Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On the Dock

Hmm! A HBR blog post that seems to be totally against document repositories! Not so fair, in my opinion. I, of course, left my thoughts on the blog and will make a note of it here as well as is my habit. [ Reminds me of this old post/conversation on repositories.]


Interesting post! But a harsh conclusion! Right from the time I have been engaged in building repositories for knowledge sharing, I've heard people talk about the possibility of repository-users compromising on originality. I think there has always been a tug-of-war between reuse and innovation.

Organizations end up pushing people to deliver faster while doing better and most people choose to make it faster at the cost of quality just to temporarily silence the managers breathing down their neck. At the end of the day, I think a lot depends on the individual's style of working. Some people are subjected to the NIH syndrome and will not reuse anything whatsoever even if it is thrust down their throats while there are others who will blindly reuse anything and everything that is even remotely related to their work.

KM's job is to provide the repository, ensure that good content gets into it and also usher in a culture that involves introspection before the decision on whether the situation calls for reuse or originality or a mix of the two. In most cases, I'd imagine it ought to be a combination!

Shutting down corporate document management systems is akin to shutting down libraries, even otherwise. It seriously can give us food for thought. Different from giving us the thoughts themselves. And many a time, I discover a document and that is how I come to even know that there is such a person (the author) whom I can contact for further conversations! Consider another case - Innovation is often described as a new way of connecting 'old' information. When I discover many documents written to satisfy the same requirement (by many people) I may end up seeing them as different dots that need to be connected....I could possibly connect them in a novel way - perhaps combine [mash-up] all the material to create something quite new.

But there definitely are situations that call for abandoning the past and starting with a clean slate. The individual/team working under such a circumstance should realize it and know when not to recook knowledge. Human intelligence and decision making must intervene and take over the rules and old habits.


Prashant Sree said...

Hmmm.,. Pretty KM stuff's here ;)

Just got confused by the new definition of Innovation - making old materials matters by showing them in new light ??

Isnt it similar to plagiarizing ??

Agreed that plagiarizing is like directly copying other work but in KM , does the question of originality come , if yes, how is it appreciated ??

Nimmy said...

Hey Prashant,
Good to see your comment! You ask a valid question. Sometimes, people find it hard to differentiate the new from the old. I'll give you my understanding of the difference between plagiarizing and innovation as I've mentioned it in this particular post. Let's see if that clarifies things for you... :-)
Plagiarizing is - like you point out - simply copying someone else's work and *claiming credit for it*. The latter part of the sentence is very important...
Innovation as I mention it here is about *connecting the dots* and *adding value* is not about combining two different documents and creating a "raw" third artifact and calling it one's own creation. The situation I am talking about involves taking inspiration from the ideas of multiple documents and letting that lead to the creation of a brand new idea that adds more value AND GIVING CREDIT TO THE SOURCES OF INSPIRATION. Let me give you some examples - Long back, in one of my previous companies, when we were preparing for product launch, we had arranged for a cake-cutting ceremony as a part of the function. When we all got together for a brainstorming session in order to compose an invite for the function, someone in the team suggested "Using this "product" will be a cake-walk!"...though it was a nice suggestion, not many people voted for it. The word cake triggered off a thought in me and I immediately suggested "Have the process cake and eat it too!" [We were launching a process-compliance product] and that received many votes and was finally adopted! I just connected two dots...another person's suggestion and my own knowledge of another popular English proverb. Let me give you a second example - Today, there are a few tools that help people use Twitter in combination with a Social Bookmarking tool. It was simply the idea of a person who wanted to help people integrate their twitter experiences with that of say, delicious/digg etc. They are not plagiarizing anything but have a new value-added idea to combine two old ideas. Another example would be a person who combines two different concepts into a third one that was simply inspired by the old ideas - but please note that the third idea may happen to be something that adds value to the existing concepts. A suitcase with a roller is a combination of an ordinary suitcase and the concept of a trolley...but it adds a different value!

But yes, in today's world, plagiarization is a valid problem that needs to be tackled appropriately. But even if someone picks up some old material and modifies it a bit for the purpose of reusing it, it is absolutely OK as long as the person gives the original author full credit and mentions the context behind the reuse. Organizations encourage such copying (with credit) for the purpose of efficiency and response speed! :-)
Does this answer your question(s)?

Prashant Sree said...

@Nimmy:Interesting examples. It did shed some light on the differences.

One thought. Since the original author gets credit in case of innovation, does it include royalty fees for him or is it just credit by name mention...?

Nimmy said...

Glad you are able to relate to the examples, Prashant. Whether the original author (source of inspiration) gets royalty fees or not depends on the context and the type of inspiration....It can for example happen if you make a movie out of a book written by someone else. But mentions may be limited to the "biography" section in the case of articles etc.