Thursday, October 11, 2007

Knowledge Management and Serendipity

One thing I noticed in our search for an enterprise search tool is the serendipity factor. People were finding interesting and informative things that they did not expect to find.

Our sample database of documents and intranet sites for testing enterprise search had been targeted at the guinea pigs in the proof of concept. We wanted to make sure that the information in the sample was some of their information. That way we could test the precision of the various search engines. The user would know about a particular document and craft a search to find it.

A good percentage of the searches would bring back a useful item that they did not know about. They would find out a colleague had drafted a memorandum on the same topic or find a brief on the subject from someone they did not know.

Two things brought up the subject of this post. One was a post on the Forrester Information and Knowledge Management blog: Serendipity: A Critical Innovation Success Factor by Erica Driver.

The second was my own experience using WestKm. I was giving my annual introductory knowledge management training session for the new associates last week, which includes a segment on WestKM. We use WestKm to search a subset of our Interwoven document management system using the WestLaw search engine, citation checking and other features. This subset of documents is targeted at those documents with legal analysis (as opposed to agreements), especially those with case citations or statutory citations.

Being a "seasoned" transactional lawyer, I rarely do primary research anymore. But one issue comes up every year. "What can I do about my neighbor's tree that is hanging over my yard? Can I trim the tree?" I wrote a brief memo on the issue several years ago. I use a search for this memo during my WestKM demonstration.

Serendipity struck this year when another item came up in the WestKM search results ahead of my memo. Someone else had gone and drafted a memo on the same topic for a client. (I hope that she found my memo and re-purposed it.) Unfortunately, the new memo was much better than mine. (It should be; a client paid for it.)

Another serendipitous moment was that the memorandum had the unfortunate title of "Memo to File." So, I was able to teach the new associates another lesson: Give your documents a meaningful name. "Memo to File" is not a useful name for you to find that document again. It certainly is not a useful name for someone else interested in that subject. Even though the other memo was better than mine, people would be more likely to read my memo because it is called "Tree Trimming in Massachusetts."

I find one of the great features of powerful search engines is this serendipity factor. It is always great to find interesting things that you do not expect to find. Run a Google search on yourself and see what comes up. If you have a blog, use the Google Webmaster tool or Technorati and see who is linking to your blog. Serendipity could be in your future.

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