Who curates the information you consume and what have they done for you lately?

I was going to write a blog about “content curation” anyway … but when I read Tom’s most recent post i knew i had to “get going.” He’s right … we need to think deeply about our information networks in a conscious and thoughtful way.  Who and what are you relying on to help you focus amid the information overload?

Over the weekend, Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal on “Learning How to Focus on Focus.” The essence of his piece was that in an age of information overload, focus or attention is a scarce commodity.  Instead of being enlightened by vast volumes of information available at our fingertips, we often become overwhelmed.  His point is that it is possible to become more effective in dealing with the excesses of information and proceeds to describe how we can develop higher level capabilities in the area of executive focus.   This is an interesting challenge for corporate learning functions as they develop the next generation of leadership.  How do you help executives learn how to manage the flood of content in an effective way?  As I interface with c-suite executives, I’ve noticed a subtle change in the way in which they are interfacing with organizations like Moxie Insight.  As Jeff Cobb points out “there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible.” Yes, there are powerful search tools, social bookmarks and community review options but they are no longer adequate.  We are finding that executives tend to rely on colleagues or experts to “curate” content in areas of interest. 

So what makes a great curator?  Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ray Weaver suggests we use the museum curator as the model … “Many museums have enormous collections, so the possibilities are endless, he says.  And most patrons don’t know anywhere nearly enough to make these decisions on their own, and even if they were armed with some relevant information, most don’t have the time or inclination to pour over it.  So while we sometimes think that particular curators have missed the mark, in general we understand the role and appreciate that an expert who functions as our decision making proxy makes for a much better museum-going experience.”  Good curators don’t randomly put “stuff out there.”  They expertly review a particular field and make choices about what to put in front of the executive.  Furthermore they educate the executive as to why they should care or why it matters in the context of their specific business. 

While there are different models of content curation, we are finding that executives are looking for their content “experts” to be capable of:

  • Aggregation:   The most common form of content curation is aggregation.  In this case the curator “aggregates” the most relevant information about a particular topic into one location on an on-going basis.  The value of aggregation or bundling comes from the act of locating information, evaluating it, tagging and easing the information consumption for the busy executive.   
  • Chronology:  In creating a chronology, the content curator brings a historical perspective to the topic or field.  This perspective is most useful when our understanding of the topic has shifted over time.  Using informational artifacts, an effective curator can bring a different level of insight or understanding about a topic by re-telling its history over time. 
  • Distillation: Executives often look to others to distill the vast amount of information in a way that only the most important or relevant ideas are shared.  To Jonah Lehrer’s point, rather than being consumed by the vast pool of information available, executives value the distillation of information because it creates a focused view. 
  • Elevation:  The most challenging and perhaps valuable type of content curation is elevation as it requires deeper expertise on the part of the person doing the curating.   In elevating content, the curator is identifying new insights or trends from the disparate the pieces of information they are constantly collecting.  Expert curators are able to create a new or unique view on a particular topic or set of topics.  For an executive this becomes quite valuable as they try to find “over the horizon” insight that will help create future competitive advantage. 

I think our (Tammy Erickson Associates) combined work in the “generations” space is a good example of all four curation models.  We have certainly aggregated a great deal of information about generations for member use.  We’ve documented those insights in a variety of ways … on-line and in person, in reports, and in books.  The work is on-going.  As the generations have moved through various career stages we’ve revisited our assumptions and insights.  This fall we are starting work on the newest generation, the Re-Generation (or Gen Z/Gen Next).  Next year we will revisit Boomers as they enter a new career stage. We’ve distilled our insights, applying different lenses, enabling members to apply the information in the context of their unique organizations.  Generations also benefit by a chronological view.  In doing so, one understands that on a global basis, generations differ by geography.  This fall we published a popular “Generations in Geography” series.  Finally, we’ve elevated our understanding about generations to create new and unique insights.  By way of example, we just finished research on Gen X and their development needs now that they are entering leadership roles; in another piece we explored the impact of Gen Y’s digital activism on the workplace.

As the amount of information created continues to explode how will you increase your ability to focus?  Are you, like other executives, relying on others to curate your information flow?  If so, who are you consciously or unconsciously relying on to sort information and share in a meaningful way?   Is your “curation” network sufficient for the requirements of your business… now and in the future?  Who do you need to add to that expertise network?  Are your curators not just “aggregating” but also “elevating” the content?  And are you actively consuming the curated material provided … or are you letting important insights pass you by because you are too busy. I think Jonah Lehrer is right; one of the most important executive competencies we need to develop is “focus.” What and to whom are you paying attention to?

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Talent Practices: Leveraging the Power of Collaboration

  One of my favorite quotes comes from Rob Cross in his book The Hidden Power of Social Networks, ” Research has consistently shown that whom you know has a significant impact on what you come to know, because relationships are critical for obtaining information, solving problems, and learning how to do your work.”  That, is a powerful statement about social networking . . .echoed in this comic selection from “Zits.” As I said in my earlier post, we have just finished a piece of research designed to explore in what ways can organizations leverage the power of collaboration across the talent processes.  Social networking itself is not new, what is new is the impact of Web 2.0 technology on collaborative behavior.  In this post, I wanted to offer just an ‘appetizer’ of insight from that research and talk about it in the context of the current economic issues.

We surveyed over 75 organizations, and overall we found that:

  • Social networks are an important component of an organization’s core talent processes . . . While social networking was important to the successful execution of all talent processes, they are considered critical for engagement, on-boarding — transitioning — and off-boarding, and leadership development. 
  • Furthermore, respondents believe that networking is important for all levels of the organization, but particularly so for senior executives.  As Michael Watkins so often points out in this book, The First 90 Days, no leader, no matter how capable, can do it all.  Leaders need networks that are constantly being refreshed and renewed to be successful.
  • Finally, despite the fact that social networking is not a new behavior pattern, our respondents indicated that they don’t think they are as effective as they could be at leveraging the power of collaboration.  Their organizations may be leveraging the technique and/or tools in selective ways or within functions — creating pockets of excellence.  But overall, many organizations are still experimenting with collaboration tools. 

So, in what ways are companies leveraging the power of social networking across the talent processes?  Let me share just a sampling of what we’ve learned:

  • Recruitment: Of all the talent processes, this is the area that has seen the most visible change as a result of social networking and web 2.0 tools.  While I find networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook interesting, I am far more intrigued by sites like “Beyond.com” and “Jibe.”  Before the recession we were seeing the emergence of ‘talent brokerage.’  But the recession has accelerated a new approach to employment –‘gigonomics,’ the act of being employed on a ‘gig’ basis.  Social networking tools allow active communities to form around project based work creating a new type of long term employment experience.  Social networking sites like Jibe, on the other hand, is interesting in that it uses social networking to create transparency around an organization’s culture, allowing potential employees to find a ‘great fit.’ 
  • On-boarding/Transitions/Off-boarding: As the recession deepens and we see talent moved in/out/ and around the organization, effectively managing the employee life cycle becomes more important.  Social networking can become a key tool to enabling that process.  Given the short tenure of senior leaders these days, robust on-boarding and transition management becomes a strategic intervention with real impact on organizational performance.  What if you can speed time to effective performance by 3 to 6 months for a Senior Leader through accelerated on-boarding? In a tough economy where performance runways are short, time matters.  Finally, many of us have had to say ‘good-by’ to talented people as organizations are reforming themselves.  Off-boarding with care and keeping connected through social networks is an effective way to ‘keep your talent close’ in anticipation of future opportunities.  Over time, more of our talent will move in and out of our organization on a project or ‘gig’ basis.  Keeping talent networked with us through their employee life cycle, will be an important enabler for organizational agility.  So who does this well?  Look to companies like Baxter,  Capital One, and Johnson & Johnson who have Leaders Transition Programs.  Consulting firms, not surprisingly, have the most interesting approach to employee life cycle management by leveraging 2.0 tools to keep alumni connected — E & Y and Deloitte, for example. 
  • Employee Engagement: At any time, particularly in tough economic times, employee engagement is a key enabler to organizational performance, now and in the future.  As organizations have cut their way to survival, they may have already lost their most important asset — employee hearts, minds, and hands.  An effective internal social network is the glue that binds the organization together, keep talent engaged, and facilitates transformation.  As organizations fight for precious customer revenue, engaged employees can provide that point of competitive advantage.  My favorite example of good old fashioned social networking comes from Ford Motor Company . . .clearly a company fighting for survival.  As they introduced the new product line-up for this year, they invited all of their HQ employees down to ‘test drive’ the products . . . hoping that they would ‘activate the purchasing power of their social networks.’  What a simple but powerful way to engage, inspire, and enable employees. 
  • Training and Development:  As I prepare my my thoughts for the Winter Professional Development Consortium this week, I am convinced that social networking will have the most profound impact on this talent process.  New social tools will change the fundamental role of the CLO.  We will transition from being ‘content enablers to context enablers’.  These tools will enable employees to access the information they need when and where it is needed — through instant messaging tools, blogs, wiki’s, expertise locators, and so on.  Employees will be able to zero in on the specific information they need to solve problems, perform specific tasks, or quickly update skills.  Our role will be less about creating information/skill content, and more about enabling the context for employess to access information/skill when and where they need it . . . pulling it together quickly and easily to create knowledge. . . experimenting with it. . .creating repeatable transparent processes.  Responsibility for learning will shift to where it belongs . . . with the employee. 

Social networking is real work.  It is not unusual for leaders to think of social networking as a supplemental acticity, something that augments ‘real work’ or ‘personal development.’  For those organizations that actively use social networking and associated tools to share information, cooperatively develop insights or event collectively create product(s) it has become a fundamental work process that adds value to the organization. 

As your organization takes its own unique journey, where do you think it will engage first?  How is your organization harnessing the power of collaboration?

Talent Practices: Making the Business Case for Social Networking

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