09 November 2012

The Ambient Exchange of Knowledge


Note: I wrote this back when I was an intern for a certain government research facility. I wrote it on the long the (2 hour) bus ride from "the site" and edited the next day on the same, long bus ride. I have included some additional thought in italics.

Working for a government contractor (basically the government) has been an interesting experience. Of course there have the normal "we can't do that" and "we have to submit the change for approval" (it took more than 5 months to get approval to change minor wording on a post-training survey) but there has also been an interesting transition as they have been cutting staff.

The need and want to cut cost is present in every company I can think of and has the oblivious benefit of making the company more profitable. There is, however, an interesting and unfortunate side effect to these cost cutting efforts: innovation is stifled.

Time and again, there is a clear pattern of disparate entities getting together and sparking evolutionary or revolutionary changes seemingly based on their proximity alone. (Duncan Hines revolutionary invention of cake mix came when a baking guy was having lunch with a powdered soap guy and they developed a method of creating the liquid mix and then spraying it onto screen for powdering like the soap guys did; Post-it notes' evolutionary invention came about when one inventor created the weak, reusable glue and the other found a use for it; and many more, if you do some digging.) Ideas that otherwise would have taken a long time to come about, if they ever emerged. Which then confuses me as to why you would be stripping away most of the opportunities for new, innovative ideas by saddling down employees with so much work (by cutting down the help for those tasks) that they have no chance to interact with others. It would seem that instead of cutting everything down, companies should set more people free: free to interact with and learn about other departments, free to dream, free to bear those dreams into reality, free to create new revenue streams.

But then, what do I know about "the real world," I am just an intern who created a website in a week that took other departments several months to do.

P.S. Can I mention that because the web programmer (namely me) was working with "the site" management while hanging out with the Training department instructors and cavorting with the PR people, he was able to completely redesign their daily internal publication in a way that greatly improved the appeal and readability of the content? How? By asking why people never read the publication. No magic, just someone who could do something being around people with good ideas.

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