How We Acquire & Share Knowledge
The amorphous collection of knowledge residing within the minds and computers of any organization is now being referred to as “Intellectual Capital”. The question we face is how to preserve and invest that capital wisely. In order to understand and solve this problem it is important first to understand how we go about acquiring and sharing our collective knowledge.
The processing of knowledge can be seen as occurring in one of four interrelated steps. These steps may be characterized as sensing, organizing, socializing, and internalizing. Each of these steps may be further characterized by specific activities that people engage in to develop their understanding of, and ability to use, the information they receive.
Sensing consists of two basic dimensions, discovering and capturing. Every day we are experiencing the world around us, whether at work, play, or rest. Regardless of where we are, be it work or home, the world impinges on us. It is the degree to which we pay attention to our world that determines how much we will discover, and how much of it we will manage to capture (remember).
In order for information to be shared, or even utilized by an individual, it must be captured. Capture in the context of this analysis consists of placing information or knowledge in a form which is accessible by others. One of the most obvious manifestations of information capture is a report, written and/or posted on an intranet site, This aspect of Knowledge Management can also be characterized as turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. It prepares the way for the next step in the acquisition and sharing of knowledge.
At Rocketdyne, this is done through reports such as Monthly Progress, Inspection Discrepancy and Correction, Periodic Schedule updates, Budget Variance, and others. These items memorialize the analysis, by various individuals, of information gleaned from sources as varied as the mainframe computer systems, their own experience, and anecdotal knowledge learned from others.
Once information is acquired, it must be categorized and fit into each of our personal set of experiences. People who have been at a particular function for a long time generally know more about that function than those who have just started performing it. This is so because “veterans” have had time to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to adjust their behavior accordingly.
They understand almost intuitively how best to approach particular problems and how best to solve them. This is the area in which we develop our tacit knowledge, our knowledge which we find difficult to put into words, but know deep down.
Organizing also has an external dimension and involves such activities as: The writing of reports and presentations; the compilation of data, specs, or rules, and; the maintenance of databases, spreadsheets, drawings, and other documents.
Socializing or Sharing
No matter what our intelligence and experience, we still need to work with other people. Although not true of all, most of us do our best, and learn the most, when we collaborate and work with others. By working together, and sharing our thoughts and feelings, we are capable of looking at problems and situations from many different perspectives.
This is where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When people collaborate, they are generally capable of getting more done than when they work separately. This is obviously true of producing a complex product, and it is also true of understanding
Socialization consists of all the informal ways in which workers interact with each other and share knowledge. It is the tacit to tacit aspect of knowledge transfer. Informal email, conferencing tools, even meetings over lunch and before and after presentations and briefings fit into this category.
At Rocketdyne this activity take many forms and, in some ways, continues on throughout the day. In addition to the ways in which people share information informally listed above, there are numerous conversations which take place at peoples’ desks, over a cup of coffee, or during a cigarette break outside the building.
Once information or knowledge is captured and set forth in explicit form, it is then possible for others to benefit from it. This is done, for the most part, through the reading of reports (however published) and the studying of graphs, charts, etc. This phase may be characterized as explicit to tacit and leads to summarizing, orienting, and personalizing of tasks and content.
At Rocketdyne, this is done in numerous ways. There are briefings taking place on a daily basis. There are Corrective Action Boards, Preventive Action Boards, Material Review Boards, Flight Readiness Reviews, etc. Numerous schedules and reports are placed on the intranet and each product team has its own intranet presence. Additionally, every process has an intranet presence.
Regardless of how we process knowledge, there remains the question of how we actually relate to it and its pursuit. Too often, in our zeal to get through the day, get things done, finish what we started, we fail to take the time to process what’s happening in our lives or on our jobs. By failing to do so, we rob ourselves of the sense of wonder and awe which precedes discovery and invention. A complete approach to Knowledge Management must include an understanding of the importance reflection and relaxation can play in the role of innovation. To do so may require entirely new methods of presenting information to knowledge workers, methods we can only begin to comprehend.
We do know this. These methods will undoubtedly spring from the World Wide Web and the Internet. Already, most large companies are using their intranet more and more to gather and present the collective knowledge of their organization. Both Boeing and Rocketdyne have an extensive intranet presence which includes Vision statements, Mission statements, and items ranging from “Lessons Learned” to benefits information to product part numbers and the Manufacturing Engineers responsible for them. There are pages and pages of content devoted to education, organization, and even Knowledge Management.