Last week I had the pleasure of addressing a large audience via webcast for a MediaPlatform knowledge management interview on the power of video to capture and share knowledge. During the presentation, I was asked a number of questions, which I addressed verbally at the end of the session. Here are the answers to those questions, and a few we didn’t have time to answer live.
How can people differentiate between up to date knowledge and obsolete knowledge?
The usefulness of knowledge in the future is difficult to anticipate. Some knowledge may have a long shelf life (advice on how to cook, for instance) and some, may be useful only during the duration of a product (how to write a memo in Microsoft Word 1.0 for DOS). But even in that later example, someone at the Computer History Museum may find value in that video, though probably only marginally. How to repair an Apple I would be more valuable.
What I think is most important in this question is to discern between knowledge that is benignly obsolete, and information that is dangerously obsolete. Obsolete knowledge, as discussed above, may not be completely obsolete, and using old knowledge may have no consequences. However, in manufacturing and some services, old knowledge can be dangerous. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, knowledge about how a compound is made and all of its history may be dangerous to apply if some component is found to cause illness in patients and that knowledge is viewed without the later context. Document management systems, manufacturing bills of material and other safeguards should be in place to prevent such a mistake from influencing behavior or action, but with so much data available, it is inevitable that some uncontrolled data may reach people who don’t interpret correctly.
In the case of financial services, old knowledge could lead to legal issues if a person acting on such knowledge fails to follow current regulatory guidelines.
These are a couple of examples where obsolete knowledge may cause problems, but for the most part, the issue is noise, and getting to the right thing, and that is a combination of good content curation and awareness of valid and appropriate (and valuable) content within the community.
How can someone sort through the clutter if there is a huge mass of knowledge stored in video form?
Some search engines are capable of indexing the audio portion of a video stream and creating an indexed transcript. As with all machine translation, it will probably prove less than 100% accurate, but that is better than nothing. The first line of defense is to create metadata for the video that includes as many ways of interpreting the video’s value as possible. Rather than leave that in the hands of librarians, metadata comes best from those in the video because they understand their intent and most likely, the intent of potential viewers, as well as the language and acronyms used within their field.
Social media can enhance searchability by making people proactively aware of video and by adding metadata to video based on actual use, rather than anticipated use.
With enterprise search technology, is it necessary to have knowledge taxonomy? Or, can people just search and find what they need?
It is not necessary to have a taxonomy, but I would certainly encourage it. That said, the taxonomy can be emergent from the content itself, rather than top-down. Taxonomies often cost more than they are worth, and they are hard to get to the working level of granularity (working for people on the front line, vs. working for taxonomists). And internally logical taxonomy may be intellectually elegant, but it may not serve the needs of people who require access to content using shorthand and acronyms. I have found that “teaching people” taxonomies is usually counterproductive as the addition of abstract knowledge does not contribute to a person’s ability to perform his or her job.
What do you think is the impact of workplace virtualization on knowledge management?
Knowledge management has been disconnected from a specific place for a long time. Virtualization simply extends that beyond even facilities owned by a firm. What is perhaps more interesting than virtualization vs. physical location, is the virtualization of the work itself through outsourcing and other alternative forms of labor, which can cause huge issues about access to knowledge and the incentives for sharing learning.
Imagine you just outsource IT. Who gets the documentation and video files related to running the servers? If contractually, the outsourcer takes over the responsibility for operations and maintenance, then they should get them. They are, however, intellectual property created by and for the company that chose to outsource and therefore may be a competitive advantage. The outsourcer, with multiple clients, may not be given access because they could use the competitive knowledge with a competitor or other firm. The company that chooses to outsource may also create legal agreements or licenses with restrictions for such content, but in my experience, this level of detail is rarely, and to the determent of both parties, considered during the negotiation of outsourcing agreements.
When people are separated from one another but still collaborating, does that help or hurt knowledge capture?
It really depends on the design of the work experience. In Management by Design, I discuss the design of work experiences. If people just let work “happen to them” then they may find distance an issue. If, however, they recognize the unique opportunities and challenges of virtual work, then they can design an experience that easily incorporates knowledge sharing into expectations and deliverables.
Is this universal or are these types of videos better for a specific type of company?
I think it is universal. Everybody has some knowledge that lends itself to video, and of course, stories, of all sorts, are often best told through video. Anything that requires physical manipulation is particularly well suited to the use of video. Imagine surgery or putting a car together. Both can be easily recorded, and if they are captured in video, experts can later go back and voice over the video to explain what is going on and why.
Do you find it more effective to go with an interviewer/interviewee model or just a video diary?
It depends on the type of knowledge being captured and the person who has the knowledge. If you are trying to capture the storming and forming behavior of a team, the video diary, or just passive recording of meeting and activities may suffice. If you are trying to draw out deep knowledge, and especially if you are looking for completeness, then the interview style is better. In either circumstance, it is important that you understand the intention of the exercise, as well as have some sense for how the material might be used, to inform the choice of technique. As I said in the interview, there are a wide range of techniques that help people describe the knowledge they hold, or demonstrate it, so these aren’t the only two choices available.
We will have a fairly large number of key people retiring in the next 2-3 years. Do you suggest sitting them all down in front of a camera to record their recollections of key events of the last 25 years? If so, won’t all that video need to be edited to be useful?
Yes and no. Yes, I think that would be valuable. And no, I don’t think it needs to be edited, or not edited very much. Again, it depends on intent. Editing can always take place later. In the example I gave about building replacements for an old product, any video would have been valuable. Raw would probably be preferable to edited because edited always introduces the point-of-view of the editor. The editor decides what is important to keep and not to keep, and they may well be wrong because they can’t anticipate all of the ways the content will be used in the future.
Quality of deliverables is critical, how do you ensure that technical issues don’t arise?
Capturing video is probably of little technical concern; given it has a high degree of consumer orientation. When streaming video, it is important to examine the technical architecture and business viability of partners so that you can ensure the best possible experience for those searching for, and viewing, video. Video streaming remains complex and continues to evolve, so it is inevitable that technical issues will arise. Treat video like any other kind of data, and its system, like any other kind of system. If you are looking at video for production purposes, stick to your due diligence as you would an ERP system. If you are experimenting, recognize the risk and don’t be disappointed when you have problems. Learn from them and move on.
How does video tie into the cross-mentoring idea? Do you videotape interactions? Share videos?
Reciprocal mentoring, when people have expertise in two different areas and mentoring each other (the term was invented to cover Millennials teaching Baby Boomers about the latest web tools and Boomers teaching Millennials about a company and an industry) can use video like any other channel. Video diaries would work well, with one side or the other creating a video that the other can watch on off-peak work times. They then make the video and its reflections or lessons the topic of mentoring session. Of course, mentoring can also be asynchronous so the thread of videos back-and-forth could constitute a powerful narrative for those involved, and those interested in the topic under discussion.
What stage of the life cycle is this topic in? Are organizations using it right now?
I would say, early adopter. I am interested because as I pointed out in the video, all of the impediments are down. Video capture is cheap, disk is cheap, bandwidth is available and people have societal permission to appear on camera for pretty much any imaginable purpose. I’m just not sure people have recognized that using video at work has value, which is why we did this webinar. You can’t really adopt something until you recognize that you can do it in the first place, so hopefully, this is the start of a dialog where people will share their experiences with me and we can gather a good body of examples and practice.
Knowledge sharing seems to work great until someone perceives they’re being graded on what they know — or make a profit from what they know.
In some cases, incentives play a role. What we know from knowledge management is that incentives don’t overcome real resistance to sharing knowledge. I used to have a slide in my deck that said “people havta wanna.” What social media is demonstrating is that people have motivations, including recognition, game rewards and other non-traditional incentives (e.g., non-material rewards) that motivate them more so than money. Perhaps one of the biggest disincentives coming out of the Great Recession is the lack of trust people have in their employers, along with the myriad models of work relationships that are being forged. If people don’t trust their employer, they won’t share, and if they don’t know the rules, they won’t share. To be successful, organizations need to build trust and define the rules. In some, money may be a part of it, but once people get excited about helping build value, I find they share because they can see the reflection of their contributions in the overall growth of an organization’s value.
Do you think a locked-down camera without any other visual is the best example of video use?
No, it is just one example. I didn’t suggest that anyone type of capture was good or bad, it depends on the circumstances. If the video is valuable and it comes from a smartphone, then it should be a viable candidate for sharing.
Capturing video on inexpensive equipment and seemingly equipment the company would own and use…rather than video knowledge management being a new market for a video production company?
I wasn’t looking at this talk through adjacent markets. Video production companies could add value by helping capture knowledge, but they will also add to the expense. The value of video is in its ubiquity and the low cost of capture and delivery. It could be argued, of course, as the next question implies, that video would be edited into meaningful training content. There is nothing wrong with that, but the investment in enhanced video production needs to be justified by the company making the investment. As I said earlier, if people aren’t thinking about something, they won’t consider it. I certainly think this is a marketing and sales topic video production companies could take to their clients and they might find some willing to make such an investment. If so, I would love to see the results!
Video in training—how big is the difference it can make?
Most video is sage-on-the-stage and talking head. That is how we think of training: pushing a message into the employee base. Knowledge management and knowledge transfer more specifically, can often be more subtle. It’s about processes, failures, and successes – it’s about transferring social norms and experiencing expectations in a visceral way. I have never seen video training inside of corporations that is organic and emergent. I think the two can complement each other. In the future, we may we see structured video training that uses organic video to create illustrations, even to select topics. Given the organic nature of video, if something goes viral inside a company, it may be well worth figuring out if something more formal would increase the value (though that takes us back to the editing bias issue, where that formalization of an organic event may not add as much value as the editors think).
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.