The exploitation of social media by the Obama campaign has reverberations across generations.  Two Republican Congressmen (Pence, Cantor) remarked on the phenomena on the Sunday following the 4 Nov election.  Paraphrasing: We must use this media to reach out to young people, get them our message, explain where we want to take this country.sharing

That sounded noble, but I found myself straining to hear something else:  “we will listen to the people.”

I never heard it.  The more I listened to representatives and spokespeople for the opposition party, the more I was struck by the absence of an eagerness to hear.  They appear eager to learn how they can reach the organized masses who turned out for the Democratic ticket, but only in terms of how they can broadcast their message to them. I don’t hear any indication that listening is part of the magic.

This difference may be profound, I don’t know.  One party speaks of principles in governing, while the other has imperatives gained from observing what people need.  The first defines leadership by sticking to proven policy principles, the second defines it as steering government through challenge and opportunity.  The first proactive, the second reactive. The first accuses the other of lacking principles, and in this election tried mightily to scare Americans into thinking that Obama in fact had hidden principles and an agenda at odds with “real” Americans.  The second accuses the first of sticking to principles that are in fact not natural laws, which got us into an ill-advised war and deregulation, and which are disconnected from the needs of the American people.

Both approaches are disastrous in the extreme.  The second leads to citizens voting themselves cash from the public till, while the first leads to oppression as minority voices are marginalized and principles trump understanding.

The seismic shift this election?  Those “proven” principles did not ensure success.  The belief that “spreading” Democracy would be welcomed by allies and weak states did not prove warranted.  The conviction that relatively unfettered markets would strive for harmony and equilibrium fell victim to the Tragedy of the Commons and basic human nature.  Finally, the Bush presidency was subject to a series of challenges for which it was demonstrably less than capable.

The Moment, for me, came during the extraordinary session where the President, the candidates, and Congressional leaders came to the same table to discuss drastic measures to address the financial crisis in October.  Mr. Obama, at ease in sessions where principles are applied to situations and learning results – sat in stark contrast with Mr. McCain, who had nothing to offer.  McCain’s presence was simply to be the symbol that would rally House Republicans. (Perhaps fatal to his candidacy, they did not stand with him.) The awkward moment:  when Mr. Obama leaned over to address his rival.  “What do you think, John?”  No response.  Mr. McCain wasn’t there to listen, to advise, or even hear.

Mr. Obama was there to aid in governing.  The application of principles with a feedback loop so that learning can occur.  “What works?” is the central question of the inquiring mind.

In organizational learning circles, this inquiry is a hallmark of some learning styles, defined as Single, Double, and Triple Loop:

Single Loop describes a condition, often referred to as a thermostat, in which an organization holds stable goals and adjusts its behaviors to achieve those goals.
Double Loop describes a condition in which new factors or experiences can change the organizational goals—and the organization adjusts its behaviors to achieve them.
Triple Loop describes a condition in which the organization manages changeable goals—changing ways and means iteratively—and builds upon them, doing so in part by changing the organization itself in response to these requirements.

[Chris Argyris, “Single-Loop and Double-Loop Models in Research on Decision-Making,” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976) & A. Georges L. Romme and Arjen van Witteloostuijn, “Circular Organizing and Triple Loop Learning,” Journal of Organizational Change Management 12.5 (1999).]

The first party would do well to consider moving from Single Loop learning, and develop the ability to learn rather than present themselves as guardians of timeless governing principles.

And the second party, flush with victory, best not forget that they won on a principle of listening, inquiry, and competent yet participative government.


With slight editing, this question was posed to me this morning.  The product in question was an RSS service, of questionable value on many levels.  For one, employees are not blocked from using their own RSS feeders, so those who are interested in using this capability are already doing so.  For another – and more importantly – I have a real problem throwing more technology at a workforce who has yet to fully appreciate the value of social software to their work processes and knowledge needs.  Their leadership talks of “facebook in the enterprise” and “social computing” but does not themselves use any tool that can be considered in this space.

So what is their interest?  Why consider the investment?  I don’t honestly know.  Perhaps they believe that seeding the garden is useful, although the endless business case and ROI conversations that accompany any IT investment belie this.  Perhaps they read HBR and other business magazines that indicate all the cool companies have them.  But filling the enterprise with vendor fairy dust does not result in “Enterprise 2.0,” anymore than wearing scrubs makes one a doctor.  Whatever is driving this interest along Mahogany Row, it is not emerging from informed concerns regarding their workforce productivity and satisfaction.

I will try to advise first principles:

* Focus on what we’re trying to accomplish with information technology.  

* Get people who manage corporate information to take their responsibilities to the employee seriously.

* Provide a garden of tools and suggest usage.  Watch usage patterns, encourage and broadcast success.  

* Listen.  Change your mind when proven wrong.

* Connect all employees to enterprise applications – don’t allow yourself to decide the “20% who can’t get past client firewalls” to no longer matter.  

* Provide an open environment so that employees can find and use information that may not be Corporate, but which may be relevant at the point of decision. 

* Never decide what should be relevant for them.  “The right information at the right time to the right person” is not something you engineer, but enable.

There are more, but I’m rattled today.  Days like this make me want to close the laptop and take out the bocce ball set.  While we try to make progress, I’m reminded the snake oil salesmen remain and proliferate.  As do the ingenues to tend to their sirens.

I am getting comfortable with today’s mind-shift from developing a KM strategy to developing a strategy for incorporating and resourcing KM.  I will still need principles in this process somewhere.  So far, I have four. 

I drafted the following four principles a while back, and I think they serve as a touchstone – one of the many ways I try to stay honest. 

  1. The company matters more than the sum of any of its parts
  2. I must learn and share information in order to do my job
  3. I don’t have to know where information is located in order to find it
  4. I need to trust in the accuracy, quality, and timeliness of the information I find

I’m certain there are more, this still feels like information management principles instead of KM, and I wonder if my colleagues in Security and Contracts have similar principles posted to their wall.  I am trying to get us away from “see what Billy thinks about this” when it comes to policies or initiatives.  We are still too personality driven, and while that is useful for some things, we do need to write down shared principles at some point if we aim to grow at the pace expected. 

As I go forward, then, I’m using these principles to guide my advice and recommendations regarding our deployment of information systems.  That’s what I get being located under the CIO, the baseline context will be IT for the near term.

It strikes me that these were easy to write, precisely because we have so far to go in fixing our internal information management processes and systems.  It reminds me of my three-month stint in a West Texas town.  Having come from New York, I was unnerved by the tornado logo in the corner of my television screen one evening.  In speaking to a neighbor, they confirmed that meant there was a good chance of tornadic activity in the area – and no, he didn’t have a basement either.

“Well, who does have a basement in this town?  Where are the shelters?”

“Over there in the new section, called Grape Creek.  Those houses all have basements.”


“Because Grape Creek was leveled a few years back by a tornado…”