Don Tapscott Interview – Making Internal Collaboration Work

Don Tapscott, author, speaker and advisor on new technologies and media, was interviewed by McKinsey Quarterly back in September 2012, and a video excerpt plus transcript of the interview was released last month. See: Making internal collaboration work: An interview with Don Tapscott. This interview has been raising questions around the web, and thought it would be useful to look at it here on SLAW.

On a high level, Tapscott makes a good argument for use of social networking and social media inside the organization:

How do we get beyond e-mail to these new social platforms that include an industrial-strength social network? Not through Facebook, because that’s not the right tool. But there are tools now: wikis, blogs, microblogging, ideation tools, jams, next-generation project management, what I call collaborative decision management. These are social tools for decision making. These are the new operating systems for the 21st-century enterprise in the sense that these are the platforms upon which talent—you can think of talent as the app—works, and performs, and creates capability.

He goes on to say that we have gotten it wrong before this:

But we’ve approached this wrong over the years. Take something like knowledge management. Knowledge management has failed. We had this view that knowledge is a finite asset, it’s inside the boundaries of companies, and you manage it by containerizing it.

So, if we can get all of Jessica’s knowledge into this container, or computer system, then when she leaves the company we’ll still have Jessica, or we can get to Jessica in this container. And this was, of course, illusory, because knowledge is an infinite resource. The most important knowledge is not inside the boundaries of a company. You don’t achieve it through containerization, you achieve it through collaboration.

So, there’s a big change that’s underway right now in rethinking knowledge management. It’s really moving toward what I would call content collaboration, as opposed to trying to stick knowledge into a box where we can access it. E-mail is sort of like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s doing anything about it. We have to get rid of e-mail.

You need to have a new collaborative suite where, rather than receiving 50 e-mails about a project, you go there and you see what’s new. All the documents that are pertinent to that project are available. You can create a new subgroup to talk about something. You can have a challenge or an ideation or a digital brainstorm to advance the interests of that project. You can cocreate a document on a wiki. You can microblog the results of this to other people in the corporation who need to be alerted.

While I do agree with some of what he says, I have a difficult time swallowing all of it. I agree that it is more productive to hold the discussions about a project in a separate space other than email. But his assertion that “knowledge management has failed” is an exaggeration. As I discussed in a previous post The Changing Face of Knowledge Management, Knowledge Management is taking on new faces and the nature of knowledge itself may–if you follow what David Weinberger has been preaching–actually be changing. It is not that KM has changed, but has adapted.

A couple other problematic comments from the interview:

A good example is IDEO, arguably the world’s leading design company. They created a platform that got 96 percent adoption. And they did it right. They created a beautiful platform with an elegant user interface. And people just go there. This is one of those cases of: if you build it and you implement it properly, they will come. But you have to go about implementation in an appropriate way.

He makes it sound as if a pretty intranet was created and people simply use it because it is intuitive. He implies no background work was done, no change management methods used. But if you have a look at the back story about the creation of IDEO’s collaboration platform we see that was simply not the case: a lot of work including user experience, information architecture and change management work was done behind the scenes to make this system function as needed and become adopted.

You need to start with a group of young people that will adopt the technology and start to use it naturally, because it’s just like the air to them.

Others have also criticized Tapscott for saying that adoption of the technology will start with young people. Experience from others, however, is that use of these new technologies is spread out across generations. Young people may be used to text messaging, for example, but that does not necessarily mean they are comfortable with blogging. Certainly, involving young people is good, but do not ignore others who are early adopters.

What do you think of the article? Do you agree with the criticisms above? Or does he make a convincing argument?

Hat tip Drew Mathers for the IDEO article.

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