Techno-fetishist meet Fluffy-bunny

I certainly agree with David that this is a default categorization of approaches to knowledge management and to information technology use in the organization. At the same time that binary categorization is at the root of most problems with effective use of technology.

We need bridges between these two cultures. The question is what can we do to build them? Time and maturity may be an element of the answer.

I started my career as a techno-fetishist. After a decade of building information and reporting systems that all too often created little in the way of change, I went back to school to try to understand why. In the process I developed into a fluffy-bunny who kept up his membership in the ACM.

As a techno-fetishist, I operated with some pretty na ve notions of human behavior (rational economic man) and of organization. That was reflected in the systems I designed. What struck me most as I developed my fluffy-bunny dimension was the proactive ignorance of most organizational theorists about what was and was not possible with technology. Although they had the advantage of thinking in terms of designed solutions to organizational problems, their design toolkits reflected little sense of the state of the possible with technology making their designs equally suspect, albeit in different ways.

The starting point has to be convincing key players on both sides of the divide to decide they need and wish to work together. Then, each has to begin investing in learning about the opportunities and contraints of the other and in teaching their counterparts across the divide about what are the key dimensions of tradeoff and opportunity.

Techno-fetishist or Fluffy-bunny?.

Attended David Gurteen’s Knowledge Caf last night. The theme for the night was: Techno-fetishist or fluffy bunny which are you?

If that sounds a little weird it may help to know that these are Dave Snowdens archetypes for those who, on the one hand, believe that knowledge management is a purely technical problem and, on the other, believe it’s all about the people.

What made tonights event a little different from normal was the number of new people there. I think for the first time over half of the people were attending their first caf . David decided to start with 15 minutes of speed networking (Find someone you don’t know, then you each have 60 seconds to tell the other person about yourself). I have to say I groaned inwardly (It had been a long day and this sounded like hard work) at the thought. Nevertheless it turned out to be quite good fun although my voice didn’t hold up too well.

There followed 40 minutes of good discussion about the role of technology in KM. Some good observations from around the room, I can’t remember most of them but a few that struck me:

  • You can have an organisation without technology, but you can’t have an organisation without people. People are the key and technology is an enabler.
  • How you see yourself (techie vs. fluffy) is only one aspect of, as it is also important how others see you. Someone made the observation that a number of his team of KM workers were seen around the organisation as techies even though (mostly being from a journalistic background) they were the fluffiest people you could wish to meet.
  • Design is important in building knowledge systems. Consider how good a job companies like Amazon and Ebay have been.
  • Technology is a good way of holding information and allowing it to be sifted and, in due course, preserved when it meets the criteria of being Hallmark Knowledge.
  • You can make people use a new finance system. You can’t make people use a KM system. Incentive systems often provoke the wrong behaviour (what happens when the incentive stops). You need to involve people from early stages and get buy in. I would ask the question: What’s in it for me?
  • Do people see what they have as knowledge? They won’t share what they feel is not valuable. This has to be addressed.

I think there was definitely a fluffy bunny conscensus in the room at the end of the day. So there is hope for us yet!

We all excused ourselves to the pub to finish the evening.

Thanks to Alison Leahy of Universities UK for providing a great venue, coffee and directions to the pub!

[Curiouser and curiouser!]