Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
DG: We keep getting asked to define knowledge, to define knowledge management and to explain what it is that is most important to an organisation. What do you think?
PE: Defining KM is one of those debates that is hotting up again (summarised here). The key issue for me is knowledge management as getting the right/best? knowledge to the right people at the right time to ….. well, to do things, make choices and decisions, to create, to build, to solve etc.. generating real and valuable outcomes for individuals, groups, organisations and society. Knowledge, in this sense, becomes real when embedded in competence: to know how to do something, solve something… which come from experience but also reflection.
DG: It’s about growth and sustainability. But why would you put this as one of the most critical factors in what organisations do?
PE: Why reflection? Well, I may know something works in situation X but for it to work in situation Y may need me to amend some of my thinking or doing. In the example of getting from A to B, discussed here, I will know what it’s like to undertake the journey on the bike by taking the journey on the bike; that experience may indicate to me what is likely to change in the traveling experience in driving the Mercedes, or if its raining, or too hot etc.. . Of course, I’ll only know what driving the Mercedes from A to B is like by driving from A to B.
DG: Yes, but to do this I have to use what I already know and, in the case of the Mercedes, I might have to challenge myself to undertake something new – I know what it’s like to ride the bike and I use my knowledge to complete the journey in the most efficient and effective way possible, but, reflecting, perhaps I realise that the journey isn’t as effective or efficient as it could be; I haven’t taken the journey in the Mercedes before and so therefore I have to be prepared to move outside my comfort zone and try a different approach.
PE: The functions of KM: creating; capturing & storing and sharing are perhaps just the enablers of what really matters – application. Rather than being something solid, reliable and final, we’re better thinking of knowledge as conjecture being constantly tested and retested. So KM is really about people and organisational effectiveness and improvement. Improvement is key here as the application of knowledge is the process of testing and retesting in different situations and contexts. Effective KM is about ensuring that the organisation is building on what it is good at, that the application of work practices is constantly refined and reflected on, captured, disseminated (by whatever mechanisms work at the time) and used in day-to-day practice. As you quoted in our recent report, the antithesis of this is:
… say there’s a certain number of people …. who leave, we’d be up **** creek because there’s a lot of stuff in people’s minds that isn’t documented anywhere.
But surely this has always been the case. What makes KM more urgent is not the need to “know what we know” but to know what we know and have the practical understanding on how to refine what we know for the situation we are facing now. So KM is not about capturing and possessing knowledge, so much as developing the abilities to react to constant change – to build collective dynamic capacity within any organisation.
DG: People often speak to us about KM, but, in reality, what we are dealing with is dynamic capacity building.
PE: Exactly. It goes back to our (K3-Cubed) belief system; we believe that your future is being created today and to do that you have to be using and refining what you know. How many times have we had conversations with organisations where the nub of the problem revolves around knowledge usage and knowledge loss?
DG: True. Recently we worked with a large muti-national in Europe. On the first day of working with them they demonstrated how their lessons learned from projects were captured and stored on Sharepoint for access and reuse by global teams. We asked them how they knew that the information was being accessed, reflected upon and used on future projects. They didn’t.
PE: In fact we demonstrated that less than 5% of information uploaded over the three years prior to our analysis had been accessed by their project teams (approximately 19 reports from over 360 that had been uploaded).
DG: The case is far too complex to go through everything here, but it’s not difficult for people to imagine the ramifications for error identification, error correction and decision-making; to say nothing of all the experiences that had been ‘lost’ due to the lack of access/usage analytics, quality monitoring and overall good housekeeping when it comes to process analysis.
PE: And if organisations are not using they know, if they are not challenging what they know in new circumstances, if they are not using what they know to solve problems, how can they expect to become more dynamic? That’s the critical function for KM.
Peter Evans – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Griffiths – email: email@example.com