Knowledge Management is a big fancy word that leaves most people with an “Eh? 😕 ” aftertaste. Quite legitimately so.
We’ll talk about two things in this series:
- What TF exactly IS knowledge management to begin with (Part 1)
- How is Knowledge Management the foundation for fostering a culture of transparency (Part 2)
- 6 simple principles you can use as an engine for transparency (Part 3)
What is Knowledge Management?
Thanks, I’m glad you asked. 🧐 Let’s dive into 2 situations, one at school, and the other within the context of your organization.
Knowledge Management at School
Try to recall your school period, and think about this particular thing: You came out of school after about 2 decades (some of us less, some of us more), and you came out knowing MUCH more than when you first came in, right?
What happened during your school period is that you were transferred knowledge. Now let’s look a little bit at the lifecycle of this knowledge.
First, it was “found” or “created” by some people some time in the past, recently or not so recently. Whether it was from Scientific experiments, discoveries, geographical studies, historical writings, so on so forth. Someone or a group of people had to create and build this knowledge in the first place. We’ll call this the CREATE function / stage.
Then this knowledge, to be of any further use, had to be stored somewhere. So people recorded their experiments, discoveries, understandings into pieces that could then be stored. We’ll call this the STORE function / stage.
In order for people to get consensus from others in the same field or even in different fields, to validate their thinking, or simply to inform or teach others about what they had found, they needed to share it around to other people. Whether it was scientific circles, fairs, papers, friends, governments, or simply teaching others what they had found and created, they had to share and disseminate this knowledge from one or more brains to many more brains, so more people knew about it. We’ll call this the TRAVEL function / stage.
Finally, each of these pieces of knowledge went into a shelf, until someone reusing it found some errors, or some things that had changed or evolved over time, or some details that weren’t relevant anymore, or even that the theories or discoveries were incomplete. Therefore, they took this knowledge, look at the elements they needed to review, updated and maintained it, and then back to the STORE function to store it again, and then TRAVEL it again, and so on so forth, repeating the cycle anytime this piece of knowledge was found to be in need of maintenance. We’ll call it the MAINTAIN function / stage.
Thanks to this 4-stages process, mankind has been able to grow the body of knowledge at our disposal and to convey it from generation to generation. And in turn, thanks to that, we can go to school and quickly learn and later reuse that knowledge to keep compounding the value delivered, and not have to relearn the same things over and over again.
So here’s our definition for the day:
Knowledge Management is a 4-stages process of CREATE → STORE → TRAVEL → MAINTAIN that gives any organization the ability to create compounding value by reusing past learnings.
A reverse definition would look something like:
Knowledge management is a 4-stages process that decreases the odds that organizations have to relearn the same things by making it easy to propagate and reuse existing knowledge within the organization over time.
Now, let’s be clear about 2 things:
- We create knowledge EVERY day, but not all of this knowledge is valuable or reusable
- We LOSE most of this knowledge in the short to medium term by not having a good Knowledge Management practice (or by unfortunate events like the fire in the Great library of Alexandria 😢)
Knowledge Management in an Organization
How does this look like in an organization? Let’s take a relatively high level view of it.
For the sake of the article, let’s agree on a simplistic and convenient definition of “Knowledge”:
A piece of knowledge is a bit of information that has a high reuse potential, and which value will grow and compound as more people learn about it over time.
Meaning that if you keep this information to yourself, you withdraw value from the organization, if you store and travel it, and if it is maintained over time and more and more people come to know about it, the total lifetime value of this knowledge will keep on growing, because people will make good use of that information.
Knowledge in an organization, from your perspective
First, let’s agree that every single member of the organization creates knowledge every single day, however the total lifetime value of each of these pieces of knowledge can greatly vary.
Now let’s think about it from your perspective and see where we get.
- How often do you consider yourself creating knowledge? What was the last piece of knowledge you created?
- Now think about this knowledge you’re creating, how many people typically know about it? What about that last piece of knowledge?
- How and how fast did others knew / learn about it?
- How fast did you stop reusing this knowledge yourself (because you forgot about it or because those around you did too), if you’re still using the last one you’ve created, think about the last one you’ve created you’ve stopped using, how long ago was it?
- How much of this knowledge you create on a daily basis is valuable, and for which the total lifetime value would compound over time if others knew about it and reused it?
- How much of the valuable knowledge do you think gets lost within your memory within a short time and never reaches others?
- Consequently how many people do NOT know about it but should or could grow total lifetime value of this knowledge?
- Is the way you TRAVEL knowledge scalable? For example, does it rely on you directly or do others have a good way to find it by themselves?
- Are you already storing and traveling knowledge that does not have a high total lifetime value potential? This could mean that the cost of creating, storing, traveling and maintaining this knowledge is greater than the total lifetime value of the knowledge.
- In your perspective, have your organization missed opportunities by not being able to properly reuse already existing knowledge that wasn’t traveled adequately? Missed opportunity can be people leaving, multiple business attempts on a similar approach without learning from the mistakes of the past, missing a trend because of not knowing particular elements, etc…
I’ll leave you with that. Take a good 30 minutes or even an hour thinking about this and checking around you within your organization or even friend what is their perspective. I suspect almost everyone should be able to find out valuable elements for their organization. We can discuss the answers to these questions that you deemed interesting during our Business Agility ThinkTank session. Looking forward to see you there.
The Part 2 of the series will be available around prior to the ThinkTank session.