Sonntag, 20. März 2011

Learning from failures: Thou shall not make yourself an idol

I am a Knowledge Manager, I have more than 8 years of experience in all kinds of roles in Knowledge Management (community leader, management community leader, community strategy & coordination, Knowledge Manager for a small organization, for larger organizations, global KM ways of working and coordination, KM strategy and evolution), I have the expertise. I have a proven track record and look back on successful implementations. I know what Knowledge Management is, and I know how Knowledge Management works. That's how I got my new KM job.
And all of a sudden I realize, I am in deep shit! It is not working. My KM approach & implementation is not working! And worse, I am not the first one to realize it, I am one of the last.
A painful experience, and the reflection of the failure is even more painful.
What has happened? Some Stituation Analyis: My strength, experience and expertise became complacent. While I was preaching that KM must always be adequate to the business, and thus be flexible and dynamic, my own picture of KM became static.

This is a common failure, a failure of decision makers as well as of experts.
Often when discussing KM with decision makers, they are not dicussing KM (that is a field, where they do not feel comfortable in language and concepts), in order satisfy their need of security they ask for other safety-belts: Best Practices or Benchmarking.
Both of these concept have their justification and successes (when applied with good understanding), but both often express a static picture of Knowledge Management.
Best Practices, their failures (e.g. Cramm, Suarez) as well as their value (Milton) have been discussed extensively elsewhere, so I keep myself short and focus on the language only: Best as a Superlative, when you have implemented the Best Practice, you are done, it can't get better, which is deploying a static picture of KM (many experts, who speak in favour of "Best Practice" and myself wouldn't agree on such a black & white picture, "Best" can only mean for a certain situation ... actually "Good Practice" is then the better term).
For Benchmarking partly applies the same as there is the idea of putting an order of sequence, a size, basically a one-dimensional parameter to Knowledge Management, although there might be no upper limit defined (as with Best Practices), the underlying concept is a one-fits-all KM. A static picture.
Now comes the irony of my failure. For me as a Knowledge Manager it is very easy to explain, what went wrong.
The problem arise from the fact that "Knowledge Management" can mean two things: The idea and its manifestation in time, space, context.
The idea of Knowledge Management you might call static, as my mind at this time is too limited to imagine an economic system were knowledge isn't an asset, and Knowledge Management is the management discipline fostering and harvesting it for the well-being of the company (sorry to say that not all managers do understand this).
As I have outlined in an earlier post (Knowledge Management is dead) this shall not be confused with it manifestation in time, space and context. Often Knowledge Management is taken synomym to its manifestation in the 1990's when it had large scale industry traction and in order to manage the knowledge as asset deployed e.g. IT systems for the first time, tool-driven implementation, mailing lists, taxonomies and ontologies, Communities of Practices - often with rigid governance structures). Rao then has detected a generational war between Knowledge Management and Social Media, which is actually a "generational war" between the KM manifestations of the 1990's (static KM picture) and the KM manifestations of the 2000's. You can quote me that there will be another "generational war" (and war of buzz words), when Social Media becomes old-fashioned in some years - and still corporate aims to manage its knolwedge assets - with a new generation of KM manifestations.
As soon as the business and the environment changes, the static "Knowledge Management" manifestations becomes distangled from the business that it was developed for. "Knowledge Management" becomes an isolated discipline and an anachronism (e.g. Is anybody reading newsletters?)
Idolatry is not a bad word to describe it.
If I look at the topics of this year KMUK conference (#kmuk2011) some of the speakers seem to address it from the organizational point of view.
It is very easy to see the time-dependence of KM manifestations, what we call today state of the art is different from the 1990's, when Nonaka coined the term. This is for larger, locally and time-zone distributed organizations very much connected to the technological possibilities (Web 2.0 technologies is a good example).
Recently e.g. Gurteen (up to now twitter post) and Milton were striking the cultural chord, so I am extremely interested in this. Too early for me to fully understand.
Although the context point of view is to me rather simple, it needs nevertheless always be mentioned: KM justification is to support the business, the business of an organization might largely differ in different industries (knowledge economy or smokestack industries) and also in operational entities (sales, delivery, support functions)
You see the point, as practitioners always have to struggle and master the manifestations of their time, space and context, after some time the shelves fill with learnings, solutions and ways of working, that is the experts bread and butter. And these experts, to be taken serious, shall walk the talk, that is: Re-use.
And now the pendulum in in full swing: static bad! KM must be dynamic, every situation is unique, KM must start anew all the time. Uuups. Wait a moment! Knowledge has no value in itself. Knowledge only can create value. When? When it is re-used.
Also the abstract idea of re-use can have very different manifestations: it can be copy/paste, it can be an adaptation, innovation, the development of a counter solution, competence build-up. To reduce Re-use to Copy/paste only would mean a static picture again.
So my learning from the failure of a static KM picture is not to apply an KM iconoclasm (start from the scratch all the time), but a quasi-static KM picture (you might as well call it quasi-dynamic): A thourough Situation Analysis to what extend the challenge is a known one, that is how much sense does it make to apply a static picture and re-use, and to what extent the dynamics demand development (in Ericsson we call the trinity of Situation Analysis, Objectives and Action Plan the Structured Approach).
Or to be more blunt: if you skip Situation Analysis, you directly jump into deep sh...


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