KM’s Evolution: the “Connected Organization” and the Emergence of Knowledge Networks

CHARLOTTE, NC. April 2012, by 

Knowledge Management can flourish in organizations where the interplay of ideas is valued, where insights are prized as critical raw materials. Unfortunately, that’s not in enough places.  KM, as a practice, remains mired in old thinking.

Let’s take a fresh start:

It’s time for KM practitioners to start sketching out a new collaborative paradigm for the enterprise ..

No small strokes here. So let’s put some stakes in the ground.

For a foundation, let’s return to Ikujiro Nonaka (2001) who gives us 3 major themes that have more relevance today than ever:

  • Flow of Insights, as Process.  The most fundamental change in the KM paradigm must be moving from structure to one of flow as the prevailing metaphor. Insights flow through organizations, they don’t live in hierarchical boxes. When they live in silos, they’re often trapped there. KM must foster flow across silos, and sometimes (with appropriate policy and security) across the firewall. I believe KM’s convergence with social networks helps us think about how insight truly flows, representing a key inflection point for what is possible ..
  • “Ba” as Time, Space .. and Opportunity.  A Japanese term, “ba” can be thought of  (in my words, attempting to apply Nonaka’s) as “favorable conditions in time and space for knowledge emergence to occur”. It could be a conference room, an office, or space by the water cooler, but regardless of place, the chance for emergence is heavily influenced by culture and values. KM practitioners need to facilitate the creation of ba, and I’ll argue that in the 21st century, such places can be either physical or virtual ..
  • Care.  Many (people, organizations) have lost sight of their core values, the deeply felt imperatives that motivate and inspire us to act; in cases where they’re stated, they often fail to enter into our day-to-day use. Ownership and compassion make a difference in KM. Unlocking the value of KM requires a return to priorities, motivators, and intention ..

For a leg up on business context and the value of KM to the enterprise, I like going to Thomas Stewart (2001) with his clear perspective on challenges of how ideas are viewed in the enterprise space:

Value of ideas isn’t taught in traditional economics; it’s treated as a mysterious, outside force .. (but) a company in the information age is really a beehive of ideas, impacting how they should be setup, and run, and how they should compete.

An evolved, future-state KM needs more grounding in business and the business process, as envisioned by Nonaka and contextualized by Stewart. Sharing knowledge (first as insights, then ideas) must become second nature.

The adoption of this thinking has, in many ways, remained painfully slow. Andrew McAfee (2009) helped to set a new baseline for what’s possible, but he’s quick to point out that tech adoption often takes much longer than we’d prefer.

But it doesn’t stop us from charting a course.

Framing KM as a new paradigm allows us all to rethink what happens when insight truly begins to flow more freely through organizations. Hold this mental model:  insights are the raw material of new ideas. New knowledge is the downstream outcome, the catalyst and source of innovation.

We need accessible semantic framing for KM to have a chance.

I like to think of a new, emergent KM as “Getting Smarter, Faster” .. a more conversational, real, and tangible frame for KM and the flow of insights. Many of the terms and concepts in traditional KM (include some used in this post) won’t resonate with C-Levels, including, unfortunately, “ba” and “social” ..

As we rethink the framework, let’s try this:

Enterprise 2.0 may ultimately transform KM .. so that what emerges will be the “Connected Organization” .. creating new chances and spaces for people to exchange ideas and redefine possibilities ..

Connections like these happen at many levels, often spontaneously and in the moment. Email is not effective for this. Encounters at the water cooler leave too much to chance.

Ultimately, we are social creatures. We have an innate desire to connect with each other, and at some level, to help each other. But such thinking doesn’t go far in our commercial spaces.  This is where we need to rethink and apply Nonaka’s “care” as a focus, a priority, a core “intention.” My take on the challenge:

Corporations, in general, have failed to recognize the tremendous generative power in fostering white space and open linkages ..

Let’s take a confident step in the direction of E2.0, taking McAfee’s lead (in my words):

Social technologies offer the potential to serve as a KM catalyst, helping people connect in intuitive ways, when the need becomes apparent .. and we need to find ways to leverage them ..

Collaboration DNA (2012) .. my first book .. is where I’ve assembled the scaffolding for these ideas over the past 3 years. It will be out on Kindle soon. I’ve acquired a deep appreciation of linkage between KM and the collaboration process, and the role that technology can play to transcend historic barriers.

Both KM and collaboration depend on the exchange of insight; both aspire to create synergy from the engagement of independent thinkers; both struggle to function across organizational silos.

Steven Johnson has had many powerful things to say about the flow of ideas of late, but I think it was Peter Senge who first pointed out that KM and collaboration are two sides of the same coin.

Let me tie all this together:

KM needs to traffic in the flow of insight, building formal and informal Knowledge Networks as foundations of the Connected Organization ..

Exchange of insights, in the end, is the catalyst that makes innovation happen. Yes, there must be a process, and KM can help us invent the new one. It needs to be embedded in operations. And ultimately, it must have time, space .. and intention .. to flourish.

We’ll be expanding on these ideas here, and elsewhere.

Many of you have helped shape and validate my thinking, each insight a catalyst for the next. Thank you for your many contributions. But we’re only just getting started ..

As always, there’s still much work ahead, and as always, I’d love your insights.

***

Notes: see Suggested Reading side bar re: Goleman (1995, 2005), Kuhn (1962), Senge (1990), Wheatley (1996), Johnson (2010); links to books by Nonaka, Stewart and McAfee are in-line above. 

Advertisements