Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pushing the productivity limits for knowledge workers - Adoption versus Implementation

The 80s are over. There are still some new processes you can adopt if you have yet to get your efficienies (TQM, PLM, a slew of other TLAs). We have productivity suites, tools, ergonomic platforms... But when you've pushed process to the limit, there's still this place where more and more of us sit called 'knowledge work'. And that's where all this 2.0 (still hate that term) conversation comes from. But really, it's not JUST about being social. When you get to knowledge work, vs say physical work, there's a realization that while there is a best way to lift a heavy weight (knees bent, back just so) the way to really connect information together, find it, and come to conclusions that require real brain power, not just search, requires different modes for different people. We all have heard of different learning styles for years (auditory, visual, and the like) but we dont always acknowledge people consume and process information differently during work, not just during some training session. Knowledge work IS learning.
We can complain in the business world that we can't customize tools for every knowledge worker, or we can acknowledge that we can no longer just IMPLEMENT a tool and make everyone the best they can be. When your business is knowledge, when you want to eke out every bit of productive brain power, scientific creativity and brilliance from the folks around you, you need to give these people what THEY need, and that means sometimes applications that are flexible, configurable and adopted by users as they as individuals find them most valuable. It means a suite of consumption, interaction and creation tools that operate on open standards and thus interact the way those knowledge workers need them to. It's about letting people ADOPT what they need. And occasionally trying out things that aren't widely adopted, but aren't sufficient costly that you care if they die or that cause you to get into the sunk-cost sinkhole, or are used by a sliver of people who are more than worth the efforts. It's about letting work-in-process happen anywhere, and knowing what needs to be captured before moving on to a new tool.
If we keep thinking that one size fits all for creativity and discovery, that's exactly kind of stuff we are going to get out: more and more of same thoughts, and very few brilliant breakthroughs. But when we create a dynamic environment for work, the possibilities become so much more. Variability will potentially increase, but the potential to excel can be well worth it. Knowledge work is not about decreasing variability to create a better widget. You want that? Do Six Sigma. You want the next great idea? Create a little variability and let people work to their potential with tools that work for them.