Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
I’ve been involved in some interesting discussions this week, all brought about by my blog on the D-I-K-W hierarchy. It has inflamed the debate around what knowledge is, what KM is, and the fact that you just cannot manage knowledge. KM is a Gordian Knot and, in my opinion, we spend too much time and energy tightening the strands instead of finding a way to slip it.
People have become so entrenched in their positions that they have seem to have forgotten to listen to each other. Conversations seem to quickly regress to fortified positions, built from years of frustration and designed to fight against the barbarian hordes who challenge well established lines of demarcation: there is no agreed definition of knowledge (debatable, by the way); you can’t manage knowledge; Km focuses too much on artefacts. Tensions rise and the status quo is maintained. Inertia becomes the modus operandi and we retreat to our individual dominions, secure in the fact that, at least there, KM is as it should be.
The problem, if we paused to listen for a while, is that many of us are saying the same thing, just in a different way. There is common thought in the noise that has become the chaos of our discipline and it is time to unite on the common ground. People talk about the need to move away from KM, that it just doesn’t describe what they do or what the field is actually about – I’ve even been guilty, writing an article with a call for a move to Knowledge Resource Development. We can’t even agree when we disagree, so how on Earth can we even begin to build momentum towards a paradigm shift that will launch a new home for our ideas. As professionals, we are too fragmented and it is time to become comfortable with duality if we are going to mould the organisation’s of the future.
You see, for me, that understanding has been lost in all this. KM is a response, it doesn’t exist in isolation, though we often act as if it does. It is a response to a very real need, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be talking about it at all; whether responding to an emergent environment, moulding the future, or tackling a specific operational need, the demand for a response is a real and often visceral one.
The environment is complex and there is no single best KM solution, but the path always involves people, who also constantly act as a firewall; whether as the enablers of information or the protectors of what is known. Technology, for all its advantages, struggles to differentiate between information and knowledge. It also struggles to work to the varied needs of the individual, whereas people naturally meet variety with variety. We engage with each other, probe for a response, observe cues, reflect on the returning signal and respond in a constant cycle – and we don’t always get it right! Technology enables our interactions, transports information, it works to attenuate the information made available to us (not always for good) and all at unprecedented speed. But, we, as people, are the active protagonists when it comes to knowledge, knowing and expertise. Can we really argue that point?
This is where we have to become comfortable with duality. It is not about tacit versus explicit; object versus process; technology versus people. It is about the best response to the need of the individual, the need of the organisation and the processes that bind the two together.
There is a way to explain and negotiate this. In another life, and for my sins, I was a football manager – even publishing a book on coaching (don’t ask!). In sport there is something called the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. What this basically means is that as stress is placed upon the human system it will respond to the stimuli according to the demand being imposed upon it.
It is the same for KM. We sense the environment and provide specific adaptation to imposed demand.
This is how I chose to work. Sometimes it is about people, sometimes it is about technology, sometimes it is both. For me, it really is that simple.