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Attention harvest: Bring home the knowledge

This article appears in the issue October 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 10]

Someone once remarked: "Journalists are in the business of harvesting attention."

That is also true for knowledge management practitioners. Attention is the concentration of mental powers. The mission is to cultivate attention and ensure its effective application to revenue-producing business processes.

Organized attention must focus on what matters most to improving business performance. Put another way, as Professor Hayek wrote in 1945, "Civilization (knowledge) advances by extending the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking about them."

In the past, to improve productivity, we just wanted to "get information to the workers." That spawned vast networks, advanced architectures, electronic appliances and an information glut.

The irony is that workers now have more information than they could ever use. More information isn't the solution. It's the problem. All the accessing, searching, profiling, databasing, workflowing and portaling in the world won't help if workers don't have meaning to their mission.

For example, over the last decade, many companies have focused attention on their operational processes such as accounting, personnel, manufacturing and IT. That process re-engineering only delivered marginal cost reductions and revenue improvements--not the factor improvements promised. Business leaders are now discovering it is much more important to optimize and focus attention on revenue-producing business opportunities. It's smarter than the continuous refinement of existing structures and past achievements. Peter Drucker calls that process "organized abandonment."

The course change has expanded the application service provider market ("apps on tap"), Web-based business services, consulting, outsourcing and renewed the "outside-in" focus on customers, for example.

That shift requires a new way of thinking about knowledge management. It is no longer appropriate to capture, aggregate, diffuse and disseminate all enterprise information. Information is always there, but attention walks out the door every evening. Attention will always be precious and in short supply. It must be harbored and targeted to profit-making activities. Attention needs to be optimized and unconditionally focused on customers and revenue-producing business processes.

Business knowledge managers strive to enhance zones of collaboration, sharing, learning, context and community for stakeholders. They pursue an environment of effortless sharing and unconscious collaboration. Their objective is to maximize the efficiencies and effectiveness of mental concentration and imagination. When successful, they ease the application of organized attention to business opportunity.

To optimize attention, give authority to the receiver, not the supplier of information. Mobilize trusted intermediaries such as enterprise investigative reporters and reference assistants. Adopt a retail approach to information, not wholesale.

Use the narrative form to establish context and harness attention. Honor collaboration. Build physical and virtual environments that expand same-time interaction. Conserve intellectual effort for revenue-producing business processes.

Furthermore, practice "infokanban," or just-in-time information management and delivery. Strive for an information supply chain that is just sufficient to exceed customer expectations and expand revenue production. Build down or outsource expensive, low-value, non-customer processes. Deliberately endeavor to improve the quality of intellectual work life at the expense of mechanical habit. Precision engineer your attention capital.

Productivity and productivity growth (innovation) are enhanced by sheltering attention for application to relevant, profit-building intellectual effort. The goal of the knowledge manager is to reap and organize attention to improve intellectual effectiveness and performance for revenue producing processes.

Business innovation has always required leadership, people, process and technology. New are broad-based collaboration requirements and a superabundance of information. Knowledge managers need to marshal business awareness. They need to create the lean and mean information supply needed to optimize mental concentration and focus. The deliberate assembly and application of organizational attention to revenue-producing business processes will improve competitiveness and delight customers.


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