Admit it, we’re all free agents!

A RodGoogle recently launched Knol. It is essentially a Wikipedia where authors can build up a personal brand. In addition, they can even monetize pages they author via, surprise surprise, Google Ads. Personally, I think the concept is brilliant. It plays on everyone’s need to feel special and that can’t hurt participation.

As I dove deeper into this new concept, I saw the folks at ZDnet had a piece contemplating if this new web app could be more of a knowledge management play. As we all know, KM has been plagued over the years and never made much of an inroad – not for lack of trying. I have always loved KM, and too wondered, why the failure? Here is what Larry Dignan thinks:

“The biggest reason: Employees like to hoard knowledge and don’t want to share much because they become less valuable.”

This got me thinking. Maybe it is time to just accept the reality that we are all free agents. Apart from sales, one someone is hired, they tend to go to work without the pressure of day to day performance. The irony is that, the pressure to perform is certainly there, but outside of sales, performance is shrouded in mystery. Why are some people promoted? Who is really a team player? Who is doing the best work? The inner workings of companies are tough to make clear under the current model of operation.

The obvious challenge is measurement. I agree with Larry that a system like Google is proposing could change this dynamic. If we solved the measurement problem, a kind of market economy for free agency could be achieved (at least inside an organization and ideally across organizations).

What would it look like if we all acknowledged the inherent free agency in the employee/employer relationship? I would argue that if we made this leap, both employees and employers would be better off. How?

Let’s take employees. In a world where your personal contributions, skills, expertise, and attitude were on display, I imagine it might “light a fire”. People would work harder, care more, and generally do more to promote the common good. The fact is, transparency changes behavior (ever not wash your hands leaving an empty bathroom?). Sometimes this change is for the worse, but on balance, I like the model for how it drives people to improve themselves and that can only help them in their current job, future job, and life in general.

Employers on the other hand would now have at their disposal a wealth of performance data. How can this help the organization? Well, there are a ton of ways, but let’s just take the simple idea of differentiation. I think most would agree that higher performers should be paid more, average performers should be mentored to higher level skills, and the weakest players should be moved out to more appropriate roles or organizations. This model has been made infamous by Jack Welch. I should note that the ire Mr. Welch inspires in others is primarily due to his percentages while the concept itself is generally liked as it has a sense of fairness which people tend to immediately appreciate. Doing this well just makes companies stronger and people happier. Period.
So if we found a way to enable people to build their own personal brand through activities we want to incent (like sharing, collaboration, etc), both employees and employers could be substantially better off. Batter up! (fyi steroids still don’t increase typing wpm)

-Paul

AboutPaul

a.k.a.:ppedrazzi

14 comments

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  3. Thanks Paul for coving a lot of topics near and dear to my heart. I’m sure I’ll be tracking back to this post a bit, as I you really are covering a lot of ground here that I’d like to explore.

    I also have wished for more success in KM over the years. I personally don’t believe it fails due to individuals wanting to horde knowledge. I think that often it fails because it is pushed top down and has never found a way to not put a huge burden on your most strapped resources. I think a more 2.0 approach is exactly what is needed to breathe new fire into the point of KM — more alignment between self promotion, corporate goals and knowledge capture and sharing is all good in my book.

  4. Thanks Paul for coving a lot of topics near and dear to my heart. I’m sure I’ll be tracking back to this post a bit, as I you really are covering a lot of ground here that I’d like to explore.

    I also have wished for more success in KM over the years. I personally don’t believe it fails due to individuals wanting to horde knowledge. I think that often it fails because it is pushed top down and has never found a way to not put a huge burden on your most strapped resources. I think a more 2.0 approach is exactly what is needed to breathe new fire into the point of KM — more alignment between self promotion, corporate goals and knowledge capture and sharing is all good in my book.

  5. Meg, I hear ya. I too think “hording” is too one dimensional. My sense is that the tools have been overhead instead of a natural part of the workstream, but I am sure there are countless other reasons.

    Looking forward to your other thoughts…

  6. Meg, I hear ya. I too think “hording” is too one dimensional. My sense is that the tools have been overhead instead of a natural part of the workstream, but I am sure there are countless other reasons.

    Looking forward to your other thoughts…

  7. In “The Knowing-Doing Gap” authors Pfeffer and Sutton make a good argument that the problem with KM was that it assumed that value was found when knowledge was viewed as something primarily explicit or tangible (e.g. facts, techniques and practices) and therefore something that can be captured, measured, transferred, etc. which is what management systems are good at doing. This kind of knowledge tends to be most useful for doing something routine.

    However, a lot (and some might say the most important kind) of knowledge is tacit/intangible. That is, knowledge that is hard to describe or codify, but still essential for doing something and doing it well, particularly anything novel. It’s the “underlying philosophy that guides what [organizations] do and why they do it.” That is by its very nature hard to capture and codify, but humans can be very good at learning it from experience and sharing it.

    KM also tended to be run by folks who weren’t involved in the generation of the knowledge, so knowledge went in and rarely came back out. More value is gained in knowledge sharing and use, which is about turning knowledge into action (i.e. “doing”) and this is best done by the knowledge generators themselves telling what they know and often through stories vs. manuals.

    Hmmm. Routine vs. Novel – sounds like ERP vs. BRP. Managed by “keepers” vs. shared by “doers” – sounds like what blogs, wikis, and social networks can help us do.

  8. In “The Knowing-Doing Gap” authors Pfeffer and Sutton make a good argument that the problem with KM was that it assumed that value was found when knowledge was viewed as something primarily explicit or tangible (e.g. facts, techniques and practices) and therefore something that can be captured, measured, transferred, etc. which is what management systems are good at doing. This kind of knowledge tends to be most useful for doing something routine.

    However, a lot (and some might say the most important kind) of knowledge is tacit/intangible. That is, knowledge that is hard to describe or codify, but still essential for doing something and doing it well, particularly anything novel. It’s the “underlying philosophy that guides what [organizations] do and why they do it.” That is by its very nature hard to capture and codify, but humans can be very good at learning it from experience and sharing it.

    KM also tended to be run by folks who weren’t involved in the generation of the knowledge, so knowledge went in and rarely came back out. More value is gained in knowledge sharing and use, which is about turning knowledge into action (i.e. “doing”) and this is best done by the knowledge generators themselves telling what they know and often through stories vs. manuals.

    Hmmm. Routine vs. Novel – sounds like ERP vs. BRP. Managed by “keepers” vs. shared by “doers” – sounds like what blogs, wikis, and social networks can help us do.

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