10 November 2015

Do you know that, or is it just something you remembered?

I have struggled for a little while with the Tacit/Explicit model of knowledge, feeling it was incomplete. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Tacit Knowledge as "knowledge that you do not get from books or being taught, but from personal experience". This basically rules out the idea of Tacit/Explicit transfer, leading to what James Dellow claims is a choice of either "Perfect knowledge capture or nothing at all".

Uriarte's book "Introduction to Knowledge Management" from 2008 discussed the concept of implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is basically "remembered facts". ie: Internal knowledge that is possible to be written down or made explicit.

Likewise, the "Internalisation" part of Nonaka's SECI model turns explicit knowledge in to implicit knowledge but not tacit (as is claimed), which comes from the personal embodiment of decision, behaviour and action.  Nonaka has been widely criticised for SECI's many failures in practice and I submit that this confusion between implicit and tacit knowledge may be one reason why.

This was discussed in a debate at the KM Australia Congress in 2011 which has been blogged about by both Aprill Allen and Brad Hinton (I recommend reading both) and one of the reason's I think this is important is captured in David Snowden's comment on Brad's blog where he points out that "(true) tacit knowledge transfer in general takes place through doing – apprentice models come to mind".  In other words understanding the distinction directly effects the types of solutions we implement to transfer knowledge. I would argue that our almost total abandonment of the apprenticeship model has resulted in untold loss of tacit knowledge over the last two decades.

It seems the Tacit-Implicit-Explicit may also help when drawing a line between IT and KM.  Helen Palmer's excellent treatise on this touches on the Tacit/Explicit divide being one of the key factors. Adding Implicit may allow for a slightly clearer look at the interface between the two, especially when it comes to learning, capturing expertise, following workflows, etc, and possibly, just possibly, opening the way to more formal learning while doing.  The computers may be new. The software may be becoming more social. But in evolutionary terms, the last thousand years is nothing and human brains have hardly changed. If we already have an amazing way of transferring tacit knowledge, proven by 1000+ years use in guilds, societies and trades, I would argue it is time to consider both old and new ways of getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time.

If you are interested in this and want to get a grip on it, consider the KM-101 course from KMRt where it is discussed in depth as we look at pragmatic ways to improve knowledge flows in your organisation.

What do you think?  Does the Tacit-Implicit-Explicit model help you explain KM better?  Are there situations it doesn't explain?  Should we start including Implicit in our conversations with non-KM people so they start to understand the distinction?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

14 October 2015

Call for info about KM Tools & Solutions

Do you create, maintain, sell, implement, support tools for better KM?  If so I want to hear from you.

As part of the upcoming KM 101 course I am running for the KM Roundtable, the focus is very much on pragmatic learning and understanding what tools are available, what they can and cannot do and which problems they are best suited to solve.

I have built my own list over the years, and I am aware of both the Knowledge Bucket and the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit, but this is an area that continually evolves, so if you have or know of solutions that help in these areas, then please email me or give me a call on +61 411 797-781 for a chat.

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Collaboration platforms
  • Project asset management & coordination
  • Decision making
  • Workflow tools
  • Sensemaking
  • Social network analysis
  • Intranets
  • Lessons Learned databases
  • Learning Management Systems
  • Document Management
  • Record Management
  • Knowledge Bases for Customer Support
  • Enterprise (Federated) Search
  • Plug-ins for Confluence & SharePoint
  • Innovation Hubs
  • Blogging, Podcasting, Publishing
  • Expertise Location
  • Competency Frameworks
  • Dashboards, Analytics & BI
  • Alternatives to email
I will need the following from you please:

  1. Description of the solution
  2. Problems it solves / potential application areas / Usual market (ie: SME, Enterprise, Gov't)
  3. Simple Case Study - if available
  4. Australian distributor / sales point
  5. Rough pricing model
  6. URL for more information
  7. Product information
    1. Key selling point
    2. Key features
    3. Extensibility and ability to connect, (ie: federated search, links to external content, etc)
    4. Underlying technology requirements (ie: MS Stack?)
    5. Compliance with the Australian Government Record-keeping Act.

If you are trying to get your product, tool or software in front of more eyes, then this is you chance. The course starts late November, so I look forward to hearing from you soon.

06 October 2015

If Bill Gates were to cash out - An example of complexity

iphone 6 Plus Bill Gates WallpaperUnderstanding the different domains of complexity is such a powerful thing that I am constantly looking for examples I can use to explain it to newcomers.

In 2011 I wrote what has become one of my more popular posts where I described the difference to the warehouse manager of the company I was working for and Frank Connolly touched on the butterfly effect of small changes.

But as Aprill Allen says, "Knowledge is not understanding" and so I am always looking for visceral examples to help connect the dots for people, and here is one to think about:
Imagine if Bill Gates wanted to sell ALL his shares in Microsoft. How much would he get?
The simple way would be to take today's share price for MSFT and multiple by the number of shares he is selling.
Now that won't work because you need buyers.  A complicated approach will review the depth and take in to account the diminishing sale price by volume.
But of course, a sale of that many shares would take time and journalists, large funds, banks and a highly networked public will change their buying/selling behavior based on their trusted interactions, news media, advisers, available cash reserves and the general economic climate. A complex approach would probably involve a number of smaller sales to test the market, or even attempt to build sentiment before the main sale in order to maximize profit.
Just as a side note, Bill Gates is selling his stock in Microsoft.  He seems to be doing it at a predetermined and fixed rate. Perhaps he needs to read this post? :)

Of course if you really want to understand the Cynefin framework then Laurel Sutton's one day course is brilliant, and if you are in Europe then going to the source (David Snowden) is probably even better.  If you are a leader wondering how this effects your business I highly recommend David's post A Leader's Framework for Decision Making.

29 September 2015

What else can KM can learn from Agile?

In response to my post a few days ago about Agile KM and also to a direct question to him, Stan Garfield kindly wrote this blog post in reply.

It really is a great post (not that I would expect any less from Stan) and I especially loved his reinterpretation of Bill Kaplan's manifesto as follows:

  1. Identify three key business objectives (rather than use maturity models, bench-marking, and me-too best practices)
  2. Focus more on helping people use processes effectively (rather than on rolling out technology)
  3. Improve decisions, actions, and learning (rather than vague concepts like "increase engagement," "add value," or "drive transformational change")
  4. Connect people to each other so they can help each other at the time of need (rather than focus on collecting documents or updating skills profiles)
  5. Implement, improve, and iterate (rather than plan endlessly)
If you are new to KM, please do yourself a favor and follow Stan's links. I guarantee it will be worth it for you.

I do think there are a few other things we can learn from the Agile Manifesto when it comes to KM and I offer them to you for your consideration (and hopefully feedback).  Stan may argue these are encapsulated in his last point, however I know people would simply see "Implement, Improve and Iterate" as a series of small waterfall-style pilots (some call this WAGILE), when in fact, your solution changes the initial problem space. You are not doing KM in a vacuum; your changes may effect something else which in turn can (and will) effect the success and possibly the viability of your well planned improvement.
Remember, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”
So for clarification I would add:

  1. Strategy is about discovering what works by probing and measuring, (rather than assuming the world is linear)
  2. "What works" is measured by whole of business performance, (rather than an individual or local metric)
  3. Working solutions after each iteration (rather than phased rollouts of a large project with no results until the end)
  4. Pilots that are designed to teach you as much when they fail (rather than just when they succeed)
Are you an Agile expert? Can you think of any others?

As knowledge leaders I think we need to have these strategic differences front of mind. This seems to be reflected in Alex Bennet's new book "Leading with the Future in Mind - Knowledge and Emergent Leadership".  As leaders we need to be learners first and Alex points towards Experiential Learning as a tradition that points us in the right direction.  I also spoke about this in a talk several years ago extending the idea to culture change itself being a form of learning. But I think these ideas put some meat on those bones and I am wondering if it is worth developing these in to a more structured method.

Anybody interested in taking a stroll with me?

25 September 2015

Surprise! Why don't people share their knowledge?

I am reviewing a bunch of KM material at the moment as I develop KMRt's new KM101 course.

Several people have been very generous to allow me to use their teachings and some of them are papers from my Masters degree program.  One of those really struck me as I re-read it today, almost ten years after I first came across it and I wanted to share what today I see as a critical problem with the way some companies found their KM systems.

Ask most knowledge managers who people don't share, in fact, ask most managers this and you will usually get two answers:
  1. They are hoarding their knowledge
  2. They see their knowledge as a type of personal advantage and fear losing that power
It makes sense right? We have probably felt that way ourselves sometimes. But do we act on those feelings?  Taken corporately as a culture we see patterns of individualist and collectivist people as described by Keith de la Rue, and maybe there is some wisdom in that.

So why don't people share their knowledge?

However, this research by Ardichvilli seems to say that the real barriers to knowledge sharing were far more personal:
  1. Fear that posting will reveal that they don't know what they should
  2. Did not believe they had earned the right to post on a company-wide system
  3. Fear of possible criticism or ridicule
  4. People were not sure of what they needed to post.  Needed more direction on What Where and How.
  5. Fear of letting colleagues down or misleading them
  6. Fear of losing face
  7. Afraid their contribution was inaccurate or incomplete

In reading these, your knowledge program's focus changes completely

It is no longer about prying precious company knowledge from self-focused individuals - an idea that has launched a thousand failed KM projects. Instead it is about enabling people so they feel they can contribute safely and effectively.  Arthur Shelley touches on this regularly, including in this post where he frames knowledge sharing in terms learning objectives and using conversations that matter to give people that validation they need.

The beauty of this approach is that it runs alongside people's natural inclination instead of against it. Respondents in the study backed up previous research when they stated their reasons for wanting to share knowledge:
  1. The majority of respondents said they saw their knowledge as a public good, belonging not to them individually, but to the whole organization.
  2. They felt this towards
    • Their organization
    • Their professional association (engineers)
  3. Respondents also wanted to assert themselves as experts. 
  4. Some felt they were at the stage of their career that they should give something back.
  5. Organisational culture played a part in their feeling of altruism.
So as you review the very underlying principles of your Knowledge projects, ask yourself the question "Why don't people share their knowledge?" and then do some empirical research to find out why.

23 September 2015

Why KM is needed for today's division of cognitive labour

"The world is changing."

We hear it all the time. Articles pointing out the move from the manufacturing economy to the service economy. Reports showing the gradual effects of offshoring. Papers researching the benefits and pains the knowledge economy has heralded in over the last thirty years.

But some of these underlying changes are not linear at all. They work in an altogether new direction and skew the way we measure the effectiveness of our workers.  One example is the division of cognitive labour.

In his fantastic book "King Arthur's Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organisations", David Perkins talks about the difference between mowing a castle lawn and designing a new lawnmower.  With a small amount of loss for each person added, you can fairly easily divide the lawn up and mow it quickly with more people.  However to divide up the task of designing a new lawnmower is a much trickier issue and the more difficult the task is, the lower the efficiency of each worker.  This creates a declining return on investment as shown below.

When you think about this, it makes sense to go for the low hanging fruit first. Many companies have done this successfully; Think of the budget airline business, or low frills online shopping.

In this model, customers are placed horizontally. There are simple customers and difficult customers that take more mental effort to service.  The choice to apply the Pareto principle is logical. Service the 80% of customers with a high ROI and ignore the 20% of customers that require your team to have more knowledge, information or decision making ability to satisfy.

It is an attractive idea. Simple, focused and something that would win you votes at a boardroom table.
But seductive might be a better term, because as most people who have worked in customer service operations would know, it is based on a faulty premise...that the customers are stacked horizontally.

In the real world, customers are actually stacked vertically (see below). That is, most customers have a large number of needs that are easily met, and many (sometimes the majority) also have special or unique requirements.  These dont happen all the time, but they expect you to meet these needs too.  When looked at it this way, you are not rejecting 20% of pesky customers, you are letting down 80% of your customers some of the time.

Those companies that persist in this way discover that customers start complaining and silently disappearing. Churn rates increase and finally, sales people start discounting to retain business; tacitly recognising that the company cannot actually meet all their customers needs. Thus starts a slippery slope of lost advantage and declining reputation.  Of course this won't immediately show on the books as the increased turnover at the lower price will balance out the lower profit margins, but that can only continue for so long.

So what can be done?  Well, that is where Knowledge Management comes in.  By focusing on the needs of your key accounts, good KM programs discover the types and frequencies that these difficulties arise. Next, they provide ways to enable your staff to deal with them in an ad-hoc manner while still retaining control and integration with the rest of the company.

In his recent article, Scott Hayes talks about the lure of the question "what is happening right now", when in fact we should be asking questions about trends and real impact before we start formulating change in our organisations.  KM tools like After-action reviews, Knowledge Assessments and Lessons Learned programs seek out these trends and keep the important being over-ridden by the urgent.

Understanding the real impact of complex and medium/long term problems in our business is part of what leadership is about. Good knowledge management isn't just part of the solution to better division of mental labour, it is also a key tool to understanding where the real problems lay in the first place. In fact, I would argue it is a critical tool if you want to keep the harder 60% of your customer base long term.