Today’s knowledge management tools have become essential to creating value from the talent, skills and knowledge of experts. They do this by making their documents and media available (indirect access) or by identifying and providing connections to qualified professionals (direct access).
Progress has also been made in assisting with collaboration, through sharing of materials, version control, accreditation, communications and a multitude of application functions that coordinate, connect and control.
The next frontier may be assistance in “people skills,” that is, helping us build interpersonal relationships. Many people do this naturally, of course. They can make friends and inspire trust face-to-face, on the phone, and even through the narrow bandwidth of email notes. But people with weaker social skills and those who face obstacles of culture and language may need some help in building the relationships that create value.
Asynchronous relationship assistance. We already can find out a great deal about strangers. “Google” their names, and articles, quotes, biographies and affiliations become instantly available. We can keep up with those who are in our personal circles by tracking their postings to Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We can even find out about common friends and interests through social networking tools. Beyond keeping up with and researching individuals, it’s easy now to prepare for differences in culture and to get local information.
Synchronous relationship assistance. A fundamental separator — language — is falling with near real-time translation. It’s possible, for instance, to have an imperfect (but understandable) online chat, and there is even limited nearly real-time translation for voice. Calls centers are at the forefront of synchronous relationship assistance, with caller ID, instant access to records (including past services, interests and complaints) and even real-time detection of stress in the client’s voice. Sometimes, a remote agent can even appear to be a neighbor because of immediate access to the time, weather and scores of local sports teams.
The relationship assist device. The frontier for KM is pulling all this together in an integrated system, perhaps with augmented reality to it, could be used face-to-face as well as remotely. Imagine having prompts as to your last meeting with the person and warnings about cultural no-no’s. Such as system could go further, recognizing and alerting the user to body language, facial cues, tone of voice and microexpressions. Premiere systems might include a lie detector.
What can’t be duplicated by any assist device is genuine engagement. No prompt can replace caring, listening and acting with honor, such as keeping commitments. Being “driven” by a system would be the opposite of enhancing trust. Still, most of us could use some help in relationship now and then. With more of our important associations becoming virtual and cross-cultural, a relationship assist device would find many enthusiastic customers.