Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I have had lately, where people have talked about developing flow; some are even using ‘Knowledge flow’ as an alternative to KM. So, what is a ‘flow’ and what are the implications for discussions on process design?
People who find themselves in a state of ‘flow’ are in ” a state of effortless concentration, so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves and of their problems” (Kahneman, p. 52).
I like the idea of ‘effortless concentration’, a process so natural that it occurs automatically; a type 1 cognitive process. That, for me, is the challenge for anyone looking to develop interventions, such as improving decision-making processes, innovation or knowledge sharing; how do you design systems (forces) that are effortless?
Too many times people fail to acknowledge the automatic, type 1, processes that people accept as they cross the threshold of engagement (virtual or physical) with an organisation; much like a motorway filter lane, people make adjustments and join the flow. The problem for employees is that outside agents fail to acknowledge these flows, developing processes (forces) that are seen as requiring extra effort, creating counter flows or disturbances that become a focus for attention – a spot on the end of a teenagers nose!
Here, the process requires effort as people enter a mode of control, or type 2 cognitive process. The problem is that the new process becomes but another source of thoughtful energy expenditure, one of many that inform the work day; something that you are ‘forced’ to do, something that takes energy from the body, something that requires effort. This can create counter flow; a disturbance that creates resistance to new processes.
If you force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around” (p. 53)
The new process fuels resistance, which itself takes effort, that, in turn, can negatively impact motivation; further depleting the decision-making/innovation/knowledge-sharing process that the intervention was designed to address.
Where am I going… It’s fine to talk about flow, but KMers, consultants, managers, we all have to recognise that flows already exist. The challenge for us to recognise this and design interventions (use forces) that don’t increase resistance to the challenge at hand. KM is a great example, too many people in organisations see it as an additional task, something that they do on top of their workload; surely that is a signal that the flow is not being recognised. The trick is create minor disturbances that quickly become accepted as part of the natural, effortless, flow of the organisation; processes that punctuate the equilibrium, that take up too much thought, and therefore energy, will too often create resistance and perhaps failure.
Stating the ovious…I realise that there can be times where punctuated equilibrium is required as a form of intervention – this post is more a reflection on those times where external/internal agents miss the significance of flow and cause more problems than those they started out with.