Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Navigating Fragmented (yet Connected) Knowledge

Collaboration is essential for society to move forward. So says Matt Ridley in a Wall Street Journal article From Phoenicia to Hayek to the ‘Cloud’ this past weekend (http://t.co/QC3sSxEs).

Here’s a little piece of what he had to say:

“Human technological advancement depends not on individual intelligence but on collective idea sharing, and it has done so for tens of thousands of years. Human progress waxes and wanes according to how much people connect and exchange.”

Whenever merchant ships plied the Mediterranean Sea in past eras, the entire region prospered. But when trade was disrupted due to marauding pirates or the Dark Ages, social progress faltered and often even moved in reverse. The self-isolation of China and North Korea contributed in no small part to their people missing out on revolutionary developments that swept the rest of the world.

Sure, this is an oversimplification. Bubonic plague and brutal political regimes certainly play key roles in these historic shifts. But haven’t you experienced this idea firsthand when a workgroup comes up with an idea that none of you could have dreamed of alone? The organic interaction of teamwork and the contribution of each person’s knowledge create something larger, something inherently more valuable than any solitary effort.

I am reminded of efforts to trap “corporate knowledge” inside Lessons Learned databases, or to lock up project information in tightly-controlled ERP systems. In this article, Ridley refers to economist Friedrich Hayek’s theories when he says that central control of knowledge is futile because true value is found in “a distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge.”

This is an apt description of Newforma Project Center. NPC is an unobtrusive tool that helps teams find the knowledge that already lives within the interactions between team members: email conversations, design evolution contained in updated drawings, decisions recorded in meeting minutes. The information may be dispersed around the network in various formats, but NPC can find it and show the context that gives it value. Newforma Project Network takes this discovery a step further by facilitating the connections between the companies that form the full project team.

Cumbersome, structured document management systems are destined to drain the life out of project teams. We need to let our project information breathe and give our teams space to interact and connect.

Then we can trust Newforma to be the tool that explores "the space between." Between our companies, between our people, between our brains--this is where the magic takes place!

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