This post continues on from my post, Knowledge as Interpreter - ASPE.
In that post I riffed off some bloggers on the concept of Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom (D-I-K-W) not being of a hierarchial nature, and rather a loop, where knowledge is required to turn data into information, and the sensemaking process turning information into knowledge…and if that knowledge created were to be exchanged (written down/conversation), it would be back to data or information, depending on who was looking at it.
I also prefered the verbs in the diagram, Analysing - Sensemaking - Pathfinding - Executing (ASPE).
NOTE: I just had a flash of physics then with my phrase, “…depending on who was looking at it”. In physics sometimes things exist only if you look at them, the same goes with information, where information only exists if the receiver has the current knowledge to see data as information.
In physics, if you don’t look at the thing it doesn’t exist…if you don’t have the knowledge to see the data as information, then the information doesn’t exist to you. Someone help me here…
Knowledge Management is an oxymoron?
An oxymoron is a phrase combining opposing or contradictory terms
I’m not going to define KM, but here are 43 knowledge management definitions - and counting… I like the idea that it’s not about a means to an end.
For me it’s a way to augment the way you work, which is in a more open networked environment, where your information is visible, creating more chance for connections (conversations), awareness, relationship and trust building, in turn creating more opportunity to develop shared context with others (which increases the chances of successful knowledge transfers, ie. the meaning in the message is transferred).
This way of working (leveraging the social capital), creates interdependencies between people which solidifies the success to keep working in this style.
Oops, did I just try to define it…perhaps describe it…
This is really information openess and connection, perhaps this practice is “knowledge sharing.”
I don’t say information sharing, as the intention is for your knowledge to be received as knowledge to someone else, rather than just information. So knowledge sharing is the intention, but sometimes information sharing may only occur, or worse.
Is someone who is in charge of this way of working, a Knowledge Manager or more a steward or facilitator who instills a culture of Knowledge sharing practices or style of working, where the aim is to create shared context?
If knowledge is not an object, and is more personal know-how and is used to make sense of signals we receive, then how is it possible to capture knowledge, or for that matter transfer knowledge?
Further to this, then there is no such thing as managing knowledge.
We can only manage information, whether you get intended or unintended meaning out of this information is up to the receiver.
If you get someone to store and tag a report into the repository, this is the role of information management.
If you get someone to write down their know-how and store and tag it into the repository, this is still information management.
Anecdote realise this and rather use the term “Better Information Managment”, and “Improved collaboration and learning”.
We have to admit we are stuck with the term “Knowledge Management”, and it will continue to be used even though it’s not exactly what happens…what’s in a name.
Information has no meaning
An Anecdote paper, Our take on how to talk about knowledge management, tells us:
“Knowledge is the stuff in people’s heads which enables them to do things.”, and:
“Information is certainly valuable, but it is inert; it does not cause things to happen.
As described by Polanyi and Prosch, information (suchas a map), no matter how elaborate it is, cannot read itself; it requires the judgement of a skilled reader who will relate the map to the world through both cognitive and sensory means. Debra Amidon, in 1991, asserted that information, in and of itself, is not useful until it is embodied in a person’s awareness and related to business imperatives.”
Oscar Berg has being talking about the nature of information, and how the value derived depends on who uses it.
This is the very message of the late Frank Miller’s seminal paper, I = 0 (Information has no intrinsic meaning), which I re-read lately.
“…we’ve been led to believe that information contains meaning - rather than just standing for, provoking or evoking meaning in others.”
“…knowledge is the uniquely human capability of making meaning from information…”
“…information is intrinsically meaningless on its own and remains so unless - and until - it is interpreted by human beings, within some context.”
“…information become knowledge? The answer: at the moment of its human interpretation (and not an instant before!)”
One of the best quotes is:
“But if we then take the step of ascribing intrinsic meaning to the information itself, we cross the boundary of rationality and enter a bizarre world where we assume that impersonal stimuli have minds of their own and can have their own meaning!”
He gets more esoteric by saying that if we didn’t have information, ie. no sensory input, then there is no knowledge to be created…without information (therefore no sensory input) how to we know we even exist. Let’s not get into this here, as we could discuss non-materials planes.
Re-reading this paper was a very different experience from when I first read it a couple of years ago. Since then I have read and experienced more of life, especially in KM and related fields, and with all this knowledge I have amassed I got 10 times more meaning (and ideas) out of this paper.
There must be a term for this, my different experience in reading this paper demonstrated what the content of the paper is about.
The nonsense of ‘knowledge management’ is a paper, by T D Wilson, that is along this same line of thought:
“…’knowledge’ (what I know) and ‘information’ (what I am able to convey about what I know)”
You can’t capture knowledge, and there is no such thing as explicit knowledge
“…knowledge was only ever tacit. Once we attempt to make knowledge (i.e., what we ‘know’) explicit, it reverts immediately to an ‘information’ state again and requires human intervention anew for sense to be made of it.”
“Knowledge is, after all, what we know. And what we know cannot be commodified.”
“Knowledge (ie ‘what we know’) is only ever ‘tacit’ and can never be ‘explicit’. It must never be thought of as a commodity to be captured, processed, stored, transmitted, managed etc.”
“‘Explicit knowledge’, of course, is simply a synonym for ‘information’.”
“…’tacit knowledge’ involves the process of comprehension, a process which is, itself, little understood. Consequently, tacit knowledge is an inexpressible process that enables an assessment of phenomena in the course of becoming knowledgeable about the world. In what sense, then, can it be captured? The answer, of course, is that it cannot be ‘captured’ - it can only be demonstrated through our expressible knowledge and through our acts.”
This nullifies the concept that you can capture knowledge, as it’s not possible to capture meaning, the meaning is derived by the person encountering it, all the capturing we do is simply information management.
Dave Snowden has more on KM sins, which includes, knowledge as more a flow, rather than an explicit asset:
“…put all their effort into knowledge as a thing; making tacit knowledge explicit…”, instead:
“…focus on creating connectivity between people to allow knowledge to flow, rather than worrying about the knowledge itself. Get the channels right and that is most of the battle. Generally if people have a working relationship, ideally a trusted one then in the context of need they will help each other without the need for direction, structure or technology.”
This leads to Dave Snowden’s three heuristics. Wilson seems to be in the same school of thought:
“The fact is that we often do not know what we know: that we know something may only emerge when we need to employ the knowledge to accomplish something. Much of what we have learnt is apparently forgotten, but can emerge unexpectedly when needed, or even when not needed. In other words we seem to have very little control over ‘what we know’.”
Shared Context creates more chance of the intended message being understood
As I mentioned earlier I think Shared Context is at the heart of KM, when you are in a conversation you hope what you are saying is understood, ie. the receiver has understood your intended meaning.
Frank Miller explains that the reality of information not possessing an intact meaning, can be felt in mis-communications or mis-interpretations.
Why do some people understand one thing, and others another, or nothing at all?
It’s because we use our current knowledge to derive the meaning, the information itself can’t do it for us.
“…although information certainly stands for meaning, it is never meaning itself. Meaning is a mental thing and is only ever tacit, that is to say, ‘in us’. Identical information almost invariably provokes (or evokes) different meanings in each of us.”
“…it is not what the message does to the audience but what the audience does with the message that really matters.”
This reminds me of a paper by Nancy Dixon, on the onus role of the knowledge receiver to tease out the desired exchange…I’ll get round to posting about this later on (it’s such as great paper).
Wilson has a similar thing to say:
“‘Knowledge’ is defined as what we know: knowledge involves the mental processes of comprehension, understanding and learning that go on in the mind and only in the mind, however much they involve interaction with the world outside the mind, and interaction with others. Whenever we wish to express what we know, we can only do so by uttering messages of one kind or another - oral, written, graphic, gestural or even through ‘body language’. Such messages do not carry ‘knowledge’, they constitute ‘information’, which a knowing mind may assimilate, understand, comprehend and incorporate into its own knowledge structures.”
Web 2.0 helps build abstraction with people in far places
Apart from information having no intrinsic meaning, Frank Miller goes on to talk about a very important point, in that the web has enabled people to get a message to a global audience.
These days you don’t really know much about the people you are working with or communicating.
This becomes a problem, because there already is the potential problem with people you know well mis-interpreting your message (information), when you work with people you don’t really know this is going to increase the chances.
“Our knowledge - that is to say what we knew from our direct experiences - was closely akin to the knowledge of others with whom we necessarily lived our lives in close proximity.”
“The “information age” changed all that.”
“We can send information and provoke a response in almost anyone we wish anywhere on the planet, but we can never be sure - unless we know these people personally - how they are likely to interpret (ie what meaning they are likely to make of) the information they receive from us.”
“Successful communications depends on knowing others well enough or caring about others deeply enough (the tacit dimension) to imagine how they are likely to interpret the (explicit) messages we exchange with them.”
Dave Snowden often refers to a level of high abstraction, the level of; intellect, shared experiences, style, character, that is known between a group of people, the more chance they will derive the intended meaning from information exchanges.
Along with this, as mentioned again and again, is a high level of Shared context. This is how much we both know about the context surrounding this information eg. are we familiar with the source, the background it’s based on, the topic, etc…this frame of reference helps in deriving the intended knowledge from the information.
You are having a conversation with a piping engineer:
1. in another company
2. in another office in your company
3. in your office
4. in your office and in your team
5. in your office, in your team, and your close colleague
Obviously number 5 is the person you will have a greater level of trust, inter-dependencies, abstraction and shared context.
These are the the necessary aspects of a relationship for not only successful information transfer, but collaborating, creating, evolving new information and knowledge.
The 5 point list above is based on the offline world, if we include the online world of networks, blogs, communities, etc…then geography really doesn’t make a difference.
In an offline world we can still get to know a colleague in another office using the phone, IM, email, etc…but in a community and network we get to know lots more.
To reprise Frank Miller’s paper I’d say that web 2.0 has evolved to enable us to retain and create close relationships like we have in the physical world…we are still able to know people (geographically distant) well enough that the information signals are no more misinterpreted than they are with people in the same office.
In fact the web now allows us to know a lot about people that we don’t even know, if anything we can connect to more like minds, form new relationships, get to really know other people well.
Social tools like blogs mimic the offline world:
- we can informally and casually talk about stuff
- others can subscribe (these people really get to know your character)
- these people can leave comments and talk about you in their own blog posts
- you subscribe to them
- this all happens on a daily basis
There is no doubt that face to face, audio/visual helps evoke more understanding, but casual and informal blog posts also have this effect, and according to the listed points above, blogs enable people to discover each other and connect into a close relationship where you develop trust, high abstraction and shared context.
So if anything, the Read/Write Web has taken us to the “Knowledge Age”, where we can connect and get to know people, without even having to have a relationship.
This certainly helps in the enterprise as we have to deal with all sorts of people from all sorts of departments. If we can visit their profile, see their network, see the contributions (blog posts, etc…), we can get to know their character, where they fit, etc…we know more about them, which helps a more successful interaction with them.
“Only human beings have the capacity to construct meaning from information and to sense ‘meaning’ evolving in themselves and in others. Only human beings can compare interpretations with a view to achieving a shared purpose.”
“Information, no matter how elegantly processed and presented, is incapable - on its own - of achieving anything!”
We need to increase the chances that when we confront information (read/conversations) we are able to get as much meaning as possible. Both what the sender is intending to transfer, and the stuff the receiver gets out of it, including the stuff that the sender didn’t think of.
This is what participation and collaboration (wisdom of crowds) is all about.
So rather than Knowledge Management (mandating/capturing/storing) we need to be focusing on connecting people, so we can increase the chances of collaboration and sharing what they know, and within this create a culture where this sharing and collaboration is successful in transfering and receiving intended signals, ie. by creating opportunities to create informal communities, networking, develop high trust, inter-dependencies, shared context and high abstraction…most of this is from Dave Snowden.
What is the role of a Knowledge Manager?
For starters, we have discussed that “Knowledge Manager” is an inaccurate job description, and what they currently do is more inline with information management, and people management.
This is a quick list:
NOTE: collaboration tools and the like means not just setting up, but facilitating and coaching…knowing human behaviour
- smooth out bottlenecks in processes
- online storage and search (re-use)
- openness and visibility
- collaboration tools (do work)
- communities (share/learn)
- networks (connect/discover)
- communication and awareness (esp. cooperation across business units)
- autonomy (being able to hook up with the right people and tasks)
- techniques (AAR, Peer Review, Open Space, World Cafe, Narrative, AI, SNA, etc…)
As a result you get more self organisation, learning, innovation, transparency, autonomy and emergence.
There is nothing about managing knowledge in this list, it’s all about connecting people, creating conditions for conversation, enabling more sharing and collaboration to occur, people leveraging each others talent.
The role of a person responsible for all this seems more like a facilitator, coach, and Corporate Anthropologist.
Corporate anthropologist (enabler/facilitator)
- observe the processes and people
- create conditions for smoother processes
- create conditions to be able to find people and content
- create conditions for people to tune into each other
- create conditions for people to have conversations
- create conditions for serendipity
- create conditions for people to successfully understand other people and their content
ie. information signal conveyed is easily understood, and the receiver interprets the intended meaning from the sender.
Perhaps the name “Knowledge Manager” seems more appropriate when seen as a person who manages and is responsible for instilling and sustaining effective knowledge sharing activies. This way they are not managing knowledge per se, instead managing the activities. This could also be seen as the role of the Chief Learning Officer, or a practice of the Organisational Performance unit.
Karl Sveiby’s thoughts are more on the activity:
“Knowledge Focus” or “Knowledge Creation” (Nonaka) are better terms, because they describe a mindset, which sees knowledge as activity not an object. A is a human vision, not a technological one.”
Mike Gotta’s thoughts on the KM activity:
“Not that KM is dead – but KM is additive to other endeavors and not and end in and of itself. If we anchor the discussion around improving a process or ensuring that we have the right competencies and skills within the workforce (e.g., as part of succession planning) or improving group interaction around R&D activities, then we are speaking the language of business and that will lead to the business case and metrics.”
Dennis Pearce (AOK) mentions leadership is less required when things learn from networks (p44. anecdote):
“I have been looking at organisational learning from a process, connectionist perspective. Other “things that learn” (brains and neural networks) don’t require leadership — they just learn as a result of their networked structure and processes. So if I can embed KM activities into the existing processes of an organisational network, people aren’t “doing KM,” they’re just doing their jobs, but the organisation is learning.”
Joe Firestone says that using or processing knowledge does not mean you are doing “knowledge management”:
“Knowledge use occurs whenever any agent makes a decision. It is part
of every business process.
§ Knowledge processing is knowledge production and knowledge
integration  , two distinct knowledge processes constituting the
Knowledge Life Cycle (KLC) .
§ Knowledge management is knowledge process management, that is,
the management of knowledge production, knowledge integration, he
KLC, and their immediate outcomes .”
Joes excellent paper includes theory on the 3 worlds of knowledge types, and lots more.
“‘…knowledge management’ is an umbrella term for a variety of organizational activities, none of which are concerned with the management of knowledge. Those activities that are not concerned with the management of information are concerned with the management of work practices, in the expectation that changes in such areas as communication practice will enable information sharing.”
Dave Pollard stresses the importance of direct experience in the learning.
Visions of KM 2 is a great paper by Miguel Cornejo Castro, it describes the 3 KM activity components:
- Repetitive methods
- Smoothing out bottlenecks
- I see blogs used as communications, wikis for workarounds
Project development (essentially a special type of process)
- Since projects are unique, finding people and conversation (tacit) are more helpful than generic explicit stuff (which mostly works fine for Process execution)
- I see blog fragments, conversation, and expert locators
- Spans the knowledge of tools, processes (methodologies), and practice (experience with tasks)
- Learning and building know-how to increase effectiveness in processes and practice (projects/tasks)
- The whole social computing and enterprise 2.0 concept (a networked conversation enterprise, emergence, platforms)
This notion is described in Knowledge and Talent in a People-Ready Business.
Stan Garfield from HP covers a lot of the KM pulse on his blog, here are some posts on KM elements:
Benefits of KM
- Avoid redundant effort
- Avoid repeating mistakes
- Take advantage of existing expertise and experience
“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”
Key Activities of KM
- Share, Innovate, Re-use, Collaborate, Learn
Stan points to the brilliant insight and realism of Andrew Gents, The four paradoxes of KM:
- Tacit vs. Explicit
- Local vs. Global
- Open vs. Closed
- Quantity vs. Quality
Frank finishes by saying:
“…the importance increasingly being placed on accessibility to information is seriously out of balance with the importance that needs to be placed on interpretation and sharing of information, and that this imbalance needs urgent action to redress.”
Wilson finishes with:
“…these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used.”
Now to catch up on complexity, narrative inquiry, sensemaking (situational awareness), self organisation….a good start is unblocking streams so knowledge can flow, a bit like acupuncture.