Up in the air?

©REUTERS/Felipe Caicedo

Taking as many long-haul flights as possible could hold the answer to your knowledge management problems.

Recent crowd sourcing reveals that frequent travellers regularly complain about the stress that comes with spending hours on a plane, and having to suffer through transfers at congested airports. Do you belong to this “unhappy” crowd? Think again. For you should smile, sit back and learn to savour those long-haul flights. Why?

Because of the rare privilege they offer of being cut off from e-mails, SMS texting, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of it. No apps either. Just you, your creative thinking and time for reflection (and possibly this printed magazine to pore over too). But you will also have time to prepare the next batch of surprise e-mails to bombard your collaborators with as soon as you land. You can fire them off from your hotel in the middle of the night or before going jogging in the wee hours of a glorious morning. Why wouldn’t you wish for this “time-out” to stay?

After all, how many of you really benefit from face-to-face meetings, seminars and conferences? There was a time when I did. That was quite a long time ago, though, when attending meetings in person was considered a privilege. But this is no longer the case. Nowadays, as far as I can see, most of the people attending conferences seem to be more engrossed in what is happening outside the room than in it. They are too involved in their Blackberries, smartphones, tablets and laptops to be bothered with the meeting at all. You may wonder why they came or what they hope to get out of it. Are they driven by addiction, or masochism?

Well, neither of these. Let’s call it a behavioural change, observed since the days the “hard copy guys” were sent packing. The e-world is so much more convenient. No more carrying around all those heavy books and reports. Just switch on your iPad and everything you need in the wonderful brave new world of information and knowledge will appear before you.

So, here’s a knowledge management tip, provided you do not mind leaving a carbon footprint behind: take as many intercontinental flights as you can so that you can read all the documents and watch the speeches from the conference you missed when answering your emails from HQ. Your flight is no longer just for catching up on rest. It’s your new workplace!

Try it out for a while. And then do your fellow frequent travellers a favour. Imagine, for instance, you have developed some very innovative insights into Mobile- Government (MG) you wish to discuss. Next step: organise a seminar on how citizens can better communicate with their governments 24/7. Given the absolute novelty of 24/7/MG, you can expect quite a fascinating and cutting-edge crowd to turn up.

And so they will. But I return to the statistical fact I mentioned at the start (that is, if you didn’t miss it when your smartphone distracted you while reading this): that rather than engage in a real live exchange of ideas, 75% of your guests will be looking at their Blackberries or smartphones instead, probably reading messages from government officials who are themselves currently up in the air.

But look on the bright side. Your guests will be grateful to you for giving them another golden opportunity to take a long flight to your meeting so that they can catch up with the previous meeting they also “missed”. On the way back home they will plug in the USB key you gave them at the MG conference, and prepare comments on the video of your presentation, which they will then send you before that morning jog. It’s a win-win for everyone, as long as their ideas don’t stay up in the clouds.

Visit www.oecd.org/gov

©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012

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