April 10, 2018

Sharing Knowledge for Engagement and Connectedness

Posted in Knowledge Management tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:57 pm by degyes

KNOWLEDGE is the most commonly lost asset in an organization. Knowledge loss costs companies time and money. That’s because when knowledge is lost, individuals and teams have to relearn everything since everyone’s maintaining their own “personal” vaulted knowledge-base. People are repeating the same tasks without benefiting from the experience gained by those who preceded them. What’s more alarming is that most people at the leadership level are hardly aware that such a problem exists. Tools can help. But tools alone won’t solve the problem. Recent years have witnessed tremendous innovation in products and platforms that leverage Knowledge Sharing. But technology is of limited effect if human beings aren’t driving the process. The good news is that we’ve devised an agile methodology to address the problem of knowledge disappearance. As a leader among your professional group and initiator in your organization, you’ll be equipped to see Knowledge Sharing, and to reap its benefits.

What is Knowledge Sharing?

Knowledge Sharing takes a casual conversation, idea, or even a chat between team members, and develops it into a statement or story containing an unambiguous take-home point or lesson-learned. That point could be based around a best practice, a how-to procedure, a product release notification, or any unit of knowledge that one human being can convey to another. Knowledge Sharing is a collaborative and adaptive process that thrives on participation and feedback from the community. In solving business and technical problems, or if marketing and promoting products and services, an organization shares all manner of information, from routine messages or tweets to formal documents. Sometimes, it codifies that information into a structured knowledgebase. This enables the community, that is, its members or target audiences, to apply the knowledge in ways that are practical, beneficial, and meaningful.

Why share knowledge? What’s in it for me?

Shared knowledge enables an organization to achieve repeatable processes for predictable results. Purposes could encompass improving internal processes and site procedures, as well as getting customers to spend time visiting your site and streaming content or buying things. It provides a set of best practices to help each team member do their job better and to achieve their professional goals. What’s more, Knowledge Sharing enables the team to function more effectively and cohesively as a unit.

Once an organization becomes convinced as to the immense value of Knowledge Sharing, you start hearing leaders, groups, and individuals instead asking What’s in it for us?

Where are we going with Knowledge Sharing? What’s the Vision?

We envision a professional culture where teams are smarter, more effective, and better connected because they’re sharing knowledge collaboratively in an atmosphere of trust. We’re passionate about building ecosystems that enable companies to retain their customers by keeping them satisfied and engaged with meaningful content tailored to their interests and needs. We believe in building communities where:

  • Processes are repeatable,
  • Procedures reflect agreed best practice with predictable results,
  • The best articles, videos, podcasts, and presentations are identified, posted, and exploited for good,
  • Target users and knowledge consumers are engaged,
  • Haphazard implementation is eliminated, and
  • Reinvention of the wheel is eradicated.

What is Knowledge Sharing trying to achieve? What’s the Mission?

Making our Knowledge Sharing vision a reality requires keeping several key goals front and center. Any process or method in a Knowledge Sharing program needs to align with one or more of these goals.

  • Leveraging an organization’s knowledge to help sell, support, and maintain its products and services,
  • Integrating those products and services successfully and getting them to work better,
  • Delivering integrated systems to customers and partners, and keeping them running smoothly,
  • Retaining customers and keeping them connected,
  • Increasing revenue, and reducing support costs.

How do you do Knowledge Sharing?

Doing Knowledge Sharing well requires leveraging the knowledge assets held by an organization to benefit everyone. Several key ingredients stand at the center of any Knowledge Sharing project or effort:

  • Creating an environment where immediate posting of information is a highly regarded value, and where constructively given feedback is not only expected, but actively sought.
  • Building a cadre of curators, possibly including customers, integrators, and partners who make sure knowledge stays fresh, not static.
  • Developing an atmosphere where collaboration is an expectation and something folks feel safe doing. This means there is no fear of skill set commoditization or professional marginalization.
  • Implementing systems that make crowd-sourcing easy, and where all community members can share with minimal overhead.
  • Making the knowledge assets searchable, transparent, accessible, readable, and intuitive.

What do we need to make Knowledge Sharing work?

Knowledge Sharing can succeed and thrive only in the total absence of fear. Naturally, such an environment requires trust and good will on the part of all, leader, sharer, and consumer alike. Of course, we can’t assume this atmosphere exists in a given organization. Often, it requires leadership that exemplifies the qualities of fearlessness and rewarding risk-taking. We advise being persistent and patient. Realize from the outset that implementing a Knowledge Sharing culture might require a process of slow cultivation.

What can Knowledge Sharing catalysts do to create such an atmosphere? Working within an agreed and publicized code of ethics, even a really simple one, helps a lot. For instance, we’ve always made the rule “Embarrass No One” a basic and unassailable guideline. This way, anyone approached to share what they know never lives under the threat that sharing would lead to adverse consequences.

What can Knowledge Sharing sponsors, that is, community leaders, do to enable Knowledge Sharing to thrive? Eliminating the fear of managerial retribution, or even the vaguest threat of mild retaliation, is absolutely essential. This commitment to transparency and trust begins at the C-level and filters downward. It means not only allowing but encouraging people to share—inside the organization—information that could be unflattering toward its technology, products, or processes. Sharing externally would, naturally, require a more thorough vetting process that takes public perception, reputation, and contractual obligations, into account. Our Knowledge Sharing code of ethics began with the principle “First, Do No Harm.”

Challenges

Knowledge Sharing initiatives will inevitably face challenges like these:

  • Getting knowledge out of the private vaults of engineers, experts, and even the executive leadership, and sharing it among colleagues, partners, and customers
  • Stopping “learn and lose,” dispersion of data, informational chaos, lengthy information-release timescales, and constant interruption to knowledge acquisition
  • Creating a professional environment where people feel safe sharing what they know

Solutions

Establish a tradition of Knowledge Sharing in an organization, and introduce tools, platforms, and supporting technologies that advance Knowledge Sharing. Most importantly, bring about a culture that rewards and encourages:

  • Achieving repeatable processes for predictable results;
  • Making those processes accessible, iterative, adaptive, and intuitive;
  • Building an expert team that provides solutions, suggestions, and recommendations;
  • Putting in place feedback loops ensuring that knowledge is reviewed, commented—and if necessary, vetted—and kept up-to-date;
  • Creating and maintaining an archive of stories that the worldwide professional community can draw upon to prevent and solve problems;
  • Cultivating a global community that serves as “lightning rods” for Knowledge Sharing;
  • Listening, caring, being open and eager to help colleagues improve their skills and achieve better results on all activity levels ranging from the technical to the commercial.

The outcome of applying these solutions is that an organization creates a virtual “campfire” around which teams gather to trade stories and share what they know. When the people in an organization feel warm, safe, and excited bringing their stories to that campfire, you know your Knowledge Sharing initiative is heading in the right direction.

How a Conversation Becomes a Story

Good will, commitment, and ethics are essential ingredients in a successful Knowledge Sharing program. But how do you actually capture, refine, publicize, and disseminate knowledge in a way that people will access, read, and apply it? Here’s an agile methodology describing the knowledge capture, publication, and tagging process, from end-to-end. While offering a structured approach, it contains considerable flexibility for the executive leader running a Knowledge Sharing effort on the fly. With some patience, persistence, and a little help from your team, you can apply this model almost anywhere.

Phase 1: Capture

Identify an issue of importance, share the idea—still in raw form—on your internal chat forum or message board; or, delegate to your favorite writer to assemble a draft article or statement, and share it with the team.

Phase 2: Publicize

Identify the best person in your organization—perhaps the CTO, CMO or CFO—to review the article as a candidate for sharing publicly; ensure technical (or financial) accuracy, completeness, and appropriateness for going “live.” If you have the resources, assign someone to assure editorial quality. Take it public by posting to your organization’s Knowledge Sharing platform, blog, wiki, or social media page. Depending on its security sensitivity and writing quality, share it onto your corporate Facebook page, or to your LinkedIn profile. Tweet it. Encourage talk-backs. Request feedback. Pay particular attention to the reactions of your most critical readers (they’re always the most helpful and informative!)

Phase 3: Tag

Aid search by getting your Knowledge Sharing curator to tag your post using an enterprise tagging tool. This leverages its findability with metadata. The right combination of human tagging and A.I. algorithms can go a long way toward putting your article on the top of the Google results pile!

Phase 4: Go Viral

Aggregate your best-of-breed articles for periodic sharing via push email or a newsletter. Encourage and reward feedback from the readership and commenting by the community. Take it to a wider audience and maximize impact!

Phase 5: Repeat Process

Aided by Knowledge Sharing catalysts, repeat the process and create new knowledge assets, capture best practices, identify experts, and make teams smarter!

The Role of the Knowledge Sharing Catalyst

In a Knowledge Sharing ecosystem, a catalyst is both a role and a personality. She is a conversation facilitator, chat initiator, community builder, thought stimulator, as well as an evangelist. A focused and structured extrovert with well-refined social skills, the catalyst has the finesse and the affability to build a team of contributors, and the patience to act as curator of a growing base of knowledge assets. As an executive leader, we encourage you to identify and appoint a Knowledge Sharing catalyst to whom to entrust the routine but vital tasks required to make Knowledge Sharing thrive in your organization.

What a catalyst does

By definition, a catalyst, like in biology, acts on a substance to make it do its job or fulfill its purpose. Similar for a human catalyst in a Knowledge Sharing ecosystem. Here are several of the key functions your catalyst will be expected to perform.

Network

Get friendly with your teammates, chat them up, schedule Skype and WhatsApp sessions with them. Ask them about site visits to customers, partners, and suppliers. Find out about technical issues and problems they’ve encountered in the development cycle. Get on Zoom, TeamViewer, or Telegram with them, and listen to what they’ve got to share. Become a master practitioner in the art of the conversation. Within appropriate limits, get really flirty here!

Research

Do your homework. Or delegate a team member to do it for you. Ask the right questions. Educate yourself and your team to become better-informed investigators.

Follow-up

Set reminders prompting planned follow-ups with contributors. Ping them with emails or text messages. Get on Google Hangouts with them. Track your email requests with reminders to nudge them. Send out pings for comment and review of write-ups. Be the shepherd that drives and champions the Knowledge Sharing effort.

Dashboards: Analytics at Work

A dashboard provides each user or visitor to a Knowledge Sharing portal with the information they need, at a glance, to make better informed decisions regarding key aspects of their daily work and where to focus attention. A dashboard acts as graphical frontend to a Knowledge Sharing portal that enables people to find things quickly and do things easily. It visualizes the display of knowledge assets in a structure that’s logical to the user, and optimizes that display in a way that’s most effective and meaningful. In addition, it employs A.I. mechanisms to learn about who the users are, what they do, and what they need and want to know. Depending on the profile of the user logged into the portal, the dashboard offers a targeted set of indicators informing that persona regarding items relevant to performing their professional functions.

For a dashboard to be of value, it needs to display informative and actionable content. Here is a mock-up example, created using open source tools, depicting how a Knowledge Sharing portal can optimize knowledge assets, providing your team with the essential functions they need in performing their daily work. The dashboard presented below is optimized for you, as CEO, or for the CIO to whom you’ve entrusted Knowledge Sharing in your company. It contains a set of tile cards, reports, and indicators giving insights into how your Knowledge Sharing platform is being utilized. You can instantly obtain basic stats and metrics regarding site visitors, daily articles posted, subscribers joined, comments pending, status of contributions, and articles consumed over a particular time-frame. This data, updated in real-time, provides you with the details you need to determine the effectiveness of your Knowledge Sharing program, helping you find out, for example, who’s engaged, and who needs outreach.

KS_Dashboard_VoH

A good dashboarding tool provides a highly personalized user experience. Enhanced with Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), in addition to displaying reports and newsfeeds tailored to particular users, it supports auto-generated notifications and auto-triggered pushing of content to people, teams, and wider audiences. Push decisions are driven at the platform’s back-end and are based on users’ shared characteristics, expressed interests, level of engagement, and patterns of behavior.

A variety of open source solutions are available to help your team get organized around its Knowledge Sharing efforts. There are dozens out there, though here’s a short list of a few that come recommended.

  • OpenKM – create a fully-featured knowledge base
  • eXo – popular for intra-team collaboration
  • Slack – great for supporting the social collaboration aspects of Knowledge Sharing
  • myBase – appropriate for organizations that depend on research and that want to create deep knowledgebases
  • Google Drive – a reasonably powerful Knowledge Sharing tool that’s widely integrated. Provides a great place to get started because it’s ubiquitous and familiar to all
  • Zendesk – great for supporting customer service efforts

Leveraging A.I. Algorithms and Machine Learning

A good knowledge sharing platform combines:

  1. Metadata about shared knowledge – that is, articles, videos and different types of postings;
  2. Data about the platform’s users – meaning, those posting and consuming knowledge; and
  3. Business Intelligence (BI) algorithms that cross-reference ‘a’ and ‘b’ to present an optimized view geared to the informational needs and professional function of individual users and teams.

A growing assortment of powerful A.I. tools and innovative machine learning technologies is available to support your Knowledge Sharing efforts. Portals, platforms, and search tools integrate these mechanisms to analyze, manage, and optimize your content, and target it to your various audiences. Several of the key automated functions that can help drive a Knowledge Sharing effort include:

  • Analyzing a user’s reading patterns, remembering topics that interest them, and using that data to make smart recommendations
  • Identifying disengaged users and selecting the kind of communication and content most likely to get them back on board
  • Predicting who’ll read which articles and matching content to audience
  • Automating content curation to strengthen search, while making “push” attempts more likely to succeed
  • Providing a personalized user experience that serves up the right content, to the right people, at the right moment, anticipating what the user wants to know before they’re even aware they want to know it.

Acquiring the most appropriate A.I. tools and implementing them on your Knowledge Sharing platform will go a long way toward ensuring that your content reaches its audience, keeps users engaged, partners informed, and customers feeling connected.

Call to Action

The success of an organization, distributed or local, is fueled by its communicative openness, and its ability to collaborate, adapt, and share. That means taking knowledge assets out of the private vault, and placing them into a common area, accessible by all, filtered by relevance and pushed to those who need them. Good intentions are important getting a Knowledge Sharing ecosystem launched. But sooner rather than later, you’ll need to develop some social, entrepreneurial, and technical skills, or delegate to someone who’s got them. As a leader, consider that Knowledge Sharing, while playing upon the idealistic character of humans, isn’t being done exclusively for altruistic reasons. For people to be willing to participate, there needs to be a clearly identifiable business benefit. That payoff is the profitability of saving time, reducing hassle, removing obstacles, selling product, and preserving reputation. At the same time, sharing makes us feel good about ourselves, our teams, and our work. Beyond rewarding people with bonuses, perks, movie passes, and gourmet chocolate, a successful Knowledge Sharing program, implicitly or explicitly, will exploit the very human need to care and to feel included in something larger than ourselves.

Exercises

  • Go out and network. As a leader, you’re doing that already. This time, talk to the techies. Ask them to be specific about any problems they’ve encountered and how they’re solving the issue. Remember, people like to talk about themselves, especially when they can place themselves in a positive light, and feel trust in the interaction. Back them with the management level support they need sharing the story about how they solved the problem.
  • Start a Knowledge Sharing blog. Or a podcast. Or a Wiki. Or an email newsletter. Or, just go ahead and post that favorite product description to your LinkedIn profile. While the medium you choose can be important, what’s way more vital is your commitment to keeping it provisioned and updated with interesting, relevant, readable, and searchable content.
  • Recruit a Knowledge Sharing evangelist. Nominate someone in your organization to launch your Knowledge Sharing initiative. Encourage and incentivize your team to:
    • Become more conversant in your organization’s products, technologies, and services. Rewarding people with Amazon gift certificates is nice, but what’s far more effective is cultivating a sense of ownership, which leads to a feeling of belonging and identification with the team’s success
    • Get familiar with Knowledge Sharing tools and their strengths and limitations, including finding out how they’re leveraged by A.I., which is becoming increasingly central to engagement.
    • Deploy those tools in alignment with your organization’s vision and goals.
      Yes, of course this is difficult! Remember to reread the chapters on Your Personal Leadership, Being Authentic, and Pillars of Alignment.
  • Recruit contributors. As your knowledge sharing initiative gains traction, appoint team members to provide material, write articles, tweet, chat and spread the word about how Knowledge Sharing is already yielding results. Encountering skepticism or even resistance? Take a step back and acknowledge that you’re doing something courageous and even revolutionary in your organization, and that it’s not always easy.
  • Be a Knowledge Sharing sponsor. Become that person at the leadership rank who generates enthusiasm, from the C-level down to the grassroots, and who can allocate resources (human and material) to your Knowledge Sharing effort. How you do this may depend on the nature of your organization and the degree of trust you’ve so far managed to inculcate in encouraging people to take initiatives. Most notably, only you, as sponsor, has the prestige to give the evangelists and contributors the support they need to lead and implement the organization’s knowledge goals.

Looking forward to hearing about your Knowledge Sharing journey!

Dave Egyes

Email: david.egyes@gmail.com
Skype: davends
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daveegyes/

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January 31, 2016

Springboarding and Radical Flexibility in Technical Communication

Posted in Commentary, Content Strategy, Disruptive Communication, Documentation, Knowledge Management tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 3:44 pm by degyes

This morning, I did something that I do rather infrequently. That is, I responded to a research survey, this one being conducted by a tech comms professor at a college in New Mexico. The request was to list—in the respondent’s opinion—the most important trends, technologies, and theories impacting the tech comms field over the past five years (with a limit not to exceed ten items).

Having been mostly out of the field for the past almost three years, since transitioning to the financial side of the technology sector, I realized my response might be perceived as a bit presumptuous. Though once I got beyond that initial reluctance, and betting I’d have what to contribute, my thought process got itself into gear. Then, as I started putting together my list (some of which I realize—like outsourcing and apps—are no-brainers), it got me thinking more deeply about the issue of surviving in the brave new world of off-shoring, crowd-sourcing, and rapid paradigm shifts. Which led, in turn, to my evolving theory regarding ‘springboarding’ — or, radical flexibility—as a job survival and career development strategy.

So here are my top 10 items for what we should all be maintaining in our field of awareness as we courageously plow ahead into the ever-changing, but always essential, professional practice of sharing knowledge with those seeking answers.

  • Off-shoring, meaning, expand and deepen training in order to keep US-based TC’s relevant in current market.
  • Outsourcing, similar to above, though focused on “manpower” firms as the competition as opposed to overseas TC’s.
  • Crowd-sourcing, meaning, forcing the question as to ‘why do I need in-house TC’s if the customer will anyway Google their questions’?
  • Cloud-based documentation, meaning, ability to host documentation in a highly modular fashion where updates can be made on-the-fly and in a way that’s transparent to the customer or end-consumer.
  • Video and animation. YouTube contains lots of real gems, offering ‘how-to’ instructions for everyday applications like Word and Excel, as well as for specialized and highly-specialized solutions. Screen-cam tools enable reasonably quick creation of animations and storyboards that have replaced more “traditional” text- and still image-based documentation. These skills are must-haves for today’s TC.
  • Single-canvas presentation solutions (for example, Prezi), which have made fast-paced animations another need-to-have skill for TC’s. (I actually prefer to call these tools “infinite canvas” or “non-linear object path.”)
  • Documentation on-the-go, meaning docs — or any information —consumed via apps.
  • Metrics, that is, the demand for TC departments, teams, and individual practitioners to prove their added value by demonstrating statistically how documentation products and services contribute to the bottom line.
  • Agile methodology, which is a whole philosophy, but I’m referring specifically to having the customer or end-consumer play an essential role in the feedback loop that impacts the documentation that the software (or any product or service) provider delivers.
  • DevOps, which is another whole philosophy, but I’m referring specifically to TC’s needing to keep up in an environment where continuous development and continuous integration rule the day.

In closing, I’ll add that perhaps the most important item, not included in the list above, is what I would call spring-boarding or perhaps “radical flexibility;” that is, the awareness that your professional practice is likely to change considerably in tone and in scope every two or so years, and could even become completely unrecognizable and in need of swap-out after three to five years.

Wishing us all much success as we go forward.

-Dave Egyes

 

May 13, 2011

Where Hip-Hop, Fashion, and Knowledge Sharing Intersect

Posted in Book Review, Business Development, Knowledge Management tagged , , , , at 2:28 pm by degyes

I often find that my deepest insights into life and work come from sources whom I least expect to impact my thinking. When an opportunity recently presented itself to obtain an e-copy of Daymond John’s Display of Power: How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion, Branding & Lifestyle, I followed my instincts and downloaded it, wondering if there was something in John’s story that would speak to me in an inspirational way. I ended up practically glued to this book for the next several days.

Display of Power provides an autobiographical sketch of how Hollis, Queens native Daymond John, along with a few trusted friends from the ‘hood (and a host of advisors and financial backers) launched FUBU (For Us, By Us), one of the premiere African American-owned fashion outfits in North America, and a globally recognized super-brand.

John advocates what I would call a true hands-on management style, based on keeping his ear constantly close to the ground. Essentially, this means listening actively and persistently, and showing no hubris towards one’s customers and critics. Listen not to your gaggle of yes-men, but to your harshest detractors.

Get out of your office. Party with your customers, even those who’ve left your brand. Show that you care about them and they’ll come back. Avoid ivory tower thinking and behavior. Don’t surround yourself with sycophants, lackeys and favor seekers who tell you only what you want to hear. Treat your employees like gold (if you don’t, they’ll anyway vent their resentment on your customers).

So what does this have to do with Knowledge Sharing (KS)? In a word: everything.

Display of Power intersects with KS at so many points. For starters, it provides an excellent example of how a successful business and global brand were built from the grassroots. I have found, almost without exception, that KS initiatives, in order to succeed, require tapping into the energies, talents, and enthusiasm of a cadre of experts who identify with your overall vision, and the goals you’ve established for a KS venture. Making it work can entail going at it day-to-day over the course of years. But it all starts with that groundswell of key supporters.

Some of John’s most strongly emphasized points include:

  • Community building and basing a brand on a communal identity;
  • Listening to consumer conversations and participating in those discussions as an equal partner;
  • Developing frameworks for exchanging usable information (in FUBU’s case, linking its business model to goings on in the hip-hop and rap scene);
  • Making success (at least on the manufacturing and distribution side) a series of repeatable and predictable processes;
  • Bringing about a coalescence of vision where beyond buying a product, people feel themselves participating in a venture greater than themselves;
  • Assembling a staff that’s amazingly talented and smart, takes initiative and works well together, and demonstrates a group identity that extends beyond “conditional” loyalty

In his chapter on hands-on management, John expresses his admiration for (now former) JetBlue CEO David Neeleman, who ran his airline in a way so contradictory to the “cold, impersonal” norm of the major US carriers. John tells how Neeleman made a point of riding at least one JetBlue flight per week. But don’t imagine that Needleman just went along for a joy ride, avoiding contact with fellow passengers. On the contrary, Neeleman, along with his (then) President and COO David Barger, would work the ticket counter, handle baggage, give out snacks, fluff pillows, and walk the aisles chatting with passengers. This “getting the hands dirty” goes almost unimaginably beyond the expectation of “ordinary” business leaders, putting JetBlue management in such close contact with their customers it would be very difficult to ever lose touch.

I enjoyed Display of Power because unlike so many books written by business founders this one was “unplugged,” in the sense that John pulls no punches when it comes to self-criticism and describing openly how he learned from his mistakes, on the business as well as personal level. You can have an ego, as long as you know when to efface it, reach into your heart, and eat some humble pie. I found this book filled with those lessons, told by John through his compelling and entertaining stories about his life and FUBU.

I also particularly liked John’s chapters on personnel management (you’ve got a two-week grace period from the time you hire someone to win their loyalty by showing your care about them), and his tips on running a company whose environment is quite multi-cultural (tells it straight, acknowledging the tensions, though mixing it with humor).

Some further business tips …

Constantly revitalize your brand and keep it contemporary, as doing so is essential to your business’ survival.

Look at how your kids are spending your money. When they’re putting it in someone else’s pocket, if that someone is operating in technologies and products related to your own, take that as a sign that there’s probably something you ought to be doing differently.

While John describes many frustrating—even despairing—moments, on the whole, he and his team seem to have a lot of fun in their careers at FUBU and derive great fulfillment doing what they do. While the kind of music video atmosphere and hip-hop party jaunts that John takes as a routine part of his work probably aren’t applicable to all of us, his overall message remains valid. Stay open and be in love with what you’re doing; and if you can’t, do something else.

March 24, 2011

Conversation and Community – by Anne Gentle

Posted in Content Strategy, Knowledge Management, Social Media tagged , , , , , , at 2:32 pm by degyes

A book review by David Egyes.

This book, Conversation and Community, represents a snapshot in time. The author, Anne Gentle, does her job well, which is to inform today’s technical communicator (TC) what to do in order to better ensure continued relevance in an already disrupted work culture, especially with regard to the role of the communicator.

Yesterday’s top-down approach to documentation needs to be abandoned, or at least seriously reconsidered. In his forward to the book, Andy Oram of O’Reilly Media calls this the “oracular view” of information, and says it’s already becoming passé. This means that if you’re still thinking exclusively in terms of preparing manuals or Helps for consumers (inside or outside your firm) then your days are numbered. Documentation today is the result of a conversation taking place among users, consumers, and adopters of technology. Often, that conversation involves those developing, selling, and supporting the tool. Other times, it does not. The big question is how do we as TCs not only tap into that conversation in ways that benefit our organizations, but actually facilitate those discussions so as to best harness, cultivate, and reuse the knowledge stemming from that interaction?

How can experts and non-experts alike learn to collaborate so as to produce not only the documentation that the system providers think the masses need, but what they actually want? To take it a step further, can those who develop, integrate, document, and market products learn from this dialog in ways that will make those products—and their documentation—better?

Make no mistake. As Andy Oram intimates, our future as TC professionals lies in our becoming part of this conversation, as key participants and as facilitators. In that spirit, recently, Jonny Gold (@JonnyGold) and I co-presented at MEGAComm, a conference of Israel-based TWs, marcoms writers, documentation managers, and allied professionals (e.g. folks specializing in localization, usability, human factors, etc). Our topic, Making Teams Smarter, focused on implementing Wiki as a Knowledge Sharing (KS) methodology. We offered a strategy whereby organizations can harvest the knowledge that’s too-often concealed amongst the individuals constituting its professional teams, and put that information to practical and profitable use. At the same time, through the very act of serving as catalyst in facilitating this conversation, the TC plays a central and vital role in putting knowledge to work in ways that make the organization function better. This is reflected in the improved communication that leads to processes becoming repeatable and predictable, implementation becoming less haphazard, resources (tools, code, documents, etc) being more available and relevant, time scales shorter, and interruptions fewer.

Getting back to Anne’s book, note that it’s aptly sub-titled The Social Web for Documentation. That’s because its focus and emphasis are on how you can embrace collaborative forums to prompt and to guide technical conversations in ways that lead to enhanced communication and better documentation. As I see it, there is a variety of roles the TC can play, requiring development and application of several key competencies, interpersonal, technical, and otherwise. These include, for instance, the ability to innovatively devise new tools and forums, adapt to the various work practices of different groups while encouraging and guiding its KS contributors, proactively undertaking KS initiatives, persuasively “evangelizing” KS strategies, and so on. Essentially, performing the activities that maximize your success as what Scott Abel so appropriately calls a “content wrangler.”

My view is that you do not have to master—or even use—most of the tools mentioned in Anne’s book, which covers a rather wide range of social media apps, including several that just didn’t take off (like Google Wave, for instance). I believe what’s important is that you internalize the overall mindset conveyed by the book, that is, to position yourself—in the context of your organization’s culture and norms—to serve as a KS catalyst. If those norms don’t exist, then work to cultivate them through collegial persuasion and a demonstrated willingness to tackle projects on a “volunteer” basis, showing the decision-makers and resource allocators the benefits of KS and how supporting those efforts is a profitable proposition.