I had some fun in my newest book exploring the relationship between the phenomenal world — the “real world” of people, things, and events — and the epistemic world — the symbolic world that represents those things virtually.
Surrounded as we are by technologies — the internet itself, and soon virtual and augmented reality — we live much of our experiential lives in the epistemic world. To adapt, organizations have begun to build digital representations of themselves that may approach, both in capability and in complexity, the organizations themselves.
Much of the low-hanging fruit of digital innovation consists of putting an epistemic wrapper around an existing business — for example, as Amazon has done with retailing and Uber has done with ride-hailing.
Where it gets interesting is where, as in those two examples, an inversion occurs — the epistemic seems to be driving the phenomenal real world, rather that just being its symbolic representation. I push a few buttons on my phone, a car and driver arrive a few minutes later. Or I push a few other buttons, and a book arrives in my mailbox within a day or two.
At the dawn of the digital age (1964), management thinker Peter Drucker uttered what is arguably his most iconic maxim — “Knowledge IS the business.” By this he meant that the goods and services being sold by any given enterprise are merely the physical manifestations of the unique knowledge represented by each — and that it’s the knowledge that creates the unique value of the enterprise.
All these decades later, Drucker’s aphorism has evolved from a prescient and somewhat aspirational meme, to a literal current reality. People, we are “there.”
I helped a client the other day identify why she was having trouble locating things on her organization’s public website. This is something that many information-producer organizations face, in my experience — particularly, those that continually produce a relatively high volume of information. As a body of information grows, there reaches a “fire hose” point where there is literally too much information to be able find and use it rapidly and effectively.
My client then made the leap from that not-uncommon operational problem to one of a more strategic, even existential, nature. She mentioned that one of her colleagues had noted in a meeting that, “Now that we are closed to the public, it is our website to which all members, users, and visitors are driven. This is now the important ‘first impression’ we make to our audiences.”
Knowledge — in the form of their beautiful and information-rich website — now IS, in effect, their organization. (At least, for the time being, and, honestly, who knows how long this situation will last?) The User Experience of the website is, for practical purposes, identical to the UX for the entire organization — for better, and for worse.
While we operate in virtual mode, your enterprise website, for practical purposes, IS your enterprise — especially for prospects and new customers. Does it measure up to the standards you have set for your “real world” enterprise?