In my last post, I talked about biomimicry as the answer to most of our human problems. Some of those problems include information dissemination, joint knowledge creation and relationship management. By looking at the insect world, we can and have solved many of these problems.
The insect world seems chaotic, but in reality it is a self-organizing, redundant, highly specialized, centrally managed system. Colonies of ants and bees, for example, look like chaotic swarms, but in reality their queens give the orders, specialized workers carry out those orders and have backup systems, like chemical trails or poisons, which allow for problems, like invasion or weather, to be surmounted without damaging the overall system. Individuals “know” each other through their scents or chemical signature and can share experiences and collaborate together once identified as “friends. Is this beginning to sound familiar? They may not have perfected smell-o-vision on the Internet yet, but once I “know” who you are, I can “friend” or “follow” you on any number of networking systems today.
Just like in the insect world, the systems we are creating are as diverse as the insects on this planet. Their diversity stems from how the systems are being used and by whom. For example, Facebook versus LinkedIn or Twitter versus Yammer where the difference is primarily between personal and business networks. Some of these networks are to ensure relationships are not lost and we can keep up with each other as we move from job to job or place to place. I’ve found a number of people from school and past jobs through these networks that I never would have otherwise. Others are focused on sharing information or on collaborating together to develop new knowledge.
I believe there are also classes of users who by using these systems differently are creating sub-systems within the larger network. Take Twitter users for example. There are many who use it as a global IM client. Personally, I find this annoying when done all the time as that information is usually not relevant to more than one or two people. I often “unfollow” very quickly if that’s all that’s coming across. Others use it to ask questions or describe thoughts or describe live events as they unfold. I liken this to the bee that has found a jackpot of pollen and wants every bee to know. My goal is to find jackpot bees from many different gardens so that my Twitterverse is diverse and highly valuable.
I have been finding that for many of the same reasons these technologies are so popular outside of business organizations, they are failing inside those same organizations. It may be the self-organizing nature of the systems or the perceived lack of control over the information flowing through the system which worries businesses, regardless it is failing in most established businesses.
This year’s TED conference included a talk by Tim Berners-Lee where he spoke of information management being the next big issue to tackle as we tackled the WWW. This is also true within businesses. Too many assume all of their information is confidential and thus must be under lock and key, when in reality very little of it is. It is my hypothesis that this fear of the truly unknown (ie information) is what is preventing a lot of social networking and collaboration from occurring productively within businesses today. How do we fix this?