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Monday, March 8, 2010

The real-time enterprise requires men to learn from women

7:43:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg No comments
When driving and looking for a certain destination, men usually wait a lot longer than women until they stop to ask someone for directions. That is a fact, I’ve read research on that (sadly I cannot re-find this research, so at one point in the future I probably have to go and ask someone). That is probably also why so many men are hooked on GPS devices – they promise to save us from having to ask other people for directions (help).

So what if women in general are better than men at deciding when it's more efficient to ask someone for an answer than it is to continue looking for an answer themselves? If that is true, then women will be the kings (or queens?) of the real-time enterprise which according to Gartner is all about “using up-to-date information, getting rid of delays, and using speed for competitive advantage”.

As a knowledge worker, I ask myself lots of questions on a daily basis. I usually spend a lot of time trying to find the answers on a web page or document somewhere (I am not alone in doing this, most research points to knowledge workers spending as much as up to 40% of their time on this). And as I possess a fairly one track mind, I continue with this task for quite a long time until I either ask someone else for help or give up. By the time I make that decision, I have probably since long passed the breaking point when it is more efficient to ask someone for an answer than to continue searching for it.

What I need to remind myself more often about is that finding the information I need is often about trying to answer a question that I have. Although a lot of the answers I am looking for probably have been documented in writings somewhere, it is feasible to assume that most of them haven’t. And even if they exist in writing, it might be more efficient to ask a person for the answer. So why do I, by default, start by looking for an answer in writings instead of just asking someone else?

I think there are two key obstacles that have “forced” me into this behavior:
  • Finding the right person who can answer my question is a hard and often time-consuming task
  • I don’t want to interrupt or waste other peoples’ time
Ok, I have to admit that there’s actually a third one: me putting too much pride in trying to find answers myself. This is what I have in common with most other men. There’s an obvious way to overcome this obstacle, although it will be neither easy nor quick to implement - men must learn from women. I obviously have to work in that one, but what can we do to overcome the two other obstacles? Here’s what I think:
  • If the person answering my question is not occupied with something else, then I won’t be wasting that person’s time in a way that will hurt business. We all have small amounts of available time every now and then during a working day. What if we could use that time to answer questions of other people?
  • If I only get questions that I actually am capable of answering and, in addition, questions I really want to answer because I am professionally interested in the subject of question, then it will not be (or seem) as much of an effort to answer the question. In fact, it will probably be joy, especially if I get a public “thank you” from the person I’m helping.
  • If I have tools available that help me find the right person by focusing on my question and trying to match it with any person who is likely to be able to answer it and has time over to answer it, I no longer have to rely on using traditional channels such as email, user directory search and phone, or limit my search to my own network.
Q&A applications, micro-blogging platforms and applications like Aardvark all help to overcome the barriers mentioned above. If the vision of the real-time enterprise is to become true, we must adopt these kinds of tools and evolve them further. But, men also need to learn from women to understand when it's time to stop fiddling with the GPS and instead ask someone for directions.


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