My last couple of posts have been about how important context is in KM. Without connecting to people, conversing and re-contextualising we are not really doing KM. In my mind knowledge doesn’t come in packets off a shelf; it’s a dance.
My last posts are:
KM in context : sense-making and connectedness
It’s not about knowledge sharing, it’s about engagment and context!
Informal information management and knowledge management are not the same
I want to harp on about context for a final installement, and I do this by reviewing a section of a paper by Patrick Lambe called “The Autism of Knowledge Management”.
I read this paper a long time ago and was blown away, and never got round to blogging about it. Mark Gould has got me in the mood as he recently blogged about the same paper. My previous post also linked to Marks post.
Like Mark I will share this same excerpt:
“There is a profound and dangerous autism in the way we describe knowledge management and e-learning. At its root is an obsessive fascination with the idea of knowledge as content, as object, and as manipulable artefact. It is accompanied by an almost psychotic blindness to the human experiences of knowing, learning, communicating, formulating, recognising, adapting, miscommunicating, forgetting, noticing, ignoring, choosing, liking, disliking, remembering and misremembering.”
Marks favourite part was the Myth of Completeness, the part that resonated for me at this point in time are the Myth of Reusablity and the Myth of Universality.
I really encourage you to read this whole paper as it once and for all describes the importance of context and the fallacy of knowledge objects.
Here’s a starter:
“Disengaging a piece of knowledge from its context is a remarkably difficult thing to do, even when you’re trying to do it. The Cisco experience suggests that even if you manage to do that, the object’s application to other contexts, its reusability, suffers. Context neutrality seems to disengage knowledge and learning from its immediate relevance, and makes it harder to ascribe significance to it.”
Steve Barth posts about this reality:
“Disconnecting knowledge from its source, in terms of people and places, will remove from that knowledge the very context which infuses it with life. Because indigenous knowledge is continuously generated and renewed in the living practices of people, archiving in isolation from practice removes its ongoing relevance….”
MYTH OF REUSABILITY
Patrick imagining the myth:
“All you do when you create a new programme is compile all the different pieces from the repository, and sequence them accordingly. The same objects can be used in lots of different courses, and in lots of different contexts, for lots of different types of people.”
THE ORANGE JUMPSUIT EXAMPLE
Criteria to be a jumpsuit
- one-piece coverall
- from neck to ankle
- fastens at the front
- it’s the colour orange
“What could be simpler than that? A better candidate for a reusable object in lots of contexts, you could not find. Your principal concern, surely, would be the simple one of providing a range of different sizes – and we could call that our personalization strategy.”
Functional Context starts to intervene
eg. worn in the cleanroom of a high-tech manufacturing company, astronauts, formula one car drivers, repairman, mechanic or housepainter
- require a thicker, warmer, more durable material
- require more pockets
- resistant to moisture, static and dust
- cold and fire retardant material
Social Context starts to intervene
eg worn as a privilege (badges of honour)
eg standard issue for convicts in the United States (these jumpsuits do not have any pockets)
“Orange jumpsuits, despite their apparent simplicity, are not reusable across categories, neither by function nor by meaning […] So if even a simple object like the jumpsuit cannot travel far out of its native context, why would we expect that an abstraction, an indeterminate knowledge object, would?”
MYTH OF UNIVERSALITY
Patrick assumes the myth:
“…the same piece of knowledge can be applied universally. It’s true, and relevant, everywhere.”
“…death knell to spurious arguments about the economic value of mass producing standard knowledge objects for global distribution.”
- time (out-dated) eg. knowing morse code will not land you a job like it once did
- place eg. react different to a bombscare than someone in the same city as the scare
- cultural eg training bank tellers in different countries would have to consider cultural sensitivities
“There is no such thing as universally applicable knowledge, and this is why the market for the localisation of instruction manuals, software and e-learning has blossomed in recent years.”
Further to this, Patrick states that it’s not about sculpturing or altering the content to suit the local context, but:
“…much more like a local construction of knowledge at the source of need, achieved by checking our own experience and observations, asking other people’s opinions and looking at other people’s apparently relevant knowledge artefacts. The more localised these artefacts are, the easier it may be to accept them as
apparently relevant, but the artefacts themselves do not accomplish the knowing.“
MYTH OF INTERCHANGEABILITY
Interchangeability is not as you think, as knowledge is not a thing:
“Let’s say that the photocopier suddenly starts a strange pattern of behaviour. It jams repeatedly every Monday morning. Technicians come and replace the rollers, but it still happens, and it happens every week.
It’s clear that we don’t solve this problem simply by replacing parts. It’s clear that something beyond the sum of parts is creating the problem.
The smart technician will start asking questions about habits of use. He might discover, for example, that because of cost cutting measures, the airconditioning is now switched off in the building over the weekend, the paper already in the machine expands from the higher humidity, and it jams easily because the rollers are calibrated for thinner, dryer sheets. He might also discover that the sales presentation meetings have been moved from Fridays to Monday afternoons, placing added stress on the machine on Monday mornings.
Understanding the science, and being able to label and replace components does little to resolve problems that arise from social and human initiatives and changes. And most knowledge and learning issues arise precisely from social and human initiatives and changes.”
“..when I have a specific working problem such as how to resolve a complex financial issue, the last thing I want is a necklace of evenly manufactured knowledge nuggets cross-indexed and compiled according to the key words I happen to have entered into the engine.”
“What really adds value to my problem-solving will be an answer that cuts to the chase, gives me deep insight on the core of my problem, and gives me light supporting information at the fringes of the problem, with the capability to probe deeper if I feel like it. Better still if the answer can be framed in relation to something I already know, so that I can call more of my own experience and perceptions into play. Evenness and interchangeability will not work for me, because life and the situations we create are neither even, nor made up of interchangeable parts.
We do have an evolved mechanism for achieving such deep knowledge results: this is the performance you can expect from a well-networked person who can sustain relatively close relationships with friends, colleagues and peers, and can perform as well as request deep knowledge services of this kind.”
Mark Gould brings this back to personal knowledge management (PKM):
“I can think of few more succinct and clear expressions of the process of knowing. In the organisational context, we need to be sure that everyone takes responsibility for developing their own knowledge — they cannot just plug themselves into a knowledge system or e-learning package.”
“I suspect that (whether inside our organisations or otherwise) we can all identify people whose personal networks add significant value to their work and those around them. (And probably plenty whose silo mentality brings problems rather than focus.)”
THE MYTH OF COMPLETENESS
“Is it simply assumed, that once the knowledge is delivered, it has been successfully transferred?
“Out of the box and into the head, and hey presto the stuff is known. The evidence for this is in the almost complete lack of attention to what happens outside the computerised storage and delivery mechanism – specifically, what people do with knowledge, how it transitions into action and behaviour. How many people in knowledge management are talking about synapses, or the soft stuff that goes on in people’s heads?”
“Knowledge only has value if it is emerges into actions, decisions and behaviours – that much is
“How will you know you are making it correctly?” “I’ll have to spend a couple of months feeding my family wah kueh, until I get the taste right” she replied. This story, in miniature, is how we actually normally acquire knowledge.
Patrick continues with a classic case of re-using information used elsewhere (actually information created by another company) without actually understanding and re-mixing it to suit the context of the situation. ie. they didn’t do the KM. Creating new knowledge is not an explicit thing, it just happens from doing work.
Sure it’s great to save time by getting a head start from previously shared information, but information re-use is not enough, it’s just a start to re-model it into something applicable. This way the content is always in a flux, information is always being found where you can connect to the authors and others, and re-hash it into new contexts.
The press release of the knowledge fumble Patrick reviews goes a bit like this:
“Two completely different rivers. Two completely different types of dams. Two completely different forest types to be submerged. Two different locations […] The only expertise in this reuse of knowledge artefacts, is cut and paste expertise; and not especially complex cut and paste expertise – 60 pages of the 65 page report were exactly the same.
Does…advice on…projects carry any weight, if reusability of knowledge artefacts is not supplemented by processing, integration, application to context, and reference to experience? To what extent is the object-oriented knowledgebase designed for chunking and reusability simply authorised plagiarism, following the form rather than the substance of knowing and learning?”
Thanks for a superb essay Patrick!
“The gap between knowing and acting is a big gap, and a glaring one. The gap between knowledge and behaviour is a critical one to bridge”