Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Changing Instinct, Changing Behavior

Underlying the seemingly simple move toward adopting an internal social platform is the much trickier and more nuanced change in attitude that is required. Personal information storage and managment is generally a private process, and the instinct to make some portion of your stores of intellectual assets available doesn’t always come naturally.

growing plant, isolated on white

Effective use of this kind of communication environment is no small change for an organization. It requires new instincts and new priorities, which result in new behavior.

For generations – maybe forever – people have been accustomed to sequestering information, and meting it out judiciously, often for some kind of personal gain. Even the simple act of sharing news or gossip can be done to position oneself as a valued source of information. In the extreme, and often in political organizations, jealously safeguarding information can feel like a survival strategy. Though the behavior may vary from one organization to another, from one person to another, I do believe information hoarding is a natural human instinct.

The Social Web frames the information hoarding model in a more dubious position. The remarkable uprisings in the Middle East, enabled in large part by open access to information, are a stark reminder of this. When populist information is scarce, or the channels are mediated or occluded, it’s easier for regimes to wield power. The same is true for large organizations.

But once those communication channels are open and unencumbered, and information is no longer a scarce resource, what becomes of our information hoarding instinct? There are surely times where it’s still valuable, as when doing strategic planning or employee assessments, but for many other situations there is a need to develop or enhance the opposite instinct for sharing, generously.

This new instinct is more than a need, it’s an imperative. It leads to deeper engagement and ultimately greater job satisfaction. From the business perspective, information sharing leads to higher productivity, better alignment, as well as greater market awareness and responsiveness.

In a post called Change Is Good, But It’s Also Really Hard , Om Malik wrote:

Large companies are somewhat like me — once they get used to a certain behavior, they develop a certain culture and a set of procedures, processes and a work environment that defines them and their future. These define their corporate DNA. It is hard to change. You can’t buy new DNA, and companies can’t acquire their way into new corporate cultures. Furthermore, companies that lack that self-awareness of their DNA and behaviors, in the end, find themselves extinct.

Later in that article, Malik makes it clear that the required change is not about changing the DNA – the essence of a company, which is virtually impossible to change – it’s about changing behaviors that aren’t useful or constructive. Information hoarding can be one of those unhelpful behaviors.

As mentioned above, a vital element of the new information sharing instinct is engagement. With an online sharing environment, this can be seen as participation in the constructive, creative and enabling conversations that move the business forward. In a post called, Is Innovation Possible in Communications? , Valeria Maltoni frames engagement this way:

The difference between a motivated and energized group and one that sleep-walks through the day is engagement. And isnt that the very thing so many organizations are seeking from teams? What is engagement if not awareness, seeing whats going on around you, and responding appropriately and accordingly?

Information hoarding is the stuff of previous centuries and outdated regimes. The goal in creating a open, shared information environment is to provide a platform where employees can exchange information, engage, be more productive and rewarded. This will require a change in behavior and, for some, a moderation of a more primal, but ultimately unhelpful instinct.


Written by tstaley

October 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Culture

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