A Network of Experts: From Content Curation to Insight Curation

A group of industry analysts argue that the future of business requires a network of experts fueled by a new type of learning technology.

In most organizations, performance measurement still focuses on celebrating the “lone wolf” individuals who they count on to find just the right data to inform great innovation and accomplishment.

Yet, evidence suggests that teams containing or connected to experts always outperform even the best and brightest of individual experts, particularly when enabled with software or technology.

This is especially true today as we continually search for the actionable 2 percent in the 24×7 flow of incoming information. Finding that valuable 2 percent relies on access to domain experts and their ability to filter information. In the past, the notion that knowledge is power meant people were expected to learn and remember what they learned in order to act. In today’s world where knowledge generation is increasing and half-life is shortening at an alarming rate, access to knowledge is where the power truly lies.

According to a 2014 McKinsey and Co. analysis, at least 80 percent of companies acknowledge a critical need to redesign their traditional structure to create a network of experts for better, faster business decisions. Yet only 21 percent of organizations say that current talent and other HR technology always meets their needs, according to Deloitte’s 2017 “The Future of Work” report, thus limiting the enablement of employees as experts.

For companies to retain their competitive edge, giant leaps in workforce relevancy and productivity will not be a result of individual excellence but rather augmented brilliance in the collective. None of us achieve our objectives alone. In today’s ultraconnected world, we need to work in teams to do this.

For most organizations, creating an effective network of experts who share wisdom and execute business actions as a team requires a shift in organizational structure and culture as well as the adoption of a new type of technology.

Time for a New Organizational Structure and Culture

The best organizations of tomorrow will minimize traditional hierarchical structures where title and rank often marginalize or even hide experts. Instead, leadership will work to create a new workforce ecosystem.

The Workforce 2020 ecosystem is best described as a network of interconnected employees made up of teams, teams of teams and an enterprise network of employees that depend and feed on each other’s expert insights to improve performance (Figure 1).

This ecosystem rests on the “wirearchy” principle coined by Jon Husband in 1999. Wirearchy is about the power and effectiveness of people, particularly experts, connecting across functional and geographical boundaries to make better decisions faster versus relying on traditional hierarchical position and status.

Wirearchy is an emerging organizing principle based at least in part on shared knowledge and insights. It presupposes technologies that allow employees to discover knowledge, acquire bits of wisdom and share meaningful insights across the broad employee network versus hoarding knowledge in an attempt to be the smartest individual in the room.

This networked wirearchy structure promotes the 70 and 20 components of the 70-20-10 principle, which holds that 70 percent of learning comes from experience, 20 percent from others and 10 percent from formal coursework and training. This fundamental shift from structured course delivery to continuous performance improvement underpins a system where people learn from each other in learning campaigns that extend expertise and wisdom sharing among the entire employee network.

Organizations that are serious about leveraging the power of human intelligence will quickly learn how to implement a network of experts. These organizations will need to:

Be proactive in enabling their formation.

Support connectedness among team members.

Change the traditional annual performance review process which assumes objectives are met primarily at the individual level.

Focus on building dynamic team effectiveness versus building individual knowledge and skills.

Reward expert contributions for the team’s resolution of critical business issues.

A shift in organization structure to a network of experts is only part of the equation. The learning management system and talent management system are not going to identify these experts or perpetuate their wisdom across the employee network by themselves. A culture that supports the 70 and 20 aspects of learning is crucial. While many organizations have been talking for years about the criticality of learning from others, they lack the enabling infrastructure to make it happen.

What’s Needed From the Next Generation of HR Technology

HR technology is the enabling infrastructure to empower employees to share their wisdom across the network. While technology has always played a role in disrupting how work gets done and how organizations stay competitive, what is different now is the pace of transformation. Today, smart systems and artificial intelligence are automating whole jobs or at least parts of them, shifting any kind of routine work from human to machine.

For workers to remain relevant contributors to the workforce, they must think at a higher level of cognition. It will be up to organizations to augment their ability to do so via next generation HR technology: the insight curation platform.

In contrast to traditional HR technologies such as the LMS, talent management system, learning experience platforms and content curation and knowledge management tools, insight curation platforms address the core problems that bog down knowledge workers and prevent them from accessing and leveraging each other’s knowledge:

Information overload (too much to read) and recall capability (too much to remember).

Offline insight capture such as sticky notes, annotation tools, handwritten notes and highlighters that render insights as personal property instead of company intellectual capital.

Lack of support for analytical, critical or systems thinking.

We have yet to find the CEO of a major corporation who believes their organization is capturing the insights of their employees in a meaningful way. When we ask to see an inventory of the insights an employee has formed during their tenure with an organization, the best we receive is a slew of documents — most of which would involve an intense reading and research project to harvest the meaningful observations. The vast majority of insights are stored between employees’ ears where they decay rapidly and rarely get shared. Insight curation addresses this problem head-on.

From Content Curation to Insight Curation

In the knowledge economy, employees have no problem getting access to content. In fact, they are flooded with it all day every day. Web content is part of the information barrage they experience but so are all the document systems such as SharePoint and email attachments and bookmarks on laptops or mobile devices.

Similarly, workers have no problem curating content. In fact they gather it, filter it, sort it, categorize it and hoard it all day. They bury themselves with it and then rightfully complain they are overloaded and overwhelmed. Each of us bookmarks hundreds of web pages and files away documents on our hard drive knowing we will forget the key nuggets but thinking we will return to them someday. When we need to call upon the relevant resource, we wind up digging all over the place trying to refind it, and if we succeed then have to reread it and the cycle starts all over again.

Before we introduce any other content sources, content curation systems or places to store, sync and share, we need to address the fundamental issues associated with filtering, refinding, rereading, forgetting and tracking. This is where insight curation comes into play.

Insight curation is about capturing those nuggets and adding expert interpretation and understanding of them as they relate to the work at hand or the business opportunity to be solved. These curated insights should be centralized in one location or one system for the organization.

Curated insights are bits of shared wisdom available at the moment of need. The concept of curated insights emulates one of the tenets of 70-20-10 —  the closer to the point of application the more likely the learning will be of use.

IBM built this idea into its model as early as 2005. The firm’s three-tiered model (Figure 2) shows that maximum potential value can be realized as learning or acquired wisdom becomes closer to and more integrated with work and at the moment of need.

Similar to the embedded learning practices from the IBM model, insight curation technology allows employees to work directly with the needle instead of searching through haystacks. Put another way, employees easily find the signal among the noise and identify the actionable 2 percent of experts’ insights that are relevant versus the irrelevant 98 percent of information.

When employees consume content, light bulbs go off as they learn and form new ideas. To date, organizations have not had an effective way to capture those insights or curate them. People currently try to curate insights using sticky notes, highlighters or perhaps memory techniques. None work very well. It is all offline and inaccessible and at the end of the day we are left with fading memories and way too much content to refind and reread. That is the overwhelming part.

The focus of insight curation is on empowering the organization to facilitate employee insights in a systematic and controlled way that is embedded in workflow. It is also to tie together the systems, browsers, document storehouses and social networks and make it easy for employees to capture thoughts formed while they are consuming content and get them into an organizationwide cloud where everyone can access them quickly and easily on their smartphone or other mobile device so it can then act as their pocket brain.

Historically, we have lacked the ability to work with discrete bits of knowledge as modular objects in a system. Everything operated at the whole document or file level. Curated insights change that, enabling us to explicitly support and measure higher-order thinking processes such as the critical thinking, problem solving and data analysis required of the future workforce.

Teams and networks of employee experts accelerate innovation and business decisions and improve performance. The more explicitly we can support the performance of networked experts via new insight curation platforms, the more successful the organization will be.

Laci Loew is a human capital analyst and consultant and executive vice president of marketing at Pandexio, a software platform developed to curate insights. Bob Danna is executive chairman at Pandexio and former managing director at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Charles Jennings is a former chief learning officer at Thomson Reuters and co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute. Jos Arets is co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.