August 6, 2008

Are You Creating Problems or Solutions?

The enormous enthusiasm of web 2.0 boosters is enough to make even a Luddite wonder if maybe web 2.0 is the answer to everything that ails you. Before you indulge that line of thinking too much, take a look at Mark Shead's interesting description of The Two Types of Technology Users:

I noticed that some people seemed to use the technology very well and it seemed to make a big difference in their productivity. On the other hand, there was another group of people who never seemed to get much of a benefit out of their tools. What was odd, is that the ineffective group usually had newer, faster, shinier, more feature rich gadgets than the effective group.

Over time, I began to see that the difference between the two groups was fundamentally about how they approached technology. One group would spend time thinking about how they, personally, worked and what areas were slowing them down. When they came to talk to me, they usually had a very good definition of the problems that they were looking for technology to solve. We would sit down and find a more effective way of accomplishing their current activities. Sometimes it involved a new PDA or piece of software, but often it involved learning how to use a feature of something that they already had.


The second group generally spent more time at Best Buy looking over the latest PDA’s and cell phones. They also tended to talk with friends to find out what they were using. They would find out about a new feature and imagine ways that they could use it in their work. They would usually approach me looking for a specific device so they could do something that they weren’t currently doing.

For Shead, the essential difference between the two technology users is that the first one has identified a problem and has some thoughts about a reasonable solution, but is now looking for a better way to solve that problem. The second user has identified a nifty solution and is looking for a problem to apply it to.

Now, be honest. When you first heard about the wonderful range of social media tools, wasn't your initial reaction to wonder how you could deploy them within your own law firm? It certainly was mine. Unfortunately, that puts us squarely in the company of the second technology user who is in search of a problem for which he has already found a solution.

If we were to follow the good example of the first technology user, we'd find a business process that is a work-around to a problem and then see if there is a social media tool that can deal with that problem more efficiently. However, the user needs to understand there is a problem before we try to sell them a web 2.0 solution.

In the context of law firm knowledge management, this suggests that we shouldn't be flogging web 2.0 features in the hopes of attracting the support of lawyers who like cool toys. Instead, we should listen to the lawyers to understand better where their pain points lie and then identify the tools that can alleviate that pain. Perhaps the solution will lie in social media 2.0 tools, or perhaps not. If we treat web 2.0 tools as a panacea we will raise user expectations unfairly, thereby doing the tools a great disservice and seriously undermining the chances of a successful deployment of these tools. On the other hand, if we match the appropriate tool to a persistent problem, we should materially increase the chances of achieving a high rate of adoption and user satisfaction.

Can you really afford to do it any other way?


Doug Cornelius said...

Mary -

You absolutely correct that social media is not always the solution. These are just other tools to add to our toolbox when we try to fix problems.

But they are really powerful tools that are very flexible. They fill some big holes we have had in knowledge management for years.

This cartoon caught my eye just before your post:

Mary Abraham said...

Doug -

I LOVE that cartoon. It says it all. Thanks!

- Mary