Do We Want to Know?

Knowledge Management is everywhere. In discussions, blogs, corporate strategies, individual minds, etc. If one is unaware of or not convinced about the benefits, there is an army of consultants and vendors who can change that. I am a convert without needing any more help.

For evidence, one needs only to look at traditions passed from one generation to the next. The artisan/farmer/xyz made sure that the next generation understood and learnt the sum of their knowledge so that it may be built upon and improved. This was actually necessary for survival. Today, organizations are fighting for survival/success in a way they have probably never fought before. Every asset is being analyzed in order to increase the efficiency of usage. Knowledge is one such asset which is underutilized and can provide significant returns. The question then is, why is knowledge underutilized? To use any asset efficiently, the nature of the asset needs to be understood; the asset transformed to be usable in the manner desired; the asset used in an optimal manner; the asset maintained in a usable/relevant state and measurements of the benefits coming out of this. Let us apply this to knowledge.

The nature of “knowledge” has been well studied and classified and is constantly being refined. Most of the literature I read today relates to the transformation of knowledge into a usable state. Tools to capture explicit knowledge are widely available. There is also good direction on how to start capturing implicit knowledge; direct interaction and collaboration between the haves and have-nots being used to speed up this process. Curation and maintenance of this “library” is also an oft-touched upon topic. But what about the users of this knowledge? When there is a need for context based answers (typically quick problem-solving type things), people do approach other people. However, a large part of the problem is around re-inventing the wheel and re-learning lessons. My experience has shown me that the not built here syndrome continues to exist in this space. Large swathes of the organization (including and specially managers) do not believe that solutions created and lessons learnt by other people apply to them. Their problem is always different. (Code re-use & Service re-use anybody?). What is done to change this attitude will decide the pay-off from any KM strategy. Another issue is training. While internal corporate providers can play a just in time game with knowledge, vendor organizations and service providers need to be on the bleeding edge. They need to prepare people with knowledge in expectation of its use, not after they develop a need.

I have seen multiple organizations repeat mistakes or re-invent things because people do not want to talk to the people with the knowledge. I have also seen different groups at different levels of preparedness with knowledge (within and across organizations) which they know will be needed. Unfortunately, this depends on the attitude of individuals. We need to work on the culture to spread the “correct” version of the attitude.

We know that Po’s father would confide the secret ingredient to him at some point. But, we need the whole organizational kitchen to know it. What can be done to make it happen? Any thoughts from the 9-to-whatevers?

5 thoughts on “Do We Want to Know?

  1. Good question, Aviral – Do we want to know? The answer I think is a more fundamental question…. do we know what we actally want? In this fast paced world, most people have very vague idea of what they want and due to paucity of time people want to jump start without a lot on investment on very clearly defining the end state and the research and the analysis. They believe things will somehow fall in place once they start and as they go along the end state will be clear to them…This may be part of the answer to your question, but it is important to instill the habit/culture promoted by ‘Stephen Covey’ – “Begin with End in Mind”.

    • Piyush – Agree with your premise in a slightly unrelated way. The end/goal/objective is something that needs to be determined at company, organization, team and individual levels. Frequently, as you say, action is taken before the end is determined enough; by all of the parties.

      The question then becomes what is being done to publicize and project these ends. What is being done to align them at different levels. This is true of any Knowledge Management initiative as much as any other project. If these things are done, we may get enough motivation created to get the “correct” attitude in place.

      In the “end”, knowledge management is about making other projects better and this motivation would certainly assist in making that happen.


      • Yes. Precisely. Having well defined end state is a very good start. Going back to your point about what else can be done to minimize repeat mistakes and re-inventing, by using available knowledge base, I believe following can/should be done by accountable party (The party taking accountablity for end deliverable): This party should have clear vision of end state. This party should truly believe that its worth investing time in researching the available knowledge base… to review releavant case studies… to talk to relevant people….to learn about common pit falls…to leverage lessons learnt… It might always feel they have very little time, but this time must be invested….The advantage is that the accountable party is much better prepared and more confident to tackle the project…

  2. Why does it always boil down to communication? Great post and I completely agree with your points. I’m a trainer myself and I’ve used many KM tools in the past, but often the hardest part isn’t identifying the need or building the tool, it’s convincing people to use it.

    In my experience, once you’ve identified your problem and created your KM tool, the key comes down to identifying the key stakeholders and letting them play with the new tool. Let them involve their friends and collleagues and the KM tool takes on a life of its own. We’re currently building version 2 of our latest tool based on feedback from our key stakeholders. As J said, communicate and let them play!

    • I like your question! It does always seem to boil down to communication, doesn’t it?

      In this case, it is also about motivation. Giving the vast majority of people a clear view of the benefit to them personally, giving managers the motivation to give their teams time to spend on it (initially and on-going), having “curators” with the passion to correct erroneous information and catalog accurate stuff is what is going to make this work.

      All the best to you in your efforts. Cheers…

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