Cognitive Dissonance & IT

Cognitive Dissonance has been defined on Wikipedia as an “uncomfortable tension caused by holding contradictory thoughts simultaneously“. A similar definition is found on, among many other websites.

Ever found yourself  ‘afflicted’ with cognitive dissonance?  Sure you have.

Do you speed during your commute to work?  Intellecutally, you know its wrong but you do it any way.

Do you smoke?  Again…intellectually you know its bad for your health but you continue to smoke.

What about your use of social media?  Sure you understand (and believe) that social media is a place to build relationships with your clients / customers, yet you still approach social outlets with your old ‘pitch and blast’ methods of talking at your clients instead of talking with them.

Cognitive Dissonance results when an individual (or organization) has to choose between attitudes and behaviors that are contradictory.

This occurs daily in the world of IT doesn’t it?

Think about it…your Marketing and Communications team need to live in the social media space these days yet many IT teams have disabled access to all social networks because of ‘productivity’ issues.  This approach creates cognitive dissonance in a big way…it forces the marketing team to have to choose between following IT standards or breaking those standards and using these platforms.

Another example – The IT group forces users to use the IT helpdesk for any service requests.  Except for when its ‘really’ important or if the requester is someone ‘important’.  So….what do people do?  Do they call the helpdesk and wait for 2 days to get their minor computer issue working or do they make the issue more important than it is?  Or do they escalate to their boss (who escaltes to her boss, etc) and get IT to fix the issue now?  This happens every day in every organization and it happens because its allowed to.  It happens because the IT group has allowed the ‘important’ people to have their issues addressed differently than the ‘regular’ folks.

This mentality creates dissonance…everyone knows they should follow the procedure but they also know it will take too long so they call their buddy to get the problem solved.  I’ve done it. You’ve done it..everyone does it.

What can IT do?  Remove the contradictions. Remove the exceptions.  Everyone goes through the same process.

Removing Cognitive Dissonance

To get rid of Cognitive Dissonance, you’ve got to make sure you aren’t confusing your customers with options that are contradictory.

You’ve got to remove contradiction from your processes to make them mirror the reality of business today. That’s a tall order for most organizations…but its a necessary one.

Make it easy for yourself and the organization to make decisions…take the contradictions away as soon as you can.

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Mining for Knowledge

Mining for KnowledgeIn my doctoral research, I’ve been researching ways to improve knowledge capture and sharing methods, specifically within project teams but the ideas can be dissemenated around the organization.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found while working as a consultant is the amount of knowledge that I walk away with after a project is complete.  Sure, I try to share this knowledge in every way possible but converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

Let’s assume though, that some portion of the knowledge that I hold in my head is converted into some form of writing at various periods throughout a consulting project.  Where does that explicit knowledge live?  In an email?  In some document stored on a server?  In a knowledge repository somewhere?

In the past, this problem has been attacked using centralized knowledge repository platforms.  These systems require users to log in and ‘enter’ their knowledge into the system.  Many of these platforms have been well built and some have been successfully used in organizations, but the success stories are far outweighed by the stories of KM repositories sitting idle and unused.

So…how can we get that tidbit of knowledge from my brain into some form of knowledge repository without me logging in and ‘entering’ it into the system?

Web 2.0 as knowledge repository

The use of Web 2.0 tools (blogs, IM, wikis, etc) has become ubiquitous..  If incorporated into a project environment, these tools might allow an easy and efficient method for capturing and sharing knowledge throughout project teams and project organizations.

The key to retrieving knowledge from tools is to make the user experience as seamless as possible. For example, an employee creates a blog on an organization’s intranet and then uses this blog to write different topics, some that pertain to her project and some that don’t.

Perhaps this employee is participating in two projects within the organization and she writes about topics that might be of interest to a portion of the organization and project team members.  While she writes about interesting topics and at times, writes about her experiences on the projects that she’s worked on, perhaps her blog posts aren’t widely read.  This employee has attempted to convert a portion of her tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge but few people on the project team or within the organization find this knowledge because its tucked away in the intranet site (which is rarely used anyway).

In the above scenario, knowledge was converted from tacit to explicit but few people are able to absorb this knowledge and make it their own (i.e., perform the conversion from explicit to tacit knowledge).  What would happen if this knowledge were indexed, searched and shared with the rest of the project team in something akin to a project knowledge ‘journal’?

Since Web 2.0 platforms are ubiqutious, why can’t we use these tools as our knowledge repository?  Employees and project team members are already using them…so can we find a way to ‘mine’ these platforms for knowledge?

Could a system be built that ‘mines’ these web 2.0 platforms along with other unstructured data (documents, email, etc) to ‘build’ a knowledge repository available to the entire organization?

Mining for Knowledge

I’m currently looking at ways to use text mining methods and techniques to mine for knowledge. Text mining looks to be a good approach to solving this problem because it allows for knowledge to be gathered without additional work by project team members.

There are other approaches that could be used for gathering knowledge from project team members, but all require additional work to input information.  For example, a project team using a manual approach could ask team members to regularly update their blog and to ‘tag’ their posts with a special project tag or keyword so that a non-intelligent aggregation system (RSS, etc) could simply pull these tagged posts into a central repository.  While this is a good approach, it relies on the end-user to tag their content correctly, accurately and in a timely manner.  Tagging, and other categorization and taxonomic approaches, require the user to do something to allow their knowledge contribution to be categorized, indexed and found by aggregation systems and other users.

Using text-mining methods against pre-existing tools and platforms takes away the human fallibility issues found in current knowledge management repository platforms or by requiring a user to ‘tag’ a piece of content correctly as described above.

Using text-mining and other data mining approaches, I’m looking at ways to build semi-autonomous systems to index and organize both structured data and unstructured data pulled from blogs, email, IM, social networks, documents, spreadsheets and any other location / data sources. This system could aggregate knowledge found via text mining and social network analysis and build a project knowledge ‘repository’ that will contain all knowledge for any specific project. This repository will be searchable and will contain both manually curated content (e.g., content uploaded by project team members) and automatically curated / generated content based on text-mining and indexing techniques.

There are some major privacy issues here of course. How can you mine a users email and find the relevant knowledge without truly invading their privacy?  Not sure you can but I’m looking at it.

Trust & Mined Knowledge

One key element of this new inter-connected world that we live in is trust.   How can I trust that the information I read on a web page is worthwhile, honest and accurate?   If I want to know something about organizational behavior do I read go read a Wikipedia article on the subject or do I go look through the Harvard Business School’s Organizational Behavior faculty pages and find publications written by the faculty there?

Which of these two sources of knowledge would you trust to be more accurate?

The same can be said of knowledge captured and shared within an organization. How do you know that the white paper on your new API is true?  Is it because it was released? Is it because of the author(s) of the paper?   What if you had a knowledge-base generated by an autonomous agent using text-mining techniques…how would you know to trust the information contained in it?  Who wrote the content?  Were did it come from?

This is where trust comes into play. If you could ‘see’ the qualifications of the author or authors of the knowledge base articles would you trust the content more?  If I knew that the worlds leading authority on organizational behavior wrote the Wikipedia article on the subject, I’d tend to trust that article more.

This is another aspect of my research…building trust into the mined knowledge using social network analysis (SNA) methods & techniques.  Using SNA techniques, can the background, profiles, connections and knowledge of the users within an organization be automatically (or semi-automatically) generated to provide some form for initial trust metric to show that mined knowledge can be trusted?

I don’t know if it can…but I’m looking into it 🙂

Next Steps?

So what are the next steps for me and this research?

I’m working on a research paper now that I hope will outline the research in more detail.

Lots of questions still exist and there is quite a bit of research left to do.  I do believe I’m headed in the right direction as evidenced by an HBR video & Blog tilted How Knowledge Management Is Moving Away From the Repository as Goal which discusses a similar topic.

Look for more on this topic from me in the coming months.

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Defining “Right” – The New CIO Series

Defining Right - The challenge facing The New CIO

Defining Right - The challenge facing The New CIO

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

We’ve all heard the ‘get the right people on the bus‘ analogy from Jim Collin’s, but have you ever stopped to think about whether the bus is  heading in the right direction or even if its the right bus?

Which comes first – Right People or Right Destination?

I’ve always been a ‘people first’ kind of guy, but there are times that you’ve got to consider your goals before you hire the ‘right’ people.  Where you want to go might just make a difference on what people you let on the bus.

For example, If you want to be a flexible, agile organization – you need to hire flexible and agile folks. If the organization’s goal is to use the cloud for 100% of enterprise applications, you probably need to hire some folks that can play in that space. Your developers who’ve not kept up with the times and are content to keep developing in COBOL probably won’t be the right fit for the new organization.

So…the basic question still lingers:

Do you find the right people and hire them…then figure out where you are going?  Or do you figure out where you are going and then hire the right people to get you there?

Perhaps the answer is “Hire the right people” IF the “right” people are flexible, technical, open to constant change, constantly learning, have tons of business savvy, etc.  Find people like this, hire them (get them on the bus) and they might able to adapt and hold on while the bus changes direction in the future.

Those types of folks are hard to find though.  It might be much easier if you constantly reassess your organizational strategy and compare your organizational capabilities (as I mentioned last week) then get the right people on the right bus  driving toward your goal in the fast lane.

So…right people or right destination?

Perhaps the real question should be “how do you define right?“. That’s the challenge for The New CIO.

Defining “Right”

How do you define “right”? Who’s the “right” person? What’s the “right” direction? Only you can answer that…and your answer will be different than mine.

The “right” person for your organization, your strategy and your IT team will differ from other’s.  The “right” people and direction will be wholly dependent on the oganizational goals and strategy.

The New CIO will have to continuously redefine “Right”. The Right strategy. Right people. Right structure. Right technology. These definitions will change constantly and The New CIO will need to be able to adapt and change to meet the challenges created by the fluctuation in the meaning of “Right”.

Do you have IT Right?

If you could start over and build your team from the ground up, would you build it differently? Would you have the same people? Does your current team fit with the future goals & strategy of the organization?

If you’d rebuild your IT group differently, why haven’t you? What’s stopping you? Making the necessary changes will be tough. It might mean people lose their jobs or are reassigned to other positions…but can you really wait any longer? You’re being asked to do more with less…can you do that with the wrong people?  Can you do it with the right people?

The New CIO has to be able to define what ‘right’ is; then take quick action to change the organization to meet the new definition(s).  It won’t be easy…but it’s necessary.

Join me next week for another article in The New CIO series.

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The New CIO: Social Media and the Enterprise

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

Ahhh…Social Media.  THE hot topic these days (and for some time to come I think).

There’s no arguing that the use of social media is a valid and necessary way to reach out and engage your community, but how does the use of these tools affect the IT organization, IT leadership and the CIO?

Social Media can cause a lot of headache’s for IT but with The New CIO in place, those headaches can be lessened by embracing the community (externally and internally).  Embracing the community is actually much easier than keeping that community at arms length or worse…ignore the communities.

Why is Social Media important to The New CIO?

Simple…it’s another tool to step into the conversation.  If you don’t know what that statement means, go read The Cluetrain Manifesto.  If you aren’t in the conversation, you can’t hear what people are saying. Helping an organization listen should be one of the top priorities for The New CIO.

To listen, the organization has to have their ears open and must be fully engaged with their community.  In order to engage, The New CIO must provide a means to allow the organization to embrace the community…that might mean rethinking security regulations to provide more access for employees or building velvet rope social networks to draw in the community.

Social Media in the Enterprise requires a mindshift from one of closed architecture to a bit more of an open one.  Gone are the days of closed systems and keeping your clients and community at arms length….today you’ve got to reach out and embrace those communities.  To do that, you’ve got allow Social media platforms into your organization while also keeping an eye on security….but more importantly, The New CIO has to understand the power of social tools to embrace both external and internal communities.

Challenges of Social Media in the Enterprise

There are many stands to take against Social Media in the Enterprise.  There’s the IT security argument and the personal information protection arguments…but are these really viable arguments? I don’t think they are…as long as your IT security team are doing their jobs in the first place.

Of course, there are real challenges to overcome for The New CIO. Topics like personal information protection and protecting intellectual property are valid but can be overcome with reasonable controls and guidance.  That said, you’ve got to allow people to be themselves too…don’t lock down security on your IT systems so much that it hampers your users’ abilities to use Social Media tools.

Integration is a key challenge for IT groups. How do you securely integrate a SaaS platform for social networking?  Companies like Ripple6 are doing some great things in this space but I’m not sure how far into the enterprise these systems really can go.   Some organizations are providing internal platforms that provide internal communities to organizations.  An example of this type of technology is Newsgator’s Social Sites which turns Sharepoint into a Facebook-like platform that makes it easy for people across the enterprise to find others with similar interests and share knowledge.

Systems that allow your organization to connect internally and externally will be the smart play. Are there any systems that seamlessly provide internal communities & external communities together?  I’m not sure…but if not, there should be.

Don’t just embrace – connect

How cool would it be to have a fully secured platform that provided similar functionality as Facebook and provides your internal users with the ability to connect with each other and with external users.  Today this is possible by using separate tools like Facebook & Twitter…but what if you could bring the conversation to your website directly?  What if your ‘corporate’ website changes from being a place to yell about your products to being a place where discussions happen.  Jeremiah Owyang has a great post on this very topic.

Gone are the days of static websites with marketing material…we’re moving into the days of interaction and engagement directly on the corporate web presence.  The New CIO will need to play a key role in this move toward the mixture of internal and external audiences by understanding the technology, security, marketing and social implications.

Engaging your customers is here to stay…whether you call it ‘using social media’, marketing or PR, you’ll need to find a way to embrace your customers and your employees. The New CIO must find a way to allow internal and external communities to co-exist while also keeping IT security as high as possible.

The challenge for The New CIO is to find a way to provide the engagement that Social Media platforms and tools provide while also protecting intellectual property, personal information and the IT infrastructure.

What can The New CIO do today?

Not many organizations are ready to move full-bore into the world of Social Media and very few are ready to step in as far as I think they should.  Many organizations don’t understand what it means to engage and listen to their communities…even after 10 years of talking about joining the conversation.

One way The New CIO can help organizations move closer to the community by providing leadership and guidance on embracing the internal community first.  This is a much less risky move for most organizations because it removes many of the security and intellectual property arguments from the table.  Taking this first step into the world of social media can open up a lot of avenues for collaboration and communication within the organization and can help make people more comfortable with the idea.

This doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition either.   If your organization is comfortable with LAMP, Grab WordPress MU and setup an internal blogging network. Let every employee have a blog…let them talk and help the organization listen to them. I’d be the HR group would love to have the ability to hear what the people are saying.  Even better…put BuddyPress on that same box and start building an internal social network.  If you are a Sharepoint shop, you’ve already got some functionality for blogging and collaboration in the MOSS 2007 system.

Do the internal pilot and help people understand the power of community…then you’ll start seeing people clamoring for a way to embrace the external community.  Once that happens, you’ll be on a fun ride trying to connect your internal and external communities.  It will be a challenge…but one worth hitting head on.

Check back next week when I talk about The New CIO and the challenge of keeping IT employees engaged and employed.

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Links for April 19 2009

The Case for Customer Communities by Valeria Maltoni on Conversation Agent

Tap Employee Passion by Harry Hoover on THINKing

Accountability Begins at the Top by John Baldoni on

The Era Of Volunteerism? by Mike Gotta on Collaborative Thinking

Measuring Market Concentration (Competition) by Scott Sehlhorst on Tyner Blain

Project Management and Twitter: A quiet roar by Raven Young on Raven’s Brain 2.0

Hold The Plastic Marketers, People Want Pure by C.K. on Marketing Profs Daily Fix

Forging Better Ties With IT by Susan Cramm on

When Project Funding Hits the Wall by Brad Egeland on Project Management Tips

The difference between truly standing for something and a mission statement by Matt on Signal vs. Noise

Keeping Your People Engaged in Tough Times by Marshall Goldsmith on

How to Create a Culture of Accountability and Hold People Accountable by Dan McCarthy on Great Leadership

A warning against premature adoption of cloud computing by Ryan Paul on ArsTechnica

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Ramblings on Social Media

I’ve been lurking around the social web for quite some time experimenting with different systems and learning a tremendous amount from all of the ‘experts’ out there.

I’ve been on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Technorati and many many other systems.  I liked some and didn’t like some.

I recently started using Twitter (@ericdbrown) and Friendfeed (find me here) to get a good feel for what these systems are all about. Twitter seems to be all the rage these days and has gone from a small-ish audience to a large mass-market audience.   I think Friendfeed has a lot of value but think it will take some time to catch on.

The more I interact on these systems, the more frustrated I get with the proclamations that “Social Media” is the answer to our problems. The first real issue that frustrates me is that we all have different problems…but let’s ignore that for now.

Let’s assume that we have a marketing problem and need a better way to reach our clients. This is a perfect use for the tools in the Social Media toolbox. But we need to remember that they are tools…not the answer to the problem.

Back to the use of SM in your marketing problem. You’ve heard about Facebook.  You’ve heard about Twitter.  So…you open a Facebook account and a Twitter account.

Now what?  Well…you’re on Facebook and Twitter. You’ve done what “they’ve” told you to do….you’ve opened an account.  You’ve made ‘friends’ and you’ve posted some things.  But you aren’t seeing much from your efforts.  Why aren’t your clients knocking your doors down?

Well…if you did it ‘right’, you would have people knocking down your door….but most organizations & people don’t do it right. Most people get on these platforms and post promotional material and links back to their websites or marketing-speak laden material.   If you are going to get on these platforms, you’ve got to be real and interactive.  You’ve got to embrace the community out there.

This blog post isn’t about ‘how to do it right’…lord knows I’m not a Social Media expert.  Go read Chris Brogan, Giovanni Gallucci or the many other experts out there.

This blog post is just a reminder to the few folks that stumble upon it that Social Media is a tool.  Social Media should be part of your overall strategy for reaching your clients. Social Media isn’t the answer.

Let’s look at Twitter and Friendfeed again as examples.

Twitter is fun. There are some great people on there and some great content being shared. Heck, Twitter has turned into a citizen journalism tool (note the recent US Airways crash in NYC…news first broke across Twitter with the first pic from the scene – more here).  Twitter is going mainstream fast.  If you aren’t on Twitter, you will probably will be before end of 2009.

Friendfeed may be the next ‘big’ SM tool but the jury is still out on it to see if the mainstream users pick it up.  Scoble loves Friendfeed, I like Friendfeed too but I still see a lot of people trying to grasp what it can be used for.

The thing that many people miss with Twitter and Friendfeed and all other Social Media is that they are tools.Tools to be used to communicate with people who wish to receive communication in that manner.  What about the millions of people that aren’t using those tools.  How will you reach them?  How will you reach through the noise on these platforms to reach your target(s)?

These tools, and all other tools, are great as long as we remember that they are tools.  Tools to be used to share your message.  Tools to build your brand and client base. Tools to communicate with your community.

Social Media isn’t the answer…its a tool to be used to find the answer.  Social Media is a tool to be used to share your message.  Just remember to make your message simple and honest.  Make your message authentic and it will connect with people regardless of what tools you use.  Authenticity will reach through the noise and connect.

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