Occupy Communities

The title for this post comes from a session my friend, Trisha Liu, has proposed for this June’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, MA. I came across it the other day quite serendipitously while checking a few Twitter streams on my iPad as I waited for my car to be washed. The title caught me eye immediately as anyone who knows me will understand, especially when read in its entirety, viz “Occupy Communities: Social Media Training for the 99%”. If you have a moment please visit the page and, if you agree it’s a great idea, leave a comment saying so.

Despite the call to my base political instincts, upon reading Trisha’s idea there were several reasons her proposal resonated with me. Foremost, Trisha is addressing the fear of adoption of social tools for business (i.e. inside the organization, behind the firewall, and dedicated to facilitating the business processes that carry the enterprise forward in its mission). I spent many years at a staid old aerospace company beating my head against a wall of resistance fueled by this fear. She refers to it as “SoMe-itis” and breaks it down into the following components:

  • Shock: “Help!! My company wants me to ‘be social’!”
  • Split personality: “Do I have to be a nerd/extrovert/Millennial to ‘be social’?”
  • Dry mouth: “How do I choose what to ‘say’ in social media?”
  • Anxiety: “What if I say something dumb?”
  • Low self esteem: “Will people care about what I have to say?”
Baby Boomers Eligible for Retirement

This "Crisis" is NOT Going Away

Additionally, although I am interested in, and have dealt with, all of these issues people face in the course of introducing a social tool into the workplace, there is one of them I’m currently more interested in than others; that’s the second one she lists. Even more specifically, one of my main interests centers on the question “Do I have to be a Millennial to ‘be social’?” I even tweeted Trisha and asked her if I could use her proposal as a basis for a portion of my business model:


A friend told me recently he’s been hearing more and more concern from large organizations about the upcoming wave of retirements from my generation – Baby Boomers. He is not alone. A decade ago, when I first started doing Knowledge Management work for Rocketdyne, one of the most important issues we wanted to address was the looming wave of Boomers who would be reaching retirement age and the threat that posed for the collective knowledge of our organization. As a company that designed, manufactured, tested, and flew the world’s most sophisticated rocket engines (including the Atlas, Delta, and Space Shuttle Main Engines), each of which had long histories and service lives (as systems, not as individual units), continuity of our knowledge was of paramount importance. Those of us who were actively pursuing KM were very concerned we would fall below a critical level of skill and jeopardize the safety of the Astronauts who flew the Space Shuttle.

Unfortunately, although lots of lip service was paid to the “looming” problem – as well as a lot of time and money likely heading off (in retrospect) in the wrong direction, turning that massive ship around was virtually impossible. Now that the program is over and there was nothing already in the pipeline to replace it, my alma mater is bleeding talent on a regular basis. I suspect there are lots of organizations facing this “crisis” as well. I’d love to be able to help them out . . . and here’s my business model (at least a portion of it; I’ve other things in the works as well).

With the growing number of Baby Boomers set to retire – or even partially retire (like I have) – and not reaching a crescendo for another decade, the issue we once dealt with as a Knowledge Management problem I now believe is one of acceptance of social media inside the firewall, i.e. the development and use of communities, facilitated by tools and leaders trained in their use as a knowledge transfer process. We spent many years finding and categorizing hard-copy and digital media. We’ve spent countless hours and dollars on exit interviews and video recording of retiring employees. All the time we kept saying tacit knowledge (the knowledge people carry around in their heads) was something like 80% of the actionable and useful knowledge possessed by an organization.

I have argued for some time that social media IS the new knowledge management. Although it’s now a bit old, I have a presentation on SlideShare I originally prepared for my cohort at CSUN‘s Tseng College, shortly after I finished a Masters program in KM. Sadly, though not surprisingly, the program no longer exists. I believe this is partly because they failed to recognize the power of social media to do what KM really needed to do. As practiced, in my experience KM was far more like Library Science. What is happening now is a sea change, a phase shift that employs technology capable of connecting people in real-time, while also providing a level of archival, indexing, and search capability that allows for historical knowledge discovery as well.

However, I’ve also experienced a high level of resistance to accepting what I consider to be inevitable. I can only speak for the aerospace industry, but I struggled to implement social business capabilities for nearly a decade and, as far as I can tell, my former organization is still fairly resistant to the possibilities it provides. This is the issue I believe others are encountering as well, and it is what Trisha’s presentation is all about. A more specific interest of mine is in gaining acceptance from the group of people who will be retiring within the next decade or so. I believe it’s important to engage older, soon-to-be retiring employees in the use of social business tools, not to “pick” their brains, but to provide a forum for interaction with their younger employees, within the tool (embedded within the processes they are currently employing, if possible), so their knowledge can be slowly transferred to those who will follow in their footsteps.

As a Baby Boomer who is entirely comfortable with the use of these kinds of tools and the behaviors that must exist in order for them to be effective, I believe I have a unique perspective to offer organizations who wish to engage their “more mature” employees. Many of them think they are incapable of understanding them or that you have to be young to employ them. Worse still, many have been influenced by the media’s depiction of tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube such that they are currently incapable of seeing the value in micro-blogging, status posting, and video sharing to an organization’s ability to improve how they get things done. I – and, I’m sure, many others like me – can reach these employees far more easily than their younger colleagues, if only because we have the same generational backgrounds and have (or have dealt with) similar fears and anxiety.

This is why I believe Trisha’s presentation is important. It may not address the more sophisticated aspects many in the Enterprise 2.0 (or Social Business, whatever we wish to call it) world are concerned with as they mature and evolve their theory and practice, but it does directly address what I believe is a core issue with the effective use of these tools in our various organizations. Without acceptance, I am convinced the tools and practices that facilitate the sharing and use of “The Corporate Memory” will remain on the periphery of the enterprise and likely chew up more time and money than they’re worth and, in doing so, become more of an anchor than a sail. My goal here is not to delve too deeply into the many nuances of this issue – e.g. Tacit vs. Explicit knowledge, cultural change, the role of Executive leadership, etc. I will save that for further posts. However, I do think acceptance is a huge millstone hanging from the neck of many an organization. Am I too pessimistic? What do you think?

Graph Courtesy of InContext

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

6 responses to “Occupy Communities

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  • Andrew Carusone

    Without nibbling around the edges, many don’t join internal communities or participate in social business for two main cultural reasons. Both are driven by a culture of “competive isolation”. Most employees are quietly, mostly passively, competing against each other. For status, power, promotion and pay.

    The result is, most don’t feel they have “permission not to know” or have a rewarded “commitment to teach”.

    Organizations must address this counter force to social business adoption head on if they are to realize the performance gains promised by E20.

    Andrew Carusone
    Lowe’s Companies, Inc.


    • Trisha Liu (@mor_trisha)

      Andrew, I agree for the most part. The emotional / feeling-level part of me agrees that ‘not knowing’ and ‘rewarded for teaching’ are not culturally supported in organizations.

      On the other hand, there are Learning & Development departments, employee enrichment programs, etc. The institutionalization of these departments and programs ‘suggests’ organizational support for inquiry and exploration. (I’m mostly saying this as a devil’s advocate response.)

      But how many employees utilize these programs? I think lack of time – both for teaching and learning – and the fear of appearing uneducated are more prevalent.

      The ‘permission to not know’ means that asking questions – i.e. learning – is not OK. No support for teaching supports the idea of knowledge hoarding. I see these as big culture issues.

      My focus for the E2.0 proposal is on the micro level – on individuals. And I agree with your observations – grassroots adoption by individuals is not enough to make a business social.


      • Andrew Carusone

        Organizations must reassess what behavior is rewarded. They can’t promote teamwork, while rewarding isolated results. They can’t promote innovation while rewarding tried and true.

        Social business use which drives company performance and results in measurable increases in the collaboration of others, must be seen as a requirement for personal promotion. Talent, without sharing or contributing, must become a career inhibitor.


        • Rick Ladd

          You’re preaching to the choir here, Andrew. Once again, with respect to my former organization where I labored for over two decades (which, btw, is currently called Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, but which scuttlebutt says may soon belong to Aerojet, and was also owned by both Boeing and Rockwell International in my time), I was part of a group that studied the teachings of folks like Deming, Senge, de Bono, and Ackoff. We were constantly working to educate our leadership that many – if not all – of the rewards and recognition practices we used were counter-productive, pitting people against each other and demoralizing a large portion of the enterprise.

          All to say I agree with your comments about rewards. I also agree with what you say about recognizing people who share and making it clear those who don’t are not helping the organization. I don’t know about Lowe’s, but Rocketdyne didn’t do a very good job of it during my career there. It was exceedingly frustrating. One anecdote I think relates to this. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Knowledge is Power”, which was frequently used as a justification for hoarding. I thought to change add to it with “Knowledge Shared is Power Squared”, but some of the “brilliant” scientists there wanted to know how I came to that conclusion, i.e. how did I know it wasn’t cubed, etc. Oy!


    • Rick Ladd

      Hi Andrew – Thanks for the comment. As Trisha does, I agree with you for the most part. In fact, I came to realize the people in the organization from which I retired nearly two years ago had a specific area of competition that stood squarely in the way of collaboration and community. Inasmuch as it was not only an Engineering company, but an organization of the top Rocket Scientists in the world, there was the constant competition to secure patents . . . in addition to competing for normal status, power, promotion, and pay. There are, however, other cultural reasons people don’t participate. Many in my former organization came from cultures where one just doesn’t speak up very easily. Some of the brightest of the bunch were considerably inhibited from speaking even in ostensibly collegial surroundings, e.g. meetings, presentations, and even informal lunch get togethers (or the proverbial water cooler conversations). Also, the issue of not having “permission not to know” manifested itself in the practice of people (this was surfaced very clearly in some surveys we performed) feeling they needed to wait until their management told them to do something, like participate in a community or be available to answer questions, etc.

      I do believe there was some encouragement of a “commitment to teach”, however, which was manifested in a reasonably robust mentoring program. Unfortunately, it was not as well organized as it could have been, which resulted (I think) in a somewhat lackadaisical approach to both the process of matching the right people and that of providing the necessary environment for success. I do think a lot of the discussion we see around innovation attempts to alleviate some of the fear of not knowing with concepts such as “fail often, fail fast, fail cheap” and “fail often to succeed sooner”. Unfortunately, I don’t think much of management is incentivized to support it and, consequently, most people can’t afford to believe it. Once again, thanks for sharing. Much appreciated.


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