I have been hearing about the utopian organization where small teams of highly empowered and networked super heroes conquer the world. No matter how informal an organization is, I doubt if an organization is capable of truly leveraging the knowledge and contextual information of every one of its employees when it matters the most. We lose bids because we did not know that we had relevant expertise that could have tilted the balance in our favor; we repeat the same mistakes over and over again, because the learning from the experience is only with a few individuals. These drawbacks are amplified by the fact that there are no menu cards for tacit, experiential, or contextual information.
Large enterprises have intranets, and many of them now have social learning platforms like Yammer, Social Text, Jive to name a few. However, even less formalized and collaborative approaches to sharing information, insights, and knowledge has the same drawback mentioned above.
Early in January, I met Prithvi Kandanda, founder of GoTalk2. GoTalk2 is a mobile application that allows you to trade knowledge. If you are an expert in cooking, you list your expertise in a directory and also indicate what it would cost for somebody to pick your brain. When another member of GoTalk2 decides to become a cook, he may decide to look up your profile in GoTalk2 and decide to talk to you (and of course, payment is routed through GoTalk2). It’s a simple yet powerful tool that allows you to trade your knowledge.
GoTalk2 works great because it makes accessing expertise easy without the need for establishing a personal connection. I may hesitate to talk to my neighbor even if I know that he may have valuable insights that could benefit me. But when we make this transaction anonymous and you know your neighbor is willing to “share” his wisdom for a fee, our inhibition fades away (assuming, the price is right!).
The point I am trying to make here is that formalizing informal organization structures has its merits as it levels the playing field and allows organizations to treat information and knowledge as a freely “tradable” item within the organization. Ability to access information should not be dependent ONLY on the “connections” you may have established. The problem with an enterprise social learning platform is the fact that they widen the informal network and perpetuate the disproportionate advantages enjoyed by people who have the knack of building networks and relationships. While informal connections and exchanges are important, formalizing informal exchanges within the organization will benefit the organization.