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Why Is It So Hard to Find What I'm Looking For?

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Why Is It So Hard to Find What I'm Looking For?

Jun 30, 2016   |  By
Rebecka Isaksson | Director, KM Programs - Microsoft

Following up from my last blog post: Too busy to get help? Take time to learn!

I hear from my Customers (our 20k+ Enterprise Services employees worldwide) almost every day, how hard it is “to find the stuff I need”, or “to find the good stuff”, out of a list of search results that sometimes spans tens of thousands of returns. And I totally get that. I feel the same way very often, whether I am looking for stuff internally, or trying to book flights for my next vacation.

But then I add some data insights to the equation, from the telemetry we capture on our Collaboration solution (, for the “softies” among my readers) which shows that the average free text search query is 1.4 words long. And that is down from 1.6 words over the last 6 months.

This data is interesting in several ways to me, because knowing the information increase and rate of change required of all of us over the same time frame, seeing a decrease/limitation in search queries is not that odd, is it? I think it is a natural response that the more information is pushed on you, the more tunnel-visioned you get about the information you absorb, and the search query data is merely a reflection of that: Tunnel vision. Not a conclusion that “free text search queries” are not optimised (even though that is indicated as well).

To add to that, 80% of the searches on our solution are free text searches, although we offer two more search options: parametric search and catalogue browsing. I would hypothesise that is also a result of simply “running to fast” to even see there are more ways to find the stuff you are looking for.

And please, do not read this short piece as “industry research” or “statistically verified data” – these are trends combined with my own thoughts, based on taking a long hard look at my own behaviours as much as anybody else’s!

But to come back to my last post, about “taking time to learn”, I honestly believe that we can do a lot ourselves, before we ask the tool/process/company to fix the problem for us – no tool can find what we are looking for, unless we take time to (learn how to) look!

Many times we are very quick to jump into “solution mode” and we think the fix is to buy a new tool and throw out the old one, change the existing one, or even add a few more to the already rich tool box we have. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that, in the name of Pareto, 80% of the time this is not the right way to address the problem(s). Or at least not the right first step.

We have shared some of our own experiences in the 5+ year KM-journey that we have been on in Microsoft Enterprise Services in this 2-pager: Microsoft Services Reimagines Knowledge Collaboration with Cloud-Based Platform. One key conclusion was the same conclusion many others have drawn, that it is 80% a “people & process-problem” and not a “tools problem”.

Investing some time in understanding our organisation’s/team’s search behaviours and “teach ourselves/them how to fish”, instead of telling us/them to “go fish”, or sending someone out for “new fishing tools”, is usually time well invested for most organisations.

Rebecka Isaksson is a thought leader and influencer with 15+ years experience of successfully driving Change Management and Operational Excellence multi-year programs, internally and as Management Consultant for many multi-national and global Enterprise Customers. 

PLEASE NOTE: The views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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