Teachable moments

Most IT systems deployed to this point are designed to do two things: monitor and control operations, or portray information (e.g. business intelligence systems).

Knowledge management was brought forward as a third leg — capturing, coding and using knowledge gained by others — but few have gotten their organization to support that mission and therefore few teachable moments have emerged from KM systems.

Perhaps what we should be looking for is a different kind of moment: ones where the normal use of systems also acts to instruct.

For instance, few people really visualize exponential curves well. They also don’t see limits approaching (for instance, if you have half the market, and your share is doubling, one more cycle will see you owning all of the market — and growth stops cold).

As a result, incorrect assumptions about what the information being portrayed means creep in.

So, too, risks, bad guesstimates on how long things will take, etc. These are all issues project managers have dealt with for years — but it is the lack of understanding of the underlying meaning of things that’s getting in the way of “getting better” at change.

Many of these are hard to think about not only because the school curricula didn’t do a good job of internalizing them — yes, they were discussed, but never really applied to the point where they became second nature (the way simple arithmetic did). Application of this kind of thinking is also sometimes debatable, making it a true knowledge question.

If our systems (when presenting information) also gave access to on-going estimates of mounting risk, or showed where the current rates of change being portrayed are likely to break down, we would slowly internalize these ways of thinking.

This would be a powerful “unlocking” of potential for the organization: more ambiguity could be dealt with, more complexity taken on board.

Indeed, more information could then be presented in visual forms that relate many factors at once, enabling more organizational weak signal cues. Simple graphics (think of the type PowerPoint might produce) or tables of numbers can’t achieve the density required to truly see patterns emerge and take action early.

These are the tools to unlock processes, recognize low levels of repeatability, determine what level of support is required (versus when to use human ingenuity), and to see opportunities more readily.

No client department will ever come to IT and say “hey, wouldn’t it be great if…”. No, IT will need to experiment, illustrate, master knowledge via information display.

Thinking “social”, and adding the ability to comment and interact around what is seen, would be the functional equivalent of a KM system — but one that people genuinely wanted to use.

This is but one example of why, in the years ahead, it’s the “I” in IT that will matter far more than the “T”.

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About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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