They are about working on tasks in an open way where anyone can go along for the ride and see all the context and workings out to a solution…which as a by-product of this methodology is documented for future findings.
I just thought of a good metaphor for the concept of know-why.
By looking at the scoreboard of a sports match you "know-what" has happened but you don’t really get a sense of why it turned out like that (the know-why).
If you watch a re-run of the match you will then understand all the micro-decisions each player made, and how the team worked together.
There are also other complexities like: morale, a man short, a fight broke-out, a few players on the team have been in a bad light in the media recently, a team has new players that need to get into the groove…and complexities we don’t even know about (a player having a rough family patch, hidden rivalry between team mates, a player ate some bad food, whatever….)
Understanding all this context and what led up to the final score gives you more of an understanding on the "why" which helps you make a more informed decision on your next action.
This is also important when looking back at the past. Will reading a report give you a complete picture of all the complexities mentioned above that all contributed to the whole? I doubt it. But reading back on multiple stories and raw blog fragments will. Raw information has all the peripheral information that may not seem important to include in a report. It isn’t the job of a report to be a video recorder, a report has an aim or agenda (it has a narrative) as does a novel (it’s what you choose to say). What I like about blog fragments and conversations is we can piece together our own understanding or narrative from the raw artifacts that are always available (we don’t just want formal representations, we want raw information to make our own). Further to this a raw fragment can be found and re-mixed for a completely different subject matter.
Imagine if the coach for some reason was not able to watch the match (undergoing surgery or something). He/she is not interested in just the final score, rather they are interested in how it came to be (what went wrong, what went right), and to learn from that and move on with an understanding. It’s much harder to improve by just knowing the score alone, as it can only tell you so much (close to even result, a team got it’s ass kicked, it was level all the way until the last 20 minutes, etc…)
This is the whole notion of AAR and Lessons Learned, where we talk about the brain work, the conversations and decisions the led to the final results. This is what sports coaching is all about, improving yourself and the team for the next game, learning and using that. This may relate well to business units in organisations (especially if measured on collaboration and group output), but not so much for projects. Why? Well project teams don’t have a thirsty motivation to improve as the team is only temporary (unlike a business unit). Once the project is over people move on to another. Yes you take away your individual lessons, but there is less drive to do this in open anecdote circles as your care factor drops due to you moving on to working with a bunch of new people on a new project. Lessons Learned is important for the organisation as a whole and project managers, but I’m not sure workers see it as an investment or of innate importance as the entity they are improving is about to disband.
At the least if we can document as we go using social computing, then these artifacts will be left behind. And I think this is what a sports coach does, besides reviewing the match, and training to improve performance, they are on the sidelines watching a match unfold and manipulate the conditions for an intended better result. This doesn’t always happen in the workplace, often a manager requests you to report as a representation or interpretation of your conversations and brainwork, rather than seeing and interacting with you as it unfolds, which was the point of my previous post.
Social computing environments are engaging from the "What’s In It For Me" factor, which perhaps is the intrinsic motivation that will help glean improvements from temporary units like projects.
What can we say about knowledge management (KM) in relation to this?
Sure we need end products, but the real juice is in the connections, conversations and context that went into these end products. We can better understand these end products when we have access (during and after) to the workings-out and people. Just like the coach back from surgery (or anyone else) can watch a re-run of the match, or the coach at the game can make decisions as the play is happening.
Is it important for managers to eavesdrop and interact on the workings-out on your path to your end-product so they can facilitate the work? If so, we can now do this in the most ambient way.
John Hagel talks about Stocks and Flows, and that we have to move from a stockpiling culture to a flow culture, where it’s important to connect to fragments in context. From these intersections our new conversations based on earlier fragments becomes a process of knowledge creation, which is simply a by-product of doing work.
"…the real value is in creating new knowledge, rather than simply "managing" existing knowledge. In this fast moving world, what we know - our "stocks" of knowledge - depreciate faster than they used to. So we’ve got to keep creating"
"Most of us, as individuals, know this. That’s why we’re not keen to spend time entering our latest document into a knowledge management system. We know we’re better off engaging in the interactions and collaborations that create new knowledge about how to get things done.new knowledge in order to keep pace."
"Knowledge management systems desperately try to persuade participants to invest time and effort to contribute existing knowledge with the vague and long-term promise that they themselves might eventually derive value from the contributions of others. In contrast, creation spaces focus on providing immediate value to participants in terms of helping them tackle difficult performance challenges while at the same time reducing the effort required to capture and disseminate the knowledge created."
This is KM for free, as we are creating conditions for "flow" based on how humans behave to get things done, rather than explicitly warehousing end products on the shelf hoping someone comes across them, blows the dust off them, and uses them before their expiry date. Only to find it only has hints of usability (if you dare read the 50 page document hoping to find relevancy to your context in the first place). Your next move is to find the author to re-frame this information into a workable context. When doing this you are not documenting these conversations as they happen (knowledge creation) so all people get in the end is your end product, the cycle goes on. In comes social computing….
John Hagel then talks about stocks and flows in relation to written information compared to observation, experience and conversation. Which is what is special about social computing as it’s a written form that is alive; getting as close as possible to offline interactions and learning.
"…think of tacit knowledge as the "know how" rather than the "know what." Imagine trying to perform brain surgery after having read all the books you can find on the subject. The books are the explicit knowledge telling you what to do but knowing how to perform this kind of surgery critically depends on an extended apprenticeship process in which tacit knowledge gets communicated through observation and then by participating on the periphery of these operations. Accessing this kind of knowledge typically requires long-term trust-based relationships. And, in times of rapid change, tacit knowledge becomes increasingly valuable: because it’s the newest knowledge, it’s the most helpful in dealing with the latest changes in a fast-moving business landscape.
Then he alludes to the ecosystem and symbiotic relationships…self-generating, self-organising, self-regulating. Something you get by facilitating conditions and monitoring the system to do it’s own thing rather than a managed approach:
"We can’t participate effectively in flows of knowledge–at least not for long–without contributing knowledge of our own. This occurs because participants in these knowledge flows don’t want free riding "takers"; they want to develop relationships with people and institutions that can contribute knowledge of their own. This is a huge hurdle for most executives who were trained to guard their knowledge carefully. Yet if they remain "takers" they will find themselves rapidly marginalized. Knowledge flows tend to concentrate among participants who are sharing with, and learning from, each other."
Above I have talked about KM embedded in doing work. Not having this is a loss, as from a KM perspective the workings-out are more valuable than the end product. KM of the past has known this but the right tools weren’t available so people were asked to write reports. Which is kind of like watching a two minute sports review of the match, which mostly show the goal scoring…the nature of this format leaves out content and context, and can also have their own agendas.
KM has been branded from a library science / information management side of managing and organising end products. But I think if social computing existed back in the day, then KM would of had the right tools for their aims. But it’s not just the tools, KM like anything else of the past has been approached with a scientific management style, whereas social computing is more about facilitating conditions, less about plans and targeted outcomes, and more about nurturing, experimenting, and emergence…not to say it can’t be incorporated to flavour business processes.
Capturing output is not KM
Let’s finish with reviewing an experience shared by Yigal Chamish, who says:
|"knowledge is for action, not for warehousing"|
Simon Bostock adds to this:
|"You cant "manage" knowledge in a traditional sense. Its contextual, it resides in stories, its only valuable when it "flow" not when its stored, it cant be measured and its always, but always, Just In Time."|
David Tebbutt has left a valuable comment on Yigals post:
|"No doubt the outcomes could be captured and archived as useful information, especially if it were tagged adequately and made easy to find. But this is more content, or information management, not KM.
Were the people (in the interests of cutting travel, CO2 emissions, whatever) able to cooperate through social tools, tele-presence, or whatever, this too would be part of the "management" role that of creating the right environment for knowledge sharing to flourish."
Anyway what was Yigals post about?
Yigal talks about a group of Europeans who were invited to a herb farm in Ethiopia to explain to them the process of growing herbs and sending them to Europe. Out of conversation the issue of dealing with (eliminating) insects that damage the herb crops was raised. This was not on the agenda but its a common interest. What ensued was lots of discussion, each sharing stories and experiences. This was not planned or led, it surfaced naturally, and is the makings of a Community of Practice…naturally forming at time of need.
Social computing can mimic this type of exchange. Conversations are no way limited to the offline world. Whether they form into a community or not is not important, what is, is that the people are able to find each other and the conversation is able to take place. These are conditions for sense-making, and helping each other at time of need. It’s all documented so the conversation has longevity and reach to new people, and this whole process creates new knowledge and leaves behind artifacts that can be found and become pieces of new conversations and knowledge creation processes, and the flux goes on.
Yigal makes an important point:
|"I can only imagine trying to pump this new contextual knowledge and warehouse it in a form stored in a database."|
|"…we need to move away from a focus on knowledge transfer and acquisition, an approach rooted in Plato’s academy…we are moving to the world of the sons of Socrates, where dialogue and guidance are key competencies. It is a world where the capability to find information and turn it into knowledge at the point-of-need provides the key competitive advantage, where knowing the right people to ask the right questions of is more likely to lead to success than any amount of internally-held knowledge and skill."|