3 Lessons from The Wright Brothers about Content Management

May 29, 2015 5:07:00 PM by John Mancini

I recently read David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.  Before delving into my curious connection between the Wright Brothers and content management, let me put my reviewer hat on – It’s a very good book. I’ve always had a interest in the Wright Brothers, for many reasons but especially because their breakthrough occurred on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of my favorite places in the world. Also, true confessions, I was a history major.

The Wright Brothers does a great job of filling in so many gaps in the personal story of the Wrights, and does so in McCullough’s usual personal, well-researched, and thoughtful style.  But in addition to all of that, I especially liked the lessons the book presents about the nature of innovation, particularly as I think about the dramatic changes going on in the enterprise IT arena and within content management.

[Note: If you haven’t downloaded either my ebook on InfoChaos v. Information Opportunity or our white paper on The Future of Content Management, now would be a good time to do so!]

Lesson #1 – Beware Conventional Wisdom.

In the early 1900s, the conventional wisdom was that the long-anticipated breakthrough in manned and powered flight would come from Samuel Pierpont Langley. 

Per Wikipedia, Samuel Langley was American astronomer, physicist, inventor of the bolometer, pioneer of aviation and became the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1897.  Langley’s design had wire-braced tandem wings (one behind the other). It had a Pénaud tail for pitch and yaw control but no roll control, depending instead on the dihedral angle of the wings for maintaining roughly level flight.  His approach also had no landing gear, and was designed to be launched from a catapult on top of a boat in the Potomac River and then crash land into the Potomac. Wikipedia notes, “Langley gave up the project after two crashes on take-off on October 7 and December 8, 1903. In the first attempt, Langley said the wing clipped part of the catapult, leading to a plunge into the river ‘like a handful of mortar,’ according to one reporter. On the second attempt the craft broke up as it left the catapult.”

Ultimately, the federal government invested about $70,000 in Langley’s unsuccessful venture.  The Wright Brothers spent a total of about $1,000 (including transportation back and forth from Dayton to the Outer Banks) on their venture.

The “smart” money was on Langley. The “conventional” wisdom embraced Langley. And it was all dead wrong.

Conventional wisdom in the content management space says,

“Look at what worked in the past.”

“Beware of new vendors.”

“Respond to new governance challenges by doubling down on the control side of the equation.”

“Continue to view content management through the prism of IT rather than that of knowledge workers.”

For one example of conventional wisdom in play in our world, Chris Walker recently did a post on the tyranny of conventional wisdom in the Information Governance space – Wake Up! ARMA Canada.  It’s worth checking out.

Lesson #2 – Understanding the Process is More Important than the Technology.

McCullough talks in great detail about the steps the Wright Brothers took before they even ventured down the path of attaching an engine to their design.  They started in Kitty Hawk in 1900 – it wasn’t until 1903 that the engine even entered into the equation of figuring out the mystery of powered flight.

They were obsessed with understanding the nature of how a person interacted with process of flying. Per Wikipedia, “From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving ‘the flying problem.’ This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines.”

Many forget that the Wright Brothers ran a bicycle business.  The importance of this is that a key lesson of this business (also at the time, a relatively new technology) was the interaction of a person with a machine. In other words, how does one actually ride a bicycle? A person does not just sit on a bicycle and wait for something to happen. You need to interact with the machine, use the machine itself for steering, and essentially become indistinguishable from the machine.

As the Wrights began their experiments in Kitty Hawk, they were preoccupied with this question of pilot control. In contrast to Langley’s approach – which utilized a much more powerful motor than the Wrights did – the Wrights were focused on the question of how one interacted with the technology to achieve the desired result. 

Download Content Management 2020!

Content Management has long been an arena in which “technology” has received the lion’s share of attention in the triad of people, process, and technology.  When we look at ECM implementations that succeeded versus those that failed, a common element is that those that succeed ultimately understand that “ECM” is not about technology. It is about the interaction of people and process WITH technology.  We recently met with a company that had been plugging through a gigantic, multimillion dollar ECM project driven by their IT department.  After many years, they had only achieved 2 of their initial 10 objectives, and no one was very excited about those. And there was a lot of software sitting on the shelf.

People. Process. Technology. The Wright Brothers understood that appropriate Technology needs to flow FROM a detailed understanding of People and Process, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. And we need to understand that better in the Content Management space, especially in this era of consumer technology.


Lesson #3 – Radical Technologies Improve Dramatically and Quickly…But Their Application is Another Question

On 10:35 a.m. on December 17, in front of five witnesses, the Wright aircraft (Flyer I) ran down a monorail track, stayed aloft for 12 seconds and flew 120 feet.  Three more flights were made that day, and Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds (a 392% improvement!).  By 1905, the Wright Flyer III could make somewhat complex maneuvers and stay aloft for 39 minutes (a nearly 20,000% improvement in performance), covering a distance greater than all of the previous 109 flights combined. In less than 2 years.

But no one cared and no one believed. In part because of the Wrights’ concerns about lack of a patent, publicity about the pending revolution was scant. The only significant coverage was in a beekeeping journal. Scientific American declined to cover the “alleged experiments” by the Wright Brothers. Despite the incredible progress from 1903-1905, the Wrights made no additional flights in 1906-1907, largely due to their insistence that they possess a firm contract before conducting a demonstration.  The U.S. military, likely because they had invested $50,000 in the failed Langley aircraft, declined interest in the aircraft.  The Paris edition of the New York Herald noted, “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It's easy to say, 'We have flown.'”

On August 8, 1908, Wilbur Wright made a short demonstration flight at Le Mans, France, and the Wrights became a worldwide sensation almost overnight.  And we all know the rest of the story.

Over the last 20 years, we have seen dramatic changes in Content Management.  When I first took the job at AIIM in 1996, the same magazine announcing my appointment noted, “until the webmeisters persuade us otherwise, we'll hang onto our CDs and floppies, along with the aperture cards and other imaging artifacts that have served our corporate and personal purposes so cost-effectively in the past.”  Yikes.

Less than 10 years ago, I can remember meetings with leading ECM vendors who dismissed SharePoint as “not real” ECM and not really a competitive threat.  Almost overnight, MOSS drove a massive and fundamental pivot in the ECM space from a technology and an industry driven and dominated by the needs of relatively few document specialists to one that would be defined by a broad base of knowledge workers.  This pivot would carry with it a collapse in traditional (i.e., high) per seats price points and a reshuffling of the fundamental economic assumptions governing the ECM space.

And less than 3 years ago, I can recall Board discussions in which Box and other file sync and share solutions were described as “not serious” ECM.

The point? Like the Wright Brothers, radical innovators are often initially dismissed. THEY see the possibility of a transformed future, but no one else does. THEY work in relative obscurity until seemingly they are "instantly" famous and ubiquitous. We forget the transition period that was a necessary precursor to the seemingly “instant” revolution.

Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers does an AWESOME annual assessment of Internet Trends.  The 2015 version was released last week.  (HERE is a link.)

On slides 29-45, she talks about what I see as the next revolution in Content Management, although she doesn’t mention “Content Management” or “ECM” by name (another problem for another day!) -- content-intensive enterprise applications created from the ground up on a cloud and mobile base.  Applications that are consumed, purchased, implemented and utilized by companies and organizations in a fundamentally different way from the way we viewed enterprise applications as recently as five years ago. Here’s a sample.

Enterprise application


Business communications


Offline payments


Online payments


Business analytics




Custom communications           


Customer success


Customer service


HR benefits


Enterprise planning




Background checks


Employee training


Visitor management


All these enterprise applications have seemingly appeared overnight, but are actually the result of consumer innovations that have been brewing over the past few years, and only now are reaching the critical mass of a Wright Brothers "overnight" sensation.

We are in truly interesting times for Content Management.  I remain convinced that our collective task is to focus on these two questions for knowledge workers.  And probably in the reverse order from what I have them here:

Where do I put my “stuff” so that it is secure, shareable, and searchable so that my ORGANIZATION can accomplish its goals?


Where do I put my “stuff” so that it works the way I work and is useful to ME in getting my job done?

What do you think?  Here are three lessons from the Wright Brothers about content management and enterpriuse systems?  What's your biggest lesson?  Let me know in a comment.


You might also be interested in these posts:


Read More

Topics: ecm, innovation, digital transformation,, disruption

3 Things an IKEA Dresser can teach us about Content Management

May 18, 2015 12:36:00 PM by John Mancini

Last weekend, we moved my daughter up to New York City.

She started a job today as a nurse at Columbia Presbyterian hospital, and the apartment is on 10th Avenue a bit north of the Port Authority (pizza place on one side of the door, Irish bar on the other, Dunkin Donut down the block – what’s not for me to like?).  My wife and I are alternately very proud and terrified of her accomplishment and move. Mostly the former. Her place is in the middle of the picture below by the diversity flag.

In the course of the move-in and many illegal parking spaces and Keystone Cop antics associated with doing a move-in in NYC, we decided to add to the lunacy and make a visit to IKEA.  In Brooklyn.

Those who know me can testify that IKEA is not one of my usual haunts.  Just following those little arrows through the pre-defined maze of bedrooms to kitchens to living rooms to bathrooms gets me a bit dizzy.  If not for the meatballs I would usually rather put a stick in my eye than go to IKEA.  But truth be told, amidst my whining, anytime I am forced to go to IKEA, I do have a grudging appreciation for the sophistication of the operation.  And for the incredible example it provides of effective Taxonomy and Metadata management in action.

Say what? Taxonomy and Metadata?

At IKEA, I find myself thinking about all the conversations I’ve had with so many people over the years about the impossibility of truly doing content and document management well. About how incredibly gargantuan the task is of organizing all that content. About how nobody can find ever anything. About how the sheer volume of all that content makes the task not just difficult, but impossible. About how even at AIIM (true confessions), with only 30 people and sitting atop the world’s best collection of content and about content, we struggle much like the shoemaker’s children to organize our fairly modest content and information assets into something coherent.

For anyone who has managed to somehow avoid the IKEA experience, THIS is what awaits you at the end of your journey.

Endless rows of stuff, just like the one above, that bring to mind the huge warehouse at the end of Indiana Jones:

It’s a physical version of the Digital Landfills we create in our organizations -- huge undifferentiated dumping grounds of beds and dressers and lamps and rugs and sofas that mirror the file shares and SharePoint team sites and Box folders and poorly implemented content management systems in our organizations.

Except something different is going on here. There is a method and a structure to this madness that allows people – regular people, none of whom appear to be actually Swedish and none of whom appear to be card carrying members of APICS (American Production Inventory Control Society) – to navigate this incredible inventory of “stuff” on their own and with a minimum of supervision, find exactly what they need, load it onto flatbed carts, and move on beyond the cash registers. To where you can get those $1 ice cream cones at the end. 

I think there are three main concepts in the organization of this vast repository of physical goods that are useful as we think about how we organize our digital assets.

1 – Make your Taxonomy as complicated as is necessary to get the job done. And not one bit more.

Think about the names that are used to organize classes or families of related items at IKEA. Names like – Hemnes, Trysil, and Brimnes. The observant among you will note that these are not English words. You will also note that the last time I checked, most Americans are not bilingual in English and Swedish.

I think the key here as we think about digital assets is that the naming structures we use do not necessarily even need to be familiar conventions for a taxonomy to work.  But they DO need to be: 1) consistently applied; 2) simple; 3) constantly reinforced; and most importantly 4) applied at a level of granularity that makes sense in the context of the problem you are trying to solve.

In the context of IKEA, think about the family of items tied to the dresser we bought, classified under the family name "Hemnes." Under the grouping of Hemnes, you can find multiple configurations and colors or dressers, but also beds and mirrors and wardrobes in the same family.  If you like the basic look associated with Hemnes, you can find all of the various items that might be tied to this “look.” Note that there aren’t an infinite number of items in this highest “facet” of the IKEA taxonomy. Nor are there so few labels as to provide no utility.  

Oh, by the way, here is a picture of the dresser I made.  With my own hands. With a minimum of cursing. OK, my wife did the drawers.

2 – Integrate the taxonomy DIRECTLY into the user and employee experience.

Organizations will often spend months – many times, years – developing the “perfect” taxonomy, only to roll it out to deafening indifference.  And the moment indifference hits, it is only a blink of an eye before that beautiful and elegant taxonomy, created with great care, becomes forgotten and useless.

The IKEA taxonomy -- even though crafted in another language – is the language customers use to talk about IKEA's products.  I'll bet there were at least 50 native languages spoken at that Brooklyn IKEA, but when it came to talking products, everyone spoke Swedish.  Their taxonomy labels are at the core of everything.  They are how the store and the web site and catalogue is organized.  It is the language of how the business functions. And in the process of all this, the usual questions we wrestle with in the content space that thwart adoption – findability, usability, change management – seem to have fallen away. The taxonomy is the business and the business is the taxonomy.

Get 14 steps to ECM - Free!

The part of the IKEA experience I find most amazing is when all the customers miraculously find their way to exactly where their product is stored. This is done through tags in the showroom that include the location of the product in the warehouse (see below).

IKEA would be a madhouse if everyone just wandered around the warehouse trying to find what he or she were looking for, no matter how well organized this back-end was.  The showroom – organized by another taxonomy facet, the kind of room the stuff will go in – is a key part of the user experience. It is the equivalent of a well-curated and intuitively presented search experience in the digital world. It is not just search, which is the way we usually think of the problem.  It is combining search with an intuitive user experience to create findability, which is far too rare a commodity in most systems.

3 – There doesn’t need to be just one repository, but there does need to be a strategy.

The last piece of the puzzle is where the “stuff” in IKEA is ultimately stored.  Each product is linked to a precise location in the stacks (see below). A precise and unique location. Say it again, a precise and unique location. That sure isn't the way digital assets are usually treated in our organizations -- think, for example, about all of the various places a ppt presentation that is attached to an email might ultimately reside.

And that’s the last and perhaps most important analogy from IKEA to the world of digital assets. 

We have two urgent problems we need to solve in our organizations. These problems are distinct, but connected. You can’t solve only one, or information will never wind up in a precise and unique place.

I’ve written about this before. We need to think about the question of information management and information security from a different vantage point – that of the knowledge worker – rather than that of central IT control. Because to be sustainable in an era of consumerization and digital disruption, an information management strategy must answer two questions for knowledge workers:

Where do I put my “stuff” so that it is secure, shareable, and searchable so that my ORGANIZATION can accomplish its goals?


Where do I put my “stuff” so that it works the way I work and is useful to ME in getting my job done?

And Taxonomy and Metadata are at the heart of this dichotomy.  

What suggestions do YOU have re an effective taxonomy/metadata strategy? -- Share them via a comment!

If you’re serious about “IKEA-ifying” your information management strategy, here are two good places to start:

AIIM Taxonomy and Metadata Resource Center – become a professional member and access the rich curated collection of information.

Find What You Need Today!

AIIM’s Taxonomy and Metadata course – one of our most popular classes.

Yes, I want to enroll for $595!

 Check out -- 3 Lessons from the Wright Brothers About Enterprise Technologies

Read More

Topics: information governance, metadata, taxonomy, enterprise content management, ecm

8 things you need to know about #ECM in Europe

May 11, 2015 10:20:24 PM by John Mancini

[Note:  the following is a European data cut from AIIM’s new ECM Decisions report. You can get a copy HERE.] 

More importantly, these are some of the issues that I’ll discuss in my keynote at the AIIM Forum 2015 in London on June 24.  Attendance is FREE; to register, go HERE.

We’ll also be doing 2 pre-cons on the day before the Forum, June 23.  Registration for the special ECM pre-con is HERE and reg for the course on Information Governance is HERE.

8 things you need to know about ECM in Europe

  1. 28% of organizations are implementing an enterprise-scale ECM capability, and an addition 12% have already done so.
  2. The primary business drivers for ECM are: 1) costs and productivity (32%); 2) compliance and risk (30%) and collaboration (29%). Customer service rounds out the drivers at 9%.
  3. The idea of a single content repository is a pipedream for most organization – 47% or organizations have at least 3 major ECM systems in place.
  4. The idea that ECM signals the end of file shares is similarly a pipedream – for 60% of those with an ECM implementation, files shares are still a significant repository (for 26%, the DOMINANT content store!).
  5. 22% say they have policies restricting consumer file sharing services, but that these policies are regularly circumvented.
  6. 21% say they let users figure out what emails to keep and what to get rid of.
  7. 27% say they like their vendor’s roadmap, but find it way ahead of where they are now.
  8. 60% don’t have any linkages between their ERP/Finance and ECM/RM systems.

All of this points to a big change in content management:  The combined impact of consumerisation, cloud and mobile, and the Internet of Things are signalling the end of the ECM Era -- as we have come to know it.

Organisations are struggling with best practices and norms as they make the transition to this sixth era dominated by Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and Collaborative (MACC) technologies - and the companies that provide the vital supporting technologies are rapidly changing shape.

There are several significant trends emerging from this transition:

  • New approaches to privacy and security
  • Ubiquitous broadband connectivity
  • Bottom up rather than top down innovation
  • Lots more virtual and distributed work
  • A shortage of IT "connective” and analytic skills
  • An OPEX vs. CAPEX procurement model
  • Increased regulation of the cloud by national governments

"Every organization, every executive, every individual, every object is on a digital journey and content is at the heart of that journey,” notes futurist Thornton May. "Content is ubiquitous and critical, but ECM is rapidly becoming invisible.”

Join me in London on the 24th for more.


Read More

Topics: erm, content management, ecm, aiim forum

Information Chaos in a Nutshell

Apr 23, 2015 10:57:07 PM by John Mancini

Read More

Sharepoint Angst

Apr 23, 2015 6:22:55 PM by John Mancini

Get a copy of the full report HERE

Download new SharePoint Research

Read More

Topics: sharepoint

Be honest -- How do YOU get around your organization's outdated systems and policies?

Apr 23, 2015 4:22:45 PM by John Mancini

I was recently talking to an AIIM member about accessing documents related to a project that we were both working on.  So this will not be viewed as some sort of tacit endorsement, I’ll leave the name of the vendor out, but it’s a significant player in the enterprise sync and share space.  I’ll also leave out the name of the AIIM member so he/she won’t get into trouble!  

But I think this short story illustrates the totally unrealistic and counter-productive way most enterprises are looking at the incursion of consumer technologies into the enterprise. Consider the following.

When I mentioned the specific cloud file repository we were using for project, the AIIM member said they couldn’t access the site because the "domain was blocked at work."  As we talked about the implications of this, an old adage of mine came to mind -- the desire of the “business” to get work done by individuals will always trump our desire for organizational “control” of information.

The response of the AIIM member was this (paraphrasing):  “It won’t be a huge problem to get around it.  I’ll access the documents at home on a personal device, and then forward them to myself at work for reference during our conference call.”

Truth be told, this kind of stuff occurs all the time. And yet so many organizations persist in putting their heads in the sand, and assume that if they wish it so (“we’ll keep information under control by just blocking the domain”) it will be so.

Our upcoming ECM Industry Watch (look for it on the 29th) provides some data documenting the head in the sand approach most organizations are taking when it comes to thinking about the question of mobile accessibility and the REAL patterns of how knowledge work is actually done in the year 2015.

Consider the answers to this question: What progress are you making towards content and process access on mobile devices?  Is it any wonder that user adoption and utilization of most ECM systems remains a significant problem?

  • 5%      We have widespread access for staff and project partners
  • 6%      Most of our staff are able to access content and processes on mobile
  • 10%    We have mobile access to ECM content for those that need it
  • 18%    We are rolling out mobile access
  • 16%    We have plans for mobile access in the next 12-18 months
  • 27%    We have nothing planned as yet

The upcoming Industry Watch notes that 60% of organizations that have deployed ECM solutions agree with the statement, “Gaining user adoption has been a big problem for our ECM project.”  62% agree with the statement "We still rely on file shares."  And this is among organizations with ECM solutions!

I think a lot of this comes from a miscalculation of the true nature of information risk -- calculations that for many organizations are based on the outdated assumption that users have no choice with regards to the tools they use and that we can continue to "control" things the same way we did when all knowledge work was done at a desktop computer and in an office and on equipment owned and issued by central IT casting.

This comment from Michael Coleman, SVP & CIO at Comporium Communications illustrates the challenge facing organizations as they recalibrate risk in an era of consumerization and disruption:

“Deciding where to let go is a key element in managing overall risk.  You need to decide what are actually corporate assets, and push processes to make sure they live in a specific place. There are not enough people to manage the volume. Make sure you get that foundational layer right.”

Alan Pelz-Sharpe spoke at the AIIM Conference about this challenge under the description of the “fragmented enterprise” and offers this advice to organizations:

  • Data and traffic volumes are overwhelming – winners only manage essentials, don’t be a hoarder – Focus on IT efficiency
  • Algorithms only tell us so much – winners invest in smart people to use, interpret, interact with and and ask the right questions
  • BYO everything will be a reality – but not for everything, every time – there is a time and a place…
  • Don’t chase fashions – focus on your customers and your products/services – more people and less technology may be the way forward
  • Do watch emerging trends, some (not many) can be truly disruptive
  • Manage data from creation to destruction – always

All of which brings me to a previous post: When riding a dead horse, dismount - #ECM in the era of Digital Disruption.

We need to think about the question of information management and information security from a different vantage point – that of the knowledge worker – rather than that of central IT control. Because to be sustainable in an era of consumerization and digital disruption, a strategy must answer two questions for knowledge workers:

Where do I put my “stuff” so that it is secure, shareable, and searchable so that my ORGANIZATION can accomplish its goals?


Where do I put my “stuff” so that it works the way I work and is useful to ME in getting my job done?

Until we recalibrate our strategies to deal with BOTH these questions, we will struggle to achieve a true strategy to effectively manage our information assets.

Download Content Management 2020!


Read More

What is the biggest problem facing information professionals? - cast your vote

Apr 13, 2015 6:59:14 PM by John Mancini


Read More

ASAE Peeps Need to Pay Attention to LinkedIn Acquisition of Lynda

Apr 9, 2015 8:15:00 PM by John Mancini

Last month I did a blog post on the need for associations to thinking AGGRESSIVELY about the intersection of our networking, learning, and content curation efforts, or risk being left behind by better positioned competitiors in the consumer world -- Association Friends – A Manifesto to Survive Disruption -- Am I a Genius, a Nut, or just plain Cranky?

The premise was the following -- there is a terrible lack tools in the association community to bring together our networking, learning, and content curation efforts. I used my experience in recording a course for Lynda.com -- located HERE! -- to describe my concerns about the lack of strategic tools to link networking, content, and learning in the association community.  Stated simply, we need to drive an intersection of these tools -- what we all currently deal with is stunningly suboptimal -- or risk the consequences.  My premise:

1 -- There is a shakeout coming in the association space.

2 -- The associations that are currently financially sustainable have at their core:

  1. professional certification that is a necessary ticket to be in that profession (i.e., you MUST have it to do your job);
  2. big trade show; and/or
  3. clear policy enemy or objective.

3 -- Everyone else is essentially in the a) networking, b) training, or c) content development/delivery business.

4 -- All of the items in #3 are in the midst of accelerating disintermediation from the web and social technologies

Well, associations better pay attention to the combination of Lynda.com and LinkedIn.com, because it the game has just changed DRAMATICALLY.  Check out the announcement -- and think about how compelling YOUR offerings are compared to this combination.


Read More

Topics: associations

The shortest #AIIM survey ever

Apr 8, 2015 9:35:00 PM by John Mancini

Read More

Topics: erm, ecm, bpm

With apologies to Julie Andrews, these are a few of my favorite #AIIM15 tweets

Apr 6, 2015 2:32:00 PM by John Mancini

Here is a sampling from some of my favorite #AIIM15 tweets.  Enjoy.

If you weren't able to attend in San Diego, we hope to see you next year in New Orleans.  And here is a short (and FREE!) e-book to give you an idea of what you missed...

Click here to Download


Read More

Topics: RISK, process automation, content management, ecm, engagement, analytics

About AIIM

AIIM provides market research, expert advice, and skills development to an empowered community of leaders committed to information-driven innovation.

Subscribe to Email Updates