Review: “The New Edge in Knowledge”

The New Edge in Knowledge: How knowledge management is changing the way we do business, O’Dell, Carla and Cindy Hubert

Carla O’Dell and her co-author, Cindy Hubert, have been tilling the fields of knowledge management since the earliest days of the notion. In their latest effort, The New Edge in Knowledge, they take stock of where the field has been, where it is today, and how it is evolving. With their work at the APQC (American Productivity and Quality Center), they’ve always split their time between the trenches and the big picture. Spread that over 15-20 years and the result is lots of pragmatic guidance buttressed by an equal measure of real examples.

O’Dell has always supported the notion that knowledge management is primarily an organizational challenge, that is aided by the effective use of technology but not dependent on it. That position remains strong here. Fortunately, the rest of the world appears to be catching up to this perspective. In many respects, this book is deceptively simple. It tends to gloss over the organizational resistance that many KM efforts will encounter as they are deployed. Granted, that isn’t a specific goal of the book. Nevertheless, KM can present unusual problems of resistance to change because the target audience (knowledge workers in all shapes and sizes) constitutes such a critical resource for the organization. Moreover, they have greater degrees of freedom in whether and how they choose to cooperate, support, or sabotage KM efforts.

Overall, this is an excellent introduction to the state of KM in today’s organizations and a usefully pragmatic playbook for someone wanting to put an effective KM program into practice within their organization. Many of the topics benefit from deeper dives to understand them, but this is the place to start for a coherent view that effectively integrates the big picture with a pragmatic approach to getting started and making progress.

Euan Semple on nurturing a knowledge ecology

This gem from Euan Semple made the rounds earlier this summer. I was too busy then to do more than note it.

Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology

TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011 AT 7:08AM

A tweet yesterday prompted me to remember sage advice from Dave Snowden which I took to heart in my work with social tools at the BBC. “You can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology”. I thought it might be useful to others to list the ten most important things I learned about doing this.

1, Have a variety of tools rather than a single system. Not everyone sees the world the same way or has the same needs so mixing up different tools with different strengths allows people to find one that works for them. Avoid single platforms like the plague.

2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed. The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them. Be prepared to go where people’s use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride.

3. Follow the energy. Watch where the energy in the system is and try to copy the factors that generated it. Get others interested in why energy emerges and they will want some of it themselves.

4. Be strategically tactical. You can have an overall strategy of behaving in certain ways depending on how your ecology develops. It is possible to sell this as a strategy to those who need strategies.

5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground. Keep doing things, keep talking about what you are doing and why, and have a rough idea of where the high ground is.

6. Build networks of people who care. Don’t try to manage your ecology by committee but cultivate communication and trust between those who care that it works and have the commitment to do something about it – whoever they are and whatever their role.

7. Be obsessively interested. Notice everything that happens and consider why. Tell great stories about what you are observing.

8. Use the tools to manage the tools. Blog about what is going on with your corporate blogging, ask questions in your forum about security, tweet when something is changing in your ecology and ask people why it is interesting.

9. Laugh when things go wrong. If you are pushing limits and exploring new territory things will occasionally blow up in your face. Having a sense of humour and enjoyment of the absurd will help you stay sane.

10. Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

(– The Obvious? – Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology)

The paradox of organic approaches to change is that while they appear to be simple and mundane, they also appear to be the only thing that works with any regularity in complex situations. For all the rhetoric of bold plans and audacious goals, the reality is that most change occurs inch-by-inch.

Which rules? Teaching or Learning?

Another thought provoking cartoon from the good fools at xkcd. There are actually two interesting thoughts in this one. Yes, humans are pretty good teachers at that. More importantly, however, we manage to get by even with less than stellar teachers because humans are so supremely gifted at learning. Computers demand extraordinarily adept teachers because computers are such obtuse learners and that is the only possible way they will learn.

Humans, children in particular, are such natural learners that they can survive in spite of the most mediocre of teachers. Which may be one of the reasons we’re too willing to tolerate mediocrity.