Saturday, March 01, 2003

Braintrust 2003
I took part in the Braintrust conference in San Francisco mid-February. Top marks to the organizers for creating an intimate, friendly atmosphere - one of the easiest settings for networking I've come across. Average participant experience was also very high - it didn't feel like the speakers were something different, they just happened to be the ones talking that year. Highlights:
* Tom Brailsford from Hallmark. They're using online communities for consumer research. Just by actively facilitating online discussions they have built a thriving community that gives them new product ideas and instant feedback on concepts. Even the CEO tests the water with them.
* Verna Allee gave an intelligent workshop on 'value nets', a handy way of visualising problems. What I liked is that after a 3 hour session I felt I had something immediately useful
* Kathy Hagan (formerly Pfizer) covered KM in mergers and acquisitions. It'd be good to see more people promoting KM in this area.
* Wendy Buckowitz (of KM Fieldbook fame) presented on a new survey by Buck Consultants. It's trying to value organizational knowledge by looking at the implied cost of training people. This is a great idea - when we downsize we tend to look at redundancy costs explicitly but bury re-training and role transfer costs. Indeed, if we put realistic numbers on individuals as being an asset anyway, we would probably ditch them less readily.
The questionnaire presents differently shaped learning curves and asks participants to select the best match for a given job. This is an elegant approach and its great that it highlights the time it takes to get learn how to get things done in a new organization - most of it being about adapting to a new culture. BUT the approach has some severe limitations that I fear will get lost in the headlines it will generate. e.g. They can't account for the negative effect of people getting stale - the cost of mediocre ideas may be greater than that of employee churn in R&D, for example. Its also based on judgement of - predominantly - HR folk who rarely think in this way and probably don't have robust data to support their choices.

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