A place to share ideas, thoughts,
best practices, and questions about KM in
a government environment
Human Nature’s role in Building a KMS
January 11, 2010 at 9:03 pm #88958
This morning, I responded in another venue (on a different site) to a question about whether or not we are using too many KM technology enablers. One of the participants wrote something that resonates with me ythat I’d like to share. As many of you know, I completed a 2-year KM graduate program at GWU in 2001. What strikes me most about discussions today, is the fact that they have not changed much since then.
People are still wrestling with the definition of KM, technology pundits are still battling about which technologies are best to do this or that, and human nature seems to be in play, but in a limited role. Human nature is often treated as the thing to be managed: get people to do X or Y; if people would do Z, then we could get what we need; or if people would value , then our KM program would stand a chance.
In my experience, it’s easier to change the flow of running water than it is to change basic human nature. In either case, you’re going to have to get wet. Even if we erect boundaries (like forcing people to use one technology or another), human nature will erode them over time if those boundaries are not naturally symbiotic. Why fight it?
Approaching KM from the human nature perspective can yield benefits. Understanding human nature provides the KM practitioner a measure of predictability and confidence. People don’t like having their apple carts kicked over. If you deploy a solution that kicks over apple carts, you can predict that you will get resistance – prepare. People do like to be rewarded. If you deploy a solution that incorporates reward as a component, it will win support – leverage.
Somebody in this or another string made a statement that KM practitioners are not having much luck “managing” knowledge. “Management,” in this context, seemed to me to refer to “control.”
I believe that KM practitioners are like farmers. A farmer does not control the miracle of life or the properties of water or sunlight, but with a little organization, a farmer can yield a crop.
When I approach a KM challenge – whether it is described that way or not – I think like a farmer. People in my target organization naturally and organically want to be successful and grow. Ideas are a natural by-product of motivated people. Sharing is an outcropping of trust, motivation and communication.
I ask myself: Does this environment have the necessary ingredients in the right proportions to stimulate growth? A farmer can yell, prod, bury, squeeze, paint, tickle, burn, or drown a seed all day, but that seed isn’t going to sprout until it is in the right environment. Logic follows: the farmer who can provide the right environment wins!
So what, in addition to the technology enablers, do human beings need to grow? If I were to offer advice, it would be to study organizations that seem to have the right ingredients. Examine the “soil,” the “sunlight,” the “water,” the praise (or lack thereof), the trust, the good will, etc. and become an expert in providing these things – or empowering leadership to provide these things.
This approach also helps you to be able to walk away from organizations that don’t have the right ingredients when there doesn’t appear any way to get them into place. The fact is, some organizations are missing critical elements & no matter what you do, they will never have them if they remain in their current configuration. If you’re powerless to change the environment, you will fail (often, through no fault of your own). Know this, communicate this, and either chose to do what you can to get the basic environment right – or move on.
January 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm #88970
You use two metaphors in your discussion – farming and human nature. The biological aspects of farming provide an easy frame in which knowledge is grown. If we take a cognitive view of that aspect of “human nature” we have a more challenging view of knowledge creation, understanding, adaptation etc. This is probably more of the view we need to take for a long-term payoff with KM, but some approaches may provide useful intermediate steps.
When people are talking about “knowledge management” they are talking about managing the content of documents and data bases and now the assembly of things published on a Portal site. These are all symbolic products of the cognitive system that serve humans in the context of their personal or organizational life which has objectives, desires, intentions, plans etc. But information to be leveraged is usually abstracted away from these essential things. Once it is abstracted out of the human purposeful context it often loses an essential part of its meaning. An example of this distinction, from the literature (Liebowitz, J. (Ed.) (1999), The Knowledge Management Handbook, CRC Press) concerns “knowledge audits”.
As I’ve said, things like Portals are generally concerned with information and documents (content). They don’t include broader knowledge context that people who are creating or using the content have. So in KM we should distinguish between the ‘information audit’ and the ‘knowledge audit’.
• An Information Audit is about corporate information housed in documents (aka ‘content’).
• A Knowledge Audit also involves documented knowledge (information), but has a more important focus on non-documented (tacit) knowledge that people carry around with them which allows the proper understanding and use of that content.
January 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm #88968
Thanks for your reply. It was articulated well. If you will indulge me for the sake of this forum, I’d like to highlight one statement you made:
“When people are talking about “knowledge management” they are talking about managing the content of documents and data bases…”
I believe that some people equate “knowledge management” with these, as do I. It bears mentioning, however, that I view managing the content of documents and databases as one component of a knowledge management “system,” not knowledge management itself.
I am accustomed to talking in terms of creating a learning organization, establishing dynamics within the organization that allow people to grow, and using a deliberate methodology to stimulate the creation and effective sharing of knowledge – much more human centric.
See the diagram below. This is an extract from a model I’ve been using since 2001 to implement knowledge management systems (not IT systems, but human systems with an IT assist). Credit goes to George Washington University, Dr. Michael Stankowsky, Dean for the School of Engineering, for creating this model.
January 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm #88966
What I took away from reading this thought provoking piece were two key points 1) environment 2) identifying those organizations that have the right ingredients. Despite my limited government work experience, I have found that knowledge sharing in the work place seems to be an anomaly. It would be interesting to hone in on those “right ingredients” and invest in innovative management in hopes to create the ideal environment.
January 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm #88964
It truly is getting the right culture of sharing. Sometimes structures are not set up to succeed at sharing – for example, if internal competitions is quite great, there is less interest in sharing.
Plus I think in general, there is a hierarchy of needs that starts with oneself, one’s friends, and then the greater good. So we need to follow those in sharing as well.
January 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm #88962
Awesome view! I agree that it starts with the oneself. One person’s actions can be contagious and I think this is our goal.
March 8, 2010 at 8:58 pm #88960
Let’s face it — for most people, knowledge management is Google search. It’s fast, pretty accurate and cheap.
Perhaps knowledge management should start over and start from there. Add a drop of social networks via semantic web and some wikis from Wikipedia. Overall, that works pretty well, but it can improve.
“Closed” knowledge management of .pdf and .doc is stale and information becomes obsolete way too fast. An “open” knowledge management system, constantly refreshed by the semi-artificial intelligence of search engines and social networks would be the way to go.
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