Monday, November 5, 2007

"Last Mile Connectivity" and Enterprise 2.0

While discussing the idea of what is Knowledge, and hence, what is KM, and from there, the role that KM needs to play in the organization, and whether it does really have a role to play or not, I have come to a point where the perception of knowledge looks like this ...

If the cook-book is information, then the ability to cook a good meal from the cook-book is knowledge. In other words, that knowledge is the internalization, or the understanding, and the application of the information to a particular scenario. Something we could call "last mile connectivity", or the linkage between your computer monitor, and your brain. And, that this is where knowledge is actually generated. And, that managing this part is what "Knowledge Management" is all about. This brings me to something that has been written about for some time now ... that maybe, Knowledge Management may be a misnomer, and rather, Knowledge Facilitation is what we ought to look at. Because, Knowledge Management may be about managing your head, and that is something no KM practitioner would like to do.

And, herein lies the nub. How can KM ensure that the guy (ok, I am being gender neutral here, so please read this the way you would like ...) who is reading the cook-book would be able to make the dish the way it was meant to be, and that the dish would taste exactly the way the author of the cook-book wanted it to taste. While this is great from the perspective of repeatibility, and of making sure everybody is doing the same thing, this may not necessarily be what is intended to be achieved by KM. It is in the differences between perceptions and outcomes, that opportunity may lie.

Let us look at it this way ... Let us say your master craftsman is retiring (thanks to Shafnas Siddiq for the example), and you have hired a new guy to take over. Now, it is one thing to have KT processes in place, so the experiences of the retiring craftsman are written down, documentd, and can be handed over to the new guy, in the form of a set of documents so he can go through them, and is good to go. But, it just doesnt work that way. There could be two ways of looking at this:

Knowledge --> Information --> Knowledge (Externalization, followed by internalization), which would suffer from the fact that everything just cannot be documented, and hence, there would be huge experience loss with this approach.

Knowledge (of A) --> Knowledge (of B) (socialization), which is where we are looking at setting up a dialog, where the picture of the facts, and experiences, is transferred to the new guy. Now, this is easier said than done, as a lot of us would agree, but the fact remains, that this seems to be a better way of sharing experiences (as has been done down the ages ... Guru-Shishya, apprentice ...). This can also be seen from the recent surge in the use of storytelling as a tool for sharing knowledge.

And this is where the current state of technology, and technology and people thinking (aka Web 2.0, or Enterprise 2.0, or Social Computing ... to my mind, different aspects, some upstream, some downstream, of the same concept) can play a role. The way I like to put it ... collaboration, which can be augmented by codification, rather than having codification being the corner-stone of the KM strategy. There is an excellent post by Andrew McAfee, where he has built up a model for adoption of Enterprise 2.0, the theory behind it (a paper by Mark S. Granovetter, titled The Strength of Weak Ties, which even I could understand), and how organizations can analyze the need for social computing, where it should be positioned in the organization's knowledge structure (I look at this as being different from the process or hierarchy structure of the organization), and how the different tools can be leveraged.

The concern ... What the author of the cook-book intended, and what our budding cook interpreted (in terms of the mental pictures they have developed about the process and the activities in cooking the dish), could be very different. Certainly, there would be elements of the author's mental picture, which would get dropped in the process of this transfer, but at the same time, while generating a mental picture of the process, would typically be a little different from what the author tried to convey. Now, this is where opportunity lies. What this means is two things ... One, that the dish would not be an exact replica of what it would have been if the author had cooked it, and second, and more important, the differences might lead to a dish which is actually more delicious. And, this is one of the key ways in which businesses evolve. By a series of improvisations, which occur as a natural consequence of the differences in perception of the person who is speaking, and the one who is listening. This is not to say that there is no value in repatability of processes, but verbatim would mean that there is an absolute lack of variation, and that there would simply be clones ... killing the entire idea of harnessing the wisdom, and the improvisations of the people on the field. And, this would simply lead to perpetuation of a particular way, which would, typically, result in blocking any change to this, and stagnation of the organization. And, as we can see all around us, this doesnt happen, and that is one of the things that leads to evolution of things around us.

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