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A few weeks ago, I noticed a contest on Stowe Boyd’s site to receive a free entry to the Social Business Edge conference coming up in April in NYC, and a chance to share the idea on stage. I just found out my entry is one of four that was selected. I’m copying it here, but I’d love to build it out with you:

How can the power and scope of social networks, combined with a human capital inventory, be used to facilitate shared creation and innovation?

It wasn’t that long ago that society was a byproduct of an industrial era, characterized by assembly lines, processes, and efficiency. Like the machines they operated, people were not expected to think, but to conform and become a cog – a replicable, interchangeable part of a machine. The problem is, humans weren’t designed for mechanization. We were designed to create.

With the rise of social tools, we’ve been publicly reclaiming ourselves – publishing blogs, joining social networks, and connecting and sharing information with each other on a global scale. As a result, a shift in values is underway, where privacy, gatekeeping, and the preference for information silos is being replaced with new expectations of publicy, openness and transparency. We’re still exploring the implications of this transition both for our personal identities and for the role of the business organization, but there’s the potential to redesign the system in a way that’s fair, participatory, and human.

But how?

A part of it is in understanding the composition of our social networks, and the skills, strengths, and relationships that are embedded within them. At the organizational level, knowledge is often separated by department, and at a larger scale it’s separated by the notions of producer verse consumer. These barriers no longer make sense. In order to take advantage of hidden insights and innovative ideas, there needs to be a way to understand who’s who and how to get the information flowing through the proper channels.

A tool that would map the connections within a network combined with a ‘human capital’ assessment could aid in this process. By mapping the network, one would understand the relationships between individuals and groups, how knowledge flows, and spot areas where communication channels could be opened and new connections made. A human capital inventory would be like a resume, but with context. It might show an individual’s past experience and affiliations and skills, but also include things like social capital, sphere of influence, reputation, inherent strengths, and personality type. This information would give clues as to how to create dynamic teams and at what stage of a process an individual’s skills would be best applied.

By creating transparency and open channels, a social learning environment is created, where managers become leaders and facilitators and everyone else becomes participants. This is opposite to being cogs in a machine – rather it encourages creativity, collaboration, and shared creation. It’s become apparent that a vast amount of knowledge exists within the structure of the network itself, and by creating the proper conditions for information to be shared and built upon, we can devise solutions that are better than zero-sum. Approaching problems with this mindset would have an amplifying effect that would scale beyond the limits of the organization.


So there’s the premise. The ideas are not new, but seem to exist currently in different places in different stages. For instance, the idea of measuring influence is currently being tested with services like Klout, and Tweetlevel. The Whuffie Bank is trying to devise a currency that’s built on reputation that could be redeemed for real and virtual products and services. And I was just alerted to a new startup, Jostle, that’s trying to help companies “harness and engage their human capital.”

On the other side, you have the people who are trying to understand how knowledge flows within an organization, and how the learning process works. I’ve picked up a lot of ideas about social network analysis from Valdis Krebs, the concept of Wirearchy from Jon Husband, and ways to bridge the gap between a networked enterprise and social learning from Harold Jarche and Frederic Domon.

Plus all the people doing work in Knowledge Management, (David Gurteen and Dave Snowden come to mind), Design Thinking (Arne van Oosterom), Social Business Design (David Armano, Peter Kim, Jeremiah Owyang), and the ‘big shift’ that’s impacting business strategy and innovation (John Hagel & John Seely Brown).

Plus all of you who make this blog worth visiting by adding your insights and comments to every post. I feel like all the pieces are out there, we just need to imagine how to bring them together. I’ve been throwing out this idea on Twitter, and getting some interesting thoughts, but 140 characters is too short, so I wanted to put it here to see where we could go with it.

I’m imagining some kind of a social tagging system that would travel with you, like a “live” version of your resume – which is currently a static and vague document that lacks the rich context that tells what you’re really all about. What would this look like? Could we somehow have a ‘human capital inventory’ that would list some of those inherent strengths that we possess? Descriptive words like adaptive, flexible, catalyst, playful, critical thinker, methodical, etc. Or some way to tag the contributions we made to specific projects or initiatives at work? And then could that be combined with a visualization of our social connections, both strong and weak ties, and the value we add to those various networks? And along with that, recommendations or compliments or testimonials, or some way to have individuals give you props.

How would this look? We’ve gotten so good at tagging the world around us, of creating folksonomies to understand everything around us. Isn’t it only a matter of time before we start tagging ourselves?

Further Reading
How reputation measurement will transform professional services
A Better Way to Rank Expertise Online
How Reputation Affects Knowledge Sharing Among Colleagues
HR and E2.0 The Beginnings of a Competency-Model Foundation
Social Network Analysis Case Studies (Valdis Krebs)
What makes an effective knowledge worker?
Social Networks Help Businesses Share Knowledge
Who Knows What?
Value Network Analysis