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The New Enterprise Literacy

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Each new advance in communication and learning technology has expanded the possibilities for communication, knowledge capture and distribution. In each case, it took a while to understand the possibilities and the implications. Much of sensitive communication with most enterprises occurs through direct person-to-person conversations, or at least through e-mails. Even users of e-mail are becoming more aware of how public they can be. Now with the increasing use of social media, asynchronous transparent conversations are on the increase. What does this mean? The invention of the phonetic alphabet around 700 B.C. made enabled a number of unforeseen and unintended capabilities.

In the pre-writing oral tradition, the conditions for the preservation of ideas were mnemonic. To promote memory, instruction and knowledge preservation made use of verbal and musical rhythms; however, these rhythms placed severe limits on the verbal arrangement of what was said, as in Homer, and the need to memorize used up cognitive energy that otherwise could have been devoted to learning and innovation. Because of the heavy memory load, the epic poets did not actually memorize content verbatim; they created new versions from a set of possibilities as they went along.

The concept of an original version that could be preserved did not evolve until after written text. This was critical to the development of modern science, plays strong roles in many academic and legal matters, and is essential for many forms of instruction. In many ways, the epic poets, chief knowledge distributors of their day, made up the details as they went along and most likely keyed off their audience for direction and context. Text made available a visual record of thought, abolishing the need for an acoustic record and hence the need for rhythms. Greek thought changed and such works as Plato’s RepublicOrigins of Western Literacy (or his better known Preface to Plato”).

It you have an accessible visual record of thought it becomes transparent and can take on a life of its own, independent of your original thought. It needs to be carefully composed to convey your intended meaning to multiple audiences without you there to have a clarifying dialogue. If you are more skillful in the speaking, you can better spin your thoughts to fit your audience. You can look for reactions and make adjustments. If you converse better in writing you are composing thoughts that need to stand outside their immediate context and you have much less control over their interpretation.

I have seen a number of people within large enterprises showing great hesitation about the transparency that social media offer. When we hear privacy issues raised we should also look for concerns about being successful in literate communication.

Leaders can look back at the dawn of early literacy for some useful guidance. Aristotle’s Rhetoric provides three classic requirements of good rhetoric that leads to persuasion: Logos (the logic and coherence of the words themselves), Pathos (the feeling or emotion that the speaker or writer is willing and able to convey), and Ethos (the credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker). These seem quite relevant to the personal nature of most blog writing and are certainly requirements for good blog writing.

As leaders craft messages that they hope will persuade people these three factors (logos, pathos, ethos) should be considered. Will they evoke in the reader a positive response to the logic of their argument? Will readers perceive the passion that they hold for their ideas? Does their writing convey the credibility for them to consider issues from their perspective?

Bill Ives is a Partner with the Merced Group and serves as part of the App Fusions team. His Twitter id is billives, and he blogs at Portals and KM, the AppFusions Blog and The AppGap.

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