Reality Check: Wikis? Sorry. Never heard of them.

Reality Check: Wikis? Sorry. Never heard of them.

Summary: Now that I have my Thinkpad T42 back (the display went dead on it has done on so many Thinkpads I've had before), I've been digging through the backlog of content that was stuck on my hard drive and that didn't get posted yet and I found a gem from Gartner's recent Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco.

TOPICS: Software

Now that I have my Thinkpad T42 back (the display went dead on it has done on so many Thinkpads I've had before), I've been digging through the backlog of content that was stuck on my hard drive and that didn't get posted yet and I found a gem from Gartner's recent Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco. Just after the opening ceremonies during which the speakers (Gartner analysts) extolled the virtues of some of the newer social technologies (ok, new by Gartner's measure) as a means to better collaboration, I did an exit interview of a group of attendees that were standing in a circle outside the auditorium. They all turned out to be IT decision makers for the State of California and I capture the interview on audio.  You can download it manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, they'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).

The exit interview covered a variety of topics.  But the two most interesting were (1) how the technologies being used by kids today are affecting their decision making and (2) their familiarity with wikis (a technology that holds a huge amount of promise to simultaneously flatten enterprise-wide collaboration, knowledge management, and document storage.  On the kid front, here's what "Don" had to say:

Those are the things we're talking about exploring because you mentioned or someone mentioned the teenagers out there, this is the way they do business.  This is the way that they do their homework and collaborate.  When we go to hire people, it's a succession planning kind of issue.  We need to be ready to hire those people and have them step in and do things the way they're use to doing them.... I gave a presentation several months ago and I used my daughters as as examples of the way they do things. I came home one day and my youngest stepdaughter .. it looked like she was playing on the computer.  But she really was doing was collaborating on getting her homework done. She had three windows up where she was chatting with some of her friends. She had a document where she was entering answers on to her homework. and then she had the school Web site up for homework help.  And, that's the way they do stuff.

Don said that both he and the school condoned that sort of collaboration.  In other words, it was not surreptitious cheating.  That's pretty encouraging (from an educational reform point of view)  to see kids using the power of collaborative technology to get work done. 

But, after the people I interviewed themselves made a convincing argument for why they're embracing newer collaborative technologies, I asked the which of the more socially oriented technologies they had in place.  Blogs? No.  Wikis? No.  In fact, what really struck me as odd was how none of the people standing in the interview had even heard of wikis.  Here were the reactions when I asked if they knew what a wiki was:

  • I've heard of wikipedia, but I'm not sure how that applies to what we're doing.
  • I sure don't.
  • No, I do not.
  • A wiki? I don't know.
  • Uh, no.
The interview is only 10 minutes long.  In some ways, the interviewees are some of the most forward looking technologists I've ever spoken to.  On one hand, they're extremely clear on why they need to embrace the newer technologies.  On the other, they're not sure what those technologies are.  The net net is that if you're one of the few people out there that get it, you could easily generate competitive advantage for your organization by adopting these technologies well ahead of your competitors.

Topic: Software

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  • A rose by any other name

    Unreal on the interview about the guy's step-daughter cheating on her homework.

    I can see her job interview now.

    "We'd like you to take this test to assess your knowledge in the job we are considering you for."

    "Cool, where's your internet connection on this computer so I can collaborate with your co-workers and other experts on the test?"

    "Um, nevermind about the test. We've already learned everything we need to know."

    "Cool. When do I start?"

    "Uh, we'll call you."
    • lack of evidence

      Ummm. Maybe they were working on a class project.

      You're awfully quick to condemn on some rather sparse evidence.
    • Efficiency of knowledge-work

      It's hard to think out of the box. You call it cheating. But what sort of people will be in hi-demand down the road? Those who are specialists in certain areas? Or people who are resoruceful enough to become a specialist in any area. We didn't used to have certain resources at our fingerips: repositories of knowledge, people, etc. Now, we do. Sure, there are some fields where pre-existing expertise is absolutely key. The medical field for example. I don't want some person operating on my back as she looks at her Dell notebook. But, I know some people who were hired for one skill and who hardly use that skill any more and their value to their company is in how much more resourceful they are than other people who don't know how to efficiently use the tools at their disposal.

      The world is changing. In a world where resourcefulness takes the place of pre-existing expertise, the people who can't contribute will get flushed out on short order. I'd argue that his daughter is doing very much what will be asked of her when she enters the workforce.

      • What does that have to do...

        .... with the flavor of tea in china?

        The point missed by both you and the other respondant to the root post is a problem that is RAMPANT in corporate America today. People don't take the time to learn the jobs they are working on, and instead rely on others-- those who HAVE taken that time, to lean on.

        If you are one of those leaned upon, and "decline" the opportunity to collaborate, you are immediately labelled as having "refused to be a team player" by those incapable of figuring it out for themselves.

        You see the key difference here, is that there is a fine line between collaborating and dependency... almost non existant in fact. Collaboration creates a culture of codependance which leads to a lack of independance. This effectively immerses the mind (very subtly!) into a "corporate" state of mind where individual creativity, innovation and drive for distinction fade away.

        What happens in our corporate culture when frown upon a professional form of free thinking and expression and promote dependence on the thinking ability of others?

        If the answer is unclear, think of GQ's buffalo running analogy: a herd can only run as fast as the slowest buffalo. Buffalo will not learn to run faster with age, they learn to run faster when the slowest buffalo at the end of the herd are taken down by predatory forces.

        Equate that to corporate culture with those predatory forces being "layoffs" and it you see that productivity is directly tied to individual performance, and lack of "falling behind."

        Also, if we discourage performance, we slow the pace down (according to some consultants, this is done for the sake of "worker happiness')-- and just because we do that, doesn't mean our overseas competitors will.

        Bottom line-- until our culture is as "hungry" as it once was-- our complacence is going to doom us.
        • furthermore...

          If corporations and consultants learned to evaluate performance imperically, instead of based on supervisor opinion, they would identify TONS of qualified people being supressed for any one of many reasons by their superiors.

          More importantly, if corporate America could identify a way to address the "elephant in the room," rather than tap dancing around it with wasted dollars on consultants giving the same song and dance, they would advance themselves in ways unparalleled by their competitors.

          What's the elephant? It has many names: complacence, excessive tolerance, abuse of privilege, abuse of command, excessive posturing, lack of empirical performance metrics for jobs, lack of regular review, incompetence, poor decisions left undisciplined... etc.
      • forward thinking

        Since way back in school my philosophy has been why memorize something I can reference? (Of course this was not popular with a number of my teachers.)
        As greater and greater knowledge becomes more widely accessible, this view gains more credence. I need to know how and where to find information, but I don't need to carry it all in my head...
        At least until the great breakdown comes and societal infrastructure as we know it crumbles. Then the knowledge people carry in their heads will be all that matters and I'll be SOL! But I'll have millions of Americans to keep me company.
  • Reality Check: Wikis

    In the article "Reality Check: Wikis? Sorry. Never heard of them", the shortcut "(see ZDNet?s podcasts: How to tune in) is dead.
    • Fixed!

      Thanks for pointing that out Lennie.