Tag Archives: Explicit Knowledge

For My Eyes Also (Part 4)

https://www.drillingcontractor.org/optimization-taking-a-holistic-approach-9919

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management. What does it mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (on-line edition) defines knowledge as “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”[1], and management is defined as the “judicious use of means to accomplish an end”. A cursory search of the internet reveals over 120,000 pages which use the term and, of those who attempt to describe it, there are numerous differences.

Karl-Erik Sveiby  defines it as “The art of creating value from an organization’s Intangible assets”.[2] Knowledge Management News says that it is “. . . about connecting people to people and people to information to create competitive advantage”.[3]

Lexis-Nexis, at its InfoPartner website[4], , points to the Virtual Library on Knowledge Management at @Brint.com, where KM is described as “. . . cater[ing] to the critical issues of organizational adaption (sic), survival and competence in [the] face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change. . . . Essentially, it embodies organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings”.[5]

By using this definition of knowledge, it becomes apparent that it is not merely a collection of data or information. The gathering and organization of data, while useful, is not knowledge. Knowledge requires some intimacy, familiarity, or awareness. It is a compilation of experience and discovery, and not a compendium of dry facts.

It is useful to make a distinction between four elements of human understanding, which may be described as data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Data may be described as “1 : factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation; 2 : information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful.”[6]

Using this definition, it is clear that data, by itself, is of little use to an organization seeking to find meaning in its activities. Data can be likened to bricks, which serve no useful purpose when merely stacked in the corner of the yard, yet provide shelter from the elements when constructed into a dwelling. It is the construction of the dwelling which can be likened to the definition of information, which is, inter alia, “. . . the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data . . . .”[7]

Knowledge however, as we’ve seen, requires some familiarity or intimacy gained through experience or association. Using the dwelling example, we might think of knowledge of our brick house as consisting of knowing how to heat it properly, or recognizing which windows to open to adequately ventilate it. Knowledge is not merely the fact (data) that there are windows or heating elements available, nor even the recognition that opening the windows or turning on the heat will have an effect (information), but the familiarity with (knowledge of) their proper use through either trail and error, or from reading a manual or being taught by a friend or family member.

In an organizational setting, knowledge consists of the proper use of information (composed of numerous data points) for such things as manufacturing operations, sales forecasting, income reporting and analysis, human resource management, and all other activities associated with the successful operation of a business or organization.

As to wisdom, it is not my intention to discuss it, other than to say that without the wise application of the tools and strategies we are developing, all our work will be for naught. We can gather all the data available, organize it until we’re exhausted, yet until we have the wisdom to know what to do with our findings, we will merely be organizing things in different containers, oblivious to their true worth, and incapable of take advantage of what they offer us.

Knowledge management then, can be seen as the judicious use of all information and data gathered by a company as it pursues its vision and seeks to perform its mission. The success of an organization turns on its ability to properly gather data and information, organize it in a coherent fashion, and make it both available and useful to its members (employees).

The difficulty, which Knowledge Management attempts to address, is in the process of organizing and making available all the collective knowledge which will optimize the capabilities of its resources, whether human or capital.


[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, hereinafter “Merriam Webster” [online edition] (accessed 10/28/00); available at http://www.m-w.com/

[2] Sveiby Knowledge Management [online consultant] (last modified April, 2000); available at http://www.sveiby.com.au/KnowledgeManagement.html

[3] Knowledge Management News, Hoyt Consulting [online consultant; (last modified June, 1999), http://www.kmnews.com/Editorial/km.htm

[4] Lexis:Nexis InfoPartner [online info and consulting] (last modified March, 2000); available at http://ip.lexis-nexis.com/

[5] Yogesh Malhotra, Ph.D, @Brint.com [online business reference] (last modified October, 2000); available at http://www.brint.com/km/whatis.htm

[6] Merriam Webster, Op. Cit

[7] Merriam Webster, Op. Cit


Restarting A Knowledge Management Program

Tseng College at CSUN Logo

My Alma Mater

I received my Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the Tseng College of Extended Learning at California State University Northridge (CSUN) in 2009. Shortly afterward, the University decided to cancel the program. Recently, I received a request to participate in a survey being used to determine if it was time to reinstate it.

 
As a result, I not only took the survey, but also shared some of my thoughts about the program and its importance. Today I am meeting with the person at CSUN who is leading the effort to make the determination of whether it’s worthwhile to start up again. I also expressed my interest in teaching a class or two.
 
I’m still quite convinced (at least my interpretation of) Knowledge Management is an important part of how organizations can make the most of what they know and how they use it to further their efforts. It may need to be re-branded, as KM seems to be a term too loaded with baggage, especially the concept of “managing” knowledge. Frankly, I’m not sure, but I’d like to be part of the conversation.
 
I’m not expecting much, but it would be nice if they brought the program back and, even better, if I can play a role in making it truly meaningful and relevant. Far too many think of it as something like library science on steroids . . . and I think that characterization misses the point. I’m of the opinion connecting people day-to-day is far more important than developing a repository of lessons learned and better practices. Not that they aren’t necessary; I just believe facilitating continuous conversation aimed toward more useful collaboration and greater innovation (especially wrt internal processes) holds more promise for most organizations.

Has Knowledge Management Been Bad For Us?

In the world of Knowledge Management, we frequently talk about at least two different types of knowledge we deal with. The first is explicit, or codified, knowledge (stuff that’s captured and, hopefully, readily accessible in some useful form); the second is tacit, or tribal, in-the-head, “between the ears” knowledge. For most of my nearly 15 years of knowledge management practice in the aerospace business I have noted we spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and money working on the former.

At the same time we have continually asserted the vast majority of useful knowledge was the latter. Here, for instance, is a graphic showing the ratio of explicit to tacit as 19 to 1.

For me, this is huge! In fact, where I come from we tended to use an adaptation of the Pareto principle, i.e. an 80-20 distribution, so this graphic helps make my point a fortiori. Now let me get to my point. Last Wednesday (12 May 2010), Rob Paterson published a wonderful post at the FASTforward blog entitled “Have books been bad for us?”, where he discusses the question of whether or not the web is making us stupid, as well as his belief the opposite is true. He argues that books have actually stunted our ability to innovate and create new knowledge. You really have to read the whole post, but here’s a sample I like:

But with the book comes authority. With the advent of the book, much of knowledge development stopped. Only the in group was allowed to play. What mattered was not observation. Not trial and error. Not experiment. Not sharing. But authority. Most of the accepted authority were texts that had no basis in observation or trial and error. Ptolemy, St Augustine and Galen ruled.

Rob goes on to argue, rather than making us stupid, the web is providing us with the kinds of information and knowledge connections we used to have before the book removed the more communal ways in which most of our collective knowledge was arrived at in the past.

So, here’s where I find an analogy to the work I’ve been doing for some time. Much of of what we call Knowledge Management (at least in my experience) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time and expense on dealing with the 20% (or 5%, depending on who you listen to) of an enterprise’s knowledge that is explicit. We work on organizing share drives, federating search capability, and scanning and rendering searchable (through OCR) much of our paper-based, historical information. I’m sure there are other ways in which explicit, recorded information is analyzed and organized as a function of a knowledge management activity.

But I think we’re missing the point about the real value of knowledge. If, in fact, the largest (by far) percentage of an enterprise’s useful knowledge is locked between the heads of its employees and, if (as we frequently say about tacit knowledge) much of it can’t be accessed until it’s required, why are we not spending more of our limited funds on facilitating the connection and communication, as well as the findability and collaborative capabilities of our employees?

I’m not suggesting there isn’t value to content management, smarter search capabilities, etc. I am saying, however, that I think most organizations are missing the boat by not spending more of their resources on the thing that offers to connect their people; to create organizational neural pathways that promise to be far more beneficial to the overall health of the company in terms of product innovation and design, manufacturing processes, customer relations, project management, etc. (or on and on). I am speaking of Enterprise 2.0, on which I will have a lot more to say in future posts.

The problems we face with acceptance are monumental. People in organizations that have traditionally been hierarchical and within which silos and fiefdoms emerge, turf wars and power struggles go on, and people are both kept in the dark and made afraid for their jobs hasn’t exactly set the stage for the trust required to do any kind of knowledge management effort. Nevertheless, if we’re going to participate in the struggle, we ought to be shooting for the things that are going to prove the most valuable – in both the short and the long run.

I’m a book lover myself. My reverence for books is almost stupid, actually, but I’ve worked hard on overcoming it. Unlike Rob, I no longer wonder. I see the web, and the enterprise and its internal network, as the future of our group intelligence and knowledge. What do you see?


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