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Is E2.0 just Facebook for the enterprise?

We've visited the issue of how knowledge is defined in a post on the DIKW hierarchy. Several comments suggested that knowledge exists only in our heads, while I argued that knowledge can be codified and written down.

I'd like to revisit this issue because it appears to me that how you define knowledge influences your choice of E2.0 vendors, your implementation strategy, and at the most basic level, your definition of E2.0. So we're kicking off a new series on our blog to explore what E2.0 really is, and help you determine what it should mean to you and your organization.

I think the best place to start is with this bookish simplification and how it relates to the DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom) hierarchy:

F = E2.0, where F is Facebook

The DIKW hierarchy, put forth by Jonathan Hey, is well known. But the line between information and knowledge has been hotly debated for some time.

If we turn to the theory and practice of knowledge management, we see knowledge is often divided into both explicit and tacit knowledge.

Explicit, of course, being knowledge that can be formalized and codified, whereas tacit knowledge is often referred to as "know-how," or the knowledge that only comes from experience and only resides in the mind. I have referred to this knowledge dichotomy as being "book smart" versus "street smart."

Many KM practitioners regard tacit knowledge (street smarts) as more valuable than explicit knowledge (book smarts) for the very same reason that we all desire an experienced surgeon versus a recent medical school graduate.

It's hard to argue that an inexperienced surgeon is better than an experienced surgeon. But how do you evaluate two surgeons where one has a bit more experience and the other has kept up with the latest surgical techniques through seminars and medical literature? In this case, it's not clear that tacit knowledge is more valuable than explicit knowledge.

It is precisely this assumption -- that tacit knowledge is always more important than explicit knowledge -- that seems to be driving many E2.0 vendors' strategies and implementations.

If you come to the table biased toward tacit knowledge, then your E2.0 technology will focus on the discovery and leveraging of an organization's tacit knowledge. In practical terms, this would mean that the E2.0 system should focus on connecting people seeking knowledge with people that have knowledge, a Facebook-like model.

While this sounds great, it seems to me to miss several crucial issues. First, the system is designed to send lots of less-informed people to my door (assuming of course that I am an expert). My immediate reaction would be to hide from the system (if it were Facebook, I would defriend them).

Second, as an expert, I would be mad as hell that the system was not helping the less-informed to become more informed before they knocked on my door. I want the system to take a phased approach. In phase one, please make people book smart and do so in a self-service manner. Show them everything we know about a topic, and help them educate themselves.

Then, in phase two, let them come and knock on my door and I would love to compare notes and share my know-how.

But most E2.0 systems have no capability to manage or leverage explicit knowledge, other than having the expert point you to useful documents. I refer to this as the "the human search engine."

They claim to create community and collaboration in a system devoid of explicit knowledge. The vendor will often tell the organization that explicit knowledge is already managed by your existing systems, so "we don't need to worry about that."

The problem with this approach is that the E2.0 system in this scenario becomes just another information silo. Go there for explicit knowledge and come here tacit knowledge.

When I advise companies, I tell them that E2.0 systems should transform how both explicit and tacit knowledge is used and shared by the organization. The E2.0 system should use social media techniques -- such as tagging, rating, and commenting -- to enhance and inform explicit knowledge. I refer to this as content-centric socialization/collaboration.

Use the E2.0 system to help users find the right materials to make themselves book smart. And at the same time, the system will make the "books" themselves smarter through community input.

In this sense, the E2.0 system should add a social intelligence layer to your existing explicit knowledge. In addition, the E2.0 system should use social networking capabilities, forums, etc. to create community and enhance collaboration among people. In other words, help users find and extract tacit knowledge from other users.

Let's circle back to my surgeon metaphor. In real life (at least in my life) I can't choose between a dumb surgeon (someone with no book smarts) and a smart surgeon. My choice is between two surgeons that both have enormous book smarts (they both went to medical school somewhere), but they have differing level of street smarts.

So, if in real life we don't let surgeons get by on street smarts alone, why do we except E2.0 systems that focus only on the tacit knowledge and not the explicit knowledge?

In the end, I think this is because some managers seem to equate E2.0 with "Facebook for the enterprise." But this focus on personal connections above all else leads to the easy marketing pitch -- better connections means better collaboration, which leads to a smarter organization. Right?

I hope E2.0 is much more than that. Because if it isn't, I'm forced to close this rant with an adaption of the quote made famous at the end of Madeline books. "And that's all there is -- there isn't any more."

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