Stealth Knowledge Management
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Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,
|As a youth I never understood why doctors had a practice but my dad had
a job. A little older, in my cynical years, I figured it was because they didn't really
know how to do anything well yet, sort of like my sister and her piano lesson homework.
With the wisdom of age, however, came the appreciation that the medical profession is
quite up front about how much more there is to learn - and that the real learning comes
with front line activity and experience - not from books and schooling - and never ends.
"You are what you eat" may say something about your physical makeup, but you are really what you've learned, nothing more, nothing less. Little of what you've learned has come from schools, training classes, and books - most has come from your life-long social interactions with others: family, friends, enemies, fellow workers, neighbors, your tribe, whoever you meet as you travel through life and whatever you do along the way. That's the way you're wired. Humans have been doing this since long before the invention of institutional education, and long before the invention of a written alphabet.
How we learn is coming under closer scrutiny these days, especially now that life-long learning and life-long earning have been closely related - a relationship that applies to companies as well as to people, and to top executives as well as hourly employees. Once the eye of science focused, it found that we learn how to do what we do by talking about it with other people who do the same thing. This is a major reason why doctors like to hang out with other doctors - socializing among their Community of Practice.
But this behavior is not peculiar to doctors, everybody does it: managers hang out with managers, welders hang out with welders, rock stars and fire men seek the company of their peers, and so on. We can't help ourselves, that's the way we're wired. Sure, we all have other interests and other communities we belong to as well, but the one associated with our income generation has a special place.
You are what you've
A group of people bound by informal relationships
who share a common practice, whether it's project management or basket weaving, drag
racing or metal forming, is the definition of a community of practice (CoP). John Seely
Brown, head of Xeroxs Palo Alto Research Center, underscored this informality in a
1991 white paper for the Institute for Research on Learning: "The communities that we
discern are ... not recognized by the organization. They are more fluid ... than bounded,
often crossing the restrictive boundaries of the organization to incorporate people from
outside." A community of practice emerges when people with similar interests
seek each other for discourse, experience sharing, and problem solving assistance. This is
self-motivated continuous learning that has always been present in the work place - it's
not a new concept.
Collaborative learning groups were the formation of informal networks and communities of practice that outlived the learning projects which originally brought people together. These group learning projects helped form the trust and respect bonds across corporate boundaries that are necessary for effective networks that trade in knowledge. In hindsight it would have been valuable for the Agility Forum's staff group to take a stronger facilitation role in the formation of CoPs, and in the creation of a supporting infrastructure of Internet tools.
Actually some of this was done. At the instigation of the group focused on Agile Virtual Enterprise, for instance, Ted Goranson pulled together a sizable and quite active community that exchanged thoughts and emerging knowledge for this area with an Internet list server that the Agility Forum provided. That this community was productive is evident in the uniquely insightful and pragmatic book that Ted's just written on the subject The Agile Virtual Enterprise will be published this September.
This essay completes our look at stealth knowledge management by suggesting a natural, rather than directed, way to create and nurture a culture of collaborative learning, which meets both the organization's strategic knowledge development needs as well as its grass roots operational priorities.
Collaborative learning projects are an effective mechanism for strategic knowledge agenda fulfillment, knowledge diffusion packaging, collaborative culture initiation, and community of practice formation. Communities of practice are an effective mechanism for nurturing a collaborative culture and increasing the velocity and richness of knowledge diffusion. Bundling these as corporate knowledge management initiatives, or even focusing on the formal creation of communities of practice, runs the serious risks of creating bureaucracy, and process for process sake. Just as many TQM programs got enamored with forms and procedures to the neglect of the customer relationship, so too can knowledge management take on an abstract and unnatural life of its own.
The accompanying figure suggests a few simple steps that focus on solving real business problems, not on creating new business practices, or even on changing a corporate culture. The culture change is a byproduct - of doing things right.
Don't attempt to direct and control the formation of a knowledge management practice or the creation of a collaborative learning culture with edict and procedure facilitate them, nurture them, encourage them. Knowledge management activities and communities of practice already exist in every organization. What they need to be more effective is support and infrastructure which is motivated to assist what naturally exists, not to redefine from scratch or import what seems to work somewhere else.
Of CoPs and robbers: too much abstract concept, direction, and procedure robs the opportunity for people to go with the flow of what they already do; tight technocratic procedure will rob the potential for continuously evolving innovation; and a preemptive focus on technology will rob the human element from this very human experience.
RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
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From: email@example.com (Gordon L. Rice) Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999
Rick, "Avoidance of Real KM" and "Implementing Stealth KM" both great "think" pieces - thanks!
My comment: The former paper seems to disparage building organizations (CKO's etc.) to manage KM and nurture COPs - and the latter paper says "don't attempt to direct and control the formation of a km practice, or the creation of collaborative learning culture with edict - so that implies facilitating, nurturing and encouraging km practices in an informal, ad-hoc way. How do you make that concept work in large organizations (in my case government) where we all have distinct, well-defined missions, goals and objectives. Help me out on this one.
The right answer is: Change the mission, goals,
objectives....and culture.... to include and value the concepts of continuous personal and
organizational learning. When you don't have the clout, or the insight (if you have the
clout), to affect the mission/goals/objectives/culture, what you get is a lot of purchased
technology solutions that don't address the real issues.