Several weeks ago, a friend forwarded me the links to two Toby Redshaw (CVP of IT Strategy at Motorola) interviews by Dan Bricklin: March 23, 2006 and March 20, 2007. Redshaw has rolled out blogs and wikis at Motorola, and the discussion of their impact has me recalling the history of knowledge management.
In the history of knowledge management, there have been discussions about creating opportunities for smart people to have serendipitous interactions in order to come up with new products or new ways of doing business. Specifically, companies like Monsanto and Novartis were the new mega-companies at the time, with a belief that bringing together scientists from food, pharma and agriculture, new products would arise from their interactions. Ten years ago, this happened through things like science fairs and technical communities and even design of workplaces (classic Steelcase article) to make these things more likely. The idea fell out of favor (and Novartis and Monsanto dis-aggregated their businesses).
From the Redshaw interviews and other discussions, I get the sense that a renewed effort to get people interacting for serendipitous knowledge exchange has emerged. The storytelling and narrative work of Steve Denning, Dave Snowden and others leads down this path. Steve Denning's original work was based on his experiences in the World Bank, where they held knowledge fairs and where the chance meetings of people from disparate parts of the world created the opportunity to share useful ideas with one another.
And I think large roll outs of internal blogging also takes us in this direction, particularly in the way Redshaw describes them. Regardless of how the effort gets started, once it is rolling, the opportunity for serendipitous discoveries increases, particularly once the blogs get connected to internal search applications. People don't even have to know that it's a blog when they discover that someone in the Beijing office is working on a relevant project.
Miguel Cornejo has some recent comments about the pair of Toby Redshaw interviews as well.
Update 26 June 2007: Corrected Miguel's last name above.