People-Centric vs. Content-Centric: The Copernican Revolution to become a Social Business
Louis Richardson 120000HRWE firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  connections social-business social quickr | 4 Comments | 5,737 Visits
For ages, we've been living and supporting a content-centric perspective to knowledge management. The written word lead quickly to the creation of libraries where this content was stored and categorized. The Gutenberg press and moveable type was instrumental in increasing literacy which spread the use of content and helped spark revolutionary ideas. It was once said that “the power of the press belongs to those who own one”. Today, anyone with access to the web, a computing device and an authoring application, can freely publish their thoughts and ideas to the entire planet.
The sheer mass of content available to us is what has resulted in the collapse of the content-centric approach to knowledge management. An approach still in use by most companies today.
We've seen this content problem coming for years and we've all tried to address it. We've developed library sciences to categorize it, we've built physical and now electronic filing systems to organize it, we developed content management systems with taxonomies of attributes to help us “manage” it...and we found that it wasn't enough. So we developed search engines to crawl and explore the masses of content and we designed federation schemes to somehow corral these disparate repositories into something we could use. All good efforts...but not enough.
Think about it. Does your company have too little content, or does it have too much? When you use your company's search tool, say on your intranet, are you pleased with the finite results or are you overwhelmed with the amount of potential content to be considered? Is your email in-box overloaded with attachments and folders created in an effort to get a grip on the content you need, or might need? If you could print and visualize your PC's hard drive or corporate shared drive system, would all of the folders and sub-folders make it look like a family tree dating back to Adam? And how much of this is relevant and useful? And how could you possibly know?
Fortunately, there is a different perspective that your business can take. Like the view considered by Copernicus, consider that your knowledge management doesn't revolve around content, but rather around people. After all, people are the source of the content. Knowledge doesn't originate from the paper, but from the person. The content that you have within your organization is a result of people documenting and sharing their knowledge and ideas. And it's the consumers, the people who read and use this content that validates it. So let's think about centering on the source of the light...your people.
How does that look? You've probably already had the pleasure of experiencing this perspective...as a consumer. You go online and you're looking for a book. Maybe you know the subject or maybe you know part of the title. You enter what you know into the online search. You have results. You believe you see the book you're looking for...or at least it looks promising. You select it.
NOTE: To this point, your experience is not unlike most content-centric knowledge systems.
But then the perspective changes...you are able to see more. Who is the author? What are their credentials? What else have they written? What have people said about this book? People who have read this book have also read these other books? This credibility, this value, this relevancy...is centered around people.
How many of you have started online to search and purchase one book and instead changed your choice because of reader recommendations or perhaps you found another book that better suited your needs? In a search for a book, I've often found other books and references that I didn't know existed, all based on the social...the people aspect of the system.
Now take that same online book purchase metaphor and place it in your company. What if you could do a search of your corporate knowledge base...say on a topic? You get back hits, but this time, it's not just relevance hits based on a search engine sorting through key words or meta-data. This time, you can see your results based on how other readers have “tagged” content they've found.
You and I know that full text search, although useful, can be mechanical and misleading. And authors often believe their works to be targeted at particular topics or audiences and given the chance will add the meta-data to help identify it for future use. But how many times have you read something that was found under one pretense and if given the chance, you would have “tagged” it for a different purpose. We've come to realize that the consuming audience is often the best judge of the usefulness and categorization of content. If you take a people-centric approach to knowledge management, you would not only allow, but encourage people to validate and tag content.
As a contributor, I am constantly amazed at the way people use and value content I've created. I've posted material that I thought was relevant and valuable, only to find that few people used it and less even cared enough to comment. I've also been pleasantly surprised when some obscure idea I posted leads to widespread use and energetic commenting and conversation. As a contributor, this people-centric approach has helped me to focus on what is relevant and avoid spending time on content and topics seen as less valuable to my audience.
a people-centric approach, anytime I have access to a person's name,
be it the author, a reader, a person who comm
For instance, if you look at my organizational structure, I serve (in organization order) IBM – Software – Lotus – Worldwide Sales – Social Business. So it would make sense to ask me questions relevant to those topics. However, over the past 30+ years, I've been in 13 different companies, produced aircraft technical manuals, developed software, designed and implemented imaging systems, worked for several enterprise content management vendors, was a graphic artist, ran consulting groups and was a VP of Marketing at an IBM Business Partner...all prior to coming to IBM. So if I were to author a document, such as this, on content and knowledge management, someone looking at just my current title might dismiss my observations as being short-sighted. After all, who is going to trust a “sales guy”? But anyone knowing my background would understand that I've invested my entire career in the capture, collaboration and reuse of content. So when I say that the content-centric model is broken, I speak from some experience.
And as someone who is living the people-centric model, I have witnessed how this has revolutionized the way I do business. My email in-box is usually empty. Not because I just toss stuff out, but because my primary means of sharing and communicating is based on my social network. I don't use emails and attachments to send files. I post my ideas, content and comments on my social network. People who previously would email me questions have learned that my response will likely point them to the answer contained on my social network, so they've learned to look there first. Now the emails, or more likely social comments, I receive are about questions I haven't yet answered or topics that need to be addressed.
This blog itself is in response to the people with whom I've discussed this topic. They've asked for something to reference, content that they can point to, as we work together to evangelize social businesses.
There are numerous other people-centric benefits that I've not addressed here. Like communities and the power of bringing people of similar business interests together, activities and how they help organize the ad-hoc collaborative nature of much of our daily life, social bookmarking and the time savings realized by people leading others to valued information, and many more.
Content-centric systems are evolving, but the basis on which they are built will only allow you and your business to get so far. Like many who fought the Copernican view, models can be built that serve the content-centric view, but if inspected closely, you'll realize that your company's knowledge (like the planets), just don't behave in a way that supports the old content view. It's time for your business to take the new perspective, become a social business and adopt a people-centric model.
Now some readers may disagree, and if you do, I encourage you to speak out (in the context of a people-centric model) and share your thoughts. Likewise, if you agree, can relate or have found value in this perspective, please also comment on this article or reach out to me and let me know your ideas.
Louis serves as a Worldwide Social Business Evangelist for IBM and can be reached at Ric