The Millennium Song:
"How High's the Water, Mama?"
(download zipped Word 6.0 version)

Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

"Well it's five feet high and risin'" – sang Johnny Cash. At that height most people start treading water. And when they’re too tired to tread water, they bounce up and down instead, hoping the rise will back off before they do.
   How high did the water rise in the nineties? In retrospect this decade started pretty dry. Electronic commerce wasn't on the radar screen. Knowledge workers were not recognized as a separate category, let alone a critically scarce resource. Remote workers were not real. Collaboration was unnatural. Communities of practice did it at the bowling alley. Suppliers weren't sharing information electronically, nor even with intimate working relationships. Outsourcing was an anomaly. Customer relationship selling was not a concept. We knew nothing of learning organizations or virtual organizations. Lean manufacturing was just a suspicion, while agile manufacturing wasn't a thought. Knowledge management wasn't recognized, and CKOs did not exist. NAFTA and the EU were not even a thought. The cold war had just ended, and Russia and China were not on the business agenda. Japan thought they would forever lead, had become the teacher, and would benevolently tutor the USA. PC's and cell phones were for the few, and Palm Pilots and ubiquitous pagers weren't dreamed of. Help desks and call centers were isolated concepts. email? What's that? HR was not on an intranet. There weren't any intranets, nor the legions of support staff with critical knowledge incomprehensible to everyone else. Computer security was a defense firm concern. WWW, ERP and Y2K were just alphabet soup. Companies had valuations based on PE ratios, and obtained capital based on projected short-term earnings.
   All of that and more changed during the nineties; with profound effects on the way business is done. Many companies have survived those dramatic changes (so far) – but not because they are change proficient, rather because their competitors are not. Look closely, you will see them bouncing up and down, hoping the water will drop soon.

After the nineties come the zeros,
which aren't waiting to digest anything,
except maybe your company.


After the nineties come the zeros, which aren't waiting to digest anything, except maybe your company, and that won't take long. For some, Y2K will do it overnight.
   eStuff may be in the limelight right now, but a whole bunch of other things are happening, too. A conclusion of the 1991 working group that initiated the interest in agile enterprise was that the social aspects of business were being ignored, yet were destined to play a major role in the future.
   Here we are in that future and look what's on the current agenda: sales is talking about relationship management, companies are employing empowerment and exploring learning, distance learning is adjusting to individual learning styles instead of pushing one-size for all, corporate culture is a recognized asset and a focus for reengineering, the individual is recognized as unique and valued for it, and collaboration and communities of practice are sneaking in as business technologies.
   By and large, empowerment is a leading laggard – it was one of the first soft social concepts to enter the business debate, but still gets short shrift by many managers who either have a trivial understanding or a constitutional disagreement with it. Nevertheless, those that have already found effective ways to leverage accountable empowerment are making it impossible to ignore.
   Knowledge management and organizational learning are still in the conceptual phase, but that hasn't stopped the information technology vendors from selling solutions to these problems we barely understand. With more than a little confusion, this focus should bring these concepts to the business forefront quickly.
   All of a sudden the soft stuff has got the eye of the technologist. Customer relationship management (CRM) is a good example – or a bad one, depending upon your perspective. The three letter acronym should be warning enough. We've all been bombarded by those telephone solicitation script readers. Now it's being automated big time. eCommerce software prompts the account manager to call us on our birthdays and read us a "personal" message, to probe our likes and dislikes with scripts of "concern", to reference the conversation of months ago that demonstrates personal interest. The good news is that this will only last a short while, then they'll replace that account manager with a computer generated personalized message voice we can all hang up on without guilt.
   Technology is automating the management part of customer relationship management. What they are forgetting is the word relationship. There is hope here, but not until the skills of relationship management and call center people are considered. Another soft spot, and a necessary high tech – high touch counterbalance in the eWorld.

We live in interesting times. In my lifetime I've talked with a grandfather who grew up with horses and wagons and lived to see man walk on the moon. I've witnessed the introduction of television, the computer, the Internet, and robotics; and expect to live long enough to see human genetic engineering intervene in human life extension and maybe even cold fusion and anti-gravity become part of everyday life. Genetic engineering and cloning are already employed in the production of goods, while material science and atomic level manipulation technology advances rapidly. And there are already two different drugs in clinical trials that intervene significantly in the human learning process. This list goes on.
   The knowledge base is exploding. The duration of value for any given piece of knowledge is shrinking as new knowledge makes old knowledge obsolete faster. This puts pressure on the speed of deployment. If useful knowledge is not deployed quickly enough it becomes obsolete before it generates a return on investment. This also puts pressure on the speed of knowledge diffusion and a focus on the anticipation of new knowledge needs.
   Change proficiency in all systems of business will determine the ability to deploy knowledge effectively. At the same time, any knowledge management practice spurred into existence to deal with the knowledge explosion must recognize its own needs for being change proficient. We will continue to learn about learning and knowledge diffusion mechanisms, and this knowledge must be able to continually influence and mold any knowledge management practice an organization develops.
   When an organization needs to learn quicker it must shorten the time of acquisition and diffusion of knowledge. Collaborative learning supported by a purposeful infrastructure and culture puts more diversity of thought into closer knowledge exchange and development proximity, and creates an architecture from which intelligence at the higher organizational level emerges - much as the ant hill and bee hive are said to exhibit a collective intelligence separate from individual localization.
   An organization with sufficient competencies in knowledge management and change proficiency, reasonably balanced to compliment each other, will be agile enough to live and maybe even lead in these interesting times. Short of a technological mishap-induced return to the dark ages, it is unlikely that knowledge generation will slow down.
   In the end, though an organization may well manage knowledge, it will never control it. Quick learning and fast reactions are needed just for viability, while leadership requires these traits plus innovation. In the end, knowing what ought be done is not enough, if you can't do it immediately. Message: Your responsibility is response ability. Knowing that you’re going to have to change a lot is not enough; you’re going to have to be competent at changing.

Some important "next big things": Talent, learning, trust, social psychology/anthropology, adaptability, and real options. And these are coming sooner rather than later. Want a head start?
   Real options is an investment analysis and valuation technique for things that are uncertain or flexible. Discounted cash flow analysis can't do this. This will be the way you will justify investments in agile machines, process, products, and strategies. Check out Amran and Kulatilaka's Real Options: Managing Strategic Investment in an Uncertain World, Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
   Adaptability is simply agility spelled differently. For a very specific, actionable, and cogent understanding of agile enterprise get Adaptive Enterprise: Creating and Leading Sense and Response Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 1999, by Steve Haeckel. (see Guest Speaker column 11/99)
   Trust development is becoming a critical competency as outsourcing increases and relationship development gains strategic importance. Knowledge Work and Trust – the Key Relationship in Relationship Management; discusses the necessity of trust in agile working relationships and introduces a model of trust development that comes from referenced and actionable research.
   Learning is the core of knowledge management. Until the learning side of the KM issues are addressed not much of the technological solutions will be really effective. Look for early success here in the avenues of collaboration and communities of practice; but look beyond the application mechanistics for support of natural human processes.
   Social psychology/anthropology will become a major focus as the eWorld unfolds. How do we really work and communicate effectively as remote disembodied entities? The question has been raised before, but the answers have not been sought. As competition moves to the Internet environment, effective forms of communication will eventually be sought in this new media. Shoshana Zuboff's In The Age of the Smart Machine remains a useful foundation for thought, even with its 1988 copyright and its focus on the human/computer interface rather than the human/eWorld issues.
   Talent will emerge as the focus for knowledge work and innovation. All people are not equally endowed with this attribute, and quality can not be made up with quantity. Unfortunately, talent does not want to work for your company, "their friends would laugh at them," as one wag has said. I can't offer references for a head start in this area as yet; but stay tuned, it is a subject we will deal with here soon.


1999 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #060 - Originally Published 12/99 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications


Would you like to offer some thoughts or add to the dialog? Your sending of a comment automatically grants us permission to edit and post at our discretion. Send your comment to
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From: gsinc@gen-strategies.com  (W.M. Jaworski), Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2000
"Until the learning side of the KM [Knowledge Exchange Management?] issues are addressed not much of the technological solutions will be really effective. ... How do we really work and communicate effectively as remote disembodied entities? ... As competition moves to the Internet environment, effective forms of communication will eventually be sought in this new media." [Rick Dove].

Learning is an effective communication between context (environment) and learner's brain. Effective communication of context(s) between 'remote disembodied entities' is doable with a Context Management System (CMS). Context is a map of context tuples represented by structured associations.

In view of the elusive nature of knowledge, remote communication of knowledge is impossible. Knowledge Management offers volume of objects accessible by user | learner as a measure of communication effectiveness. Can communication of context replace communication of knowledge? I would be grateful for examples of knowledge that are meaningful without context or that are not enhancing existing context.

Best regards in New Millennium. W.M. Jaworski, www.gen-strategies.com

========= Reply =========================
From: reary@us.ibm.com  (Bob Reary), Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2000
I agree that the challenge will be the social side. I read in Business Week a year or so ago that those of us in the application software business should really be called "software social workers" It's true! Your essay is excellent. Thanks for sharing it.

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From: rpryce@mich.com (Rick Pryce) Date: Mon, 8 May 2000
This really should hit home as companies, people and industries move into the next decade. Too many companies feel by merely "automating" that the results will happen. One crucial element that I have seen receive only verbal or written attention is culture. It takes hard work to bring the resources together in companies and it does not happen by words alone, but must be practiced and reflected in actions consistently.

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From Sfox397219@cs.com   (Sheila R. Fox ), Date Sat, 20 May 2000
I am trying to get a Masters Degree in Leadership and Ethics and our paper had to be something we wanted to change in our job. I am working at Youthbridge Inc. in Fayetteville, Ar. It is a non-profit agency working with troubled children from the ages of 8 and 18. I have found in trying to find a subject to write about that the leadership is of the old paradigm: " I am leader and what I say goes." There are no positive feedbacks, and I would like to change the leadership style to a more fusion leadership, so that there could be more positive feedback and not so much putting out fires all the time. If you could give me any more good information besides what is on here, I would very much appreciate it. Thank you for your article. I was very impressed. Sheila R. Fox

========= Reply =========================
From (Rick Dove), Date Tue, 23 May 2000
Thanks for your comments, Sheila. Sorry, but I don't have more information for you; other than to suggest that your wishes are unlikely to bear fruit if management doesn't feel the same sense of problem as you do. You might find some help in how to approach your proposal in the Guest Speaker column at:

  http//www.parshift.com/Speakers/Speak016.htm

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