When I was thinking up the title for this post I was loving all the fabulous C words:
Conversations, Connections, Context, Communication, Collaboration, Community, Complexity, Collective
This post like others is focused on the first three, and mostly on conversations and context…but without connections and participation (visibility), none of these can eventuate, along with ultimately collaboration or even forming communities. I guess this post is also about communication, not directly, but more on the assumption that a message is understood once it’s transmitted.
Having a high abstraction with the author of a blog post or codified document for that matter enables me to have more of a chance to derive the intended understanding or signal from the author.
NOTE: High abstraction refers to knowing that person well enough, having a shared background, having things in common, in-jokes, etc…
The stronger the relationship and commonalities you have with a bunch of people, the more you understand each others writings, the more chance their knowledge comes to be your knowledge.
So right off the bat, it’s essential we have this kind of ecosystem where people are connecting to each other and sharing nuggets of what they know as it happens, exactly like we do in the offline world.
Codification and Context
The whole idea here is to capture what we know so others can use it, captialising on the talent that sits in an organisation.
But since we can’t know everyone, it is no surprise that the intention of codification is an attempt to have a universally applicable object (re-use recipe) that will work in every context of the person that encounters it, or rather, that the person can use the document and mould it to their context.
Codification is OK for procedures, etc..and even for things like an IT support solutions database.
But the problem here even is that a codified solution is usually formal (stripped of context)
eg.when this happens this is the fix
This doesn’t contain the situational context of the occurrence.
What happens when that fix doesn’t solve the exact same error you are dealing with. Reasons for this may be your clients PC may be using a different version of Excel or they may be remotely logged in, etc…
Because a codified document is sanitised and generic it removes all the idiosyncrasies of the context of the situation, so this doesn’t really help your situation even though it’s the exact same error.
So rather than a sanitised solutions database, why not have support people blogging their experience, this way they are sharing the solution in the context of their experience and surroundings. And they can also tag (index) this solution with keywords. Now there can be various versions of this same solution, each caters for a context.
This solution has not been stripped of any context, it’s informal and casual, it has the personality of the author, and you don’t have to spend extra time remembering to add your solution to the database as the blog is the database.
Two extra things happen:
- people can subscribe to each other, and be aware of solutions as they happen, even though they do not have a need for the solution at this time, they are learning and aware of what others are experiencing.
- if you can’t find a solution to your problem you may know another support person to contact as some other solutions they have blogged may be similar.
We are aware of what’s happening through a filter of people we trust, we are able to tune into what matters to us, and our network brings quality information to our attention so we don’t always have to go looking for it (we just can’t read everything).
Rather than having to write a formal and standardised solution after the fact, we can instead have a database (blog) of raw data (indexed by tags). Blog content is more colourful and establishes the situation (background and any other peripheral stuff that happened). This more humanistic (personal, informal) story-like and emotional type of language, is easier for the brain to absorb and remember (it contains triggers for recall).
A wiki could also be used. The original solution page could be edited to add other contexts that people experience with the same error. Or maybe you could edit the wiki by entering URL’s of blog posts that talk about this same error in other contexts.
To find a solution
- you may already know which support blogger to ask
- search the blogs and browse the tags
But is this enough, is it too messy, and not quick and handy?
We need a gardener to make some rules on some tags to use, and naming conventions, I’m not talking about a taxonomy, I’m refering to ambiguous tags, etc…
eg. I see you tagged this post “check in/out” can use please tag it “edit” instead
eg. I see you tagged this post “MSoffice”, but “Excel” should also be another tag
eg. Can you also include the tag “Perth”, in this post because the error only happens on PC’s in the Perth office
The gardener could also create some lists from this raw content, and compile conversations.
The gardener could make some review pages of this content to tie in different blog posts that deal with specific issues part are part of a bigger issue.
eg. These 10 blogs posts refer to various issues, and these 2 blog posts refer to a bigger issue that is the cause of all these other issues experienced in the 10 blog posts.
Then they can go back to each blog post or wiki page and cross reference this review blog post (or perhaps it’s a review wiki page).
The gardener will also have to go back to the database to re-edit posts that are no longer current or relevant solutions. Remember this is a solutions database so we can’t have people acting on the wrong information. The gardener can re-edit these posts pointing to a newer post.
Maybe creating the conditions for this ecosystem, other social activities, and specifically the facilitating and gardening is what managing knowledge is all about…if this phrase makes sense.
Mathemagenic has a great post on not so much gardening, but on her thoughts on writing her dissertation when it’s all there in her blog.
If we one day read her dissertation, and then read her blog posts, which do you think we would be able to get more know-how from. I think the blog posts, as they are more initimate like conversations, but the corollary is that perhaps her dissertation would give us an overiew to be able to tie all these blog posts and see the big picture.
More from the post:
“While weblog provides a space to grow ideas, it’s also a mess of fragments. They are connected through links and tags, but in many cases the higher level reasons of why certain bits appear and how are the relevant to a bigger whole remain unarticulated. Mainly because at the moment of writing it’s not clear how the fragments connect.”
“It also takes extra work (e.g. a systematic data collection and analysis) to connect fragments in a story that provides stronger evidence than a collection of anecdotes.”
“Working on a dissertation provides a structure to address those issues: the need to connect fragments, push and discipline to collect evidence, time to work on converting all that into a bigger whole and a space to do it.”
Connections and Conversations
OK, back to our problem…earlier I said:
“The whole idea here is to capture what we know so others can use it, captialising on the talent that sits in an organisation.’
“But since we can’t know everyone, it is no surprise that the intention of codification is an attempt to have a universally applicable object (re-use recipe) that will work in every context of the person that encounters it, or rather, that the person can use the document and mould it to their context.”
So we understand this situation, but from my explanation above codification isn’t effective and practical.
By non-practical, I mean people don’t see the returns or worthwhileness in the effort of remembering and sharing a formal document into the database…it feels like extra work.
Using newtorked tools, this is no longer the case, as while we do our work (blogging and conversations) the sharing has happened by default. The gardner makes sure the web doesn’t get tangled.
By non-effective, I mean people have to cognitively write the document in a formal way, which will strip it of situational detail, and index it into a pre-set topic structure.
And people find these formal and static documents unusable most of the time, plus people like going to people, rather than searching databases.
Using networked tools, this is no longer the case, you don’t mind searching a blog database, because it’s like searching past and present discussions (this is similar to the offline way of doing work), tapping into a pool of raw conversations like radio waves out in space.
These are more informal fragments of contextual information, and when we are networked with people, and know the people behind the information, there is more chance we will actually understand the intended meaning in the information.
The value is in conversations, rather than secondhand degenerated information.
A downplay is that an addiction to a codified database creates a situation where we think we have all the answers to apply to any situation, but we don’t so we then find it hard to adapt. When in the first place rather than codifying we should just keep learning, publishing and subscribing to fragments as they happen, giving us more on the spot sensemaking abilities.
So it’s about bouncing, managing and arranging the fragments, rather than codifying.
More on context
Dave Snowden says in relation to past KM tools:
“They assume a common or constant context. So knowledge captured in one specific context can be generalised to apply in all contexts.”
Then he says:
“…blogs and the links between them are much better at passing on context than traditional KM tools. Mainly I think because they are fragmented, real time and emergent in their connectivity.”
So as we have covered, codification tries to be as objective and perhaps context free as possible, or put another way a “constant context” (oddly assuming every situation is the same).
So no wonder it doesn’t pass on context.
This is not the intention of a blog post, they are musings and publishings with no other motive than stream of consciousness (sorry I’m getting carried away), I mean more informal and as it happens.
They are rich, and more descriptive (like a story, you feel like you were there), and also more localised where we can assimilate with the context of the situation.
This means a blog post will have more of a defined context, it will be more personable.
Further to this, all this peripheral information may give clues or triggers to apply to other unrelated solutions, whereas a codified solution is so narrow that you won’t get anything else out of it.
This is great if the context of the blog post suits the need of your situation, but what if it doesn’t?
Is the arguement that blogs are not trying to be what they can’t be vs codified documents that have an intention they cannot meet (they are not achieving what they are intending to achieve)?
So, nothing can have a constant context, blog post or not.
But what we can do is to be able to have more of a chance to at least understand the context of something (a blog post) we are reading as it’s not trying to be generic, it’s only useful if it has context…maybe not to my specific situation or need, but at least it’s rich and deep (like an impact a story has), and I can learn from their experience. Because blog fragments and stories are not trying to achieve an outcome, except just tell a story or expression, they are rich with lots of meaning, whereas a deliverable is trying to push a meaning to you. You can get so many different colours and feelings from a story, everyone can get different meanings from the same story, whereas in a deliverable everyone is just meant to see the one meaning.
This is why I think we are moving from knowledge management, and more into a learning organisation. There is no aim (to manage knowledge besides gardening), it just spreads by being (in a learning enviroment).
What I mean is I’m not avert to mixing and matching, and making lists, of self-organising and emergent data, in order to correlate and see it in other ways…or even to dampen the self-organised data as it’s heading in the wrong direction. Read Dave Snowden’s blog on complexity (boundaries, attractors, amplifying and dampening).
So all along KM has been about:
- content, when it should have been about context
- storing, rather than flowing
- static, rather than dynamic
- imposed, rather than emergent (self-organised within boundaries and manipulation)
- lacked all together connecting people (other than expert locators), but I mean relationships and networking
In the days before databases, like now, we used the phone and offline conversations to do our work, then these conversations were conducted in email. In these interactions is where people communicate and exchange their know-how, and it was thought how do we leverage this so people outside of the conversation can benefit from the talent pool…how do we capture this.
Not all were privy to these exchanges, so the idea was to conscript people to codify their talent, this is very confronting, not practical, and not effective when trying to remember what you know…hmmm, let’s see what I know…ummm…hmmm…this feels stupid…if you’re gonna be that way why don’t you hire me as a consultant instead so I can get a reward. It really has a big brother, police state feel to it, the extreme is to connect your brain to a computer so it can drain your know-how.
And when you go to seek answers it’s hard to find something that relates to your context, you perhaps find it hard to understand because it lacks back story, and you may not identify with the calibre of writing.
The interactions between people is where the know-how and the spreading of it lies, the new era is mimicing this experience in an online global village, so the richness is documented as it happens. The beauty of this is using platforms rather than closed channels opens up the conversation to a greater number of minds, to evolve know-how and connect with others you normally wouldn’t know, exchanging ideas. It’s self-rewarding in an ecosystem where you participate, people riff on your ideas, and you come to a better place using the wisdom of crowds.
And it’s people friendly as we socialise (social connectedness), get our work done, and learn (become smarter).
I think we have a sharing nature if the right conditions are there for it to happen, once we find like people we understand and trust, interdependencies build where sharing becomes a natural thing…from this comes communities, collaboration, emergence, and autonomomy…I call it the k-flow model.
Now we can achieve spreading know-how, at no extra effort, and it has changed the concept of work for the better as it’s more socially engaging. It’s a learning organisation concept where the individual is learning in a reciprocated environment, and the organisation as a whole learns and adapts…being able to respond to changes conditions.
What’s special about all this is it’s happening from the inside out, we want to work this way, even if some of us don’t know it yet.
This has come at the right time in the face of fast paced industries, and distributed teams, and it’s going to change the dynamics of the scientific management model to a more accomodating networked model (tribal).
Here’s a great quote on learning via stimulation, rather than a bank of information:
“What is lacking now, I believe, is something which we cannot find anywhere, somewhere where you can reach, and get that stimulation - not information, but stimulation - where you can meet just that person, or find just that situation, which will give you the idea of invention, of carrying out some project which interests you, and show how it can become a project which is of interest to other people. “
Some great quotes from the video:
“conversation being a creative process”
“conversation doesn’t just shuffle the cards, it creates new cards”
“conversation where we emerge a slightly different person”