KM vs. Social Media: Beware the Warmongers

In a stark example of ageist bigotry parading as insight, Venkatesh Rao is trying to instigate a war that does not, and need not, exist.  He believes that knowledge management (KM) advocates and social media (SM) advocates are at odds with each other.  His divisive post imagines a war between KM and SM.  Evidently, after encountering resistance to his polarized view of SM, he authored the dense tirade as a call to a war that does not exist.  His post brings to mind William Randolph Hearst’s quote, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” (Although that is history and Rao dismisses the importance of such institutional knowledge.  He’s doomed to repeat a great deal of history, I suppose.)
I see no reason why we should respond to Rao’s call to war.  His evidence in support of war are little more than petulant responses to people’s inevitable resistance to change.  He supports his opinions with fallacy in an attempt to create generational conflict.  My personal favorite: “…RSS and Mash-ups are culturally Gen X ideas…” I wonder how Dave Winer, the primary inventor/advocate of RSS, would feel about that statement since he falls solidly in the Boomer generation that Rao seems to disdain.  Statements like “The Boomers don’t really get or like engineering and organizational complexity,” beg a cultural flame-war.  But I will resist.  Instead, let me make a case for KM and SM peace.
A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. All change champions encounter resistance – sad fact of the human condition.  And many entrenched incumbents can be especially resistant to the status quo.  But we paint with too broad a brush if we let a handful of stubborn dinosaurs define an entire group of people.  I have been in KM for over a decade and have been active in SM since the term was coined.  And amongst the advocates of both, I see many more examples of integration than I do of segregation.
Social media actualizes the idealism of KM. In the workshops I deliver on Enterprise 2.0, I often refer to it as “KM 1.53”  This alludes to the fact that the goals of E2.0 are nearly identical to the goals of KM.  E2.0 (SM in the workplace) delivers the platforms and tools necessary to reach the KM ideals we have sought for years.  While the inherent ungoverned disorder of social media seems radical to some KM administrators, most KM advocates welcome these tools in their quest to free information and improve performance.
Most KM practitioners recognize the value of SM.  I have presented keynotes and workshops on SM at KM Australia and KM Asia.  At both, I have found many more eager adopters than resistant dinosaurs.  Based on my experience, most KM practitioners are excited about SM tools and platforms and are looking for ways to incorporate them into the current KM strategies as soon as possible.  As for the less structured aspect of SM, the response to my “Abandon Your Content Management System – KM in the age of GooTube” presentation at KM Australia was very positive.
Rao ended his post with his prediction of how the war will end.  Please read it yourself, but I would summarize it as: the old resistant people will die and the young righteous people will prevail.  I will close with my prediction of how the peace will continue:  Our technology and society will continue to evolve; people will continue to be resistant to (but finally adapt to) change; youth will continue to disdain their elders until they become tempered by wisdom; and the opportunities to learn and prosper will continue to grow for those wise enough to do so.

Posted in: Adapting, Business, Learning

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  1. Venkat November 16, 2008

    There is a difference (moral, of scale, and of causation vs. observation) between Hearst and the Mexican War, and me and the SM-KM war. A glib insinuation that I don’t pay attention to history garnished with a couple of other deft ad hominems do not constitute a counter-argument Jeff. There have been a lot of people who have disagreed with my views, and most have contested my views in reasoned ways.
    I merely chronicled a war. You, on the other hand, seem to have become what you most fear: you are starting a war against my (imagined) ageism.
    Where YOU stand is starkly clear though: “Social media actualizes the idealism of KM. In the workshops I deliver on Enterprise 2.0, I often refer to it as “KM 1.53” It is just intellectually dishonest to deny the creativity of an entire technological trend and pretend that it does no more than ‘actualize’ something else.

  2. Jeff Kelly November 16, 2008

    I will not apologize for warring against ageism or any other type of bigotry. But I should apologize for judging you on just one post. Perhaps you were just having a bad day and did not realize how your stereotyping people based on when they were born would be received. To judge one person based on a single observation is bad. To judge an entire group of people based on one or two people who happen to fall into that group is much, much worse.
    And please do not assume that my thoughts on social media in the enterprise reflect my view of social media in general. Of course I do not “deny the creativity of an entire technological trend.” I’ve spent years trumpeting the importance of social media as a transformative power in our society. But when you discuss it in the context of KM, you are entering the realm of performance improvement within the enterprise. I do believe that, in that realm, social media actualizes the type of collaboration, networking, and knowledge sharing that KM professionals have been seeking for decades.
    Again, I don’t understand how you can “merely chronicle a war” that does not seem to exist. Perhaps we have just met radically different KM professionals in our work. I agree with Michael Novak’s comment, “Venkat seems to be confusing Knowledge Management with something else — but I’m not sure what.” The vast majority of the KM folks I know welcome social media and the way it allows people to network and share tacit knowledge.
    As for reasonable disagreement on your post, I will say that agree with “Online Communities are not USENET V3.0” and I partially agree with “KM is about ideology, SM is about the fun of building.” For the later I think that the “fun” of SM applied withing the enterprise helps us reach the ideals of KM. Your remaining eight dimensions were based on stereotyping individuals based on their age and then assuming the traits of each stereotyped class were universally established. I find that assumption to be in error. And since all eight are social commentaries based errant stereotypes, there is really no reasonable way to respond other than pointing out the fallacy of their construct.

  3. Venkat November 17, 2008

    It is easy to toss labels like ‘ageist’ and ‘bigotry’ around and shut down all discourse around certain topics. Sociological analysis based on generational characteristics is NOT ageism. In fact it is the opposite of ageism. Ageism seeks to identify correlations between behavior and life-stage. I sought to identify relationships between birth years and behavior, and I did not except myself and my generation from the analysis.
    Generational analysis seeks to link cultural events that shape the formative stages of people’s lives with their behavior. If you actually read the article, you would realize there is no ageism — I was summarizing research that talks about values of 4 generations and how they inform behavior. I point out many ‘generation characteristic’ features not just for Boomers, but also X’ers and Millenials.
    You CAN in fact judge me by one post. I stand by that post as representative of my views, and I was NOT having a bad day. You are presuming to own the moral ground here and are benevolently trying to give me a ‘way out’ I don’t need it.
    What you should perhaps think about is this: is your investment in KM so close to your heart that you cannot read nuance, and tell the difference between ageism and other unfounded biases and research? Do you really think people would have written entire books about generational attitudes without thought? Not just Salkowitz, but many more. Read Don Tapscott’s latest, “Grown Up Digital” to see the amount of research and care that has gone into this body of literature.

  4. Jeff Kelly November 17, 2008

    The books you reference are interesting and I have read them for the work I have done in both the fields of Web 2.0 and Diversity and Inclusion. For anyone following this thread, I would also recommend Generations at Work (Zemke), and Born Digital (Palfrey). The problem I have had with most of them is that the “generation characteristics” they cite is not based on sound sociological experiments, but self-reported characterizations, conventional wisdom and anecdotal generalizations (much the same view that Venkat Rao expressed in his review of Salkowitz’s “Generation Blend”). And they create stereotypes that prejudice people to judging individuals on their merits.
    I would have to go back and review all the sources cited to be sure, but I don’t remember any of them presenting sound empirical evidence to support statements like “[Gen-Xers] are fundamentally pragmatic, as opposed to visionary/world-changing”; “[Boomers] reluctantly ‘sold out,’ went all establishment, and when they finally got those Vice-President titles and a chance to set the agenda, they revived the ideology of their counter-cultural youth and made it corporate policy.”; “Boomers don’t really get or like engineering and organizational complexity”; “No Gen X’er or Millenial would dare to reduce the complexity of real-world social engineering to a fixed “charter” or presume to nominate any work process as “best.”” (I bet there are many that would – and if we stop striving to share best practices what does that bode for performance improvement?); or “…the doctrinaire vacuity of typical Boomer manifestos…”
    Of course let’s suppose that all these age-based labels are accurate. The audiences at KM conferences are from across the spectrum of ages. And the vast majority of them see a natural relation between KM and SM. If there truly is some fixed KM mindset that is diametrically opposed to SM media, I must be too dim to see it.
    And one last note on stereotyping. While I fall into all sorts of classifications (GenXer, male, white, Capricorn, right-handed, western-educated, right-handed, married, last child, scientist, atheist, etc.), I would fault anyone that believes they can explain my behavior based on any of those categories. Worse yet would be to stereotype anyone in one of those categories based on only meeting a few.

  5. Venkat November 18, 2008

    Clearly, this could go on forever, so I’ll stop here, and leave your comment as the last word on the topic. Saw your comment on my blog; thanks. Glad you found some of my other stuff more to your liking 🙂


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