Just technology?

This week has seen a number of articles and some TV coverage about the release of Google Glass for sale in the UK.  The coverage has touched on many aspects of this new technology (and alternatives from competitors) and has covered everything from the look and appearance of the eyewear; it’s current and potential uses; to concerns about issues of privacy related to the taking of photographs and videos.

Whilst it will be a while yet before the social, business, organisational, and regulatory implications arising from the introduction of this new technology are known, there can be no doubt that with it (and technologies like it) comes change and the associated intended and unintended consequences.

As a management discipline, Knowledge Management has adapted and evolved over recent years to take advantage of updates to existing, and the availability and introduction of new, ‘enabling’ technologies.

Any knowledge manager who saw the coverage about the use of Google Glass to broadcast a surgical procedure being undertaken at the Royal London Hospital live to students around the world will be able to see the potential of this new technology in supporting the sharing and transferring of knowledge in their organisation.

That said, whilst it is very easy to get enthused (perhaps seduced?) by the latest technology and all that it can (on paper and via stories) offer, knowledge managers will also be aware that technology is but one of the enablers of knowledge management; and that technology alone, without the supporting business processes and ‘people/use/implementation’ aspects considered and aligned, is just technology.

Need to know?

Creating and sustaining a culture and work environment in which the sharing, rather than the hoarding, of knowledge is seen as ‘power’, is at the heart of knowledge management programmes and activities.

Moving from a silo based structure in which information is only shared on a ‘demonstrated need to know’ to a culture in which it is recognised that information becomes more valuable if it is shared, is a theme developed in the following TEDTalks video clip by Stanley McChrystal.

In the clip he gives us his insight into the military case for sharing knowledge.  The clip contains some useful ideas for those responsible for managing and sharing data, information and knowledge in their organisations; and for those concerned about confidentiality.

To share or not to share – but what are the questions?

There are many reasons why employees share, and do not share, their knowledge with colleagues; and I’ve asked the ‘share/do not share’ questions many times over the years in knowledge management related workshops, on training courses and in consultancy assignments.

Reasons given for ‘sharing’ typically include:

  • Knowledge sharing is part of their job role/part of the culture
  • They want to do it/gain satisfaction from so doing
  • They have had a positive ‘re-use’ experience
  • They see organisational and personal value in sharing their knowledge.

Reasons given for ‘not sharing’ typically include:

  • Hoarding knowledge is seen/perceived as ‘power’
  • They are too busy to make the time to do it
  • They don’t know who else might be interested
  • Business systems and IT don’t make it easy.

There are also many reasons why employees use, and do not use, the knowledge of colleagues; and I’ve also asked the ‘use/do not use’ questions many times over the years in knowledge management related workshops, on training courses and in consultancy assignments.

Reasons given for ‘using’ typically include:

  • To save time/be more efficient
  • To avoid duplication/re-invention of wheels
  • Because two heads or more are better than one
  • A personal development requirement/desire to learn from others with more experience.

Reasons given for ‘not using’ typically include:

  • They don’t trust the source/knowledge
  • They don’t know where to find it/how to access it
  • Because “my situation/problem is different to the experience of others”
  • Because creating knowledge is more interesting/rewarding than re-suing the knowledge of others.

So what have I and others learnt from asking and answering the ‘share/don’t share’ and ‘use/don’t use’ knowledge questions?

Well firstly, that answers can of course be grouped/clustered into themes and to do so is a good exercise for a knowledge manager to complete (periodically) with his/her organisation or function within an organisation.  Themes might include: business process related reasons; organisational culture related reasons; resource/time related reasons etc.

And secondly, that thinking about and implementing the actions that can be taken to strengthen/reinforce the ‘share and use’ findings, and thinking about and implementing the actions that can be taken to weaken/smash the ‘don’t share/don’t re-use’ findings, is one way of helping to improve the flow, use and re-use of knowledge in an organisation/function.

Thirdly, that there will be some answers/findings e.g. “because it’s commercially sensitive information” that need to be treated and managed with care.

And finally, that there will be some answers/findings to the questions that will be unique to the organisation/function concerned, and some answers/findings that will be a surprise to the knowledge manager facilitating the exercise and a surprise to many of those participating.

An example of a buddy system – knowledge sharing in action

An item covered by the Radio 4 programme World at One today concerned the George Eliot Hospital and the help and support it is receiving from the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The help and support are coming via a buddy system and in the item the CEO of the George Eliot Hospital talked about some of the specific and significant problems being faced and how, through a buddy system, support had been received to help with information systems/provision, mentoring, and practical advice about audits for cleanliness.

It was interesting to hear that from the CEO’s perspective the hospital would not have got this help and support through any other process.  It was also interesting to hear how taking advice and learning from others can be difficult/embarrassing.

A buddy system is one of the many ways in which knowledge can be shared and transferred.  It often requires a framework and for resources to be in place for it to operate effectively in an organisational situation – and it requires willing partners – to connect the supply side (those that have it) with the demand side (those that need it) for the knowledge.

And whilst (perhaps inevitably) in some buddy systems all eyes will be on the learning gained by the ‘demand side’ and the change/improvement that results – credit should also be given to the ‘supply side’, not only for sharing their experiences, but in committing resources to do so.

Using a ‘how not to do something’ approach (and humour) to support learning and knowledge sharing

Learning from mistakes or failure can be more impactful and memorable (and therefore result in the desired change of behaviour or action) than learning from good practice or success.

Most of us love to hear a good story, anecdote or joke, and all are interesting ways of helping us understand and relate to a situation, and take some learning from this.  Learning and sharing knowledge in this way can sometimes be easier (and certainly more fun) for the recipient than reading through a set of guidelines or good practice.

Many readers to this blog will be users of PowerPoint and will be experienced at giving presentations.  Some may even have read the ‘good practice’ guide to PowerPoint and will be all too familiar with its pros and cons.

In the following video clip, comedian Don McMillan gives an excellent and very funny presentation on Life After Death on PowerPoint.  Let me know what you think, and whether the ‘how not to do something’ (and with humour) approach might be a more impactful and memorable way of learning and sharing knowledge, than ‘reading the instructions’ in your organisation.

Sharing tacit knowledge – conversations matter

It’s very easy for organisations to focus their attention on managing explicit knowledge e.g. documents, manuals, procedures etc. because this type of knowledge (information) is visible, can be counted, and is growing fast.  But as Knowledge Managers know, explicit knowledge is just the tip of the knowledge management iceberg, and that the bulk of an organisation’s knowledge is tacit and lies hidden below the water line.

In the following video clip, Nancy Dixon tells the story of sharing tacit knowledge at Xerox and reminds us of some key points including:

  • Documents, manuals and training can only be so good
  • Work/problem solving related tacit knowledge is often shared in the ‘un-managed’ parts of an organisation e.g. over lunch.

Stop reading, start watching – using video for knowledge capture, sharing and transfer

Knowledge capture, sharing and transfer are core aspects of knowledge management activities and, as many knowledge managers know, different approaches are required for different situations and for different types of knowledge.

The use of video to help capture, share and transfer knowledge (particularly tacit knowledge) is not a new idea.  That said it is an idea that is being innovatively used by JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) to produce a peer-reviewed scientific video journal.

Knowledge managers may wish to take a quick look at Jove’s web site to get a flavour (you can see the first 20 seconds of some videos without the need to subscribe) of their approach and for further ideas (try their blog) about how to capture, share and transfer knowledge (in this case the reproducibility of scientific experiments) that is difficult, if not impossible, to write down.


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