It dawned on me today that a lot of our knowledge-related activities reflect, depend upon or contribute to things beginning with ‘C’. In that spirit, today’s post is brought to you by the letter C and the number 7.
In no particular order, here are the things I had in mind. Feel free to add more (or detract from these) in the comments. (And I apologise for inadvertently stealing a idea.)
Conversation. As mentioned in my last post, this is a critical part of knowledge sharing. Be aware, though, that this realisation is not enough:
simply being smarter isn’t the whole story. Clever people still do stupid things, often on a regular (or worse, repeated) basis. Wise people, on the other hand, change their ways.
Collaboration. Good collaboration may be a product of good knowledge sharing. It may even produce it. We need to be confident that what we think is collaboration really is that:
So what is collaboration then? It’s when a group of people come together, driven by mutual self–interest, to constructively explore new possibilities and create something that they couldn’t do on their own. Imagine you’re absolutely passionate about the role that performance reviews play in company effectiveness. You team up with two colleagues to re-conceptualise how performance reviews should be done for maximum impact. You trust each other implicitly and share all your good ideas in the effort to create an outstanding result. You and your colleagues share the recognition and praise equally for the innovative work.
The important factor is mutual self-interest. When people create things they really want to create, and it is also good for the company, it energises and engages people like nothing else.
Communication. Don’t forget that this is not something you can judge for yourself. Good communication comes when someone else can understand what you say. They will judge whether you are communicating well. Empathy is required.
One way of talking that inhibits the exchange of knowledge is speaking with conviction. That may seem contrary to what we’ve all learned in communication and leadership workshops, where one of the lessons often taught is to speak with confidence- “sound like you mean it”. Yet, as I examine conversations in the work setting, stating an idea with conviction tends to send a signal to others that the speaker is closed to new ideas. When speaking with conviction people sound as though no other idea is possible, as though the answer is, or should be, obvious.
Connection. I can’t decide if this flows from the points above, or if it is a necessary pre-condition for them. The fact is, it is pervasive. Without good connections, we cannot function properly as good knowledge workers.
As the economy has worsened, there’s been some talk about eliminating “nice to have” functions such as KM. Think again. Without good matchmakers, it’s hard to have good matches. Without good matches, it’s hard to have much productivity.
Creativity. This is not something that is reserved to highly-strung artists. We all need to think in interesting ways about the problems that we face. Unless we do so, we will just come up with the same old answers. And in many cases the same old answers are what created the problems in the first place.
…we need two processes, one to generate things we can’t think of in advance, and another to figure out which of the things we generate are valuable and are worth keeping and building upon. In science, the arts, and other creative activities, the ability to know what to throw away and what to keep seems to arise from experience, from study, from command of fundamentals, and—interestingly—from being a bit skeptical of preset intentions and plans that commit you too firmly to the endpoints you can envision in advance. Knowing too clearly where you are going, focusing too hard on a predefined objective, can cause you to miss value that might lie in a different direction.
Culture. We can use this as an easy escape: “I am doing what I can, but the culture doesn’t support me.” Yes, there are dysfunctional organisations which cannot accept that the world around them is changing. But we have a part to play in bringing a realisation that the wrong culture is wrong.
…the magic of the corporation (and the thing that makes the corporation the best problem-solving machine we have at our disposal) is that it can be all things to all people. Anthropology can help here because it understands that the intelligence of this complicated creature exists not just in the formal procedures and divisions of labor of the organization, but in also in the less official ideas and practices that make up the corporation. Once again, anthropology is about culture, but in this case the culture is the particular ideas and practices of a particular organization. Anthropology can help senior managers re-engineer their organizations.
Clients/customers. Why do we do this? It is easy to forget that the organisation does not exist for its own reasons. It exists to fulfil a purpose, and that purpose often means that there are consumers, customers or clients. When we know what they need, we are in a better position to understand what the business should deliver. That may hurt. Things would obviously run better if we didn’t have to worry about client demands, but that is just facetious.
This is a hard lesson for marketers, particularly technical marketers, to learn. You don’t get to decide what’s better. I do.
If you look at the decisions you’ve made about features, benefits, pricing, timing, hiring, etc., how many of them are obviously ‘better’ from your point of view, and how many people might disagree? There are very few markets where majority rule is the best way to grow.
There are some additional things that are often linked to knowledge activities. I am not entirely sure about some of these.
Change. This is often linked with culture. In addition, some knowledge management activities bring change with them. Doesn’t it seem odd (and a serious risk) that one project is supposed to bring about significant organisational change? Surely we should try and fit with what people are already doing?
Capture/conversion. Traditionally, KM projects have focused on squeezing knowledge out of past actions, or in converting so-called tacit knowledge to explicit. John Bordeaux torpedoes both of these.
Lessons learned programs don’t work because they don’t align with how we think, how we decide, or even an accurate history of what happened. Other than that – totally worth the investment.
…it should now be evident that relating what we know via conversation or writing or other means of “making explicit” removes integral context, and therefore content. Explicit knowledge is simply information – lacking the human context necessary to qualify it as knowledge. Sharing human knowledge is a misnomer, the most we can do is help others embed inputs as we have done so that they may approach the world as we do based on our experience. This sharing is done on many levels, in many media, and in contexts as close to the original ones so that the experience can approximate the original.
Content. Otherwise known as “never mind the quality, feel the width.” Need I say more? We shouldn’t have been surprised by the Wharton/INSEAD research, but in case people still are:
The advice to derive from this research? Shut down your expensive document databases; they tend to do more harm than good. They are a nuisance, impossible to navigate, and you can’t really store anything meaningful in them anyway, since real knowledge is quite impossible to put onto a piece of paper. Yet, do maintain your systems that help people identify and contact experts in your firm, because that can be beneficial, at least for people who lack experience. Therefore, make sure to only give your rookies the password.
Control. David Jabbari nailed this one:
This trend is closely related to the shift from knowledge capture to knowledge creation. If you see knowledge as an inert ‘thing’ that can be captured, edited and distributed, there is a danger that your KM effort will gravitate to the rather boring, back-office work preoccupied with indexes and IT systems. This will be accompanied by a ritualized nagging of senior lawyers to contribute more knowledge to online systems.
If, however, you see knowledge as a creative and collaborative activity, your interest will be the way in which distinctive insights can be created and deployed to deepen client relationships. You will tend to be more interested in connecting people than in building perfect knowledge repositories.
Before we leave the alphabet, a quick word about ‘M’. If we dispose of the continental Cs above, what happens to measurement and management? That is probably enough in itself for another post, but for now a quick link to a comment of Nick Milton’s on the KIN blog will suffice:
Personally I think that dropping the M-word is a cop-out. Not as far as branding is concerned – you could call it “bicycle sandwich” as far as I am concerned, so long as it contained the same elements – but because it takes your attention away from the management component, and taking attention away from the management component is where many KM failures stem from.
Management is how we organise work in companies, and if we don’t organise it with knowledge in mind, we lose huge value. What doesn’t get managed, doesn’t get done, and that’s true for KM as much as anything else. See http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/03/knowledge-management-in-defence-of-m.html for more details.
4 thoughts on “Navigating the seven Cs of knowledge”
I’d like to suggest some more although painfully conscious that more than seven is too many and that some of these are probably unpopular with KM practitioners!
Cash / Competitive advantage – we all hopefully do what we do for our customers, internal or external, but I think it’s crucial – more than ever in these hard times – for everyone engaged in KM at an organisation to be able to articulate why their efforts contribute to the bottom line, whether or not in an easy to quantify way. For example, is it about avoiding having to reinvent the wheel and write off wasted time that the client won’t pay for, or avoiding costly mistakes, making business support processes as lean as possible or nurturing thought leadership and expertise that sets you apart from the competition?
Clever – I’m cheating with this one but couldn’t think of another “C” for “smart”! While I agree that relying on expensive DM systems for KM is in no way enough, I don’t believe we should shut them down and rely only on conversations. Nice idea but how would that work in a huge organisation with high turnover where clients will understandably refuse to pay for people to learn on the job? How many of us would really get rid of our legal templates (for those of us working for law firms) and rely on people connections for every task that we’ve done many times before?
Cross-selling: one of the benefits of collaboration across the traditional organisational boundaries of geography and HR departments. If you truly know what knowledge other practices can provide and are keen to share that power with your clients, you’ve got a value proposition that many other organisations just can’t match.
Thanks for the comment and ideas, Sam. You are right to balance my idealism with a bit of reality!
Your reference to cross-selling is an interesting one. I think there is a risk of being too heavy-handed in selling colleagues’ expertise to clients: “you pay tax — I have a tax colleague who can help you.” As you say, a better understanding of (a) actually what the client’s needs are and (b) what the firm can provide (in more detail than just having a tax capability) can result in really interesting conversations. Those might actually conclude with an agreement that we cannot provide what is needed, but I think clients probably respect advice to go elsewhere more than an attempt to grab work.
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