Foundation Before Innovation

I got to tell you. It’s tough being on the same posting day as Mitch and Yosie these days. The bar can sit pretty high when my coastal time zone mind wakes up to see what they’ve posted each Thursday. Such is the evolving quality of Slaw, I suppose — which, of course, makes for great reading.

Case in point, Mitch’s post below shares a wonderful vision for how KM can evolve to be more effective, more business-centric and drive new innovation. Simply fantastic. Please don’t take the rest of this post as a critique of Mitch’s ideas.

One difference I’d like to bring to the table, however, is how we value and describe information collections. While Matthew Parson’s book, and many other KM visions do consider them “information landfills”, or dumping grounds, I have a very different take. I like to think of these collections as the foundational pieces on which the types of innovation Mitch is advocating for, get the support they need.

I base this vision on a number of biases. First of all I am a librarian; and probably more relevant, have a ‘technical services’ bent. I appreciate the nuances of indexing and abstracting, faceting, controlled vocabularies or a good retrieval language. When things are properly structured and considered, we can develop great collections. And from that background I know that great collections make a difference. They get used! People develop a connection to them, and come to rely on them. Bad collections? Yes they have the potential to become a ‘dumping ground’ in the worst sense of the phrase. BUT, information that gets used regularly, that is reliable and current; those collections can become invaluable to professionals.

I was also lucky enough to start one of the early law firm KM programs back in the mid-to-late ’90s, and continued to dabble for the next 10 years. From that experience, I have firmly come to believe that information collections can become the backbone of the most sophisticated and innovative products. Not just any information, of course. Again, information that is truly useful and valuable, giving it the potential to evolve. Quality counts here, in spades.

Sometimes I wonder if the appreciation for good information collections comes from a difference in approaches: top-down vs. bottom-up. Visionaries like to approach things looking at the big picture. That’s an important talent, and one that not everyone has to offer. But especially within the legal industry, we must stop ourselves and recognize that innovative products are also built on a foundation, a foundation of detail — the devil if you will. Without it, products rarely deliver. Worse, it’s an oversight that people can’t always see. Products with huge potential are simply seen as ‘flat’ with their prospective user base, and few people can understand why.

Great products, at least in my view, depend on both approaches.

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