The Social Life of Information (reprise)

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member David Creelman. Here he discusses the importance of the social life of information.

I recently had occasion to re-read a 20-year-old book on how people share information. There is every reason to believe that a book about information, written back in the days when the internet was still quite new, would be rather ridiculous today. But the truth was quite the opposite. I found The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid to be more relevant than ever for organizations.

If there’s one overarching theme in the book, it’s that information isn’t a static entity like a pile of boxes in a warehouse; information always exists in a social context. There is an ecosystem of people with knowledge interacting with those who need knowledge. If we think of information as a bunch of boxes we store in a warehouse and ship out as needed, then we’ll overlook the crucial social dimensions.

This social life of information is suddenly much more important from an HR perspective because the world is moving too fast for traditional training to keep up. We can’t rely on the training function to identify needs, develop training content and deliver it, in a timely manner. Instead, we need learners all across the organization sharing their knowledge with others. In fact, it might be better framed as learners creating knowledge with others. It’s people figuring things out together.

We need to focus on whether people have the time, the opportunity, and the motivation to share or develop insights together. That’s the future of learning—and I learned it from an old book.

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