CCK08: Two Conversations with Gen Millennium, and Some Questions on Learning and Knowledge Failures

cost of not knowingLast Spring I told you about my two back-to-back conferences with different generations of workers, which convinced me of the wisdom of Nancy White’s entreaty that we (who understand both the enormous potential value of social networking to business, and the way that business works) need to act as “bridges”, explaining how each generation can be of great value to the other:

A few months ago I went to two conferences back-to-back. The first was a conference for senior executives on social networking, where there was much concern about cost, security, and diversion of people’s attention from their ‘jobs’. They asked me, as one of the panelists, whether they really needed to embrace this ‘social networking’ stuff to attract top new recruits. They could not imagine any other use for it.

The next day I was at a bloggers’ conference where (aside from Nancy and me) the attendees were almost entirely young and tech-savvy. They spent the conference sharing some truly brilliant ideas for social networking, and lamenting how hard it was to get anyone to pay for their skills and ideas. It became abundantly clear to me that most of them didn’t have the faintest idea how business executives make decisions, or even how businesses operate in today’s economy.

So here we have two groups of people who need something from each other and who have something to offer each other, but they don’t talk, and probably can’t talk each other’s language to communicate those offerings in ways that the other can understand. They need a bridge, a way to connect with each other.

More recently I had a conversation, in conjunction with my presentation From Content to Context and From Collection to Connection, with another group of Gen Millennials about how they were coping with the work world. I had once heard the potential battle for freedom (by Gen Millennium) against security (by restrictive IT departments) described as “nothing short of a war of wills”. Failure to accommodate the social tools that these young people had become accustomed to using was inviting them to either leave (to work for an organization that would) or find workarounds that would pose even greater information risks to the company, I had been told.

Not so, said this group. They weren’t concerned about having workplace access to information they might find useful. They didn’t want to access Facebook pages, blogs, or YouTube videos. They had no use whatever for the corporate portals, Intranets or groupware (SharePoint, QuickPlace etc.) They didn’t use e-mail unless they had no choice.

They told me that they share information through conversations: face to face, by telephone, IM, Skype, screen-sharing and other real-time tools. They share this information with their own social networks, which transcend organizational boundaries. They get better, faster answers this way than from looking at someone else’s “dead” content — any content. They could do most or all of this with their cell-phones, so they didn’t particularly care what restrictions the corporate security czars put on content access.

In some respects this is good news. The great energy and expense that most large organizations invest in content capture, collection, dissemination and security can, for the most part, be saved, and most of this infrastructure abandoned as irrelevant, useless.

But in other respects this is terrible news. Aside from the wasted content effort, this means that most young people will learn from peers, not from mentors. How much of what senior people know will never be learned by younger workers, simply because the networks of trust necessary for valuable conversations will not have been forged (and given that Gen Millennium workers are expected to change jobs on average every four years, might never be forged)? If, as JP Rangaswami said, “More and more, knowledge management is going to be about reducing the cost of, and simplifying the process for, letting someone watch what you do. Nonintrusively. Time-shifted. Place-shifted. Searchable. Archivable. Retrievable.”, then how are modern organizations going to enable this learning-by-observation to happen?

What’s more, the major incidents of the last decade, from Enron, 9/11 and the Katrina response, to climate change and the latest financial market meltdown, are all ultimately knowledge management failures — problems that arose because critical knowledge transfer never took place. The “cost of not knowing” is in the trillions, perhaps quadrillions of dollars. What is it going to take before we realize that this cost of not knowing, externalized to the taxpayer, struggling nations and future generations though it may be, is simply too high, and start to invest again in people and learning processes that will prevent the next colossal knowledge failure from damaging our weakened society further, maybe even irreparably?

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3 Responses to CCK08: Two Conversations with Gen Millennium, and Some Questions on Learning and Knowledge Failures

  1. Arjun Singh says:

    Dave, your points about the critical importance of knowledge management really resonate. As I am discovering as I have become a regular reader of your blog in the past few months, you connect the dots really well. I look to you for what the media may be reporting on next year or the year after. Thanks for all of your contributions.We met really briefly in Vancouver airport on October 1st. We had previously met at Northern Voice 2008. All the very best!

  2. lewis says:

    Your analysis on the economy crisis is quite good .What you mentioned in the above blog is perfectly correct.===============lewisLink Building

  3. Mike says:

    Great article Dave – I especially appreciated the analysis on digital natives bypassing existing IT infrastructures that don’t include social networking features.

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