Infinite Bricks

February 18, 2010

collection of building bricksAnyone who’s been around children knows that over time they will likely accumulate a collection of those little plastic building bricks; and that the number of bricks will rapidly approach infinity.

Businesses are in a similar situation when it comes to information.  If they want to build and share organizational knowledge, they must manage not only a superabundance of information, but also an ever growing selection of tools available to share and record that information.   Email, Sharepoint, wikis, blogs, Ning, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and a host of others clamor for attention, not to mention the policies and practices that need to be developed regarding the use of those tools.

I’ve noticed that when a child has infinite building bricks, there are several ways things tend to play out.  Some take one look at the colorful pile of potential spread out on the floor and are so overwhelmed that they walk away and look for a simpler project with fewer decisions.  Then there are those who take a small, carefully selected collection of bricks and work with those, ignoring the rest.  Creative masterpieces can come from simply limiting the pieces available and letting ingenuity supply what is needed to build the desired object.   A few children, by virtue of having a master plan for some massive and complex structure (and the time and fortitude to pull it off), welcome the abundance of materials and are able to make use of the whole pile.

When it comes to managing and sharing information to build knowledge, businesses are stuck in a middle of an ever growing pile of “bricks”.  Walking away and doing nothing is generally not an option; but the other choices remain.  A business can carefully select a limited number of media tools, and help its employees learn how to filter information effectively; keeping the structures for information handling and sharing simple.  For other organizations, there may be motivation to create the big master plan, and then jump in and build a knowledge sharing organization that is massive in scope and complexity.  When would someone make this investment?  Perhaps when they are trying to create new market spaces and innovation and creativity are key to success; or perhaps when the old business approaches no longer works and the innovation is needed to survive.

Knowing the goals is paramount to making sure that the right approach is taken, and the right resources are made available.  Utimately the key to managing information is to have as clearly defined a strategy for building and sharing knowledge as there is for any other critical business function.

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