John Seely Brown: Knowledge flow becoming a new currency for business

Information and knowledge flow is fast becoming a currency for business. And organizations would do well to develop new ways of sharing it among employees if they hope to remain competitive in the future, said John Seely Brown during an interview at KMWorld in Washington, D.C., in late October.

Brown, who is a visiting scholar and adviser to the provost at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, said civilization is experiencing a fundamental change in the way people acquire and develop new skills. It means a new culture of learning is evolving that will make it necessary for enterprises to make sure their workers and partners use the right tools to gather, adapt and share knowledge at the same time they improve information management practices.

One tool Brown likes is the type used by the players of the computer game World of Warcraft. He pointed to a user-built dashboard that enables "after-action" review as a valuable lesson for businesses interested in improving their capability for organizational learning.

"Whenever you go to achieve a task," Brown said, "if you can have enough ways to record what is happening from different people's points of view -- like within your team -- you actually take that collective insight and improve your own performance, so it's the essence of peer-based learning."

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Brown, who was the chief scientist of Xerox Corp. and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center, said that when these dashboards are applied correctly, information professionals and other workers would create new ways of achieving the tasks at hand that would then be further improved upon by others. This creates both intellectual capital and social capital at the same time in a kind of virtual water cooler environment that can be distributed around the world by the appropriate enterprise social network. But, these tools need to be streamlined.

Brown talked about enterprise collaboration platforms that slow the whole process down by always asking for profiles to be filled out and updated in an interview with "We're all too busy for that," he said. "I'm looking for ways that don't add any extra work to my life." Employees might get around that obstacle, he said, by using social bookmarking, which enables annotations to be made to Web pages so that information can be shared with others who can make use of those findings.

Viewers of the 10-minute video will learn the following:

  • How organizations might benefit from the SAP Developer Network enterprise social tool example;
  • How a collaborative spirit among information professionals helps improve social capital and expands knowledge for organizational improvement;
  • How integrating social bookmarking goes beyond the personal to streamline collaborative processes among workers;
  • How going beyond the Facebook generation -- where stories of the moment are captured as events -- to another environment where context is added to create social narratives and have important impacts for business;
  • How changing schemas of databases rapidly will lead to different ways of framing organizational knowledge for deeper benefits.


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