Collecting Knowledge isn’t Easy

Being Human

Qualia (from the Latin, meaning “what sort” or “what kind”; Latin and English singular “quale”, pronounced KWAHL-ay) are most simply defined as qualities or feelings, like redness, as considered independently of their effects on behavior.

In more philosophical terms, qualia are properties of sensory experiences by virtue of which there is something it is like to have them.  (http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Qualia)

Feeling Complexity

I have a memory of being a child living in an apartment.   My mother was out for some reason and it was a cold winter day.   I heard her putting the key into the door and since the door had multiple locks I jumped up and ran to the door to help.   When the door opened up I felt a blast of cold air as she grabbed me and hugged me.  I could smell the scent of rain and snow mixed in with her normal mom smell.   The cool feeling of her outside jacked was cold to the touch but warm to my heart.    This is one of my favorite memories but it is truly hard to describe.

Collecting Knowledge

Everything we can manage is the result of something we can produce.   We can suppress emotions but we can’t really manage them.   We can suppress our reaction to something as long as we can condition our minds to respond to input based on practices of conditioning.   In other words,  if you are boxer,  you may have a condition where you tolerate more pain but we technically can’t manage it.

A collection of knowledge is a “best attempt” to get information about something.    Imagine if we sought to collect all of the knowledge you have, how could this be done?   You don’t even have access to all of your knowledge.    In fact, we rationalize the things we don’t know by addressing them with faith.   I don’t mean religion when I say faith, I mean a rule of expectation.   These rules of expectation allow us to perform tasks.   They are short cuts that our brains use to be effective.

When collecting knowledge, we have to unearth the short cuts. 

When you turn on your computer, you have an expectation that it will perform as you expect.  You may not possess all of the knowledge in the device, all of the knowledge that the device is connected with and/or the knowledge to make the device itself function.

If you wanted to collect knowledge about the device, you would seek out all of these things and more.   In a way, it doesn’t make sense.    What a lot of people say at that point of complication is “it is what it is.”  Why?  Because we can only manage so much and tolerate so much, there are thresholds that we should consider.

We might consider the term Knowledge Management a false harmony.   We can see an explicit list of things in a collection but it would be at best faith to consider that we could attain an understanding and rationalization of this list of things.

Where’s Waldo

Why are we looking for Waldo?

What is the purpose of Waldo?

Even though there is a lot of information here,  the knowledge to find Waldo in fact lives outside of the picture in your head.   I will find Waldo either before or after you find Waldo.  In fact, the only way I could find Waldo faster than you for certain is if I had this picture before you and I know where he is.    One thing is for sure for most of us, we have faith and belief that Waldo is in fact in this image.   What if he isn’t there?  The shortcut of belief that Waldo is in the picture allows us to set the stage to spend more time looking for Waldo.   I could present you with the answer of where Waldo is or you could go on the learning journey of discovery and find Waldo yourself.

It all boils down to the fact that it is all complicated.    We could even consider that depending on our level of tolerance for frustration and patience that you or I may never find Waldo.

Knowledge Management Considerations

We could consider that since we have the technology to collect but we don’t have the capacity to yet understand the wholeness of a collection, that we still need to consider and maintain the value of our subject matter experts.

Knowledge has the most fidelity at the personal level.   We should consider that any overall Knowledge Management practice will always end with something to collect and someone to maintain or interpret the collection. As opposed to gaining the collection as an holistically explicit thing unto itself.

Enterprise KM (Metrics)

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Riding the Bike

As a child learning how to ride a bike I had both my uncle and my grandfather take me out to teach me.

Uncle Mark’s Approach

My uncle took off one training wheel and held the bike from the seat as he walked behind me on the path holding the seat.   He was looking to protect me and make sure that I didn’t fall.  His approach was also very logical.   I am sure that he thought about the process of taking one training wheel off at a time and that one wheel would allow me to learn how to offset the void of the other.   Before we got on the path, he explained to me what I needed to do.  I remember focusing on the pedals and trying to lean on the side that had the training wheel.   I fell and dropped that bike a number of times.   As I recall, it got to the point where he told me to keep practicing and we called it a day.

Grandpa’s Approach

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Now this memory is a killer for me.  Thinking back on this I actually remember how I felt in the moment.  The apartment building I grew up in is on the right.   We walked out the door and he told me to get on the bike. He had already removed both training wheels.  He had his hand on the back of the seat to hold me up and he said “when I push you, just pedal and look at the door in front of you”   In the picture above you see the two buildings almost facing each other.   You can see the entrance door from one building to the other, he was pointing at the door for the building on the left.   

He said “PEDAL”!! and he pushed me.   I looked up at the door, it was where he told me to go and I started to pedal in an instant and I mean an INSTANT, I got it.   I had mastered balance and I was riding.  It was one of those kick pedal bikes where you just push back to brake.  I had hit the brakes and spun the bike around like I knew what I was doing.  I turned the bike around and rode toward him elated.  Both of us were so gleaming and from that point on I knew how to ride.

Outcomes over Activities

Grandpa knew that to get the job done that he had to have me focus on where I was going and that the composition of activities involved were a subtle and covert process.   When I tried to focus on the individual activities of pedaling or taking on training wheels off one at a time, it was more of a distraction than helpful.   The result of having me focus on activities caused me to crash.   When my grandfather relieved me of that burden and helped me focus on the OUTCOME  I was able to learn to ride.    Of course there was room for improvement and there was still a lot for me to learn, but I was able to get where I was going right away.

Measuring the Enterprise

There are activities and business process to measure.   Most organizations aren’t in a position to care or understand the results when it comes to knowledge management.   MOST have yet to deal with the “Eleven Deadliest Sins of Knowledge Management .”

Eleven Deadliest Sins of Knowledge Management:

1. Not developing a working definition of knowledge.
2. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow.
3. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside the heads of individuals.
4. Not understanding that a fundamental intermediate purpose of managing knowledge is to create shared context.
5. Paying little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge.
6. Disentangling knowledge from its uses.
7. Downplaying thinking and reasoning.
8. Focusing on the past and the present and not the future.
9. Failing to recognize the importance of experimentation.
10. Substituting technology contact for human interface.
11. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge.

Source: (Fahey & Prusak, 1998).

For some I have realized that no matter what I say, there are two truths.

1)People need to see SHINY OBJECTS —->Tools (i.e. Sharepoint, Wiki, Jive, Confluence etc)

2)People need to measure things GETTING TO THE SPECIFICALLY WRONG ANSWER WITH GREAT PRECISION.

If you are still reading..  and you want to learn more about the measures / metrics and you don’t care about anything else I have said here, you are in luck!

A_Practical_Framework_for_SharePoint_Metrics –Thanks Susan Hanley

KMmetricsguide–Thanks Department of the Navy CIO 2001 !~

Outcome to Measure 

Ok.. now that we have fed that beast..  Really,  you really need to think about a few things for the knowledge ecosystem relative to the business.

How can we Increase Revenue?

How can we Improve Productivity ?

How can we Reduce Costs (overall)?

If you want to break these down to areas like operational resilience and continuity or knowledge transfer or other areas, you can!  The bottom line is how is what you are doing in your knowledge practice going to help your business  / organization.   Even the not for profits have desire their work to be more than naught.

If you find yourself focusing on the tools or the measures / metrics, “results aka (s*&%) happens”

Water, Air, Knowledge.. You need this .. remember?

5 Generations Mixer

Organizations throughout the world are now challenged to maintain business continuity by transferring knowledge from the older generations to the younger. According to some studies there will be 5 generations in the workforce all at the same time.

Gaps and Seems Less Seems…

There are a variety of reasons why people in the older generations have to work but more over there are fundamental business challenges due to this situation. Many organizations are having problems in estimating or planning for people to retire.
They are engaging older workers often too late for effective knowledge transfer. They may be unable to gauge what the real business value of a person relative to their functional capabilities are in a position. When companies or organizations focus on process and methods over people, they find that their bus-ability is literally walking out the door.
What is worse than this reality is that organizational transformation is not occurring as fast as needed to accommodate the younger generations.
Younger workers have a dramatically different view of work than older generations. This is directly impacting an organizations ability to build, maintain, grow and stabilize the workforce.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of issues organizations have now in terms of workforce stability are things they bring on themselves by treating employees like expendable trash.

Paying Attention

This is a narrative that really needs more attention. Organizations large and small aren’t going to necessarily go out of business because of knowledge transfer and knowledge management issues but it will cost them a lot of money. I can also think of some conditions where it can cause more serious concerns.

 Gen X Reflection

When I was a child, I thought that once you have a job it was what you did for the rest of your life. I think that my generation was a witness to the end of a sort of this renaissance of labor. I watched my father work as a pharmacist my entire life which in turn meant that he would be a pharmacist for most of his life. He could tell you about the interactions between two or more drugs, foods or other things you consume in less time than a google search. He didn’t need google, he is still around today and I would venture to say that for his area of work, he still probably depends much more on his tacit knowledge over his need to search something out.

Knowledge is fluid and changes constantly but time of exposure to information and knowledge creates wisdom. Wisdom isn’t just about information and knowledge itself it is married up with the experience over time of a person and the conditions in which the person lives and has lived. All of the factors and facets of a person come together in a point of convergence in a split second to form that point in which a person chooses left or right, up or down, in or out, etc.

What is different today is that we know less and depend more on the explicit query.

The discovery of information from an inherently explicit source that positions us to make a decision. It is a decline in specific experience and wisdom. They are replacing the pharmacist with automation. Automation doesn’t and won’t pull out tacit information from a patient, only a human would. Click click .. medicine dispensed and the young pharmacist walks up to the machine and validates the label, the canister and the pills themselves. She takes the bottle and places in a paper bag and hands it to another young lady to ring the customer up. On the side of the bottle,it says “do not consume this medication with grapefruit” The young lady goes as far as telling the customer not to consume the medicine with grapefruit. What she doesn’t know is Mrs. Miller (the customer). She doesn’t know anything about her and she doesn’t know that Mrs. Miller was a Russian immigrant that doesn’t read english well or understand what she is saying. She doesn’t know that she is nodding her head in acknowledgment out of courtesy. No one taught the pharmacist or the young tech how to interact with the customer and how to question a customer. How to elicit important responses and how to dig for answers.

The computer does not convey that experience

and when SmallGreens let go of all their older workforce and had a workforce knowledge continuity practice, they didn’t capture this sort of information from the practicing pharmacists. They just captured the process and maybe things to look for but not the value or importance of caring about every customer individually and looking for ways to find out information that could save your customer’s life or prevent a serious mishap. My uncle who is also a pharmacist told me that some companies value the quick dollars of a flu shot over the overall practice of pharmacists. The reason why this is important is because a young inexperienced person might easily succumb to a corporate short-term win scenario where the experienced professional would follow corporate guidance but take a more balanced approach to short-term thinking.

I talk to Boomers all the time about their lives at work or their experiences including military experience.  A great deal of the time they don’t even realize how much information they know and it is all wrapped in the narrative of their stories. As they are transitioning out of their jobs and they are asked probing questions the stories aren’t coming across. The questions can get to some of the areas but most of the time these sessions are 1.5 hours with some one to one or group mentorship later on. This isn’t enough. Some transfer will occur but there will be gaps that are significant. This could also be good depending on the job as someone might think of a new way to do the job better but unless the older way is known there is no way to measure. This unknown condition introduces risk and a lack of understanding of cost.

The other aspect of this is that some of our young people don’t want to be in one job for their lives and they want to walk into open heart surgery as the practicing surgeon after watching it a few times on you tube.

Kid only missed one You Tube video.. but a friend on glass will help him out.
Kid only missed one You Tube video.. but a friend on glass will help him out.

There is a sense that they lack the patience to learn and experience performing tasks and they are seemingly anxious to be recognized as subject matter experts. This is a pervasive problem that is systemic in our culture and society. It is something that we cannot avoid but we can’t afford to ignore.

Boomer Gen

I met an old warrior Green Beret this past week while on travel. He is a security specialist that looks at various concerns of physical, cyber, port and infrastructure security. He has 28 years of military service and a great deal of time on the ground in the commercial world as an expert. One thing that struck a chord in me was a story he told me about how a young security expert performed an assessment on a client site that took into account only the explicit information of information given to him about identified weaponry that would be a threat. It was as if this “dumb ass” didn’t know the physics of what happens when a weapon goes off or a bomb explodes.
I asked what happened after he read this assessment and he told me that he knew and reached out to one of the world experts on this subject to get this client squared away. You could say a lot about the young security expert in his defense but I would argue that his level of commitment, his heart, the nature of his honor and integrity and his tacit knowledge all come into play.

How many information technologists are out there that are called “system engineers” these people aren’t engineers, they don’t have engineering degrees or carry a card. They can’t engineer themselves out of paper box but they are called engineers and they gladly take on the title because it sounds glamorous.

 What’s next?

 

As companies are now recognizing these concerns and looking for ways to deal with them, there must be an effort to be realistic and honest about the situation.

Organizational leaders are going to have to set aside resources including labor to deal with these types of challenges.
  • They are also going to have to look at organizational governance to evaluate what changes need to be addressed.
  • They are going to have to face the facts that any efforts in knowledge management, knowledge engineering, and talent management are tied to change management and operational resilience.
  • They are also going to have to spend time thinking about the inside of their organizations as much as they spend thinking about the outside. The unspoken rules of labor don’t apply anymore.
  • The last part of this is that organizations are going to really have to focus on people. Not pay lip service to how they care but really make clear and visible efforts to engage their workforce.

As a senior leader once said “If people don’t like what we do they will show us with their feet.”

This statement is simply true and we have to wonder how much will that show cost!