KM Thoughts

Without a memory you will hunt forever! Started by DenhamGrey on 12/29/1999. This is a rather random collection of my contributions. You may wish to follow my thoughts at PersonalKnowledge.

Otto Scharmer & Lucy Suchman:

working with knowledge

Cop facilitation

Km needs analysis

SwS answers 11/21/2001

What are the 5 most critical issues facing Knowledge Leaders today? [ranked by importance]

  • a) Cultivating awareness of the knowledge imperative and advantage in our connected, global economy
  • b) Connecting (local) knowledge actions with the (overall) business direction
  • c) Building a culture that encourages the creation of new knowledge and making sharing happen
  • d) Moving conversations into virtual space to surface assumptions, improve brainstorming and leverage many to many communication
  • e) Selecting a suitable, stable, scaleable technology to support a people centric knowledge strategy

What are the 5 most critical issues facing Knowledge Leaders over the next 3-5 years? [ranked by importance]

  • a) Taking a successful KM strategy to all stakeholders (suppliers, customers and investors)
  • b) Making knowledge work invisible - i.e. so well integrated it becomes a part of who we are and what we do!
  • c) Building relationships so knowledge can flow, but keeping key inventions tacit to prevent leakage
  • d) Crafting ontologies (taxonomies) so firms can use the emergent technology of meta-inference and apply intelligent agents
  • e) Keeping the focus on core KM issues(learning, collaboration, relationships, dialog, critical thinking) when the next management fad arrives

The fundamentals of KM Brint 06/14/2001

  • Understanding knowledge: What it means, how to work with it, who owns it, how it flows, finding who knows.
  • Supporting knowledge: Making sharing and knowledge creation happen, applying new & useful knowledge level practices, developing & appreciating symptoms and diagnostics. Walking on a different (higher?)landscape.
  • Scaling knowledge: Moving from individual insights, to group validation, to enterprize meaning, and then beyond. Overcoming the 'stickiness' at community level and the 'slipperiness' associated with professional / domain interactions.
  • Speeding cultural changes: Knowledge is closely tied to people and identity, changing mindsets is more than altering process and habits. Making sure we 'listen' and empathize with discontinuous insights, killing NIH.
  • (How to) transfer learning: Making & taking new concepts to action, thinking together, collaborating and delivering to a market that will not wait. Retention, actionalization and embedding not just access & experience.

I really like your idea of balance between insight and organization, access and shared meaning.

KM-best-practices 06/29/2001:

Some things stand out here:

  • 1) Deep dialog, a freedom to 'voice', creative abrasion where both challenge and empathy are high, a value set that includes 'listening' in all its forms as a core practice
  • 2) An executive that 'walks the talk', believes in the power of openness and the innovation that springs from exploration and sharing. Top management that models what they wish to change and see happen
  • 3) A recognition and reward system that is congruent with values of sharing, collaboration, member diversity and group synergy.
  • 4) Appreciation and fundamental understanding of the dymanics of relationships, the changes due to a networked world, then principle of reciprocity and the social capital that drives innovation
  • 5) A feel for the power that comes from shared meaning, co-design, the leverage of an ontology and the potential of shared spaces / forums.

I have seen these come to 'be' in self-selected communities of practice, that support identity, encourage social learning and seek to create new knowledge and relationships.

Knowledge object types: KCoP 06/11/2001

From words to concepts:

When we increase the level of granularity in text processing from a focus on words to working with concepts, we 'lift' the cognition level one step, we are looking at an information rather than a data landscape. There are less entities to deal with, new emergent patterns and exciting insights that come from wandering around a concept rather than a word landscape. Just take a look at what MeansBusiness has done here in the business content world!

From concepts to knowledge objects:

Now say we use a finite number of knowledge objects as our representation? and we start to work with:

Patterns: optimal solutions to recurring issues / forces
FAQ: answers to common questions
Descriptive enumeration: situation descriptors
Profiles: collections of pointers around object or people
Distinctions: differences that make a difference
Best practices: what is known to work
Lessons learned: things to avoid also called anti-patterns
Problem / solution pairs: working answers to recognized issues
Stories: about people, equipment or process / management

Each of these 'knowledge objects' is then a validated enscapulation of local experience and expertise. Representation has moved from the individual to community levels in terms of ownership, validation, alignment. At this level, we already have shared meaning, reification and distributed understanding as by products (otherwise the proto- object withers & dies!). The next step is to build an object level ontology so we have standards and interoperability.

So if we apply inference, (event, activity, time, spatial logic & dependency reasoning) at this higher level, and go across object types, will we not bootstrap ourselves to a new landscape?. It is kind of like Ed's observation that natural language evolution is slow in comparison to computer langauge generations where we can leverage interactions with artifacts and embed functionality and tacit meaning in our digital creations.

Distinctions: 06/03/2001 Brint

Why make distinctions (between information & knowledge), when all we need to do, is look at what works and move along from there!

The answer is: without distinctions we will not know what we have missed!!. We can then continue So who cares if we have missed something, if what we have works?, here lies the rub. What if, what we missed, is better than what we have?

Distinctions, creating something new (even if it is only cognitive or linguistic), drawing our attention to a difference, this is where all discovery and new stuff comes from, distinctions give rise to new questions, questions drive learning. This is the knowledge wellspring. If we work backwards (induction?), we will never make those discontinuous leaps, gain those special insights and if we extract successful patterns / rules / clusters from what works, are we not also making a type of distinction?

Why are all the distinctions and definitions proposed in various scholarly and practitioner literatures inadequate? I think we have not been aware of all of them, or even considered them as different, so we have not wrestled with their meaning, and asked in a honest way, what they really can contribute in our context?. In this way, distinctions from the literature have had no (or very little) deep meaning for us (yet?).

Making distinctions, proposing new ways to look at things, postulating 'real' differences, grouping and separating, looking for analogy, asking questions - surely these are some of our primary knowledge creation & learning practices!

DIK again!!: 06/04/2001

I do not see a sequential progression in data ==> information ==> knowledge ==> understanding / wisdom as the key feature here. To me there is recursion, and placement along this 'trajectory' is very context dependent.

There are however core qualities around these concepts that make the distinctions useful. It helps to recognize the boundaries are fuzzy and the overlaps may be large at times. Mostly I liken this to the futility of drawing a line in the sand when you know the tide is approaching. It helps to have a picture of what is at the core but to know things will move!

The key, to my way of thinking, is to highlight the subtle role played by context, framing and shared meaning when moving between these DIK concepts. Let's examine these core qualities and assumptions:

Data:Facts, perceptions, measurements, observations. Assumptions are: we have shared meaning and values. We need to validate measurements checking for reproduceablity, consistency, veracity AND we need to understand the axioms to appreciate the value. There is NO stand-alone data! to get data, there must be prior agreement on what is important, how it should be captured, measured, recorded and represented.

Information:Arrangement, aggregation, abstraction from data and past experience. Here knowledge of purpose and needs of audience / user is key, visual display plays a huge role. We are interested in trends, patterns, sequence, clustering. We apply a model and see how well the data points fit. There is a message, explicit or implied behind all information. The questions we ask about information shift from those we are concerned with when loking at data, i.e. now we focus more on intent, ownership, application, interpretation, extrapolation. At this point we are evangelising a message.

Knowledge:Social validation, utility, uniqueness, shared meaning, understanding and acceptance are key attributes. Knowledge is 'local', tied to community and conformance. What counts and survives depends on if it works, and how useful it is. Knowledge has qualities associated with relationships, people, flows, interactivity and emergence. It comes from a distillation of local experience, must survive informal social validation and may exisit in tacit forms or be embodied. Knowledge also captures shades of awareness and the ability to act from experience and intuition without explicit recall of (first) principles. The key to knowledge is communication, community, people and relationships.

I will leave wisdom to those that are wise.

KM & creative design 05/01/2001

KM in design consulting will differ very little from KM anywhere me thinks. It is still around speed & access to ideas, a 'Ba' to encourage risk taking and an identity to experiement. Here are some thoughts:

  • 1) Maintaining a wide network of weak ties will help to speed the group to sources of new ideas. The key is making connections, exposure to fast feedback and acceptance of diversity.
  • 2) Building a culture of contributing and sharing conceptual ideas will be key, look at individual vs. group recognition and reward systems very closely.
  • 3) 'Creative abrasion', deep dialog, diversity of cultures, cognitions, values and personal styles / networks are main plays.
  • 4) Sculpture an environment (Ba) or culture that encourages experimenation, 'falling forward', learning (& recovering) quickly from mistakes and breaking from disciplinary mindsets.
  • 5) Reflecting, mining and extracting underlying patterns, making distinctions a habit, building a set of flexible principles and having a pattern language could be competitive differentiators.
  • 6) Do not underestimate the role of language as a tool, the correlation between language experimentation and creativity is strong enough to make this a focus point.

KM here will be less about 'engineering', building repositories or installing fancy systems and more around social networks and social capital. Rather than having a repository of best practices, stock your helpdesk tool with metaphors and analogies to spark creativity and stretch thinking!!.

Two resources come to mind:

Here is an interesting article where Hargadon & Sutton, HBR May/June 2000, 157-166, talk about keeping ideas alive by encapsulating them in prototypes, metaphor, collecting and playing with junk. Stories are recognized as an important representation for sparking connections, conveying values and meaning.

Perhaps, more important that ensuring the flow of new ideas in design, is having practices to prevent killing way out ideas too soon. Living on the edge of chaos, dwelling & mulling with fuzzy concepts and listening without all our filters in place are important.

A true designer will have no face to save!

Ideas vs. solutions: 04/19/2001

Started with a post at Brint have we in KM been too concerned with capturing best practices and lessons learned? is there a tide of innovation attention sweeping across the KM landscape? This has a parallel in the use of questions vs. statements for building alignment & engagement, in static publishing vs. conversation in intranets, in innovation vs. sharing as the focus of 2nd generation KM.

Do ideas just carry a positive connotation, i.e. when compared to FAQs, or source document work. Where exactly do distinctions fit here??

KM tools ontology: 04/14/2001

The elegance of Etienne's schema is in the 'neatness' of his technology categories and their spatial arrangement on his chart. I think we will benefit from following the same route, i.e., craft KM genre which fit our goal and then look for the underlying (emergent?) axes. Coming at this from the polarity axis side, seems to give far too many disjointed connections to the technology genre.

What are the essential or core KM genre?

  • 1) Document / content / publishing management (includes intranets)
  • 2) Helpdesks / customer service
  • 3) CRM (includes sales force automation)
  • 4) Business intelligence (includes technology scanning, newsfeeds)
  • 5) Activity co-ordination (calendars, event notification, PM)
  • 6) Knowledge markets / exchanges (FAQs, bloggers)
  • 7) Collaboration tools (discussions, chat, IM)
  • 8) Community / association tools (membership, content, personal profiles, discussions, learning)
  • 9) Learning environments (assessemnt, tracking, content, facilitation)
  • 10) Corporate memory (conversation & content, annotation, reminding)

Next come environments and enablers:

  • - Intranets
  • - Extranets, VPNs
  • - Portals
  • - Number & text crunchers
  • - Visualization engines
  • - ASP delivery models
  • - Meta search & clustering

Beneath this level we then have supporting technologies:

  • a) Search
  • b) Clustering and profiling
  • c) Asynchronous discussion
  • d) Synchronous conversations
  • e) Web publishing
  • f) Notification & annotation
  • g) Persistent objects
  • h) Privacy gradients & security
  • i) Work flow & routing
  • j) Intelligent agents
  • k) Data & text mining

At a lower level we have:

  • i) Interfaces
  • ii) Algorithms
  • iii) Exchange standards
  • iv) Tools e.g. ontology builders, time reasoners, rule engines, triggers, workflow agents, shopping carts, directory services, encription, matching & reputation calculus.....

Let's get the KM genre level right!

KM Meta Models: 03/24/2001

What are the main models where KM has shown great and consistent returns?

  • Automatic profiling: clustering and indexing of document collections and electronic messages, making content and people connections in-the-fly. Autonomy, Semio, Tacit, Orbital
  • Customer service knowledge bases: capturing solutions to common problems and publishing these on the web so customers can help themselves self-sevice. Think Eureka, World Bank stories.
  • Personalization: serving dynamic content based on web behavior mined from click streams.
  • Collaborative filters advice, recommnedations and suggestions based on similarity measures from a large database.

Communcation and networking 03/05/2001

Seems there is a difference in focus between communication and networking, although the foundational skills and principles are very close, and we communicate to network and communicate via our networks. Let me try and distinguish.

Communication: Passing a message, striving for mutual understanding, listening and crafting (targeting) for your audience, selecting the right medium, seeking to be understood, turn taking and 'floors'.

Networking: Exchange of values, maintaining contact, balance and reciprocity, seeking to extend your reach and range, looking to include as many weak ties as possible, focus on relationships, positioning and connectivity.

Perhaps communication is an investment in being understood, telling, exchanging content and listening, while networking is investing in relationships, building social capital and exchanging value via transactions.

The same basic communication competencies apply, but there are additional key attributes in networking. Wayne's 10 interventions get at some of this: 1) Facility design and location. Placement at natural intersections and designing for 'collisions' 2) Hiring decisions, who and what a person knows more than how they say or deliver it 3) Cultivating diversity and cross disciplinary links rather than segmenting, fine tuning and empathy for audiences 4) Rotating work programs to match and mix, increase the number and variety of contacts 5) Providing regular opportunities for exchanges and learning 6) Building communities of practice to accru trust and strengthen bonding, communication is more ephemeral, once-off, an event related activity 7) Engaging in participatory activities in addition to conversation and dialog 8) Building for the longer haul, in networking trust, reciprocity, delivery, responsibility is greater 9) Outreach to connect to isolated clusters vs. getting attention and passing a message 10) Giving without thought of return, vs. crafting a meme.

I do not wish to downplay communication, it is a key managerial competency. Networking has a different focus, strategy and goal IMO.

Networking skills, like communication, are learned best via example, though failure and by practice. It certainly helps to be around a 'master' and to have a mentor.


Shared meaning is an important goal for any company trying to survive in the slower knowledge economy. With shared meaning, comes easier communication, greater alignment, more profitable identification of gaps, market shifts and competitor strategies, easier cross community sharing and improved awareness.

A key 'affordance' for supporting shared meaning and increasing understanding is annotation the ability to respond to written text, critique, ammend and anneal. Facile annotation speeds idea cycles, introduces diversity of thoughts, supports & improves knowledge claim validation, creates conditions for synergy and helps with the emergence of new connections and knowledge.

Annotation may be a digital Post it Note, a note in the margin, a comment on an instant message log by a 3rd party, a formal critique, comments on a memo, adding new content or correcting someone's spelling errors. What we need is the ability to attach annotations to a wide variety of objects (power point presenations, styled Word documents, discussion posts, chat room logs). Such annotations should be with or without date & time stamps, explicit author or pointers to the source. We should make provision for annotations to annotations as well.

Annotations serve to capture key learnings and to allow the emergence of improved context and meaning. Although the ability to have flexible annotation services is key, it is not the entire story by any means. There must be a culture that supports open communication, a recognition of the value of strong feedback, an acceptance of the key role of validation and critique, before any company will extract value from their annotation services and functionality. Here is an article on text annotation:

Article based discussions from

The irony is bloggers such as eLearningPost do not support easy and intuitive feedback and are mainly a one-to-many broadcast medium or publishing genre.

I expect annotation to be a key KM functionality soon. So what role does annotation really play in your organization and the way you work with knowledge ??

Learning & KM

Mark Mcelroy's concept of 2nd generation KM is interesting. 1st gen. concentrates on information proceses, "right info to right people at the right time", connectivity, software, knowledge processes, efficiency, speed, sharing. 2nd gen. seeks to increase the rate of learning and innovation. The trick lies in linking CAS, LO and KM. this is done via rule sets and Holland's building blocks.

The role of communties of practice and KM has not been well specified (see Richard Mcdermot's CMR & Wenger & Snyder HBR's paper). Does this mark a transition from early adopter phase? There is synergy in using pattern language within CoPs PatternPromises. Are we going to see more interest in KnowledgePractices soon?

Crafting distinctions and bringing forth new worlds is a promising direction for KM. What is the optimum balance between connecting to experts (saving time, access to filtered information, being asked the questions that matter) and developing group ideas without 'contamination' from mainstream memes? Analogy to population gene drift.

What is the connection between Complexity and KM?

KM future

What is the role of e-commerce or CRM and KM? Will e-commerce take the heat & hype away from KM for a while? what are the main synergies and leverage points between E-com and KM?

Are we coming to the end of first round KM and will the future drivers be around learning, coping with complexity, continuous innovation, awareness sensitivity and business intelligence?

Stuff from SwS Delphi

Here are some best practices associated with KM

  • 1) Facilitate access & acquisition: supports exposure to ideas and creates awareness, this goes beyond pull and push to active involvement of people in determining and evaluating their current information needs. It would include some proactive pushing of ideas, contacts and papers not requested by users, to increase awareness, encourage communal search and active mining. In partnership with knowledge structuring, there is a responsibility to see the people & information are easy to find and there is provision for adequate feedback to empower continuous learning.
  • 2) Knowledge generation: here we look to dialog, annealing, inquiry, reflection, and synthesis. It is taking the information, making links, looking for patterns and using concept graphs to identify and close gaps. This is a social constructive process, best conducted in a community of practice where there is trust and reciprocity. In my books knowledge creation is more about making links, altering mindsets, changing beliefs and sharing useful patterns than data mining for patterns in transaction data streams.
  • 3) Mapping knowledge: this is closely related to identifying knowledge. Our approach places the focus on knowledge-related opportunities, boundary objects and leverage of knowledge processes (knowledge levels). Let me explain; a boundary object [BoundaryObject] is a form or artifact that is passed from group to group. It requires some negotiation of meaning and serves to connect different departments, e.g. a purchase requisition or a customer order. Knowledge levels are where we take a step back and ask what knowledge do we have about knowledge? How can we judge, compare, validate and improve our knowledge activity?.
  • 4) Knowledge structuring: developing terminology, shared meaning, ontologies, abstraction and editing to make it less context specific and protect privacy. We recognize the importance of translating even between mental models e.g. engineers & artists. Concept mapping and navigation aids, stories, templates and automatic clustering creep in here as well. Ontologies seek to create and share terminology and meaning within a group or organization. This may sound rather pedantic and trivial, but some of the largest KM breakthroughs come from having effective communication and a clear common idea & understanding of the complex concepts we deal with.
  • 5) Knowledge sharing: this goes beyond passive content delivery to support for continuous learning, dialog, to surface assumptions, systems thinking to help elicit mental models, backboards to co-ordinate and collect and a pattern language to promote effective communication. Sharing knowledge means you have a duty to assist others to appreciate the meaning, to assimilate the concepts and to understand how these can be applied. There is an implied reciprocity and deeper level of engagement here than just publishing your words.
  • 6) Empowering learning: this is different from knowledge generation although closely related. We look at learning histories, best practices, left hand columns, personal journals, project reviews and distance learning here, recognize the value of deep dialog, the key role of quality questions and the importance of learning in community. Here is a paper I highly recommend that sets the landscape for learning:

Here are my take-aways from this article:

  • Prior beliefs are impervious to 'teaching as telling' The meaning and sense we make is highly colored by prior experiences and emotional dispositions
  • Learning is a whole person activity centered around inquiry
  • Intelligence is not fixed at birth, it is plastic and molded early by an environment that encourages inquiry and experimentation
  • Stress & threats reduce learning
  • Apprenticeship is a cohort activity & engagement
  • We need to change from teacher-dependent to continuous learning communities FAST
  • Ask powerful questions, connect in community and practice empathetic listening.

The key to powerful learning requires building connections between cognition & the workplace (situated learning), deep learning is portfolio building, ownership, practice, seeking meaning, reflection and social negotiation.

Deep Dialog

Ever been a participant or bystander when there is deep dialog?. If you have had the good fortune to experience this quality you will remember the clash of ideas, the tension, the strong drive for discovery and the open sharing.

Deep dialog is:

  • 1) A spirit of genuine quest, when we add a goal,have an agenda, select members or impose timeframes, we surrender the freedom to explore.
  • 2) Most of us use our energy to build and sustain our personal identity (a false image of ourselves!), we operate from unexamined, fixed and non-negotiable positions. The power of dialog brings these assumptions, positions and tacit beliefs into the open for examination.
  • 3) The road to meaning is a rhetorical environment that encourages critique, rather than exploring and holding multiple views we most times rush to resolve them.
  • 4) Discussion that holds value, is of necessity, messy, full of self-interest (advocacy) and always under tension. Insights do not emerge from logic, ordered sequence, rules or formal agreements, they are born at the edge of chaos.
  • 5) Real-time discussion develops by addition and accretion rather than synthesis and categorization, reflection, interpretation and emergent meaning; it takes second place to maxims, truisms and repetition. Immediacy often reigns over reflection.
  • 6) Deep dialog is not characterized by a specific method, technique, style or format; but is an attitude, an orientation that emphasizes meeting the needs of the participants.
  • 7) Deep dialog is a rhetorical competency, it is the ability to argue, discuss, debate, confer for advice and exploration, it goes beyond gathering information and articulation of a position to enter the world of sharing. It involves a separation of ideas and identity and understanding of position as something other than personal opinion.
  • 8) The great advantage of asynchronous conferencing is backing-up, the opportunity to re-read, contemplate reconsider and reflect on earlier statements (something we very seldom do!)

Sharing about sharing

I have been invited to prepare an outline for a course on knowledge sharing for a client. This company is in the information services industry, they wish to offer a 2 hour course to their consultants that will improve their softskills, make them aware of the benefits of engagement and ways to share knowledge with their clients.

They hope the course will deliver noticeable benefits in terms of: 1) enhanced perception, their consultants often operate in highly competitive IS shops and wish to be seen as being open, innovative and potential knowledge sharing champions.

2) equiping their consultants with the knowledge and the practices to enable them to 'practice what they preach', take an active role in and introduce knowledge sharing iniatives to the workplace (if required)

3) exposing the participants to the latest ideas and software for knowledge sharing, providing a repertoire of strategies and a repository of 'best practices'.

There is an opportunity to add more specialized courses, if this first module is well received and effective, such as, ontology development, virtual community management, strategic discussions, generative conversations and for more detailed workshops on competencies such as dialog and on-line facilitation.

The course is given in the evenings (6-8pm) and must allow for a maximum of 20 participants. Not all their consultants have internet connectivity from home right now, although the company is working hard towards this goal.

This IS service company has 600 consultants and the course will be offered in competition with other softskills training such as change management, communication skills, effective consulting, leadership development, stress & time management, building credibility in the workplace, conflict resolution.

In place of the f2f courses the consultants can obtain self-paced video and audio tapes and subscribe to CBT. There are two other vendors already offering the face to face classes. I would be a late entry and have to convince the client I have something extra to offer, ensure my IP is not taken up by the existing courses.

Knowledge structuring

Every person involved with knowledge needs to have some background or awareness in structuring information. We structure to be able to search and find, to reduce the number of terms we work with to a manageable number, to be able to navigate, to collect common meaning, to show relationships.

Structuring is so basic we often are not aware it is going on. This may take the form of rules, patterns, mental models or be the categories we view the world from, or simply a list to focus attention. Structuring adds focus, generalization, abstraction, preference (order of terms), provides sanction to certain symbols.

Structure can be expressed by association: i,e, semantic, spatial, temporal, or affinity / proximity, by show the hierarchical connections and captured in a meta statement. Interestingly enough I very little about structure, ontology development, visualization or clustering in the more recent KM literature. We are seeing some interesting tools which can cluster automatically and adjust the link strength depending of useage

How do you personally keep track?, reduce the many items that float over your desk?, keep your system within bounds?


We each have a private ontology, it consists of our preferred categories, names, the way we see the world. Now if we could find a way to share those insights we could improve communication, look for gaps, explore opportunities and search for synergies.

How do you approach you private ontology?, do you have one all embracing world view or many domain specific categories that require you to change hats as you move from community to community or when entering a different subject area?

I have been looking at ontologies around KM tools and see this a useful way to do in-depth technology comparisons. KmOntology

Visual conversations

Carol kindly supplied this link in another conference:

The article examines ways to looking at posting activity in chats and asynchronous conferencing using colors, proximity and graphs to show posting patterns by time and author.

I have long been interested in examining discourse patterns, but looking at a finer granularity than posts and people as the article does, (although even at this level there are some interesting emergent patterns). There are also some very interesting patterns when you look at speech acts or extracted concepts and how these are linked, cross referenced and who is contributing, linking and lurking.

We have very few tools to help us 'see' beyond the formal explicit structure provided by web conferencing tools and I would love to see some additional functionality that helps users gain an idea where the action is or where quiet reflection is the order of the day.

Idea generations

Would we build shared understanding faster if we supplied regular summaries or if we had time-limited events? I guess the essential question is, will ideas (or memes) develop faster, be richer and go further, if we force the generations to turn over quicker? This assumes you buy into the notion of an idea birth, development (mutation?) and retirement / death in the first place.

What I'm trying to understand is the value of regular summarization to those participants already in the conversation? I can easily see the value to new arrivals and can appreciate the need to have diversity and participant churn.

For my money it goes around the practice and value of reflection and the opportunity afforded for novel insights by a good summary. What happens if the role of summarization is rotated in the group rather than falling on the single (same) shoulders each time?

Knowledge meta-practice

Thinking about how consulting firms approach KM, I have come up with these 3 major approaches. Please tell me what you see.

  • 1) Technology. A focus on architecture, data mining, document management, intranets, publishing, repositories, pattern discovery, helpdesks, automated profiles, ERP. This slant accepts knowledge as an object and puts great store on the capture, storage, dissemination route. Here knowledge is regarded as a thing or object, that can be exchanged, used, has value in the market and can be clearly (and completely represented?) e.g. by rules patterns. claims, memes
  • 2) Process. An emphasis on workflow, orderly progression, validation of knowledge claims, dominated by theory e.g. triads, patterns, dialog. There is focus on sequence, roles and deviations, documentation and default scripts and schemata. At a macro level there are many firms that have the conception of capture, structure, store and publish as the core way to deal with knowledge. A Focus on repository, order, reuse, roles, workflow, activities, hand-offs, authority and verification. Reification is strong here.
  • 3) Ethnography. This is the softer approach, focus on communities of practice, situated learning, understanding the culture, larger emphasis on relationships than algorithms and inference, inquiry, reflection and learning are core. The way here is support rather than process imposition, discovery of 'natural' ways in place of theory dominated dictates. A focus on networking, creative abrasion, diversity, connections. More about breaking mental models than aligning with them. Serendipity, weak links, synchronousity and chance play larger roles here.

KM consulting firms also show a variety of orientations and beliefs:

  • a) leverage through reuse. KM gems lie in orderly capture, fast and effective distribution and in rewarding those that reuse rather than re-invent. This approach places great store on the time, staff and opportunity costs associated with waisted re-invention.
  • b) Leverage via innovation. Capturing first mover advantage, staying at the bleeding edge, a core belief that invention rather than follower and discontinuities count far more than incremental progress. KMCI is a classic example here.
  • c) Leverage via collaboration. Look to relationships, community learning, alliances and partnerships or joint ventures as the way to capture additional and scare knowledge. Often this is driven by experiences with collaboration (groupware) tools.
  • d) Leverage learning. Appreciation and benefits of accelerated learning, importance of knowledge practice in learning. Role of context and environment in learning, reading the signs and planning appropriate interventions.

Many consulting firms make explicit choices for their clients based and biased on their experience with one or another of these approaches as the dominant way to go.

Henry Mitzberg and Ludo Van der Heyden (INSTEAD) have an interesting article in the latest issue of HBR (September / October, 1999 pp 87-94) "Organigraphs: Drawing how organizations really work. They take the tack that organizational charts are old hat, only show formal reporting relationships and do not depict how the firm works with information or knowledge. Nothing new here, but I guess the attention and IC from publishing in the Harvard Business Review will help to raise awareness that alternative ways of mapping can be very informative.

As far as I can see, our current practices of knowledge mapping go way beyond what the authors suggest, i.e., presenting advice nets, authority and workflow graphs, boundary object trajectories, learning & support inventories and relationship audits. I missed any reference to some of the exciting ethnographical work from IRL and Xerox PARC, using the data to identify emergent communities of practice and their approach seemed to gloss over the considerable work in social networking e.g. Wellman, Haythorthwaite, Lave and others. There is an on-line discussion currently under way here:

I would venture to suggest the focus should rather be on charting flows & relationships than searching and modeling informal organizational structures, a subtle but key distinction IMO.

Maps & value

Questioning the value: I'm a little in the dark with your question here. Does your uncertainty relate to the utility of organigrams? or are you uncertain about knowledge mapping in general? A knowledge map, if I may start there, is simply an easy way to portray relationships, flows and locations of intellectual capital, data and information. A well-designed map will help you 'see' dependencies, sequential activities, key points (hubs) and should help you spot gaps and useful connections that are currently missing. This type of information is difficult to portray in text and can be neatly positioned in a map format where you can use color, size and spatial distance to mean and show different attributes.

Organigrams, I'm less certain about the value here, as the emphasis is on surfacing and identifying informal network structures. Can see where this may help with finding core and peripheral members of communities of practice, may suggest ways to streamline workflow and shorten lines of authority or provide a picture of changes in organizations over time (hierarchies to networks).

Can you be more specific about your reservations? I may have some better answers.

Questioning measurement

Let's say you belong to a company that has a very financial mind set. The standard practice at budget time is prove the ROI or loose!. You are championing intangibles such as learning, knowledge sharing. collaboration, communities of practice. These are very very difficult to quantify in the traditional ROI model. You are between a rock and a hard place!, either you have a weak case or you have to make (and sell?) some very strong assumptions.

Back off and look at your company in the larger knowledge based economy and as a player in a local knowledge driven segment or ecology of that market. Do you not run the risk that your quantification and financial ROI mind set will prove to be dysfunctional?

May you not find that companies that have a less rigid approach to ROI and who are less risk adverse will pass you by, they will capture first mover advantage, prototype, experience their mistakes and move on at a faster clip than your company?

I think excessive reliance on risk qualification and ROI justification works against you in a highly dynamic, very flexible knowledge driven marketplace. This is not an endorsement for taking wild and 'stupid' risks, it is a recognition that hard ROI decision making models may not be the most effective or efficient way to proceed in out knowledge economy.

Categories & classification

Classification & consequences:

Have started reading the new book by Geoff Bowker and Susan Star, 1999 called "Sorting things out". They answer key questions such as:

  • What work do classifications & standards do?
  • Who does the work?
  • What happens when things do not fit?

Categories are pervasive, one of the 'primitive' conceptual tools we all use to make sense of our world. The authors look at the social context of classification and make the connection with distinctions and CoPs (p 293), pointing out the paradox that the closer you are to the CoP core the less you tend to question the strangeness of it's naturalized categories. Membership can then be measured by the degree of familiarity with objects in terms of the CoPs self-designed categories. There are interesting sections on boundary infrastructures, politics of boundary objects, marginality and categorical work.

The authors bring another perspective to CoPs, i.e. the ecology and ethnography of objects, working classifications and how categories are tied to people. This work compliments the membership, learning and meaning approach of Wenger by taking a closer look how objects, representations and culture are balanced. Our community would be richer for an inquiry that explored the issues raised here. As the authors state: Every hypertext link creates a category!

  • Hyperlinks & categories: The authors are saying every link reflects a judgement between two or more objects in terms of: similarity, functionally linked, linked as part of an unfolding series. When the link is presented you too have a choice. Each link tells us something more about the author (or the automation!) that created it. Star & Bowker are making us aware that we take many standards and classification to granted, they have become 'situated' and drop off our radar screen until we hit a breakdown.

So a category is a judgement call for the makers of the classification and it presents a choice for all the users, who gain either processing power from the typing or struggle with a poor fit, landing in a place they do not understand or make an inference that may not be supported.

This book was a wake up call for me, I have always been aware of the power and the pitfalls of strong categorization, I guess a throwback to my soil classification days, but Browker and Star have brought home very painfully the human side of classification e.g. with their chapter of race classification in South Africa.

Anyone working with knowledge should acquire a sensitivity to the invisible categories.

Between explicit & tacit: that 'grey' area

  • 1) tacit vs. explicit knowledge
  • 2) the influence of 'culture' (support, trust, open communication, favoring thoughtful dissent...) on knowledge articulation & sharing. Let's see.

There is confusion in the KM literature, marketing hype and conference conversation about the line between tacit and explicit knowledge. I agree with Barbara if tacit knowledge is 'what you know and cannot tell' then making tacit knowledge explicit does not make sense. There is however this grey area called implicit knowledge.

Implicit knowledge (anyone suggest a better term?) is knowledge which can be articulated and shared, but it only emerges through dialog, group reflection and via social interaction. It is not something you can just 'spit out', verbalize, sketch in finished detail or type without revision. This is the action KM is after, this is where your CKO is looking for his value add, here is where the software vendors believe they are helping you to share you so called 'tacit' knowledge.

What does this implicit knowledge look like? It is the gems and nuggets the knowledge engineering folks dream of, the heuristics the expert system builders prospected for, it is the personal 'knowledge' that makes things happen. Most often this implicit knowledge is complex patterns and environmental triggers that are associated with interventions judged to work through experience or observation. Tricks, short-cuts, cheat sheets, 'gut feelings', poorly articulated personal rules, ill-defined distinctions, personal categories. No scientific experimentation here, no structured inquiry, no null hypothesis, rather we now have, informal aggregation, fuzzy classifications and weakly tested assumptions and many opinions.

It is in this area of implicit knowledge that you can find psychological & social tools and processes to help articulate, structure and explicate your insights. Structured inquiry, triadic elicitation, repertoire grids, associative networks, concept maps, sociograms and much more. Here is a partial inventory:

There is no doubt in my mind, that culture is the key to making knowledge work, that creative abrasion, falling forward, prototyping, learning from errors, joint inquiry, deep reflection and social critique are what drives knowledge creation. To have this you need that freedom to speak, the 'floor' to articulate and leverage reach, the knowledge of peer interests to bounce ideas against, the personal identity to risk and the community to make it happen.

There seems to be value in playing in this grey area. Learning and scaling true tacit knowledge may not be worth the time or the trouble, it is just too deep, too intractible, too 'close' and too poorly-structured to give an economic return.

None of this invalidates a knowledge strategy that is centered around people, for tacit knowledge is clearly the wellspring that feeds implicit knowledge. Recognition that people have a store of embodied knowledge that needs a culture to develop and this can be nurtured & articulated in community, remains the key principle. Perhaps KM will come around to this realization only after they have 'exploited' implicit knowledge stores and need more 'fuel' for the knowledge economy!!

From tacit to explicit

Tom and Barbara, I do not hold with hard and fast lines between tacit, implicit and explicit knowledge. Clearly there are competencies and knowings which are very difficult to make explicit e.g. how to ride a bicycle. There are others that are helped by open communication in community and over extended periods. I do think once I have made my 'knowledge' explicit shared an experience, an opinion, written it down, that what passes between us is information.

This 'deep' communication will certainly be information to an outsider, anyone who does not share our history, language, meanings and distinctions. Now does this imply that as our community progresses and our exchanges continue we will move from an information to a knowledge exchange? I doubt it. The basic operations of filtering, selection, codification and then interpretation still hold.

Another aspect is the qualitative difference between knowing and doing. I can explain, preach, teach, present, but unless you experience, apply, practice, do and teach it, will you ever really know? So, although a strong advocate of dialog, I'm not entirely convinced you always transfer quality knowledge this way. More likely we help to make each other aware, inform, change beliefs and values sometimes, but we struggle with a transfer of practice and competence in doing.

Knowledge, doing & talking

Barbara Smith and Tom Sudman pose very interesting questions let me paraphrase: If we only trade information, how can we discover knowledge? (Barbara) Does knowledge emerge only through doing and not through talking? Is talking also a form of doing? (Tom)

For me, knowledge emerges when we interpret the information. Knowledge requires some measure of social interaction, individual interpretation may lead to learning, skill acquisition (when combined with doing), competency but without the validation and testing by others, we can not be sure we have knowledge.

We certainly do gain knowledge when engaging in dialog, but it is mainly of the form of conceptual understanding, knowing why, who and what, changing our perceptions and mental models, rather than knowing 'how' which comes from practical experience and more hands on activity.

Tom, I too believe talking is a form of doing, it is the start (wellspring?) of all action and the driver of any activity. I liked this article on the business value of conversations (applogies for repetition of this link)

So we may trade information, but we leverage this into knowledge by practicing deep dialog, listening, suspending, questioning assumptions, discovering joint patterns, validating opinions and perceptions.

Helpdesks in the enterprize

So your firm has installed a helpdesk!, one of those modern technological wonders, you can track the status of 'tickets', you can measure the average 'hold time', you know your first level resolution rate, and you have more SLAs (service level agreements) than you care to think about. Having planned ahead, you have a clear escalation process, you are building and busy customizing a canned knowledgebase installed to bootstrap your 'corporate memory', you are proud of your 3rd tier knowledge sharing and ahead of the industry in terms of mining your call logs for target problems and customers that need training, you are 'proactive' and have reduced calls by putting a FAQ on your intranet (self-help), your customer satisfaction ratings are creeping upwards. Time to ask the boss for that raise???

Consider this continuum: opportunities => suggestions => ideas => considerations => issues, => concerns => problems => crises.

Where does your helpdesk focus? What are you doing to capture informal innovation, keep abreast of subtle market shifts, track customer adaptations and product synergies, act upon market intelligence, leverage your firms weak ties? Moving from solving crises to learning about market opportunities is likely to be as important to your firms survival, future profitability and ability to compete as customer satisfaction, retaining loyalty and preventing re-invention is right now.

As your lowly helpdesk moves into the enterprize from behind the IT doors, give some thought to moving your focus from pressing problems to exciting opportunities. Attention to capturing innovation and market shifts, compiling composite, shared profiles and distributing meaning rather than just solutions may be the road signs to your next bonus.

In my experience helpdesks see themselves as problem solvers, even providing training is off the beaten track for most of them. This is sad and I lay the blame on the 'culture' of measurement that permeates almost all the helpdesks. Their eyes are on the metrics (calls waiting, longest hold time, time to ticket closure....) as these are wrapped around their SLAs.

There is a new role for the helpdesk, but one that has not arrived for most installations yet!, they can act as the corporate memory, connect people to ideas and to people with ideas. Using a help desk for creativity is often the last thing on the managers mind as they have cast themselves in the problem solving / fire fighter mold.

Imagine this: you get a call just because someone is curious, they wish to know more, you have a living 'yellowpages' and refer them to xyz, you help them by suggesting some alternative sources they could try on the internet, together you examine their query from different points of view, you supply them with the company accepted terminology AND you solicit their feedback when they find the answer. There is some recognition system inplace to help encourage contributions. This helpdesk's function is to gather & promote organizational intelligence and speed responsiveness to market needs.

Your helpdesk contains word association tools like Idea Fisher to help you brainstorm ideas with the customer, you can share a whiteboard and jointly scribble a mindmap, you have access to 'canned' stories, analogies and metaphors to help you and the customer stretch your collaborative thinking. The major focus at your helpdesk is to assist folks make connections and meaning.

In our knowledge economy, access to ideas, help with innovative and critical thinking, fostering synergy and collaborative learning, are fast becoming key drivers. This is like driving a car with a geographical positioning system onboard, rather than trying to reach your destination, driving forwards all the while looking through your rear-view mirror. The latter approach is what most current helpdesks really do!!.

Extracting meaning

The February, 2000 issue of Wired Magazine has an interesting article on Autonomy (pp172-179) describing how this super search engine uses neuralnetworks and bayesian statistics to extract the patterns from a wide variety of media. Autonomy is independent of langauge but the usefullness depends on the quality of your training set.

Interesting stuff when you conside how this technology can be applied, e.g. match fingerprints, alert you to interesting newsfeeds that match your morphing interests, point you to people and documents that can help or contain similar ideas.

Like any tool there is a trick and you get nothing for nothing. I have seen reports from folks that consider Autonomy extractions to be very poor but hey did not invest in the correct training for the software. It can also be used to alert one to unique, novel and interesting stuff depending how you describe your preferences.

Expect to see quite a few products spring into this niche shortly, either add-ons using the Autonomy engine or new twists like: That focus on e-messages.

One button, one shop scanner, one friend...

A client of mine had this little ubiquitous button that allowed you to reformat and 'publish' your message to a repository. You were given the opportunity to remove personal stuff and add some context or explanation to customize for a more general audience. They estimated this e-mail enhancement increased the flow of content to their repository (Notes) by 400%. The button was not the driver (their recognition of quality content was) it was an enabler, a helpful tool.

That little button acted as a constant reminder to scan your e-mail and discussion posts for stuff that was of value to the larger organization, nothing like striking while the idea is hot. Most folks do not have the time or they simply forget, to clean a message, place it in a buffer, transfer to another system, navigate to the appropriate spot and then paste.

Tacit's leverage on profiles and permissions will not last too long as control over what gets revealed is a large part of the next generation of directory standards and will take a leap forward with XML enablement. More interesting will be your personal heuristics to what you reveal! So much comes back to identity and ethos. Networked connectivity makes having a sharing strategy more and more important. Hiding behind a selective privacy screen will come at a huge cost, much of it non-intuitive and difficult to calculate as your data gets aggregated, sliced and diced in the network.

Most of us would be horrified if we knew what was out there about us already. When you add to this 'smart guesses' from recommender systems & collaborative filters, you find your friends are telling on you (without knowing it) and your habits & patterns are giving you away anyway. Not so much the case of big brother watching, as big commerce collecting and trading!

Concepts & values

Have been wandering around after they kindly gave me free access to their content in return for a writing a review.

Here is a quote from Edgar Schein's Organizational Culture and Leadership 1992 that gets close to the leverage from making distinctions (p71-73)

To function as a group, the individuals who come together must establish a system of communication and a language that permits interpretation of what is going on. categories of meaning that organize perceptions and thought, thereby filtering out what is unimportant while focusing on what is important, become not only a major means of reducing overload and anxiety but also a necessary precondition for any coordinated action....

Values were embedded in the conceptual categories themselves, and what was being taught was really a category system, along the rules of how to respond.

Working with research teams at Eli Lilly, we concentrated on defining those concepts / topics / issues that really made a difference. This greatly helped with building alignment, promoting communication, allocating priorities, bounding the discourse, segmenting domain areas and surfacing connections with other concepts.

We used PostIt? Notes and whiteboards, traded 3X5 cards and constructed concept maps to bring some sense of order to the teams. Once we had this conceptual graph it was easier to figure where things belonged, what was 'in' or 'out'. In all the teams we ran the themes:

  • The most urgent business of business is ideas,
  • Awareness of our awareness is key,
  • Quality questions drive innovation,
  • Rethinking the role of time, space, mass and connectivity in everything we do.

We strove for shared imagination as the route to shared meaning, I now think we would rather look for shared thinking. Interesting to look back and appreciate just how key those concept building practices were to team work.

Shared imagination vs. shared thinking

Thanks for the question {128} Carol. I see quality questions as being a part of the difference.

  • Shared imagination: A collection of future visions and senarios. As we practiced this, our focus was on collecting the divergent views finding consensus, connections and majority fits. In retrospect, we did not take the time to explore the context, the values and the categories that (in)formed those futures. We seemed to skip over factors of time, place, relevant content and envisioned technology impacts to get to the collection, more a focus on content and capture than the reasons why.
  • Shared thinking: This is more about why we support these views, who we are, where we are coming from. A deeper look at divergent mental models, an urge to dialog to reach understanding, a focus on context, values, individual assumptions and synergy between all those different world views.

This difference reflects an emphasis on accumulating information as the route to knowledge rather than creating shared spaces for thinking and interacting together.

Shared imagination = collection of individual visions & dreams (content with links)

Shared thinking = dialog around individual & group's future identity & being (conversation)

The distinction is not around consensus, but the focus on dialog and identity vs. a collection of individual destinations and linkages.

So I'm in this circle, warmed by the fire, surrounded by close friends, outside the snow is falling, we are seeking to discover what knowledge means and how it is created, shared and used.

My interest in knowledge practices stems from a perception that most of the KM buzz is around tools and IT architecture with too little attention to what we do and how we interact. I like to think we really experience an ecology with a strong co-development of technology and practices.

Reflect, where and how did you learn best?, what representation(s) did you use?, how did the information flow?, what happened to change your POV or mental models?, do you use any repetitive activties, tricks, tips patterns to improve your knowledge?, can you share something on sharing, make us aware of awareness, reflect on reflection or dialog about dialog?

My interests here

Looking around the knowledge management landscape, I see lots of stuff on intellectual capital, knowledge architectures, data & text mining tools, portals CRM and more. What I do not see is discussions around how knowledge is created, how it is tested, how it gets transformed from implicit personal opinion & experience into shared meaning.

Seems to me most KM folks are busy creating communities, building intranets, selling KM consulting, but there is very little going on at the deeper levels. Let's take some examples:

  • 1) How does a group augment and organize its awareness, i.e. practice 'being mindful'?
  • 2) What are the qualities, economic importance and means to improve our collective knowledge?
  • 3) What is the 'collective mind' and what does thinking together really mean?, how can we improve and use these concepts in business?
  • 4) How can we decode the knowledge & realize economic advantage from knowledge embedded in collective practices?
  • 5) Can we gather best practices and explore the way a group can know more than the sum of all the individual members knowledge?
  • 6) Is there such a thing as group consciousness?
  • 7) How can we leverage collective learning?
  • 8) What are effective ways to transfer sticky, situated collective knowledge?

I see a gap in the market for the invention and packaging of activities, games, events, scripts, templates, representations, workshops around these issues that can very rewarding.

A personal view

A focus on process tends to draw our attention away from people. Attending to knowledge, puts our focus on people, what they know, who they are, how they come to know it, how and why they differ and what that holds and means.

I'm interested in exploring ways to work with our collective knowledge, our talk, work, communication and practice are inseparable, we need to talk to improve our joint understanding here. My interest is in learning & practicing 'to be' in collective knowledge, this comes I believe from practice & exploration. An example, if I wish to understand, appreciate and teach knowledge sharing, I must practice it, I must share (experience & practice) to learn what knowledge sharing is. This is why I have an open site with unlimited access. I find it is not congruent to say "I can help you share", but first you must take a test, register, fill out this profile, allocate a cookie, allow me access.....

My aim here would be to get beyond passing information, I'm looking for interpretation, understanding, experience, judgement, assimilation. Happy to go with the flow, if a phone link will work magic, I'm game to give it a try. I'm clear on the aims for me, it is not to experiment with dialog processes, but to experience knowledge practices that holds me here.

An exciting book by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid is due for release tomorrow "The social life of information" looks to be a classic in making clearer distinctions around information & knowledge, highlighting the role and importance of practice for learning and networks for knowledge flows. Some of these ideas come from their work.

Process & practice

Here are some of the distinctions I make with the help of the Xerox PARC folks: Process: 1) Emphasis on inputs and outputs, efficiency, faster, better, cheaper 2) Focus on sequence, flows and connections between activities & functions. What Brown & Duguid call 'linear' 3) Concentration on information for co-ordination. 4) Narrow focus where the work is well-defined, easy to measure, predictable and boundaries are clear. 5) Good business areas to implement strong process are: procurement, shipping, warehousing, receiving, billing. 6) Rules work, coherence is key, workflow is everything! 7) Design is the dominant paradigm and re-engineering works

Practice: a) Context is king, a holistic POV is valued b) Behavior is poorly regulated and prediction is uncertain c) There are wider concerns than economics and efficiency e.g. ethics, branding, loyalty, reputation d) Relationships and communication between people are key, Bown & Duguid's 'lateral' dimension e) It's not about directives and documentation but around dialog and distinction f) Meaning, judgement and sense-making over-rule the rules. g) Practice is strong in R&D, management, education, humanities. h) Emergence rather than design is the way to go, follow the flow and be aware of re-engineering side effects (breaks connections)

This distinction is very important when we work with ideas, insights, intuition, i.e. intangibles rather than data, forms, physical objects or intellectual property. This is why quality questions, continuous learning, creative abrasion, situated cognition, safe spaces, learning from failure, diversity, games, concepts, classification, metaphor, analogy and dialog are key issues in knowledge work.

Here is my list of knowledge practices:

We need to be mindful of levels and abstraction when we talk practices as the lines between task ==> activity ==> practice ==> meta-practice tend to be very fuzzy.

When you hear folks talking of knowledge processes be wary!!

Knowledge practices in context: Let's take a step back and reflect on this discussion:

Rainson d'etre or why talk about knowledge practice Perhaps it is just my bias, I'm looking in the wrong places, I do not scan sufficiently deep, or read widely enough? My perception is there is very little detail written on the ways to work with knowledge. So we have a movement starting around communities of practice. When you ask them you get (a) generalities, e.g. build trust, encourage dialog, support group reflection or (b) a stony silence.

I see a very real gap, a commercial opportunity, a personal learning need, a believe the route to understanding here is to explore this topic in community

Example: What are the current best practices for increasing awareness within a small group, a discourse community or a community of practice?

Awareness = knowing what is happening in the world, knowing what is important to the group, knowing what others in the group are paying attention to (so I do not have to duplicate), knowing what our 'scanning' gaps are (no one is interested or competent in this area), developing a practice we share and are comfortable with for bringing in outside information / concepts / insights / people assimilating the 'new' content, making new connections, storing the stuff for easy recall, sharing the stuff outside the group.

Carol I'm trying to say the approach for working with knowledge (and perhaps intangibles) is very different from the way I understand industrial and or business process. Working with knowledge is more akin to a professional practice than a business process. I'm suggesting we buy into this distinction, explore its applicability and richness and adopt it going forward. By way of example, let me add another contrast to practice vs. process. Take ownership in a 'practice' this is informal, often unarticulated, implicit and distributed. This works well as the emphasis is on meaning, making sense, agreeing on judgement calls. In a process, ownership, authority and responsibility are defined, allocated, prescribed, this is essential due the strong focus on co-ordination and coherence, the focus on decisions and workflow.

Lavinia, my context is learning how to work with knowledge, my interest is what we have to do, see, feel, act, and how we need to behave differently, when knowedge is what we seek to create, use, leverage, market, play with.

In an interesting recursion, making distinctions e.g. the practice vs. process in {160}, is one of the key knowledge practices IMO. It is a way to leverage language, build shared meaning, support our identity as a group, improves communication, prevents us going around in circles and over the same ground to get at the meaning behind our important and commonly used concepts, it gives us a unique opportunity to 'see' things in a different way, a subtle competitive advantage.

Making knowledge work

  • Do you formulate vision, develop a mission, craft you goals, measure your progress, reflect on what worked and learn from those parts that failed?
  • Do you externalize this, write it down, keep a journal, schedule a periodic review?,
  • Do you validate using friends and colleagues to see if they agree with your perceptions and can offer advice on the direction and means you have planned?
  • Do you do this in conversation, one to one, many to many?
  • Do you allow time to follow new ideas, is there a measure of flexibility?
  • Do you target certain people / groups (social networking), do you plan and cultivate relationships, do you manage your network to benefit from weak ties?
  • How do you access external information and news? You have a clear list of your information needs? do you balance needs against wants & interests?
  • How exactly do you share your knowledge? What preconditions and constraints do you have?

"I find that today's knowledge workers are almost thrown into a silo of working alone simply to protect knowledge till it becomes so valuable that there is no question its an asset." not sure I'm undestanding your meaning here, can you please expand?

Practicality, principles, process & practice

So let's examine that distinction between practice & process a little deeper. As you experience the knowledge culture within a firm or between firms you should start to pay attention to their behaviors, their language and ultimately their epistemologies. Will you find a neat categorization , a homogeneous mix?, unlikely but you will see a dominance a 'lean' toward practice or process as 'the way things are around here'.

The process heavy folks will talk in terms of flow, coherence, rules and rely on their representations (flow diagrams, software code, policy manuals). When you are inducted, it will be along these lines 'we have an excellent repository of all our knowledge, if you read it carefully, you will understand how we operate around here' Their measurements will be the number of patents awarded, the systems they have for capturing and distributing external information, their reliance on analysis, explicit principles, prediction and their pride in financial models.

Where practice rules, expect to see informality, pride in relationships, belief in collaboration, emphasis on mentoring and personal ties. Self-organization will be a mantra, folks will be happy to live with 'local' interpretations and will see the connections between communities as 'strength in diversity' rather than 'lack of conformance'. More credence to conversation, communication and negotiation as the 'way we operate here', a firm belief in 'free agents' and support for individuality and creativity. A notion that knowledge is found in the mind, the body and the social system, situated, context dependent and shared via dialog. Your induction will list ethos and ethics, culture will be relayed in stories that convey values and expected norms, numbers will be scarce, feelings important, communication central.

Awareness of this distinction will hep you adjust your mindset, alter your body language and allow you to talk the right 'language'. Does this ring true for you?, felt those 'foreign' vibes?, heard that 'different' language?, experienced the 'other' mindset?

More than different core competencies of engineer vs. artist, number counters vs. designers, the distinction between practice and process, allows you to read their 'I know' landscape, plan a course and plot your knowledge related strategy.

Purpose & practice

  • Purpose:

Focus on deliverables, timelines and products. This an intentional community estalished to accumplish some or other mission. These communties are closer to teams, they are often seeded and 'appointed' to accumplish some task. Once formed the community is usually left to self-organize and is expected to proceed with minimum guidance and may only have to report at the end in the form of a report of presentation of findings. Quite often these communities are formed around pressing issues and they may be ephemeral. This is close to what Jim Botkin calls a knowledge community in his book Smart Business.

  • Practice:

The informal gathering of folk to 'talk shop', learn, gather tips and tricks from the colleagues, make sense of it all. NO deadlines, no formal reporting expectations, no explicit purpose although one may emerge from the learning agendas of the core participants. Typically these communities have a core an diffuse periphery whereas the community of purpose is more all core (if you are not here to deliver get out of our way!). A CoP often takes more trouble to support and help newbies, their agenda may be entirely tacit i.e. guided by the pressing and unresolved issues of the individual members.

CoPs may take on shorter projects where a subset will agree to deliver some learning e.g. conduct an inquiry to close some gap or host an informal gathering where 'outsiders' can hear what the CoP has been thinking and doing. This tends to sporadic and temporary in nature as CoP just are not predicated on delivery other than improving the identity and learning of the core participants.

Teams & communities of purpose Teams: a) Limited time period b) Leader & members are appointed or selected c) Set & imposed agenda, deliverables and timelines d) Formed to address a problem or issue e) Clear membership criteria

Community of purpose 1) Seeded and sponsored, i.e. intentional 2) Members are recruited or 'advised to join' 3) Set their own agenda within an imposed framework 4) Combination of learning & deliverables as goals 5) Loose structure (core + periphery)

A community of purpose falls between a team and a community of practice. It is a compromise to increase learning, offer some identity building but is started to fill a gap or to address an issue. At the other end of the spectrum is a community of practice.

Community of practice



members negotiate own learning agenda

no imposed gatherings, deliverables or deadlines

learning, meaning and identity are 'products'

Hope that makes it a little clearer Carol?

All shades

Carol, seems there are many combinations here. Intentionality, i.e. deliberate seeding may be important in the early stages of a community. I tend to classify such groups as knowledge communities (after Botkin). As a community develops it may take on more of the qualities and morph to another form, e.g. a knowledge community can transform itself into a CoP if the participants assert their own learning agenda, a self-selected core emerges and they have a loose periphery.

The distinctions are only useful to use as a snapshot categorization. As soon as you appreciate communities in the workplace may not fit neatly into the boxes and you observe that they do not always stay within a box as assigned you will get a feel for the limits of this typology.

An informal 'natural?', emergent community of practice has the pull on intrinsic motivation going for them. This is a powerful energy in some situations. Interesting observations Terry {178}, need to think through those implications for myself.

Knowledge claims

Joe Firestone has some interesting thoughts about the distinction between information and knowledge portals which he ascribes to interaction, learning and validation of knowledge claims. Take a look at these two recent papers and you will see the great store Joe and members of the KMCI core put on explicit knowledge claims and ways to judge their utility and applicability.

Innovation and KM:

I like the idea of knowledge claims and looking at ways to speed their validation and acceptance within the organization but I do not buy Joe Firestone's "organizational knowledge = validated knowledge claims" as this is way too narrow a view of knowledge and concentrates on a single dynamic where I believe there are many more e.g. awareness or generative learning. How many different types of knowledge claims can you distinguish?

Can anyone steal your knowledge?

In my understanding of knowledge, i.e., a complex linkage between context, information, personal frameworks and social mediation, it cannot be stolen. You may have your ideas copied, your information and documentation purloined or your opinions replicated, but it is not possible to duplicate your 'thought engine', your unique perspective or your ability to make new and more valuable connections. Those last abilities help to set knowledge apart from information and data.