Quotations


Every so often, it’s good to revisit some of the fundamentals of knowledge management and reflect on their continuing importance to the field.   I’ve been working with several different groups on Communities of Practice and Networks this month, and have taken each group back to Etienne Wenger’s definition from Cultivating Communities of Practice:Monument by Frans Persoon

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Looking more deeply at this definition, I think there are four “pillars” of successful communities.

1. A shared concern or passion.

Whilst the 90:9:1 role (or whatever variant of that ratio your community has equilibriated to) will always be relevant, the level of concern or passion will have a huge impact on the way in which people give discretionary time to the group.  I see this particularly in communities which relate to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – e.g. Communities focused on safety, security, humanitarian issues. It’s also strong in communities which have a focus on hobbies and sports – Several organisations I know have a Photographers’ community who exchange, critique and celebrate  each other’s work, using company systems, and on company time (because it’s worth it to the company to show what a vibrant community can  be like).  Similarly with Cyclists’ communities and other sport-related groups.

Take a look around you colleagues’ office or workspace or electronic desktop – you’ll see what their passions and concerns are.

Thomas Freidman’s equation PQ + CQ > IQ where PQ is Passion Quotient and CQ is Curiosity Quotient is true of communities – Passion and Curiosity will carry the group further than raw IQ – but a combination of all three will get the ball over the line every time!

2. A shared practice.

We often talk more about the “community” behaviours than we do clarifying the “practice”, and its boundaries.   It’s always time well spent.  I advocate that groups consider creating  and regularly updating a self-assessment or maturity model which describes their particular practice.  This helps them to agree upon the important topics, agree upon what good looks like and identify where they can share and learn from and with each other.

Without that common language, it’s easy for community members to talk past each other, or to miss opportunities to give and receive.

3. A commitment to learning.

Again, nobody questions the value of learning, bus what are the learning activities which your community will commit to?  What is the relationship between “lessons learned” and you community?  Is there any ownership of this process, and agreement to maintain a knowledge asset or product which represents the community’s most current thinking and understanding?

What about informal learning, formal transfer, learning together or learning from each other?  And learning from fresh insights outside the organisation?  How will that happen?

I’ve always liked this model from Wenger, White and Smith’s book, “Digital Habitats”, which sets out a landscape for these important dimensions and clusters relevant activities.  It’s a great model for communities to use as a menu of potential learning stimuli.

Wenger, White and Smith - Learning Activities from "Digital Habitats"

4. A commitment to interact regularly.

Of course!  And what does the ideal blend and frequency of interaction for your community look like?  What is the ideal mix of face-to-face, regional, peer-to-peer, virtual, discussion-based, spontaneous, scheduled, ad-hoc, funded, led, emergent, social, business… social business?

No shortage of choices and options, and it’s good to agree upon how you plan to interact and to regularly review how effective the blend is.

So how do your communities shape up to the four pillars? Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to discuss and learn through some  passionate interaction!

Geoff Parcell pointed me in the direction of this brilliant RSA Animate video, featuring renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist.  There is so much in this 11 minutes that you’ll want to watch it two or three times to take it in, and a fourth, with the pause button to appreciate all of the humour in the artwork.  Just superb.  Do watch it.

It got me thinking again about parallels between how the brain manages knowledge and how organisations manage knowledge.
Ian debunks a lot of myths about the separate functions of left and right hemispheres and emphasizes the fact that for either imagination or reason, you need to use both in combination.

  • Left hemisphere – narrow, sharply focused attention to detail, depth, isolated, abstract, symbolic, self-consistent
  • Right hemisphere – sustained, broad, open, vigilant, alertness, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate.

We share some (but not all) of these left/right distinctions with animals. However, as humans, we uniquely have frontal lobes.

  • Frontal lobes – to stand back in time and space from the immediacy of experience (empathy and reflection)

I think a holistic approach to knowledge management which mirrors the brain will pay attention to breadth, depth, living connections and reflection. This has implications for the way we structure and navigate codified knowledge – moving between context and detail, abstract to interconnected – and also reinforces the relationship between KM and organisational learning (the frontal lobe bit).

I believe that an effective knowledge management strategy will creatively combine each of these components in a way which is balanced to the current and future needs of the business.

In a way, a lot of first generation KM was left-brain oriented.  Second and third generation KM have combined the learning elements of the frontal lobes with the living, inteconnected right brain.  That doesn’t mean that first generation KM is no longer relevant – I would assert that the power is in the combination of all three – see this earlier posting on KM, Scientology and Top Trumps!

It’s probably the last minute which is the most challenging.  Does your KM strategy,  led self-consistently by the left hemisphere,  imprison your organisation in  a hall of mirrors where it reflects back into more of what it knows about what it knows about what it knows?

The animation closes with Einstein’s brilliantly prescient statement:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We live in a society which honours the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

(more…)

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post on Polanyi and Snowden’s “We know more than we can ever tell, we tell more than we can ever write down”, what should I see in my local shop, but this little red notebook:


Not sure what Polanyi would think about that!

Or whether he’d write it down.

I’ve had a couple of workshop events with clients in recent weeks where we have gone back to some of KM’s first principles, using some foundational quotations.

Polanyi’s “We know more than we can tell” is a great one to explore, and I like David Snowden’s build “..and we tell more than we can ever write down”.

When it comes to KM having a real business impact though – actually changing something to generate value and/or create improvement – which after all, is the reason we do KM – then I think it’s incomplete.

I’d like to add a third part to the picture (if I might be so bold as to stand on the shoulders of giants).

So here’s the first viewing of a Polanyi/Snowden/Collison triptych.

We know more than we can ever tell,

we tell more than we can ever write down,

and we write down more than we ever act upon.

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