Knowing is half the battle. The other half needs a hero.

Week three

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Does knowledge exist without someone to know it? Will it continue to exist without leaders to champion and protect it?

The vastness of all there is to be known is likely largely virtually untouched. Also, that which is currently known may change. What we “know” now does not always resemble what we definitely knew before or will know in future (Arbesman, 2012). Individuals, teams, and larger collectives may well have greater access to greater stores of knowledge than ever before, yet this does not diminish the leader’s role in protecting access and in some cases, protecting and promoting knowledge itself.

Knowledge Management as a concept was given a name in the early 1990s for purpose of its role in an organization. Unsurprisingly, an article in KMWorld quoted Knowledge Management pioneer Davenport as to the definition: “…the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge” (Koenig, 2012). While the term was coined largely for management of knowledge as a business resource, it applies certainly to broader knowledge collections or even the ongoing evolution of knowledge, its development and access to it.

Knowledge begins as data from which information is extrapolated and knowledge produced. Dixon (2009) described early Knowledge Management as explicit or document based. It then shifted to include experience or people before evolving to the systems, network or collective that it increasingly is today. Knowledge does live in the network (Weinberger, 2011). However, the network includes everything. It includes books and people’s heads. It includes connected computers and connected people. The effect the Web has had on Knowledge Management is to bring everything together and provide access to everything.

Davenport (2015) shared several valid comments on what he described as the death of Knowledge Management. Several resonated, but two in particular jumped out. I used to work for a technology company, which was maintaining and growing a vast collection of knowledge for purpose of working with its technologies. This was 15 years ago, and employees joked even then, though with sincerity, that it was easier to access this internal information by leveraging Google Search than by working through the knowledge store’s own search engine. Thus I agree with the two points around the time-consuming nature of searching for stored knowledge in addition to claim that Google helped kill KM. We were then using an external engine to find internal information, and this issue has only been compounded in recent years as the wealth of externally available information has increased. However, while I agree with points offered, I disagree that Knowledge Management is dying. I argue instead that it is simply evolving. It existed before the term was coined, albeit in a different form, and it will exist when it is no longer viewed by the 90s era definition. The need to learn, categorize, and share will remain.

The more vast the information, and the more information that lives on the Web and any other virtual place perhaps yet to be invented, the more necessary are tools. Web based tools are necessary to discover, filter, and contribute to knowledge. I agree with Weinberger’s (2011) discussion of the shift in our filters. These are filtering forward versus filtering out. Filters are no longer determining for us what is valid and eliminating all else. They are pushing the most relevant information to the front, while all other information continues to exist and be accessible if time and desire allows.

The extension of knowledge is learning. It is doing something with knowledge. It may be formal or informal. The specific percentage for each of the aforementioned avenues varies, but the emphasis is generally placed on informal or experiential versus training. Jarche (2010) echoed this with discussion of the importance of social learning or learning through others. It is the natural next step to enhance the knowledge pool. Dixon (2009) also reinforced the concept in demonstrating her belief that Knowledge Management is headed toward “collective knowledge,” which by her definition is about integrating multiple ideas and perspectives.

While we enjoy the evolution, gaining access to data, then information, knowledge, and we have the luxury of learning about nearly anything, nothing is ever guaranteed. We revel in greater access and see knowledge workers arise. We have the benefit of tools, specifically those that help filter forward what we most wish to learn about. Knowledge itself and access to it will continue to change. However, there will always be need for leaders. Leaders are responsible for encouraging, and in some cases facilitating, collective knowledge. They have a place in what Jarche (2016) described as closing the “learning-knowledge loop.” A leader’s role, whether within an organization or society at large, will always include an aspect of heroism, and Lowney (2003) said it best. Considering the Jesuit as a 450-year-old thriving organization, and with regard to the Jesuit tradition of leadership pertaining to knowledge management, many relevant lessons emerge. Though individuals do have greater access to greater amounts, leaders are needed to positively impact the bringing together of different perspectives, capturing and circulating of best practices, and/or creating a culture that values knowledge in the first place. The Internet is more difficult to dismantle than the Library of Alexandria, but the quest for knowledge will always benefit from a champion.

References

Arbesman, S. (2012, November 5). Be forewarned: Your knowledge is decaying. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/11/be-forewarned-your-knowledge-i

Davenport, T.H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to Knowledge Management? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/06/24/whatever-happened-to-knowledge-management/

Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where Knowledge Management has been and where it is going- part one. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge Management: Where we’ve been and where we’re going- part two [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where Knowledge Management has been and where it is going- part three. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Harold Jarche. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/

Jarche, H. (2016, December 8). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/

Koenig, M. E. (2012, May 4). What is KM? Knowledge Management explained. KMWorld. Retrieved from http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx

Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450 year old company that changed the world [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/

15 thoughts on “Knowing is half the battle. The other half needs a hero.

  1. Nice post…I totally agree with your comment that “…the need to learn, categorize, and share will remain…” and I might go so far as to argue that managers will collect and document this learning, but leaders will leverage it.

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  2. Very nice post. I appreciated the connections you made between the past and present in how knowledge is shared. I also thought you did some really nice work highlighting the role of the leader in knowledge management. One thing that stuck out to me was your description of the network of knowledge. It, of course, lives everywhere. Leaders are not the only knowledgeable ones regarding any topic or subject of inquiry. We have as a society become more reliant on Google searches and other web tools in order to gather information, influencing our decision-making. What about the information in that vast network that is not found on the Web? How we do as leaders inspire information sharing from those who may have information that is lacking in other places and cannot be found by a Google search? I truly appreciated the work of Dixon (2009, 2009) when she spoke about leveraging both experiential and collective knowledge. We would be naive to believe that this will always happen organically. People will not always document their knowledge, particularly knowing that their findings will not remain static. So, leaders must put people in positions to share information and learn from one another.

    Best,
    The Ayes Have It

    References

    Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge management: Where we’ve been and where we’re going – part two [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html

    Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going – part three [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

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    1. Ayes, thank you as always! I completely agree. A key underpinning of my belief that Knowledge Management is not dead or irrelevant is because there will always be some knowledge the Internet (or other system) has not captured. This could be an organization’s internal, proprietary programs, processes, and/or content, or it could be an individual such as you described, who simply does not document publicly/broadly that which he/she created. And I agree with Dixon (2009) in that a key aspect of knowledge creation occurs through the act of collectively sharing, which is unlikely to happen within an organization without a culture that supports/helps manage it and leaders that promote it.

      References
      Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where Knowledge Management has been and where it is going- part three. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

      Julie

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  3. I really enjoyed your premise that knowledge needs a hero to protect and promote – wonderful! You do a nice job of defending the continued existence of KM – noting that it has evolved. You mention categorization as a key function. My company’s “learning management” system – which holds all the resources and programs for employees desiring self-paced learning – was not getting the degree of use that corporate targets had delineated. However, earlier this year, channels were created. Each channel contains curated information on popular topics like communication, trust, career planning, … and more. Use of the LM system has definitely increased since this introduction of channels. New design also makes it easier to both assign to yourself and to specific others. Simply click and the channel is recommended. Yes – this does reintroduce filters – but users seem to appreciate some filtering.
    Thanks for a great blog! ~Tricia

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    1. Tricia, thank you, and thank you for sharing your example. That is perfect demonstration of filtering forward (Weinberger, 2011). All of the information in your company’s learning management system is technically still available if I understand correctly. The company simply took steps to bring to the front that which individual employees or teams might be most interested in to assist with information overload. I believe filters are important, and the best version of these is in helping users discover knowledge most useful to them versus the filters of old, which presented the same narrow band of knowledge to all and eliminated all else from consideration.

      References
      Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/

      Julie

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  4. Thanks for another great post, Julie! I continue to grow not just from your thinking, but your penchant for communicating it so succinctly. Case in point, we shared some similar thoughts this week…and I am ever-motivated to grow in my communication having read yours. Very well done, across the board! Your description of leader as knowledge champion is an apt one. I think one of the great challenges moving forward will be our ability to reconcile the value of different perspectives (as you noted) within a digital environment that seems a welcome host to “alternative facts” and “fake news”.
    -EA

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    1. EA, thank you! And great point… We want to take advantage of collective knowledge, yet we have to be vigilant about alternative facts. I am really struggling with this balance in our current political situation due to a few general, personal truths: I appreciate hearing and considering multiple viewpoints. I spend a lot of time reflecting on my own views and biases. I am naturally hesitant to react to information anyone presents to me without attempting to vet it myself regardless of topic or slant.

      However, I find that with everything being discussed, shared, and declared politically right now, I am constantly in research mode to a degree I have never been before. While I am unwilling to simply accept information as truth or turn off the flow and go dark, it is exhausting.

      Thank you again for bringing that point forward!

      Julie

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  5. Julie – I really appreciate your creativity and insights. Your writing is fun to read and engaging!

    I agree with you about the nature of leaders as facilitators. There is so much depth to the concept of facilitation, and between this week and last week’s tool analysis, the rabbit hole just continues to grow. How do we select the right teams, and how do we find the right tools to connect those teams. Different tools will produce different outcomes in the hands of different networks… and different networks will do different things, given the right circumstances.

    In addition to setting up and maintaining technical networks, I believe that we also need to consider the emotional and cognitive aspects of facilitating in what some see as a “cold” and “emotionless” environment. Do you think organizations are considering the role of emotion/emotional intelligence in the KM /OL context? Does it need to be considered?

    Thanks for your thoughts!
    James

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  6. James, thank you! I really appreciate your kind comments, and I completely agree as to the deep rabbit hole you describe. I wonder though if there is a “right” when it comes to teams, tools, and connections. I like that different configurations of teams and resources will come up with different solutions. Rather than there being a right team or way, perhaps sometimes there is a better or even best path, but more often than not, I think there are multiple good paths that lead to good (if different) outcomes.

    I agree there is an emotional and cognitive aspect and that organizations are considering it. For example, my organization is heavily focused on diversity and inclusion as a core value and business driver. We have a number of knowledge sets and learning opportunities designed around this concept alone. And as one progresses through modules, interactivity and engagement opportunities increase. The best training I have participated in within the last 15 years of my time in the corporate world very much incorporated an emotional connection and talented facilitator. It made sense given the subject material, teaching people to recognize and embrace diversity. Mostly though, I was really encouraged to feel the level of forethought that went into managing this knowledge topic and promoting learning.

    Though Davenport (2015) lately declared Knowledge Management dead, I turned to earlier material he wrote on the subject, and found much of it still valid. Specific to this discussion, his assertion that effective Knowledge Management requires people and technology, bringing their different strengths to the solution (Davenport, 1997).

    References
    Davenport, T. H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to Knowledge Management? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/06/24/whatever-happened-to-knowledge-management/
    Davenport, T. H. (1997). Ten principles of Knowledge Management and four case studies. Knowledge and Process Management 4(3), 187-208. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.cuhsl.creighton.edu/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1441(199709)4:3%3C187::AID-KPM99%3E3.0.CO;2-A/epdf

    Julie

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  7. Julie,
    I love that you connected Chris Lowney to this week’s topic. Your post has me thinking about the Jesuit philosophy of desire and centeredness, while also being a knowledgeable leader. As Lowney (2003) discussed leaders are not only responsible for their own learning, but also for assisting their followers in the process. For me that means that leaders need to help followers sort through the “noise” of technology (manage knowledge) to find where the benefits are both professionally and personally. How do you see or have you experienced a leaders ability to do this? Do you think it is ever truly possible to manage knowledge as a leader?

    Take care,
    Katie

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    1. Katie, welcome! Thank you for commenting. You just inspired me to head over to your group. ☺

      I do wholeheartedly agree that leaders have a responsibility to followers’ learning in addition to a leader’s own learning. Reflecting on your questions, I have not seen a leader effectively manage knowledge. However, I have seen leaders facilitate, champion, and promote knowledge management by creating the space that values knowledge capture, development, and transfer. This might be drawing to fine a point, but in essence, a system manages the knowledge, while leaders manage the system.

      Julie

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  8. Unicorn,

    Great post! The relationship between knowledge management and leadership is important. Chidambaranathan and Swaroopani (2015) suggested knowledge management is critical to organizational effectiveness. I have to agree with you that it is the leader’s job to ensure diversity in information and perspectives in order to drive organizational effectiveness. That said, I think it is tough for some leaders to draw from various viewpoints, even when there are a variety of sources at their disposal. How do you encourage leadership to look for differing points of views and sources of information? It seems to me it is easy for leaders to get informational ruts. In other words, they go to the same sources and the same people.

    Shelli

    Chidambaranathan, K., & Swaroopani, B. S. (2015). Knowledge management as a predictor of organizational effectiveness: The role of demographic and employment factors. Journal Of Academic Librarianship, 41(6), 758-763.

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  9. Shelli, thank you for your comments! I agree with your assessment, and unfortunately, I do not think there is an easy answer. Or rather, it is possibly straightforward but requires work. It strikes me that when leaders fail to access multiple viewpoints for decision-making, it is either a failure of leadership, the knowledge management system in place, or both. Leaders must model the behavior they wish to see and develop the habits that become company culture. They must be encouraged to access an organization’s Knowledge Management system. Then, actively reflect and share learning gleaned from the system, so as to begin encouraging proactive input from multiple viewpoints that may be tapped ongoing (Quast, 2012).

    References

    Quast, L. (2012, August 20). Why knowledge management is important to the success of your company. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2012/08/20/why-knowledge-management-is-important-to-the-success-of-your-company/#1bb3bb515e1d

    Julie

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