Anyone who knows me knows how I would answer that question. I tend to take a very optimistic view about most things (almost embarrassingly, according to some of my friends and colleagues).
So I was impressed with a recent post from Tristan Louis (Optimized Optimism). In his essay, Tristan defines optimized optimism by asserting that the most efficient way to handle a problem is to “hang on” to the belief that the problem can be solved.
It’s a useful point of view for knowledge strategists. Our working environment – like that of folks involved in start-ups – is more often than not like getting a new venture off the ground. In almost every organization there are people who just don’t see the value of focusing on KM, knowledge services, or knowledge strategy. Sometimes they’re in management (even among senior management), sometimes they are just fellow knowledge workers going about their daily routines. But almost always, when they do not share the knowledge strategist’s expertise and enthusiasm, once they open themselves up a little and learn about how managing the company’s intellectual capital relates to the company’s success, they start to come around. Not always, and often not very quickly, but they can (well, most of the time) be led, and when they do accept the validity of what we do as knowledge strategists, the larger KM picture changes for the company.
So I agree with Tristan that people who see themselves as optimists are successful because for them “their worldview is ruled by when, not if.” Following on that idea, Tristan even offers a simple exercise: “Take something that you want to do if something else happens and change the statement by simply replacing the if with when. All of a sudden, your world stops being about an externally controlled one to an interesting question: How will I make the when happen?”
Take a look at Tristan Louis’s Optimized Optimism. It will get you thinking.
And it will lead you – indirectly, I suppose – to another issue we’ve been thinking about, the tensions that come from trying to plan and implement needed actions for the short term. When we think about what’s needed in the larger knowledge strategy picture, about dealing with such issues as the overwhelming quantity of information and knowledge that must be managed – “big data” and all that – we see clearly that knowledge strategists are needed, to provide the solutions to problems that are chewing up corporate revenues.
At the same time, some of this can’t be rushed, a point taken in a recent interview I passed on to some of you last week. It was in Harvard Business Review, and in the interview, Adi Ignatius talks with Unilever’s Paul Polman (Unilever’s CEO on Making Responsible Business Work) about the larger topic of corporate social responsibility. In the discussion, however, we also get an enlightening look at how Unilever has changed it’s overall management framework. One result has been, as Polman puts it, “…an environment for our business to be a little bit more longer time focused. We abolished quarterly profits. We don’t give guidance anymore. We changed our compensation systems for the long term.” Naturally enough, Polman mentions that the change can’t be wholesale and it can’t be undertaken all at once (“we’re well aware that during that journey, there are some milestones that they can hold us accountable”).
Working in this new management environment gives Unilever (and its leadership) the opportunity to step back, to think about what has to move fast and what can be deliberated and studied and perhaps even tried out first, to see if it will work. It’s an interesting paradigm, what the folks at Unilever are doing, and it brings to mind something my students and I speak about all the time. We’re in the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program at New York’s Columbia University, and we’re continually wrestling with that balancing act, about how companies need information and knowledge strategists now, and yet – despite the fast-paced knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) environment we’re working in – the focus must also be on on the longer-term value of designing and implementing a good, solid KD/KS process for the larger organization. So while we are needed to move into the jobs sooner rather than later, the work we do must – vis-à-vis Paul Polson – include designing and managing a knowledge strategy for the long haul. Flexible, yes. With identifiable milestones, yes. But the impact and the contribution to organizational effectiveness cannot be short term.