we wander so much by Svanes on Flickrwe wander so much by Svanes on Flickr

The other day, famous San Diego Fire twitterer and all around good guy, Nate Ritter, worked the day at Citizen Space. We got into this great conversation about the worth of useless knowledge, which reminded me of some research that I ran into a while back on Information/Knowledge Brokers

From the abstract:

Opinion and behavior are more homogeneous within than between groups, so people connected across groups are more familiar with alternative ways of thinking and behaving. Brokerage across the structural holes between groups provides a vision of options otherwise unseen, which is the mechanism by which brokerage becomes social capital…The organization is rife with structural holes, and brokerage has its expected correlates. Compensation, positive performance evaluations, promotions, and good ideas are disproportionately in the hands of people whose networks span structural holes. The between-group brokers are more likely to express ideas, less likely to have ideas dismissed, and more likely to have ideas evaluated as valuable.

Knowledge brokers, those people who bridge the structural holes, are sought-after because they bring information between disciplines. Um...BRIDGING CAPITAL! Duh! Of course! One of the many reasons why Bridging Social Capital is so darned important for career/reputation/business building is that you are able to adeptly fill those structural holes to make all sorts of genius decisions, connect key people and come up with crazy innovative ideas.

So yes, Nate is a knowledge broker. I am a knowledge broker. Probably many of you who read this blog are knowledge brokers. And it is a very very valuable skill to have. The rate of your success as a knowledge broker is the length to which you can connect those structural holes, which are filled with a great amount of information, connections and crazy ideas (usually from another batch of useless information).

In fact the amount of useless information one can amass plus the confidence at which one can deliver it is directly correlated with the amount of money one will make disseminating this information.

And how does one amass this information, you may ask. Well...by what I lovingly call: FUTZING.

I'm not sure if I am even using the word correctly, but what it means to me is the process by which one wanders around without aim, having conversations (with new and old friends), gathering random information, learning ostensibly useless knowledge and avoiding all tasks/duties clear and present.

I do this alot. In fact, over the past couple of weeks, I've been the queen of it. Chris also does it and even though I get ornery with him (mostly when I'm waiting for him to complete one of those avoided tasks), I fully understand that this level of futzing is what contributes to his level of genius that I so rely on.

But Nate brought up a really important question while we were talking: "How the heck do you get someone to pay you to futz?"

Hmmmm. Well, while futzing isn't exactly something we list in the proposal, it is important for us to budget enough time to get our work done for clients and have plenty of hours of futzing...some of which is paid for, but most of which is seen as some sort of in-house expense. What's paid for? If we are futzing with a purpose and direction: for example Client A, who is in the floral arrangement industry, needs a community strategy, so I'll spend days futzing around with blogs, photos, competitors sites, forums, etc. that are related or bridged somehow to the floral industry. If our futzing leads to the 'BIG IDEA' or a super amazing connection. If the futzing is being done WITH the client (sometimes we coach them through our process...or lack of it). In the end, though, the futzing that is paid for leads to some sort of result the client can feel is tangible.

But the biggest issue is that you have to do a heckuvalotta free futzing to get to the point that someone will pay you to do it. For example, you have to have an enormous amount of information to give away to demonstrate that you are darned good at futzing. This is why blogging is really valuable. People can display all of the interesting things they've learnt and bridges they are able to make from their futzing. By demonstrating this in blog posts, potential clients see their worth. In fact, some of the highest paid futzers give most of their futzing away (which pays for more futzing). We are continuously giving away free information, connections and ideas we gain through our futzing and because of that, we don't have to go to clients, they come to us.

Knowledge brokers are good futzers because, well, futzing leads to more knowledge. Maybe someday, bridging those structural holes will be automated, but for today, it's an incredibly creative and valuable job done by master futzers all over the world.