Saturday, June 29, 2013

Barbecues and Libraries

I’d like to pose a simple question to the knowledge management industry:  barbecues or libraries?  Have you been to a few?  What did you learn?
A Barbecue

On a warm, sunny day in June, the managers of our global organization were invited to a barbecue with the headquarters’ staff. The conversations ran as freely as the wine and beer. And the grills were busy under the sure hand of our campus chef. Laughter abounded; friendships were renewed; business cards exchanged; contacts made.

We had brought all the managers in the organization to Geneva for three days of meetings.  A hundred senior and middle managers from half as many countries came to talk about our achievements, discuss the issues, and plan for our biennial general assembly in the fall.  

We had debated whether we should hold this conference via video and save the travel expense. After all, we had invested in upgrading our video technology and it was being used more and more for meetings.  But in the final analysis we decided that we occasionally need to meet face-to-face with everybody. (A pretty radical concept for a digital aficionado.)  It was important to form and re-energize relationships; some of us hadn't seen each other for too many years. And there were new people we wanted to meet or introduce.


Relationships can be sustained online (for a season), but harder to create. The cues and links (and memories) are richer face-to-face. And the desire from a good online dialog is to meet up some day.

At the conference, you also see a microcosm of social meetings at the coffee breaks. People waiting in lines for a turn at the tea and coffee urns are bound to start talking. And even though ample time is planned, getting people back to the meeting room is a struggle-- for good reason, the socializing is not just a time to discuss hot topics just heard; it is itself the hot topic.  The smart conferences get this.

Knowledge sharing and Libraries

During one of the breakout sessions,  we talked about the common need to gather and share our knowledge. Knowledge management is a perennial topic, and it often turns to the need to create a repository of information that we can all access whenever we have a question. It's one of the reason libraries were built with the first universities centuries ago.

In the information age that the Internet represents, the metaphor of the library is a tempting one, but exactly the wrong approach. (For example, see my last Blog entry.) We don't want to hunt for the right book; we want to find someone knowledgeable and exchange ideas. Finding the right person often leads to the right information.

Which brings us back to the barbecue. What we want and need is social. Meet the right person, and she shares or points you to the right information. Over time you learn who to call or text. Collectively they know where all the relevant information lies in an organization. Our global management meeting was more barbecue than library.  And we need more barbecues, not more libraries.

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