Becoming more productive and innovative as a firm is more than just good individual technique and work hygiene. Becoming a truly dynamic firm has more to do with creating connections between people, processes and information that are sustaining and create new information.
A good example is the old joke about the guy who was the first person he knew to purchase a fax machine. If I am the only person who I know who owns a fax machine, I won't be sending or receiving many faxes. However, as the number of people with fax machines increases, I'll be exchanging a lot of information if I know the fax numbers of the other owners and they know mine.
This concept is one that's been explored by better minds than mine quite frequently recently. These ideas are akin to what economists now call the network effect - also known as Metcalfe's Law.
While Metcalfe's law is specifically about the increasing value of networks as the number of users increase, I think there's a very strong corollary to the value of a social network as the number of people within a company begin to share what they know. Merely connecting people via email or a LAN is not enough. True value comes from documenting, managing and sharing important corporate knowledge, information, processes and best practices.
How do we do that? First, demonstrate whether or not these premises are true by creating a fully connected workgroup. Have that team identify all the important corporate knowledge they possess and place it on an easy to access platform - a blog or a WiKi. Also document the originator or owner of each piece of knowledge. Then, before any new project is started, have everyone work from the collected intelligence. You'll encounter a couple of objections:
- First, what's the motivation to share information? Hoarded information is often equivalent to power. There must be a compensation or motivation to share information. These movitations can be "carrots" or "sticks" - prefereably in that order.
- Second, what's "important" information. Many people will exclaim - "I don't know anything important" but often these people are the ones everyone turns to to get things done. The secret back door processes, the shortcuts, the bypasses to existing systems and processes are important, as well as how to write a capital request that will be accepted, or which manager is more likely to be open minded about a new project.
- Third, the information technology staff will want to "own" this process. Don't let them. IT should participate to help set up the tools, but the information and connections to data and people should be determined by the team building the systems, not by IT. This is an INFORMATION project, not a technology project