If Knowlege Is Really Important

by on August 30, 2010

I had a bit of a Seth Godin moment a while ago. I have been meaning to air it in public for a while. I don’t have such moments very often, so please indulge me.

Working as I do in a large e-commerce company, I am constantly bombarded with information generally intended to make my team better at what we do. Third party research, industry reports, news, internal research, customer analytics, charts, trends, observations, suggestions, the insight of senior management… the list never gets shorter. Inevitably, this means that we are perpetually skimming the surface, unable to properly manage it all. I’ve had a (so far unrealised) plan to deal with some of it, but here’s another:

Some things are self-evidently important. Well, some things are self-evidently large and complicated lumps of information that demand time and effort to digest, let alone act upon. Whether they are important is another matter. But if you think it contains good, actionable, knowledge, it deserves proper scrutiny and dissemination. Unfortunately, in just about every case I’ve ever encountered, such knowledge takes the form of a 50+ slide PowerPoint deck and at least an hour of somebody talking about it at you. The transfer of this knowledge is therefore utterly asymmetrical. The giver and the receiver(s) play well-worn roles. There might be some superficial questions from the floor, or some “next steps” formulated by the speaker, but in most cases there isn’t much of any real value. The report is “filed”, the findings “published”, and the organisation collectively skims on – possibly missing a great deal in the process. For example, I’ve just been sent a report on the results of a very (very) large and expensive experiment we conducted that, potentially at least, affects me and my work a great deal. It’s just a one line email though, with a large PowerPoint attached. Job done! Sigh.

But what would happen if you gave the PowerPoint presentation, and made it clear beforehand that those who were required to attend would be asked to give their own presentation about it? These presentations about the presentation would be scheduled over the preceding days. Presenters would be able to say as much or as little as they wanted about any aspect of the parent presentation. Perhaps several presentations would be made in one session, while others might take a whole day. Did it give them a germ of some other idea? If so, let them say that in a formal context. Did they think it was all worthless? Oh really, let’s hear it in the boardroom, not just by the water cooler. Were there some parts of it they feel they could have contributed to? Great! Let them present their own addendum.

One day, one day, I’ll try this when I have enough clout.

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