Thinking SharePoint Part 2 – The "Unconsciously Incompetent" Ikea Mecca

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My next post on "Thinking SharePoint" for reproduced here.

Hi again. Sorry about the delay in continuing with this "how to think SharePoint" series, but in Australia, the month of June is the end of the financial year. I assume it works the same way in the rest of the world too. What happens here is that IT Managers suddenly realise that they have some budget funds left over and therefore feel an irrepressible urge to spend it all. (They tend to be fearful that they will get less money allocated for the next year if they don’t spend all that is allocated to them this year).

Usually what they spend surplus budget cash on depends on whatever product or technology is at the peak of the hype cycle for that year. Therefore instead of something morale boosting like paying their hardworking staff a bonus or purchasing training vouchers for them, this year a lot of IT managers will wander around showing off their shiny new Apple iPhone and a lot of SharePoint consultants like me are very busy indeed.

And this is relevant, why?

Okay so yes, I am busy and haven’t had much time to devote to writing. But the real reason that I bring this end of financial year stuff up, is to point out that if you took anything away from the first post, you would appreciate that I find it a warning sign. Despite best intentions, buying SharePoint because you have some budget left is not necessarily the best place to focus surplus funds. You are in effect perpetuating the whole issue of the "solution looking for a problem".

In this world of organisational politics, no manager or sponsor is going to purchase SharePoint without something with "wow factor" to show for it. So on top of a fixed deadline, it has to look great and solve a few pertinent business needs, so that the organisation endorses and evangelises it, right?

My SharePoint spider senses are tingling already…

The plight of the "Ikea guy"


In the last post I implied that the prevalent world of folders (or directories) originated from two stoned Multix programmers in the 1960’s. I also likened folders to a wooden toybox and compared it to SharePoint as an uber-cool Ikea style modular storage solution. Of course, it all looked absolutely fantastic when you saw it in the display room in the suburban mecca that is an Ikea store.

So I want you to picture the plight of the "Ikea guy". He’s the guy who arrives at a house with a truck full of Ikea boxes who is going to install it for you. Now I want you to think about your organisation (in all its messed-up glory) and try and picture it as a family living at this house. 

From the Ikea guy’s point of view, the house looks really nice as he walks up to the front door. The garden is neat and trimmed and the lounge room is clean and tidy. The family inside seem really polite. However, once pleasantries have been exchanged and he takes a look around the rest of the house, it takes about 10 minutes for the Ikea guy to know that it’s just not going to be a good day.


  • Mum and Dad are in marriage counselling and it’s not going well
  • The kids barely speak to each other and don’t respect their parents
  • Dad thinks he knows best and that everything should be strictly put away according to colour no matter which room
  • Mum doesn’t care how things are put away, so long as they are put away
  • One of the kids is a teenage goth/emo, and he wants it all painted black
  • One kid is anal retentive and has one of those label makers and likes to put "Property of xxx" on everything
  • Another kid is a greenie-stoner and "it all should be like.. whatever you want man…"
  • One of the kids is vain and self obsessed, wants more pocket money and wants to individualise everything with stickers all over the place
  • One kid is a toddler, needs nappies changed and leaves a mess everywhere he/she goes


  • The husband never told the family that the Ikea guy was coming anyway and his measurements were out

So after much arguments between themselves, they turn to the Ikea guy and say "You tell us how should we do this?"

At this point the Ikea guy is completely screwed, no matter what he says, he is in trouble. It’s like when your wife or girlfriend asks if she looks fat in that dress. Even a pause before answering is going to be misconstrued in a way where you always lose.

Personalities, personalities…

In a lot of my writings I have fun with stereotypes. I tend to imply that IT managers are luddites or micro-managers, web designers and branding people are all vain metrosexuals and IT nerds have no people skills :-P. Senior managers all have a serious case of attention deficit disorder and the general user population is as varied as the kids I used in the Ikea example. The "human" side of SharePoint fascinates me greatly, as I have seen some people completely besotted with particular product features, such as wikis or blogs, yet have no interest at all in other features.

Not only are there different personalities, there are different leaning types. For people involved with SharePoint projects at any level, I recommend reading up on Myers-Briggs Indicators or the Marsden DISC quadrant model. I’ll blog in detail about these some other time, but the point here is that your version of the truth, if you’re lucky, will be shared by only 20% of your peers. So even if you put a bunch of SharePoint technical experts into a room and asked them to design a collaborative solution, the chances of them creating the same design is actually pretty low.

It’s like music taste. I’m sure that some readers thought to themselves "What’s wrong with the Backstreet Boys?", after reading my first post. Whilst I find that question too ridiculous to even contemplate, I recognise that part of the key to "thinking SharePoint" is recognising that Backstreet Boys fans do actually exist and therefore ensuring that their "special needs" are accommodated :-).

Moral? Chacun à son goût. Each to their own! Just remember that not everyone sees it the way you do and what will excite and interest you will not necessarily do the same for others.

Learning Styles

Another big contributor to effective "SharePoint thinking" is actually rooted in learning style theory. The theory says that when training people, there are different stages of awareness and competence. Personality types affect learning a lot, but here I present a bastardised SharePoint version of learning theory.

Stage 1 – SharePoint ‘unconscious incompetence’

  • The person is not aware of the relevance or considerations of the problem that SharePoint is being used to solve
  • The person is not aware that they have a particular deficiency in their knowledge of the applicability of SharePoint
  • The person might deny the relevance or usefulness of SharePoint
  • Conversely, the person might oversell the relevance or usefulness of SharePoint

Training theory states that the person must become conscious of their incompetence before development of the new skill or learning can begin. The aim of the trainer is to guide the person into the ‘conscious competence’ stage. In most problematic SharePoint projects, it is common that participants are at this unconscious incompetence stage and training without recognition of this fact is misfocused and wasteful. While the majority of participants in a SharePoint project are at this stage in their learning, then you are on a dangerous slope to SharePoint project failure if you proceed too fast.

Stage 2 – SharePoint conscious incompetence’

  • The person becomes aware of the existence and relevance of the problem that SharePoint is being used to solve
  • The person is therefore also aware of their deficiency in SharePoint knowledge and skill, ideally by attempting or trying to use the product
  • The person realises that by improving their skill or ability in SharePoint, their effectiveness will improve

Many people will feel that they are at this stage, but in fact they are still in stage 1. (It’s hard to put a quantifiable finger on how I personally determine this, but I think it is something that seasoned SharePoint professionals get a good feel for over time). Essentially any untested assumption on how SharePoint works or how it should be used to solve a problem is within the realm of stage 1!

I find that if I can get clients into Stage 2, then the nature of engagements change. The fixation on delivering the whole enchilada in a fixed time and fixed cost is replaced by dialogue, workshops, strategy sessions and the likes. At this point no scope of what is to be delivered has been fixed in stone as the client realises that they have to invest more in their learning and understanding for an ultimately positive outcome. The client has in effect made a commitment to learn and we proceed steadily to stage 3.

Stage 3 – SharePoint conscious competence

Note, In my opinion this period takes anywhere from two to twelve months, depending on the organisational size, culture, wickedness of the problem to solve, etc.

  • The person achieves ‘conscious competence’ in SharePoint when they can use it without feeling fearful or intimidated
  • The person will need to concentrate and think in order to understand the technical and organisational governance implications of a new SharePoint solution
  • The person will not reliably perform SharePoint work unless thinking about it – the skill is not yet ‘second nature’ or ‘automatic’
  • The person should be able to demonstrate SharePoint skills to another, but is unlikely to have the ability to teach it well to another person
  • The person should ideally continue to practice their skills, and if appropriate, commit to becoming ‘unconsciously competent’ at the new skill
  • Practice is the single most effective way to move from stage 3 to 4

Stage 4 – SharePoint unconscious competence.

Nirvana! Are any of us here yet???

  • Applying SharePoint features and capabilities to business problems skill becomes so practiced that estimates of time, effort and cost are accurate and met
  • Understanding of technical and organisational governance considerations of potential courses of action are implicitly understood

And then there was the Intranet

One of the reasons that folders have stuck for so many years would have to be its simplicity. For all of its suckiness, it has a somewhat constraining effect. Whilst folders can suck royally, it’s all you have available to use and therefore debates/arguments are not about whether to use folders or not, but how to use them. For most, there really was no alternative.

Then from around the mid nineties, there came the rise of the intranet. As a content delivery mechanism it proved hugely popular and suddenly corporate knowledge was made available via a much more accessible medium. But it was a different kind of content, and there was a significant "disconnect" with the corporate file system. Content authors would put their files onto the file-system and then on the intranet in a different format.

For the sake of article size and keeping it flowing, I am not going to talk too much about portals vs intranet’s because to the average end user, they are one and the same. I know people will beg to differ with me on this but I don’t think the distinction will be that relevant to this article.

Choices, choices, choices…

imageEven now more than a decade of "intranets" later, many clients who I talk to really struggle with the concept of a "SharePoint style intranet". The disconnection between the traditional intranet and the file-system is fairly ingrained, and in my experience, it is very common to find people initially unable to "connect" with the idea that your file-system, document management system and workflow system can be your intranet and visa versa.

This disconnect needs to be addressed early in the piece. Failure to do so and expectations will be unmet. Differing versions of the truth will abound and then how can participants and stakeholders possibly cope with the veritable smorgasbord of choices offered by SharePoint?

We still have folders of course, but now we have other elements as well, such as document libraries, columns of various types, webparts, versioning, approvals, lists, workflows, sites, site collections, web applications (oh and full text indexing/search too). So rather than debate on how, we now also have to argue on the what as well.

Combine organisational culture factors, SharePoint conscious or unconscious competence levels, the different personality types, life skills and values of participants, each with different buttons to push. Is it any great revelation then that too many choices can be more destructive than none at all?

Sheesh! It’s a wonder we don’t kill each other trying to work this all out!


I suspect that many reading this article would not be too offended if I suggest that they are "SharePoint consciously incompetent". It is actually where you need to start from, and in some ways I am preaching to the converted here. It is the people, not reading this article, who are likely to be in the unconsciously incompetent stage of learning. So, no matter what your role in your organisation is, one of the keys to "thinking SharePoint" as it were, is to move yourselves and your colleagues from stage 1 to stage 2.

In the next post I am going to tell you a tale of two clients, where one made the transition from SharePoint unconscious incompetence to SharePoint conscious incompetence and one who did not. I was the "Ikea guy" in both cases, and I think the stories offer some valuable insights.

Bye for now


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6 Responses to Thinking SharePoint Part 2 – The "Unconsciously Incompetent" Ikea Mecca

  1. Mike Bunyan says:

    What about the ‘squibs’. I call ’em that because when confronted with a problem thet simply obfuscate everyone elses view and fly off to the next meeting/role/job. Of course I mean the ‘change managers’. Those hyper individuals who believe a project will do everyting and more, and be one time and budget. The kind of employee, or in our case contractors, who has no or very little understanding of the buisness and is simply concerned with furthering a career.

    Squibs are the kind of person who do not walk the talk, yet talk and talk the hype, always ‘on message’ and so positive about everything, the execs love them and soak up every word.

    Squibs have long arms; barbed, extensible and gripping. When they decide a worker is not in a squibs best interests the barbs get used to poisen everything by that person. Extensiblity enables squibs to reach into things that are not really their business, exploring the business private resources and plundering anything they deem useful. The nasty combination of extensible and gripping helps squibs hold onto workers who are similarly minded, and the squib feeds off to achieve objectives. The workers are unable to take a task or objective to completion because they are constantly manipulated by squibs to take on too much work.

    Squibs are easy to spot in your office, Usually loud, in your face, and taking in hyped adjectives. They often do not come from your locality, or more often country, as they are trying to blend in and find a colour to fit them. Dress code is usually business like and unassuming, except dress down friday when screaming patterns, unsuitable skirts, shoes (if any), loud shirts and several suitcaes or backpacks for the weekend.
    The appear in the most unexpecyed places. In meetings they have squirmed themselves into. In your local bar, cafe or excape pod. They just seem to be everywhere, but achieve nothing useful (to us).

    Just a passing thought
    Mike B

  2. Hi Paul,
    Nice to see you leverage your training experience by integrating learning theory with your SharePoint experience.

    Wondering what you think about how people learn and how this is affected by the insane amounts of information we are expected to process every day? How are people’s learning habits adapting to this information flow?

    I read the following post from Nicholas Carr with interest, and would be interested in if you see this in learners (Sharepoint or otherwise), and what you do about it.


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