KM fallacies: Put usable tools in place, adoption will follow

The effort of running a typical KM initiative almost makes us want to believe that mass adoption will follow. Unfortunately, Ms.Adoption is not easily wooed. The launch of these initiatives are usually broadcast via company wide email. An increasing percentage of employees seem to be immune to such broadcasts (for good reason?). The early adopters, a smail percentage, use it for a few days and then their activity begins to dwindle. Adoption proceeds at an uneven pace and sometimes fails to reach critical mass needed for positive network effects. A year later, it's time for yet another initiative.

There are often genuine reasons why adoption doesn't take off. For example, the applications may not be easily accessible outside the company intranet. Or the applications may be slow to access from remote offices. Maybe people are just overworked. I am begining to wonder if there is another factor at play. I have observed it on the web and I suspect similar forces are at play within the enterprise: poor citizenship. Too many of us prefer to be passive consumers of public content on the internet. We don't produce or perhaps more importantly, curate existing content. Granted, there are some prolific producers of mediocre content via blogs, comments, tweets, and posts to public mailing lists or discussion groups (and a few prolific producers of really good content via the same channels) but they are more the exception than the rule.

Some examples of poor citizenship with respect to curating content:
  1. Not clicking "I found this review helpful/unhelpful" on a website that carries reviews (e.g. Amazon) or "This documentation was/was not useful to me" on a website that actively solicits feedback on documentation (e.g. many of Google's help pages)
  2. Not adding appropriate tags to images found on Flickr
  3. Not posting answers to unanswered questions that you ask in a public forum and later figure out the answer/workaround for.
  4. There are times when programmers struggle with a cryptic stacktrace at work and a web search points them to the exact cause. All because someone took the effort to blog about that issue. You often see a number of grateful comments at the bottom of such posts. Yet, when I overcome such a problem by myself, I seldom try to write a post about it.
It's not like we don't do it because we are against digital sharecropping. It might be that trying to be a good cyber citizen leads to yak shaving. I suspect that at least some it just boils down to a I-can't-be-bothered attitude. This attitude has tragic consequences for commons like public forums and wikis. Not many people seem to want to take the effort to contribute. But a system that fully relies on user generated content cannot succeed in the face of indifferent users. To some extent, cultural legacies determine our ability to effectively participate in a system that more resembles a gift economy. Incentive systems may help with adoption but they need to be tailored to the specific dynamics of the user community. All in all, adoption is a tough nut to crack.

1 comment:

Saager Mhatre said...

This is also explained by Conway's Law; to improve adoption of KM, ensure that the rest of your workplace is conducive to collaboration and experimentation (besides , of course, actively sharing knowledge!).

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