Activation Energy

At one point, I was pursuing a career chemistry. Although I have the degree in chemistry a lot of people thought I was better at computer science. Still, chemistry was all about problem solving; computer science and content management benefit greatly from problem solving techniques so my chemistry training has served me well. Today, I am drawn to chemical term: Activation Energy. Activation energy is the energy required to start a chemical reaction; now we know where this is heading.

After my guest post on John Mancini’s blog (Digital Landfill), I had a conversation with Marc Hirschfeld, President, Precision Legal Services. Marc and I exchanged several emails talking about how vendors don’t understand small business and about the ways he tries to help his clients, and I help the company I work for, afford and adopt content management. One of the underlying issues we discussed became the basis for this series of blog posts – “how do we get people to want ECM?

The reason I draw the parallel to activation energy is that ECM, like desirable chemical reactions, is a process that provides benefit. But, like those reactions, the process can’t start by itself. Wikipedia uses a photo of a striker lighting a Bunsen burner to illustrate activation energy – I love that photo. I chose the sparkplug, without which, gasoline engines wouldn’t function because I think it more closely matches ECM. The gas flow in the Bunsen burner starts with a spark but sustains itself – the heat from the flame keeps the reaction going. The sparkplug ignites the fuel in the cylinder but the reaction runs its course and must begin again on the next cycle. That’s how ECM works at a detail level. We have to add energy in the form of classifying documents, adding metadata, converting to searchable text, etc. to each document in order for it to have value. Activation energy is required for ECM at the macro level too. We have to urge people to agree to change their behavior, up front, to ever hope to see the benefit ECM promises.

Marc’s practice focuses on e-Discovery so he has a little bit of fear to provide activation energy. He works with clients who have seen problems or who can understand the problems he has seen. Fear is a strong motivator. Most of us are stuck with the classic chemical equation – the reaction (process) in question has value greater than the activation energy required – so the entire process is useful. Unfortunately, the typical methods of applying activation energy, heat and or radiation, aren’t available in the work place. We have to convince people to bring their own energy to the process. To do that, we, the ECM practitioners, have to prove to them that the value will be there as a result.

What do you use to provide activation energy?