Friday, November 05, 2004

saving the world, one nerd at a time

judith meskill over at the social software weblog points to this interesting post on reappropriating IT/KM skills for more tangible goals:

...I explained that almost everyone I knew in senior positions in KM was brighter and more inventive than their peers, and had self-selected or been hand-picked by management to lead their organizations' KM programs for that reason. There was a belief in the dot-com '90s that knowledge was the critical strategic asset of business, and the gateway to innovation. KM was going to make a difference, and allow people enamoured with creativity and change to lead that change.

A decade later, most people left in KM are disillusioned. The culture of big business has shifted sharply back right, and cost reduction, not innovation, is Job One. There has not been much to show for all that promise and creative ambition...
...If KM people are the most creative in the company, IT people are the sharpest analytical thinkers. They have a passion for their craft, and are the world's best collaborators, but they rarely have the opportunity or the budget to do more than a minuscule portion of what they know could be done, and which could bring real value to the organization...The only pleasure most IT people I know get from their jobs is working with wonderful, sympathetic IT colleagues. And perhaps they also get cold comfort knowing they're part of the minority in IT who aren't unemployed or working at McDonalds or Wal-Mart since the dot-com bust. Most of them tell me they do their best work outside the office, outside of working hours, online collaborating and conversing with people who appreciate what they can do.

That's fun, and intellectually rewarding, but, let's face it, it doesn't really accomplish much. Although IT people can create wonderful software, quickly, effectively, to accomplish almost any information processing need, it's all really just a hobby. It rarely makes the world a better place...All the social software tools, blogs, and cleverly coded programs that have been and are being developed are just a recreational drug for us, a tiny minority of the population bored with the inanity of our 9-5 jobs. It's largely a hobby destined to be no more significant in historical terms than ham radio, CBing, or scrapbooking...

Stack those modest benefits up against the crises facing our world today: Poverty, violence and war, disease, inequality, crime, famine, overpopulation, pollution, waste, cruelty to children and to animals, addiction, mental illness, corporatism, lack of access to and poor quality of health care and education, fraud, political corruption, stress, oil shortages, water shortages, spousal abuse, consumerism, tyranny, ignorance, hate-mongering, social disintegration, abuse of power. There may well be answers to many of these problems, but they're not going to come from IT tools developed and used by a small minority separated from the rest of the planet by a vast and growing digital divide. In fact, no one is looking for solutions to these problems. The few people that care about these problems are busy treating their symptoms, mostly as volunteers, and have neither the time nor the resources to address the underlying causes.

Here's my point: For restless and dissatisfied IT people, unlike their KM counterparts, there is an alternative, a career path that could really make a difference: Science-Based Enterprises. Your bright, disciplined analytical minds are desperately needed to develop practical new technologies that can solve the global problems of our world.
If you're really interested in making a difference through scientific and technological development, you're going to have to become an entrepreneur.


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