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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Thomas Davenport and Blogging - He is Wrong!

I've been slowly making my way through Thomas Davenport's book Thinking for a Living - How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers. It's quite a good book, and I really like how Davenport structures his positions and structures the topic as a whole. But, wow, there was one part that just ... arg ... well here it is ...
Partisans of blogging argue that there are many potential business applications of the technology (and they discuss these applications in their blogs!). But I believe that blogging falls into the unproven category ... at the moment it's a tool for individuals to express their somewhat random musings. I know of no organization in which the benefits of blogging have been measured. Perhaps the biggest problem for blogging is the time it takes to read and write blogs. If anything this tool has detracted from productivity, not increased it. ... Bill Ives argues that his own blog is really a vehicle for managing his own personal knowledge. If this particular use of blogs caught on broadly, it could represent a new approach to organizational knowledge management.
Yikes! This tool has "detracted from productivity." It's interesting that earlier in the book Davenport was careful to say that he really wasn't talking productivity as much as he was talking about performance and results.

It's somewhat shocking for me to see him miss the value proposition of Blogging as a Learning and Networking tool. I agree with Bill Ives that a blog, properly used, can become an integral part of your personal work and learning environment.

Also there's some irony here. Later in the book, Davenport discusses the importance of the use of networks as part of problem solving. He even discusses the use of social software. But somehow he doesn't get that blogging is a fantastic networking tool. And ironically:
The person he uses as his example, Bill Ives, I've met through blogging!!!
Yes, it's a weak tie. But certainly is good enough that I'd invite him to have a beer anytime I was in the neighborhood and absolutely if I have a question that falls in Bill's areas of expertise, I would ask him his thoughts. Better yet, I might ask in my blog, and there's a fair chance he might respond.

Finally, as people begin to blog and it captures their ideas, thoughts, what they've read, done, etc. it becomes a wonderful resource for any organization to leverage as part of larger knowledge management solutions. If anyone should recognize this, you would think that Davenport would.

Overall, it was disappointing to see this paragraph. This also tells me that it's going to be hard to convince people of the value of blogging if Thomas Davenport sees it as a detractor.


Barry Sampson said...

"Overall, it was disappointing to see this paragraph. This also tells me that it's going to be hard to convince people of the value of blogging if Thomas Davenport sees it as a detractor."

I had a few thoughts about this:

1. Until I read your post I had never heard of Thomas Davenport. Maybe he's better known on your side of the pond.

2. Things change all the time. Many of the business models that we are working to today didn't even exist 10 years ago. Some organisations will not make the change, and in time they will wither and die. This is not a bad thing. I'm not suggesting that an organization's future is dependent upon blogging, but a refusal to give it real consideration is a sign of unwillingness or inability to change. Either way, it's a toxic decision.

3. Some people will read that paragraph and make a snap decision that blogging is without value. Many more will react in a similar way to you, which is likely to lead them to doubt the validity of his opinions as a whole.

So, from my own point of view, I think I'm safe to remain as ignorant of Thomas Davenport's views as I was this morning.

test said...


RE: May be missing the emotional experience?

I am playing catch up with blogging since you reminded me in one your session that blogging help a person move ideas into the written form. You are correct. But the biggest value is in the emotional experience in blogging, and other Web 2.0 tools.

Unless a person "immerse oneself" in the experience, results and productivity will never be harnessed.

I have not read Mr. Davenport's book, but it is easy to theorize, unless there is experience.

Note: I am writing a short paper to clear my mind on my concept in – “Learn, Apply, Network, and Measure’.

I take your comments seriously and I was not effective explaining what the hell I am doing (smile), hence the paper.

Incidentally, just won a TIA award.



Benjamin Hamilton said...


Like the other commenters to this post, I have never heard of Thomas Davenport. When I read the paragraph you posted, the big item I took away from it was his call for measurable results. I haven't seen any studies done on blogging, but would love to hear of some if they are out there.

The ironic thing is that Davenport claims that there are no measured benefits of blogging, and then immediately claims that blogging has decreased productivity. I would love to know if Davenport has studies that indicate this "decrease in productivity"...for one cannot claim that there is a lack of evidence on the benefits of blogging and then not provide evidence on the decrease in productivity.

The bottom line for me is that I am interested in seeing studies on the topic of blogging (unfortunately, I am almost done with my dissertation or else blogging would be an attractive topic). For some forward thinkers, such as IBM, they are willing to invest in blogging with nothing more than buzz, personal experiences, and the fact that they just get it, but I suspect most C-level executives will want to see the ROI.


Tony Karrer said...

I'm surprised that folks don't know Thomas Davenport. He's been around in KM and Intellectual Capital circles for a long time. Quite a thought leader.

I would doubt that there's a good way to even research the ROI of blogging, but Davenport also stays a bit away from trying to hard to quantify things that he knows are going to be hard to measure. So, good call that him jumping on "productivity detractor" is really a bad move since it's definitely a gut reaction by him.

There's a lot of discussion going on right now in KM circles around whether it makes sense to even go after ROI on Enterprise 2.0. The general consensus I've seen is that it's going to be really hard to show. What's interesting is that Davenport would be one person who might be able to make the connection between Enterprise 2.0 and Intellectual Capital which can be used as part of ROI.

Barry - I'm not sure that I agree that there's enough of us who will doubt his validity. The easy answer is that blogging has no value, therefore we don't need to change.

Anonymous said...


here is my question of the day.

is there any correlation between those who blog and those who when they were kids kept a diary or Journal?

i have not jumped on the blogging band wagon yet...partly because of my injured hand which restricts my typing and partly because... well, it seems a lot like keeping a diary or journal..

I never kept a diary going for more than a few days (I found the diary I tried to keep as a kid and it had about 10 pages completed… for the year!)… and I hated assignments in school where you had to keep a daily journal. I would just wait till the night before it was due and then take three pens with different colored ink and do all the entries at one time… not that I could remember everything I did…but I had a pretty good imagination so I could “fill in the blanks”...and still get the “A” :- )

and on another side thought …I remember reading recently that one of the recent presidents (Reagan?) kept a journal every day – left dozens of them when he died – made it easy for his biographer… do you think future presidents will blog instead?

anyway, I wonder if blogging appeals more to those who enjoy the structure of a keeping a journal or diary…

Benjamin Hamilton said...

I think there are two pieces of data needed here: 1) quantitative/qualitative studies, and 2) ROI.

I would agree that ROI will probably be more difficult since it involves assigning value to the quantitative elements. For example, one benefit of Enterprise 2.0 technology (this is just a "Benjamin Hamilton benefit"; not claiming documented results here:-) is the ability to capture tactic knowledge. Some organizations believe tactic knowledge is invaluable (thus making ROI very difficult to determine); however, it could still be classified as a benefit.

There is a part of me that says, no matter how hard ROI may be to measure, it is still worth the effort. Taking the example of tactic knowledge or intellectual capital, it would take in-depth discussions with decision makers to determine what would be lost if this knowledge walked out the door.

Tony Karrer said...

Heidi - I never kept a journal as a kid. Maybe I should have. But keeping a journal is only one small aspect of blogging.

That said, I wonder if there's a correlation.

Not sure how I'd find out.

Tony Karrer said...

Benjamin - there may be ways to try to account for capture of knowledge. Certainly Davenport himself has worked on that. I wonder if some of his own models might suggest how to try to quantify some of the value of the intellectual capital.

That said, after lots of discussion with folks around blogging, I'm not sure that you are going to convince anyone based on an ROI argument without incredibly solid data. It's easy to shoot holes in most of the data points someone could gather, including most of the measurement of intellectual capital. But, I'd love to be wrong on this.

Anonymous said...

Non-sequitor perhaps... Have studies been completed on the effectiveness of telephones as a vehicle for communication?

Does a study need to be done to uncover that (1) People use them (2) Some people / most people can benefit from them (3) There are some potentially unwanted side-effects to their presence.

It always seriously bugs me when the ROI question arises for some communication tools and not others. Particularly so when tools are new and haven't fully evolved - it's disruptive technology - don't over codify things.

Tony Karrer said...

Steve - that's an excellent point. In fact, there's debate on productivity gains and ROI from information technology as a whole and lots of specific cases.

It seems like we make investment decisions around a whole lot of things without proven ROI.

Benjamin Hamilton said...


Not to belabor the point, but even in your list of three points, you are making claims/assumptions that would need to be backed up with some data (be it basic research or a study). For example, what is the basis for saying "most people can benefit from them"...and diving into that a little deeper, what are these so called "benefits"? Also, what are these "unwanted side effects to their presence"...and diving into that a little deeper, how can those unwanted side effects be avoided?

Basic research and studies help remove an element of subjectivity so it isn't just Steve Flowers', Tony Karrer's, Ben Hamilton's, or John Doe's personal observance. Is an ROI needed to answer these basic questions? Absolutely not...but I wouldn't throw out the baby (studies) with the bath water (ROI) and say studies aren't needed.

Anonymous said...

Benjamin -

I'm not study averse, my point is that we tend to overscrutinize nascent technologies and methods before they've had time to fully develop and mature. Most studies I have seen paint the questions and the results with a broad brush when we really should be studying a smaller focused slice.

My other poorly made point - if a study is completed on one type of information / knowledge tool, other similar tools should be measured with the same or similar mechanism. Comparison of benefits and disadvantages by collectively examining tangibles and intangibles should validate what seems obvious to those who have already consumed the kool-aid -- It should also create a conceptual model where best to apply this method in and outside of a business setting (and in what types of business).

Blogging is a method to share, shape, and increase persistence of information - among other things:)

Similar studies were completed for email, perhaps examining the outcomes of those measurement attempts can help future blogging studies avoid misplaced effort?

Anonymous said...

How would one best study blogging? What questions would be asked?

What measures would be objective? Which would need to be subjective? Could a completely objective study be completed on blogging? If not, what's the value penalty on the outcome?

Where do the baseline metrics come from?

What other similar tools and methods will be examined in the study?

What segments of society and business will be examined and how will these be compared?

How would the study be conducted so that it wouldn't stop drilling too soon? Particularly where 'X reduces productivity' and 'X increases productivity' is concerned. Many of the productivity issues are local management influenced human performance issues. Before the internet, did sandbaggers bring a dufflebag full of sports magazines to the office?

Serious questions. Well most of them anyway:)

Benjamin Hamilton said...


Great questions...I think we are more in agreement than I would've thought yesterday:-) Specifically regarding the "productivity" questions, I think that line of questioning can help answer investment questions C-level executives may have without doing a full-blown ROI.

I certainly agree with the mindset of studying multiple tools with the same methodology and approach. Equally as important (as you touched on in your later post) is comparing multiple similar tools. Unfortunately, in many elearning studies, I've seen students who receive additional learning opportunities compared to students who did not receive those opportunities, and then the researchers claim that the tool increases learning...of course it did...because they compared it to a group who did not get additional learning opportunities.