The right information is not enough

There is quite a bit of research on the significant value of making the right information available to the right person at the right time – and quite a bit of research shows clearly that Enterprise Search has a direct impact on the success of organizations. So enterprise search platforms must include social capabilities to tap into powerful ways to find the information that employees need more quickly and accurately. This calls for integration into a single platform that continuously evolves as the workplace changes.

This is the conclusion made by Julie Hunt in a comprehensive post on enterprise search. I would like to contrast this with a statement made by Dave Snowden that I noted in negotiating between chaos and project management.

Fallacy: If you give the right information, to the right people, at the right time, they will act accordingly. As “pattern-seekers” we may not even “see” the data when it is presented.

This is a problem with technology-centric solutions to business problems. Business is about people and how they interact. No single technology has ever addressed an entire area of business. No technology will resolve our search issues because we don’t have search issues. Our business issues are more like understanding disparate data; finding information to support or refute what we think we know; and getting information that helps us take appropriate action. There is a danger that a single social search platform could be seen as replacing the need for personal reflection and providing time for individual sense-making and sharing it. It has happened before with knowledge management and learning management systems.

I am a strong proponent of manual, not automatic, sense-making frameworks. Each person is the indivisible unit of knowledge work. If the aim is to improve organizational knowledge, then people have to take time to make sense of it. If not, it remains merely information, whether in a unified search tool or elsewhere.

While Julie Hunt provides a good overview of how social re-connects enterprise search, we should not let search tools, or any other tools, override the social (human) aspects of business. As Jay Cross says, business is VERY personal. Sense-making, or learning while we work, is too important to be managed by a single technology platform.

5 Responses to “The right information is not enough”

  1. Carol Anderson

    Giving people “the right information at the right time” also assumes that there is one right answer. It’s been my experience in business that rarely is there one right answer, but instead many options and alternatives that must be weighed, as Harold says, by people thinking, reflecting and dialoguing. What I see as the gap in today’s business world is recognizing the need for and allowing the time to do so.

  2. Trisha Liu

    Great post Harold! It reminds me of two experiences.
    1) A colleague was redesigning a collaboration space home page. One of the design goals was “make it easier for members to find relevant information.” I asked, “Do we know what is relevant to members? Do *they* know what is relevant?”
    2) Your post reminded me of this one: “Search engines don’t know what you want – they only know what you typed into or selected from the search interface.”
    Hear hear – up with sense making and critical thinking!

  3. Robert Paterson

    Bang on – with the wrong cultural filter you cannot set up an algorithm nor can you see patterns that contradict your world view. It takes a “trained eye” to see through the culture mists


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