A great example of how to use a graphic to convey a ton of information. It shows all the sources and uses of energy consumed by the US, and how much of it is lost, in a single picture. It’s from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and it’s slide 31 of 50 in this PowerPoint deck by Marty Sereno of UCSD on Peak Oil.Here are six important discoveries I’ve made as a result of fifteen years’ work in so-called ‘Knowledge Management’:
I don’t think any of these discoveries should come as a surprise to anyone, yet we blithely continue to behave, in most organizations, as if they were not so. The cost and energy that goes into acquiring ‘raw’ information, organizing, presenting at and attending conferences, and populating and maintaining Intranets, public Internet sites, document repositories, groupware etc. is staggering, even though most of this work has little or no value.
What does have value, but only for awhile, are these five types of content:
I have excluded technical/learning content from this list because it is so subject-specific; many of us, especially those in entry-level jobs, need technical manuals and regulatory reference materials until we reach the level at which we basically know these cold or depend on subordinates to know them. Procedure and policy manuals, despite the energy that goes into them, are generally ignored or worked around by those who are supposed to use them (usually for good reasons) so I would not include them in the above list. ‘Best practices’, as I and many others have explained elsewhere, are rarely worth the paper they’re written on.
How much of the work of information professionals and ‘knowledge managers’ is actually focused on these five types of information? In my experience, much less than half. And much of that work is spent maintaining these collections way past their shelf life, to the point that they’re no longer valuable, and start to add to the clutter that makes it harder to find the good stuff, and may actually be so obsolete that they’re dangerous.
Most bloggers (and those in other media like radio, TV and print) have figured this out. It’s not just that we have short attention spans that causes us to forget what was printed or broadcast last week — we lose the context, so if it’s important, we need to be re-briefed anew anyway.
This has been a hard lesson for me. I keep a table of contents of my past blog posts by subject (though I confess I’m slow to update it). That’s because I naively think people (beyond just students working on assignments) will actually be inclined to go back and re-read what I wrote a month or a year ago about a subject. For the same reason, I hotlink back to earlier articles, in the hope that this is a ‘shorthand’ way of providing readers with context when I write about a relatively complex subject. Even though when I read others’ blogs I almost never click back or read their tables of contents.
Silly me. My review of the hits on my pages suggests that 95% of the page-reads on my blog are articles less than a week old, and that almost no one clicks the links to my older posts (except the aforementioned students working on assignments). Readers are telling me: Don’t ask me to re-read an old article, tell me, here and now, the gist of that earlier article and why it’s important, and then get on with the new stuff.
So why do I still maintain the table of contents and continue to link back to earlier articles? Because it helps me to organize my own thoughts. This blog is an extension of my personal memory. It’s where I think out loud about what’s important to me. Even my Signature Essays list is a note-to-myself of my best writing, to use when thinking about future writing.
So I get it, dear readers: If my blog blew up tomorrow and the archives were gone, all you care is whether I have my own back-up copy for my own use, so that I can keep writing tomorrow. If you’re a blogger and you think your archives are valuable to anyone but yourself, if you think anyone, even your most faithful reader, cares about what you wrote more than a week ago, think again. Your archives are for your use, not theirs.
In a way this is a relief. It means I need not feel guilty about my table of contents being nine months out of date, except for the fact it is hard for me to research what I may have written on a subject more than a week and less than nine months ago. It means I need not agonize about migrating my blog from the obsolete Radio Userland platform to something newer — I need only migrate my most recent one or two posts on each of the subjects on my table of contents, plus perhaps my Signature Essays, to the new blog platform, and no one will care about the lost threads to the rest (though it might be worth paying to keep the old posts on Radio Userland just to preserve my Google Rank). All the rest of my writings and their table of contents could be kept on a flash drive for my personal reference only.
Do any other bloggers find this discovery — that no one cares what you wrote last week — as sobering as I do? When you click on a Google link and find yourself on on ‘old’ 2005 or 2003 blog post, do you read it or do you automatically back-arrow to find something more current?
This is important, because the same thing applies to 95-99% of what organizations are trying to keep in their content repositories, internal and external websites — what they hopefully call ‘organizational memory’ — no one values it and no one cares.
The consolation in all this resonates with my most important learning from 35 years in business:
The value you bring to an organization is not what you do, what processes and infrastructure and other ‘organizational changes’ you implement, or even what decisions you make. Those things are all transient; they are gone before you know it. The only sustainable value you bring to an organization is what you show and teach and inspire in other people you work with. Because those things are infectious, so that even when you’ve gone, even when the people you knew there have gone, that learning and that important information and those mind-changing ideas that you precipitated will go on and on, passed virally from one person to another. Those viruses are what makes the organizational culture what it is. That is no small thing.
That’s why the so-called ‘leaders’ are no more valuable in any organization than anyone else. We each have the same number of hours to infect others with our knowledge, our passion, our ideas and inspirations. Viruses only spread one-to-one. You can’t do this ‘top-down’. Nothing of value can be ‘cascaded downwards’, no matter what they might tell you in MBA school.
It’s also why businesses established by owner-managers, once the owner-manager leaves, are only worth something if they have been non-hierarchical — if the owner-manager has generously and continuously shared ideas, information and authority to the point the employees left behind have co-created and internalized the culture.
That doesn’t just apply to business. The only sustainable value you bring to any social group of which you are a member is what you show and teach and inspire in others in that group. That’s the value you bring when you write your heart out on your blog. That’s the value you bring when you raise your children, when you spend time in the communities that matter to you, when you stay up all night talking with someone about the things you both care about.
You may never be credited as the originator of a virus. It is enough to know that it lives, on and on, in the minds and hearts and beliefs and actions of thousands or millions of people who have passed it on, mutating and evolving, until it does produce a collective change. It is the only way real change occurs. That is what culture is, and why it is so hard to change it. We all change it, in ways we can only imagine. Your idea could be the flap of the butterfly’s wing that causes a social tsunami on the other side of the world.
That should be enough. Enough to keep you working, blogging, creating, thinking, sharing, conversing, doing what you can to make the world abetter place.
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Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
My Other Sites
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