Now, social network mapping and analysis has useful application in knowledge management and organizational communication. But the more intriguing item in Sullivan's report was how Orkut came to exist. A Google employee, Orkut Buyukkokten, developed the project during his 20% time.
"All Google employees are allowed to spend twenty percent of their time working on personal interests, a policy Google has to encourage creativity," Sullivan reports.
Google seems to have done pretty well, as an organization. But is it sustainable over the long haul to have all these knowledge workers fooling around with their own projects on company time, you hard-nosed, business-minded managing partners might ask?
Well, consider 3M's long-standing "15 percent rule" proudly displayed on its website and described as an important KM technique in books like Davenport and Prusak's classic Working Knowledge and the more recent The New Knowledge Management: Complexity, Learning, and Sustainable Innovation, by Mark McElroy.
3M has sustained its innovation capacity for decades, with an astounding record of having 30-40% of its revenue come from products introduced in the last four years. And they don't stop selling their staple products like sandpaper, or Scotch-tape, or Post-It stickers, when they introduce new ones.
Seems to me there's a pattern here. The commitment to supporting individual creativity reflected in Google's and 3M's free-time programs helps organizations innovate. Innovation equals survival in a rapidly changing environment.
And that's where the connection to personal KM comes in. Finding and supporting ways for individual knowledge workers to deal with information overload and collect potentially relevant dots should be a high priority. It's not enough to build massive repositories of what the organization already knows (though that aspect of KM is one essential piece). We must develop and refine ways for new information from inside and outside the organization to reach the awareness of knowledge workers as raw material for creative problem solving.
3M provides another example, described by Larry Prusak at KnowledgeNets in NYC last May, as a program for holding "retreats" at which a main goal is for people to meet and talk in a relaxed setting. The hope is that a random cross-pollenization of thinking might lead to the next blockbuster idea. Other bits and pieces of methods are in use or under development, such as, communities of practice, news aggregation, and social network tools.
My belief is that individual knowledge workers will have to find the right mix of tools for their personal learning styles and work patterns. One-size-fits-all approaches seem no more likely to work for individuals than they have for organizations. The urgent task is to identify and develop a range of tools and techniques for individual knowledge workers. There remains much to learn about KM in general and we've only begun to think about it at the individual level.
The lesson from Google and 3M may be that successful enterprise level KM depends on supporting personal KM.