate our utility-like systems into existing workflows, or to make them easier to use, or to improve the quality of knowledge they capture (all perfectly fine goals), but to change the metaphors around which we design them.  KM is not a utility, it’s a big open room.  We need to focus on building systems that replicate the open office layout of Michael’s grandfather’s brokerage on a global scale.  We need geographical representations of who is working with whom on what, updated in near real time with a point-to-click and pinch-to-zoom interface that an infant could use.  And that should be our intranet home page!  The user drills down into this slowly spinning globe to get details on individual projects, matters, groups, practice areas, attorneys bios, experience, etc. With a quick tap you can see the public profile and e-social history of each, and then send a message, email, telephone, or instantly collaborate with any individual or group across the world.  The presence and availability of all firm employees are readily visible for all to see, and those with appropriate rights can see graphical representations of Toby’s profit drivers for each matter.  Another simple gesture inverts the globe to show our clients and our contacts in much the same configuration.  Drilling down on this map gets you to client history, financials, news, etc.  All relationships are graphically represented and previously hidden connections become obvious at a glance.

All of this technology and the data backing it up already exists, but it’s in a hundred different unrelated, utility-like systems, each of which requires extensive training and the occasional bucket to be carried to the roof.  THE knowledge system, the KM holy grail, is the system that gives Michael’s grandpa the feeling he had in the open floor plan while he’s sitting at his desk behind his closed door in one regional office of his multinational firm.  Just imagine…

“You can almost watch the information as it travels from one continent to another. One lawyer tells another lawyer, it’s noticed by a third lawyer, and within 20 minutes flat it goes from the first to the last. We all know exactly what is going on as soon as any of us knows anything.”

One of my absolute favorite websites for learning about new products, or how to enhance my use of existing products is MakeUseOf. Unfortunately, they post dozens of updates each day and it can be a bit overwhelming to find updates that fall specifically into my wheelhouse. Yesterday, however, I did find a nice juicy nugget of information on LinkedIn that I wanted to point out to everyone. In the post 10 Little Known LinkedIn Features That Make It More Fun To Professionally Network, author Saikat Basu taught me a few new things about LinkedIn that I didn’t know. 

Just in case my word isn’t good enough to make you link over to the post, here are the 10 items that Basu highlights:

  1. Network with Cloak of Security (force LinkedIn to use https connections… good for public WiFi or shared computers.)
  2. Your Own LinkedIn News Daily (a very eloquent display of top LinkedIn headlines found under that “news” tab that I’ve never clicked on before.
  3. Go Text To Speech With LinkedIn News (not my cup of tea, but the SpeechIn might be something others would use.)
  4. Make Contact Without Making a Connection (initially connect with someone that may not be willing to click the old accept button from your request.)
  5. Browse In Stealth Mode (when you don’t want people to see you on their Who’s Viewed Your Profile screen.)
  6. Set Up A LinkedIn Search (Email) Alert (have your search results emailed to you periodically)
  7. Find The Right Group To Join (by using a Group Statistics feature, you could narrow down your choices of groups significantly.)
  8. Map Your LinkedIn Professional Network (very cool function from the LinkedInLabs apps.)
  9. Export Your Connections (nothing is better than an Excel spreadsheet full of contacts.)
  10. Waste Time With Tetris (AKA DropIn) (between this, Cubeduel and Snake & Ladders, you’ll waste a lot of your professional time.)
There a lots more interesting things coming out of the LinkedInLabs site, so you’ll want to go check it out right after you read the MakeUseOf post.

Sometimes private conversations just need to be shared. Ron Friedmann and I thought as much on some of the recent conversations we had regarding the best way to get information to people with all of the different resources now at our disposal. Of course, the first thing we asked was “how do we get everyone out of email and on to these other sources?”

So, as any blogger worth their salt would do, we figured out a way to spin this into a blog post. Ron is actually a blogger worth his weight in gold, because he suggested that we do this as a simultaneous post on his Strategic Technology Blog and my 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. That way we would expose our conversations to the different groups that follow each of us. Ron and Toby Brown did something similar a year ago on “Bet the Farm” versus “Law Factory.” We are hoping to spur some additional conversations, just as Ron and Toby did.

For reference: Greg’s Post; Ron’s Post

RON

I am struck by how many people still rely on e-mail for news, as opposed to Twitter or RSS. When Jeff Brandt features my blog post in his daily PinHawk Legal Technology e-mail, I see a noticeable traffic spike on my blog.

That got me thinking about two ideas. First, why are so many people still so reliant on e-mail? Not sure I am up for tackling that. Second, is there a tool that turns Tweets into an e-mail. Both your Tweet feed and mine focus mainly on news items. I wonder if some folks who are not interested in Twitter would subscribe to a weekly digest of Tweets from one or more Twitters.

I was looking around for a tool and see that Twitter will soon enable sending Tweets by e-mail. What I have in mind, however, would be a bit more curated, maybe using the Twitter favorite feature to tag my own and other Tweets. Then the tool would automatically mail those weekly to subscribers. I assume Twitter API would allow this but I’m not that techie.

Do you think that would appeal to anyone? Do you know if there is such a tool?

GREG

I was just thinking last week about why we are still so reliant upon email when there are so many better options out there, especially social media tools (whether Twitter, Google+, Yammer, or the 1000’s of other options.) I came to a similar conclusion of wonder if social media could somehow be embedded into the email systems and mimic email, while bringing in the best pieces of what makes social media so valuable.

My thoughts trended, however, to Twitters Direct Message option when it came to online discussions. [Tweets are public; a Twitter DM is private, to a single person.] I’d love it if I could embed a Twitter DM to a group of people, and have a structured conversation in Outlook (or gmail) and the familiarity of those interfaces, but using DMs as the conduit. I could keep the conversation short and clean, without the clutter of all the old message threads showing up in each response.

I also like the idea of a curated resource as well. People are always looking for well structured, curated information, and since we seem to be stuck in an email-centric world, this type of newsletter might be something that would appeal to those that want the benefits of a social media world, without having to actually go visit that social media world themselves.

RON

Greg, it was fun to connect with you “synchronously” after the exchange above so that we could test a Google+ Hangout. [A hangout allows real time video conferencing and text messaging among multiple people.] It’s too bad that Hangout requires video and seems inherently focused on real-time, synchronous communication. So it’s not the answer to an easy-to-use, persistent discussion area or forum.

Returning to your comments above, I have two concerns with your proposed approach. First, Twitter DM seems inherently “point to point” or “one to one”. I suspect a lot of engineering would be required to convert it to a forum or bulletin board feature. Moreover, Twitter users might be unhappy with such a change. I find an increasing number of my contacts use Twitter DM in lieu of e-mail. They probably would not want to clutter this clean, private, and uncluttered channel with discussions threads.

Second, do we want to take steps that encourage lawyers and staff to have even more reasons to stay in Outlook? I know it is the application where “lawyers live”. My hope, however, is that eventually there will be a better or different interface for working together as a group. I am not optimistic though. Even in the early 1990s, when I first evaluated discussion forums in a law firm, lawyers liked the concept but were too wed to their inboxes to use it.

We’ve now identified two unmet requirements. One is what I started with – converting Tweets (mine and those I follow) to a periodic e-mail to which non-Twitter-users could subscribe. I will leave this one to entrepreneurs in the Twitter ecosystem. The other requirement is your idea for better tools / interface for group discussion. I’m not sure I see answers. Moreover, I am not sure if the question is “do we need a new collaboration or communication tool” or “are existing tools fine, they have all the features anyone could ever want, and the question is just change management”. Your views?

GREG

Ron, I’ve thought about the limitations that happen when using the Twitter DM function and I was kind of hoping that the way it would show up in Outlook or gmail would be modified by an API or some type of intermediary program that would allow one-to-many communications (as long as you are connected to each of the Twitter accounts) and could go beyond the 140 character limit (although there is some benefit to keeping communications short.) Perhaps the Twitter DM function isn’t really the best method, but there should be some improvements in communications beyond the awful email threads that we live with now. I have heard of firms that use Outlook’s “To-Do” list, but I don’t think that it really is the answer here. Google’s gmail is kind of working around the problem by limiting the repeating thread information, but it is still not really as clean a communications tool as some of the social media tools are.

As for trying to move lawyers out of Outlook… that’s a big shift in culture for them and won’t be easy. I’ve mentioned that email is now the touchstone of the law firm. No longer do lawyers collaborate face-to-face (only when they have to), instead the collaboration is virtual, and unfortunately, via email chains. We all know of the problems associated with working as if Outlook is your common database. Even making the emails ‘better’ by shifting social media type content into email newsfeeds just reinforces the idea of Outlook being the best collaborative resource. The biggest problem is that Outlook is not a true collaborate tool, or at least not a very good one. Efforts should be made to move collaboration efforts off of Outlook, but that’s obviously easier said than done. It would make for an easier transition if we could create tools that allow the lawyers to believe they are still in Outlook, but that rewards them for inefficient and potentially risky work habits. The better approach would be to wean them off of Outlook, but that’s a project that would take years to accomplish.

Note: A few weeks ago I saw that the law library at the law firm of Bryan Cave had a Twitter account and was actively tweeting. The concept of a large law firm tweeting isn’t that unusual, but the idea of a library within the firm publicly tweeting did sound a little foreign to me. So, I contacted the two librarians behind the Twitter account and asked if they would guest-post here on 3 Geeks and let us know what the goals were for having a Twitter account, who follows them and who do they follow. Karen Lasnick (Santa Monica, CA office) and Joan Thomas (Kansas City, MO office) took me up on the offer and explained their reasoning for creating the @BryanCaveLib account. My thanks to Karen and Joan for sharing their experiences with us.

Tweeting At The Cave

Joan Thomas and I started our Twitter feed @BryanCaveLib last year. I was interested because I had just personally started Tweeting and wanted to jump on the Library Twitter bandwagon. Our first Library tweet was on September 8, 2011: “Welcome to the Bryan Cave Library and Research Services Twitter. We would love to have you follow us as we Tweet all things legal and more!” Now 365 tweets and retweets later, I find that I enjoy Twitter even more than Angry Birds.

Our goals?
One of them is to establish a presence where our attorneys are. We follow 108 twitter accounts including several Bryan Cave LLP accounts and individual Bryan Cave attorneys. We often retweet (RT) tweets from the people we follow. This helps develop a rapport by sharing good information while giving credit for the good stuff we read in our stream. A little more than one third of our tweets are RT’s.

Who follows us?
All kinds of people: attorneys, including our own (several of our practice groups also Tweet) and others outside of the firm, legal publications, social media gurus, individuals who find us interesting and the occasional misguided soul trying to tell us we have won a free iPad. We have 93 followers as of this writing.

Who do we follow?
The same kind of people that follow us: whatever or whoever strikes us as interesting or relevant. Some of our tweets come from our own personal Twitter feeds that we think our followers would enjoy. So far, we have not duplicated each other’s Tweets!

We recently started marketing @BryanCaveLib. Every three weeks, our research librarians compile our newsletter, “in the KNOW”, which is distributed firmwide. We added this blurb at the beginning of each issue to market @BryanCaveLib: Bryan Cave Library & Research Services is now on Twitter. We tweet about general research and legal news. Follow @BryanCaveLib ! We also have a “Follow us on Twitter” link on eCave2, the firm’s intranet. Our email signature’s marketing tagline for this month is @BryanCaveLib . We noticed that these small marketing efforts have increased our in-house followers.

Twitter is a subtle way to develop relationships with attorneys by giving us an opportunity to casually interact with attorneys from all of our offices. Our Bryan Cave followers are starting to visit us when they happen to be in the Kansas City or Santa Monica offices. Joan and I communicate more with each other via Twitter. We often tweet at each other over the weekend or way too late at night. Twitter is proving to be worth the small amount of time we devote to it. We encourage other law firm libraries to start tweeting. You may discover that it can help build relationships with your attorneys and co-workers!

Since we’re on the topic of Social Networks in a Law Firm…

A good friend recently asked me about my “thoughts on what social means in the context of project management?”  I replied with the following:

Social (small s) collaboration is the lifeblood of any project undertaken by human beings.   We have evolved to collaborate with our peers to achieve goals greater than any one of us could possibly achieve on our own.  We naturally band together in groups to distribute work load, to take advantage of individuals strengths and to limit the burden of individual weaknesses.  This is true whether we’re banding together to take down a mastodon with spears, building a barn, or managing a business project.  Whereas, historically, most human teams have formed for a specific purpose at a specific time and place, the modern business project team is often dispersed geographically and chronologically.  We work in different offices, we have different schedules, and we are usually working on multiple projects simultaneously.

 There are 3 key elements of group work which are easily lost in the modern environment. These are the elements that Social Collaboration tools attempt to address. 

·         Member Bonding
·         Multi-Party Communication
·         Real-time analysis and reaction                         

It’s cheesy, but if we look at these three elements in terms of a prehistoric tribe hunting big game, you can see where our modern environment breaks down.  The group of hunters leave the village together early in the morning with a single goal of bringing home protein for the entire village. They walk for miles together looking for signs of large game.  Along the way, they talk about the task at hand, but they also talk about their families, their concerns, their ideas.  When they find their prey, they kneel in the dirt and draw up their plan of attack, team members ask questions and others share stories of earlier experiences to find solutions.  When they’re ready to enact their plan, they spread out, staying within line of sight and communicating via hand signals and gestures.  If the animal responds unexpectedly, they react immediately and call out to the others to enact an alternate plan, or to improvise based on the new situation.  At the end of the day they return with their kill or they don’t, but either way they have shared experience and knowledge. When they leave the village the next morning, they will be a stronger team than they were the day before.  

Managing a legal project team should not be any more difficult than hunting a mammoth.  Unfortunately, we aren’t in the same location at the same time and we have varying degrees of interest and commitment to the task at hand.  We have very little opportunity to get to know the other team members on an extra-project basis.  We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to determine what’s being done by whom, and whether our contribution is comparable to other team members.  If the original circumstances change, we may not even be aware of the change, let alone in a position to react in a timely manner. And when the project is complete, successfully or not, we disperse to our individual careers and go about our business, until the next time we’re pulled into a new team with no experience, comprised of people we hardly know.

Social (big s) collaboration tools are a regressive technology, in that they allow us to use our instinctive social toolbox to tackle modern projects in a modern environment, and they allow an exploded project team to work as if they are in the same room at the same time, regardless of their individual locations or schedules.  Social tools will not ensure successful projects, but if used well, they should at the very least ensure efficient failures which build stronger teams to tackle future projects.

After several hours with no response, I followed up with my friend.

Me: Did I miss the point of your question?

Friend: Yes, but that would be a great blog post.

 Moral of the story:  Be careful asking me open ended questions.

Image [cc] yuan2003

Let’s face it. Social Networks work fine when you’re sharing information with your friends, or even with peers within your industry subset. Social Networks at your place of work, however, usually don’t work very well at all. There are probably a thousand reasons why this is, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that people don’t really want to expose what they are doing at work to their colleagues. I know that on its face, that sounds ridiculous, but it seems to be true. Most likely, they don’t want to feel like they have to update their work status because it might come back to bite them later in an employee review. The whole act of covering your backside creates an environment where communications conduits such as work site social networks are viewed as counter-productive, when, quite frankly, these types of communications tools would actually increase productivity. So how do you build an environment that takes advantage of the daily activities of workers in a social network-like structure? HP Labs has one idea… build an automation process that updates their employees’ status automatically and create a social network that simply builds itself.

Mashable reported on HP Labs’ “Collective Project” this morning, and it made me wonder how, or if, this type of automated social network could work within a law firm. Here’s the basic structure of the Collective Project, all of the processes appear to be automatically created and adapted over time base upon the project’s internal algorithm and taxonomy structure:

  • Personal Profiles are created 
  • Preferences and Expertise is automated
  • Documents are profiled
  • Employees are connected to those files
  • Employees with similar interests can be identified
  • Document permissions can be customized to prevent unauthorized access
The idea behind this is to identify connections based upon “inferred expertise” according to HP Labs Israel director, Ruth Bergman. Bergman has used the Collective Project to identify co-workers with similar experiences and interests, and seek them out at conferences they are both attending. 
There are a lot of firms looking and implementing Enterprise Search tools right now. Could the idea of an “inferred expertise” system like the Collective Project be duplicated in these enterprise search systems? Could a defacto social network be created within a firm? How would attorneys and staff view such a system… Helpful or Big Brother? 
There may be a handful of firms out there that have thriving internal social networks, but there aren’t very many. Is the idea of having some type of automated social network something that would benefit the law firm environment? Now that I think about it, you’d probably have to call it something more generic like “inferred expertise database” to quell the paranoia that surrounds the “social network” term. There seems to be potential in creating something similar to the Collective Project within an enterprise search resource, but would the culture of the firm accept it? I’d like to say yes, but my gut’s saying no.
Image [cc] spanaut

While attending the AALL Futures Summit last week, I got to talk with a number of young members (those within the first five years of the law library profession) and found the discussion to be absolutely wonderful and enlightening. I have a number of topics that I’ll probably blog upon over the next few days, but the first one I wanted to cover was the dichotomy in the social personalities of those younger members who have hundreds of online friends, but find it very difficult to interact in social settings at the annual conventions. One friend said it more frankly, and describe it as a schizophrenic-like situation when it came to social interaction. Perhaps, on the surface, it looks like there is a conflict with the idea that someone can have hundreds of Facebook friends, and not be able to connect with real people (even those that are in that Facebook friends list), but I think that there is a solid reason for this dichotomy, and potentially a way to work out a solution to help bridge this gap.

Right now, the common “social setting” at an AALL conference (and I’d go out on a limb and say this is probably common at most other conferences as well) is that of the Member Reception. It can be an opening reception, or a member luncheon, or even a happy hour for smaller groups during the conference. When you think about it, receptions are really old-school social settings. These are the social settings that represent how we have networked for the past 50 years or so… maybe longer. The idea is to put similar people in a room, pump in a little music over the speaker system (live band if times are good), provide a few snacks, add a little alcohol (a lot of alcohol if times are bad), and voilà… instant networking. The whole thing’s a bit unstructured, but has been the traditional method of networking and has worked fairly well. However, I don’t think that this is working all that well with the newer members, and I think I know why.

I had a number of newer members tell me that they were uncomfortable in large social setting, that they hated the reception environment at conferences, and that in all honesty, they were introverts and struggle with how to work a social setting. Many of us agreed that, while it may be an overly stated stereotype of librarians, we do tend to attract introverts to the library profession (obviously, not all are, but many in the room admitted that they fit that introvert category.) However, most of same people that admitted they were introverts were very comfortable on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn, etc. In fact, right after the conference, many of the newer members that I talked to quickly friended me on Facebook. So why the dichotomy? Yes, shyness plays a part in this, but how can we create a better environment for networking? I think the solution is setting up social gatherings that have structure, rules, and guidelines.

What was interesting, was the common suggestion that was made to fix the social networking challenge for newer members was to set up an environment that mimicked Speed-Dating settings. Yes, this got a chuckle at first… and made many of the married members of the crowd whisper, “I don’t think my husband/wife/partner would approve of me going to a speed-dating session.” However, as the idea started making the rounds around the room, it started getting more and more traction, and I started understanding why this type of setting would appeal to new members. I think the primary reason that this type of session would work is because it has structure, and newer members don’t have to wonder “What am I supposed to do in here? What do I do next? How do I follow up from here?”

The Speed-Dating (you know what… let’s change dating to networking for the rest of this post) Networking structure helps the network-challenged members in the following ways:

  • There are rules to follow 
  • It is easy (show up, follow instructions)
  • It can be effective (meet far more people in the time that you would in a reception environment)
  • If you like someone then you have a reason to get back in touch with them (“Friend” them)
  • If you don’t like someone, then at least you only have to spend a couple of minutes with them (“un-Friend them)
In a way, it is like taking the structure of online social interaction and transferring it to a real-life setting. 
Even the older members would benefit from something like this. Many of us have a core set of friends that we hang out with at meetings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after a few years of keeping your social circles stagnant, it can get a bit stale… or can be seen by others as being a bit cliquish. Therefore, the Speed-Networking reception can help expand even the most seasoned member’s social circles in an easy and fun way. 
I’m not sure if we can have a Speed-Networking session set up as a stand-alone session at next year’s AALL meeting in Boston, but we did have a great idea for how an informal one could be set up. One of the newer members suggested that an area in the back of the room be roped off with chairs set up for a speed-networking session for those that wanted to participate. We’ll have to see if the idea gets off the ground, but I think it would be a great way to help newer members network in a way that better fits how they currently interact, and provides the structure they need to network a room.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the differences between information and knowledge and the categorical mistake that even many KMers make by conflating the two. However, knowledge is often further sub-categorized into two realms, tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. These can also get kind of confusing. Tacit knowledge exists only in the minds of the knowledgeable. It includes memories, ideas, concepts, and understandings. Explicit knowledge gets tricky because it is also a type of information. It’s a record of tacit knowledge which can be stored and retrieved just like any other type of information. Confusing, right? I’ll illustrate my point with the following scenario: You’ve racked up a large set of expenses on a recent business trip and you want to be reimbursed by your company. So you call Ted, the Accounting Manager at your firm, and ask him what steps you need to take to be reimbursed by the firm. Ted, explains that you need to fill out a reimbursement form, get it signed by a manager, and send the form, along with a copy of your receipts to the accounting department to be processed. You should receive your check in 4 to 6 weeks. “Oh, and by the way,” Ted says, “you can always go to http://reimburseme.myfirm.com to see these steps again.” You thank Ted, fill out your form and in 8 weeks you get your check. In this anecdote we have clear examples of tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge, and information.

  • Ted’s knowledge of the necessary steps to get reimbursed constitute tacit knowledge. It exists only in Ted’s memory and it is only retrievable by speaking directly with Ted. (Or someone else with the same tacit knowledge.)
  • Ted’s tacit knowledge has been transformed into explicit knowledge by recording the steps on the website. That explicit knowledge is information that is available and retrievable by anyone in the firm at any time.
  • The filled-out reimbursement form that you send along to accounting is not itself knowledge, it doesn’t describe a process and isn’t in any way actionable, it is simply information.

In my earlier post I described the DMS and Enterprise Search as primarily information management tools. They allow you to store and retrieve information across the firm. Since explicit knowledge can take the form of recorded information, it can also be stored in the DMS or on a webpage and can be retrieved with Enterprise Search tools. No one questions the business value of a document management system and most firms have some form of enterprise search in place to find information and explicit knowledge. But the vast majority of the knowledge that exists in any firm, is tacit . It’s only in the minds of your knowledgeable employees. Often, they don’t have time, nor the inclination, nor the incentive to transform their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and consequently that knowledge is only available to themselves and to their immediate circle of coworkers. Enter Social Networking tools. SN tools turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge that is storable, retrievable, and searchable. If Ted in Accounting is keeping a blog of the goings-on in his department, then a simple search can indicate to Alice in HR that accounting has dealt with an issue similar to the one currently vexing her department. The ESN tools have made knowledge, that would have otherwise remained tacit, explicit. Alice talks to Ted, learns from his experience, and solves her problem faster. Time, money, and resources saved. Bigger bonuses for everybody. But here is what I believe to be the definitive business case for ESN. These tools not only constitute a modern communications infrastructure, and near-magically turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, they are also the equivalent of direct enterprise search for tacit knowledge locked in the minds of your employees. An in-house micro-blogging solution with moderate participation allows employees to mine the tacit knowledge of their co-workers across the enterprise. Even if Ted in Accounting isn’t keeping a blog record of his department’s activities, the micro-blog allows Alice in HR to find Ted’s tacit knowledge by asking simple questions: “Has anyone had a problem like this? How did you deal with it?” Even if Ted hasn’t jumped on the micro-blog bandwagon, someone in his circle of co-workers may see Alice’s question and point her to Ted. Alice has in effect searched the tacit knowledge of the firm and by doing so has created a bit of explicit knowledge that Ted in accounting is knowledgeable on a particular subject. If Ted jumps on board and answers Alice’s inquiry on the micro-blog network, or writes a full blog entry, or creates a wiki-page, then Ted’s tacit knowledge is now explicit and available to the entire firm. The ability to search the tacit knowledge of your staff and to simultaneously turn that tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge for future use. How’s that for a business case?