The Format is the Message

By Marc Solomon posted 02-09-2011 18:15


Here's a little known secret that's not so little or secretive.

Most knowledge work is reformatting.

That's right. No big thoughts to cloud out rebuilding that table. No mind cramps for freezing out the space between those aligning rows. Text boxes clogged with irregular line spacing? There's an extra indent hiding under a pregnant orphan.

Now I'm the first to admit that a little busy work can provide a mindless refuge from the turf and the politicking and the punitive workplace where the absence of penalty is its own self-seeking reward. Not all knowledge work needs to bask in the light of informed genius. Heck, it doesn't even need to lead to a break-through so long as the dead-ends get communicated too.

The story here isn't that much of our virtual office park bonding is over menial, repetitive looping. It's that we're loopy. We're there at the behest of the machinery. Reformatting as the basis for knowledge work crosses the line from using information to being used. And this is no cuddly humanist call to arms. There is no Luddite rejection. I'm not channeling Amish friendship bread. This is the thornier question of whether we're better off freed of the mental labor that a well-run SharePoint farm is meant to eat for lunch, or, whether we're happier rekeying the same tables into our siloed data fortesses

Sound a bit on the neuropsychic side of system culture polemics? What if a metric gave rise to the sunk cost of reformatting? After all there hasn't been a memorable cost equivalence in the annals of information management since Sue Feldman ventured to put a dollar sign on fruitless intranet searches in the early 00s. If Sue got a dime for every time that study got flagged on Gold Partner slideware she might have quit her IDC analyst job by now.

So how do we step off the reformatting cycle? How do we improve our systems without waiting for them to improve us? One way is to unlock search result pages so that MS Office document properties can be tabularized and reassembled into proposals. We do this routinely with Coveo Version 6X. Cutting and pasting is as reflexive as brushing and flossing -- assuming the formating comes with it.  Another is to curate specific tools and templates now trapped in top-heavy, non-discriminating PowerPoints. For example our frameworks library consists of JPGs of frequently leveraged models that get mapped to our project deliverables and study results -- all so they don't have to redecorate the bullets, arrows, donuts, and pyramids that dot the graphical landscape.

Finally, here are a few doors worth opening the next time you're using SharePoint to stage your next workflow, metadata, search/taxonomy, or records management proposal:

  1. How long does it take to crank out proposals today?
  2. How long does it take to reconstruct the tangible benefit of hiring you over the next guy?
  3. How long does it take to integrate disparate systems that feed convergent formats, i.e. internal Facebooks
  4. How long does it take to generate and then customize the boilerplate graphics that go into your customer-facing reports and communications?
  5. How long does it take to unravel a convoluted email thread before a human can infer a logical argument or unpack a rationale?

I'll bet you've got a few more up your sleeve (and I'm not assuming our formats are currently compatible).

#Search #metrics #rationalization #culture #systemthinking #SharePoint #changemanagement