It’s absolutely paramount that KM sheds its skin of codifying and storing in a database…this is just information management. Sure some people may share some informal documents about experience and insight (considering low recall, and lack of motivation/engagement), but it’s still just information management…maybe the management of informal documents.
We share ‘information’, whereas ‘knowledge’ may be something I create with you through interaction, and we both may come away with slightly different versions, meaning, and impact of that exchange. ie we use our current knowledge or understanding to make sense of new information, and if it really makes sense to us or to our context; or we use it in action, then it will imprint as a pattern or fragment in our person. Next time we have a decision to make, that raw fragment along with others will assemble to take on our issue.
These informal documents are sometimes referred to as “explicit lore”…similar to the notebook in the top draw of tips, tricks, workarounds, heuristics, etc…real experiential stuff.
My thinking is that just the sharing aspect of informal stuff is “know-what”, this is what KM has been about, but we need to go further to the “know-how” ie. to learn and to be able to have the skills to come up with your own “know-what”. We can do this via conversations. We can now converse with people who shared their informal information, and not only know “what” but also “how”…the ultimate example is apprenticeship and mentoring.
Connect, Context, Engage, Interactions
This top draw notebook as a database lacks motivation and engagement and is static, but as blogs and wikis there is not only engagement but conversations. That’s why documenting through social tools is more considered knowledge management, as people can converse and interact and make sense of that information, which may lead to creating some personal knowledge for themselves.
We call help questions and discussions “Just-in-time” as people can get help on forums to make sense of an issue. And we may call blog “Just-in-case” which is a term attributed to old school KM, but at least when people share in blogs, conversation ensues and from this, knowledge is being created in interactions.
Design is everything here. Tools designed intune with human behaviour (motivation/engagement/conversations) are going to make it more probable that stuff is documented, and when it is-it’s raw, as recall is high-and interactions make way for personal knowledge creation. You change the tools, it changes behaviour (of course there is mroe to it than just that). KM 1.0 and KM 2.0 (if we want to call it that) are both documenting information here, but the new way makes that information more readibly found, and more chance it can become someone’s personal knowledge.
Without designing for speed, ease, instrinsic motivation, engagement and interactions, then there is less chance you will be getting any knowledge management happening.
This post is targeting online conversations, even better are real-time conversations, and even face-to-face as we can pick up gestures, eye contact, clarify in conversations more effectively. But we can’t be in the same room all the time so online tools that mimic our offline behaviours such as connecting, trust, conversations, become essential.
So what triggered all this for me…
“…high quality insight into complex systems can come from simple interactions rather than formal organised learning and knowledge”.
Which concurs with Patrick Lambe’s disappointedness in reading a journal article on knowledge sharing:
“what they really meant by “knowledge sharing” was confined to contributing to and consuming from an online KM system. The research being described was designed to identify the factors that would indicate propensity for or against said behaviours. A knowledge sharing system that could, theoretically, be engineered.
Shame on them. After a good decade of practical effort and research focused on KM, how can people still think so mechanically and bloodlessly?”
Exactly, KM has got a branding problem, as it’s mostly seen from the Library science perspective.
Good KM is not about codifying, applying metadata and warehousing in a database waiting to be seeked before the shelf life expires. This totally ignores factors of motivation, cognition and context, that I posted about recently.
John Bordeaux clears up this misconception:
“Believing that knowledge is only transferred once it has been made explicit leads to mechanistic, engineering approaches to knowledge management that have not proven their worth. Crank it out of people’s heads, churn it into a shared taxonomy or tag it somehow, and then – and only then – is it useful to others. I would like to know the exact date that the apprentice learning model was made obsolete by advanced information technology.“
Richard Veryard comments that this library science view goes down the wrong path:
“Underlying the knowledge management agenda are a number of (usually) unexamined assumptions
- most of the knowledge we need already exists in people’s heads - we just have to get it out
- knowledge is additive - the more knowledge we can “capture” or “extract” the better
- explicit knowledge is better than implicit or tacit knowledge - codification is a “good thing”"
But then Richard explains the problem of the other extreme of KM being about connecting, and relationships:
“An alternative approach to knowledge management is to leave it in people’s heads, but then to provide knowledge maps that tell everyone whom to ask. The trouble with this approach is that the genuine experts often keep their heads down, for fear of being swamped with enquiries from around the globe, while attention-seekers use this as an opportunity to promote themselves. Thus questions of motivation and excellence must be addressed, and knowledge management becomes a branch of Human Resources.”
Sharing, transfer, and communication
Richard alludes to the word sharing being too vague:
“In many contexts, the word “sharing” has become an annoying and patronizing synonym for “disclosure”. In nursery school we are encouraged to share the biscuits and the paints; in therapy groups we are encouraged to “share our pain”, and in the touchy-feely enterprise we are supposed to “share” our expertise by registering our knowledge on some stupid knowledge management system”
I really like a comment that Patrick left on Richard’s post, as sharing in the KM sense is more organic and different everytime it happens, depending on who the players are:
“Good question, one that might help sharpen what we exactly mean by knowledge sharing. If we look at the situation I describe from the patient’s point of view, however, I think it amounts to a lot more than a series of communications of facts. His challenge is to understand what’s happening to him, what is likely to happen to him, and what he needs to do about it (indeed what he can do). And he also has to evaluate what’s being told him by the various actors, and figure out whether it’s trustworthy - so he will also do some background research. All of this happening in a short, highly emotionally charged timeframe. For him, it is very much a knowledge and learning issue.
The dislocation my friend felt here, was that several of the other actors were probably thinking as you are, that this was simply a series of communication events - they thought information transfer would do the job. Knowledge transfer is trickier, more complex, and involves some change in the way the recipient views or understands the world, and probably in how they act.“
Wow, well said, KM is a conversation where we can probe, clarify, frame into a way we understand and can apply to our situation.
So let’s get it right. Knowledge doesn’t exist independent from a person.
TD Wilson agrees:
“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.”
Some of Patrick’s conclusions about knowledge sharing:
“To understand knowledge sharing, we have to look beyond the event to the context: a knowledge sharing event rarely exists in a vaccuum; it’s usually a part of an interlocking network of knowledge sharing events, each of which complements and informs the others
Knowledge sharing can be symmetrical (two way) or asymmetrical (one way) – context dictates which is most appropriate.
Knowledge sharing is not simply about transmit-receive transactions: even when there is a prime receiver in an asymmetric relationship, the receiver can shape and guide the sharing based on what he/she already knows“
What I see happening offline all the time.
A project manager approaching someone as they heard or read about some work they have done, and through a conversation they see if this person can apply their skills to the context of a new potentional job opening. Is this not KM. They are connecting via a network on a just-in-time or on-demand basis; decide to trust each other via being a friend of friend, recommendation, reputation; and through interaction create some personal knowledge and understanding.
We do this in our lives all the time. But in the workplace we don’t know everyone, we can’t be in the same room all the time, so we do our best with these new online systems to replicate our offline behaviours.
To me, this connection and interaction is a major aspect of knowledge management…knowledge sharing and transfer. Although I don’t know whether l like the word “transfer”…(arghh language gets in the way sometimes).
Thanks to Patrick for the difference between communicating as information transfer, and communicating in a knowledge exchange.
My next post will review some posts on the dance of communication, rather than a transfer, and another post about context that makes it oh so clear.
Technology and awareness
To end I want to share a comment someone left on one of my internal blog posts about Information design that promotes connection, interactions and context.
Charles McGowan is an engineering designer in one of our Canadian offices, we only know each other via comments on each others blogs. Without this I doubt it very much our like interests would of bought us together.
Charles’s comment is titled “design doing”:
“In the “old days”, which aren’t that long ago, knowledge management and transfer worked like this; The job of the Draughtsman was to take the calculations of the engineer and through the use of several tools he/she would translate those figures into a workable design.
There wern’t too many opportunities to do any guessing as the drawings were generally very complex and you really only had one chance at getting it right while meeting the deadline. the openess of the drawing office facilitated excellent two-way communication as the chief draughtsman or section leader would walk between the boards, stopping to chat with the draughtsman and review the work on a daily basis.
This accomplished a number of things, one being the “chief” new what everyone was doing and could report progress and relationships were built on this interaction. Problems in design could be spotted, discussed and resolved with the assistance of other team members and the end result was quality work going out the door. Now that is a very simple explanation of what happened.
Many things have changed over the last 20 plus years and I feel we have lost that level of communication, team effort and indiviualism through the advent of computers. We now have cubilcles where people can hide or one is apprehensive about interupting someone in case you are accused of harassing them.
To-day we are constantly looking for improvements in systems, how to work smarter, quicker and intelligently when we should be looking for a way to increase levels of communication and understanding of what is actually going on and why is it taking so long.
My Kingdom for a drawing board in the middle of the office!”
In the age of virtual teams we need to somehow still keep a level of ambient awareness, communication and conversation.
Charles’s comment reminded me of a post over on the Transparent Office blog:
“In the old place, when a broker got a tip about an upcoming earnings announcement or a CEO departure, we all knew about it instantly. You could actually watch the information roll across the floorlike a wave, going from one desk to the next, to the next until everyone in the office was talking about it. Now we sit in our private offices, we close our doors, and nobody has the slightest idea what’s going on […] there’s no ambient awareness. There’s no serendipitous discovery of what a colleague is doing.”