Tag Archives: Tacit Knowledge

13 Reasons Why People Don’t Share Their Knowledge – and what to do about it

This is another paper I found on my computer. Truth to tell, I have no idea who wrote it. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. I searched the phrase from the title in Google, but could not find anything. Inasmuch as I retired from Rocketdyne (and the pursuit of enterprise-wide KM) nearly 10 years ago, it could be from something I encountered more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, I’m sharing it with the caveat that I’m not claiming to have written it; I’m only asserting it’s an important document for anyone who’s struggling with getting their organization’s people to share their knowledge for the benefit of their company. My experience, as well as my discussion with those who are still involved in the corporate world, is that knowledge sharing is still nowhere near as widespread as I think it should be. So, without further ado, here’s that Baker’s dozen of reasons people aren’t sharing:

  1. They don’t know why they should do it. Leadership has not made a strong case for knowledge sharing. Solution: Have the leader of the organization communicate regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
  2. They don’t know how to do it. They have not received training and communications on how to share knowledge. Solution: Regularly communicate and conduct training, webinars, and knowledge fairs. Web-based training and webinar recordings should be available for all tools.
  3. They don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing. Solution: Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.
  4. They think the recommended way will not work. They have received training and communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work. Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge brokers, and other members of the KM team have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it does work.
  5. They think their way is better. They are used to working on their own or collaborating only with a small group of trusted comrades and believe this is the best way. Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.
  6. They think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority tasks than knowledge sharing. Solution: Get all first-level managers to model knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
  7. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards, recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge. Solution: Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.
  8. They think they are doing it. They are sharing knowledge differently than the recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution lists). Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a “killer app” – it quickly and widely catches on – is the best way for the old ways to be replaced with new ways.
  9. They are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions based on doing other tasks. Solution: Work with all managers in the organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors.
  10. They are punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization. Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals.
  11. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it. They are afraid that if they share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to come begging to them at the time of need), that people they don’t trust will misuse it or use it without attribution, or that they will not achieve other more important goals. They are afraid of asking a question in public because it may expose their ignorance or make them appear incompetent. Solution: Position knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization. Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask in public, and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.
  12. There is no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced. Solution: Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top – if the leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.
  13. There are obstacles beyond their control. They are not allowed to spend time sharing knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of their country. Solution: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email for discussion forums). Encourage those with weak English skills to share within their countries in their native languages.

For My Eyes Also (Part 5)

Tacit Knowledge

There is one further dimension of knowledge which needs to be discussed, and that is the concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge which cannot be put into words. Despite the numerous definitions, and the apparent disagreement of what exactly Knowledge Management is, there appears to be a great deal of agreement on the type of knowledge which presents the greatest amount of potential benefit to a business.

IBM states the issue thus, “. . .lots of valuable knowledge ‘falls through the cracks’ within business organizations, never finding its way into databases, process diagrams, or corporate libraries. As a consequence, much of what the firm ‘knows’ remains unknown or inaccessible to those who need it. Such knowledge is present within the organization, but it remains hidden, unspoken, tacit. In business organizations, this hidden or tacit knowledge takes one of two forms: 1) knowledge embodied in people and social networks, 2) knowledge embedded in the processes and products that people create.”[1]

Tacit knowledge, therefore, represents at once both the most important type of knowledge and the least accessible form of knowledge. It is invaluable in efficiently carrying on the activities of an organization, yet is exceedingly difficult to harness in any meaningful fashion. Even when an organization is able to somehow chronicle the experience of its employees, it does not follow that it will be capable of passing that knowledge on in a manner that is both easily accessible and effortlessly assimilable. Two examples which come to mind from the organization of which I am a part are welding and scheduling.

Welding of exotic metals, especially for components which will be used in manned space flight and are, therefore, subject to the most stringent specifications, is composed of both explicit elements and tacit elements. While the former (the explicit elements) may be capable of precise, scientific expression, the latter of these are similar to art. It is not uncommon to find that a welder has retired and, suddenly, the company is without a person who can reliably perform a critical weld. Immediately, the company finds itself in a position where it must either allot a far greater amount of time to accomplishing the weld, or attempt to lure the retired welder back to perform the weld or to teach a younger welder how to do so.

The second example involves the scheduling of complex, time-phased activities which include the procurement, manufacture, inspection, and testing of literally thousands of items used in the manufacture of rocket engines. This task was performed for years by groups of individuals using hand-drawn Gantt charts. It is now being performed by individuals using a combination of mainframe software (e.g. MRPII, OPT21) and PC-based, standalone software (e.g. Microsoft Project98, Advanced Management Solutions’ RealTime Projects). Experience is showing that the earlier, more labor-intensive methods were, against all logic, accomplished with greater accuracy and reliability.

These two problems point to the necessity of Rocketdyne’s utilizing one of the basic elements of Knowledge Management, that of acquiring, retaining, and disseminating the tacit knowledge, gained through years of experience, of its workforce. This is not the same as simply cataloguing items such as tools used, temperatures achieved, lead time per component, and supplier on-time reliability, nor even placing all this information within easy reach through the company intranet.

Inherent in the definition of tacit knowledge is its ephemeral nature, the difficulty of conveying things which are understood, at times, only subconsciously or of which people are only vaguely aware. This, then, is probably one of the most difficult tasks faced by any organization, given our current state of development in the field of Knowledge Management.


[1] Working With Tacit Knowledge. Horvath, Joseph A., Ph.D. IBM

     <http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html> (undated; accessed October 28, 2000)


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.

Craft Work is Knowledge Work

 

Steady Hands Make for Good Soldering

Soldering Jewelry

 

I’ve been following the action at #TUG2010 (Traction Users Group), reading and retweeting lots of good stuff from @rotkapchen, @vmaryabraham, @jackvinson, and @lehawes. Jack Vinson tweeted “Craft work can become knowledge work. Making it visible. narrating it. He added the hashtag for observable work, #owork, as well – indicating that was the concept he was associating it with.

My initial reaction to what Jack wrote, however, was to the implication that craft work isn’t normally knowledge work, which I don’t think is an accurate statement. Let me also say I’m not sure if Jack actually authored those words or if he was merely reporting them from the presenter at the user’s group preso he was attending and tweeting from. So I’m not taking issue with Jack. Actually, I’m not even interested in who said it; I just want to address the concept of craft work as knowledge work.

I believe all work is knowledge work. Sure, there are different levels at which the knowledge exists or asserts itself, but there’s always some component that involves knowledge; at least if it’s done by a human being. So it is with craft work, assuming I’m using the term in the same sense as Jack or whoever is using it, that is work manifested in tangible items, such as wallets or hydroelectric dams. I think of it as things like welding, carving, painting, growing, etc.

All of these things require a fair amount of tacit (in the head, as we sometimes refer to it) knowledge. As far as the concept of making this kind of knowledge visible goes, I think a lot of it gets transferred that way . . . usually in a mentor or apprenticeship kind of relationship. Making some of it more “visible” can make it more accessible, but there are necessarily limitations.

An instance of this from my life comes from many years ago when I was a jewelry bench worker. The place I was at made very high-end gold and silver shadow-box cuff links and they require some interesting soldering. I melted an awful lot of precious metal before I learned to recognize the colors, smells, and sounds that hinted I was almost at the right temperature and had to back the flame off. I believe what I gained from that experience was knowledge; hence, I was engaged in knowledge work, albeit at a lower level than, say, when I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine team.

Maybe the exigencies of saying something in less than 140 characters played a role in it coming out the way it did, but I felt the need to at least record my thoughts. I believe what Jack (or whoever actually made the statement) meant was that making craft work visible increases its accessibility and, therefore, its likelihood of being more easily transferred or learned. It doesn’t thereby become knowledge work, however. It already is and always has been knowledge work. Anybody disagree? Did I misunderstand Jack or the message he was conveying from the presenter?


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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