In this video I describe the Three Eras of knowledge management that I have previously written about on this blog, Where Knowledge Management has Been and Where it is Going – Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. My understanding about the third era continues to grow so I have elaborated the third era in this post.
In the earlier blog post I called the third era, “collective knowledge” and I remain convinced that collective knowledge is at the heart of this change. It is the "means," but what is being managed are ideas. So I am using “Idea Management" as the label for the third era both in this video and in the accompanying chart. The first two eras, Information Management and Experience Management dealt with existing knowledge, that is, knowledge that an individual or a group has gained and is available to be shared with others. The third era is about the creation or development of ideas that have not existed before. It is not the management of anything organizational members have learned through their work experience, but what they create jointly when they are brought together in an environment that supports the use of collective knowledge. That support includes convening, cognitive diversity and transparency.
In the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to work with organizations that are using third era practices and that experience has sharpened my thinking about what is occurring and why. I’m still not sure I have all the words right, but the big change I see is that management has begun to value the sensemaking capabilities of employees, that is, the ability of employees to jointly make sense of complex situations. Over the three eras management’s awareness of the kinds of knowledge that are valuable continues to expand. Initially management only valued explicit knowledge as evidenced by the resources put against building repositories, then they developed an appreciation for the experiential knowledge of employees and allocated resources to build communities, and now there is a growing acknowledgement of the sensemaking capabilities of employees and an accompanying willingness to provide the resources to convene groups for that purpose.
Of course, management being interested in the opinions, ideas, and knowledge of employees is not new. Organizations have long made use of employee surveys, fireside chats, suggestions boxes, and town hall meetings to collect ideas from employees. But in the past management has reserved for itself the right to make sense of what was collected from employees. The subtext of such practices was, “Tell us [management] your concerns and suggestions and we [management] will figure out a way to fix it.” Now working with leading edge organizations that are, by their actions, saying something quite different, I hear, “Let's convene the people who do this work and have them think together about how to make sense of this issue.”
A recent example of convening is a meeting I facilitated for NASA. Over the years each of the ten NASA Centers has grown its own KM strategy, quite independent of the other Centers and Offices. NASA administration, in recognition of the variability in the effectiveness of the various KM strategies, and spurred by a somewhat critical government report, appointed a CKO, Ed Hoffman, and asked him to develop a NASA-wide KM strategy. Ed is a seasoned KM professional, fully capable of developing such a strategy. But rather than doing that, he chose to convene a three-day meeting that brought together fifty KM professionals from across the ten NASA Centers, to think together about what the knowledge strategy of NASA should be. The meeting made use of the collective knowledge and analytic capabilities of the KM professionals. Outside perspective was provided by Christos Kostopoulos, Senior Economist at Knowledge and Learning Department- Corporate, from the World Bank and Grigg Gurvais, CKO from the FBI. All available information about NASA’s KM programs, internal NASA documents, and the government report was provided to the group. By the end of the meeting the group had identified the elements of a system-wide strategy. The following illustration shows the commitments participants made at the end of the meeting.
The NASA example illustrates the three enablers of the third era, 1) convening, 2) cognitive diversity and 3) transparency.
Convening is the skill and practice of bringing groups together to develop understanding of complex issues, create new knowledge and spur innovation. It is about:
• designing meetings as conversations rather than presentations
• identifying who needs to be in the conversation, including those who do the work and are impacted by it
• framing the question in a way that opens thinking
• arranging the space to facilitate conversation
• using small groups as the unit of learning
I have written about convening and the role of the leader in The Power of the Conversation Architect to Address Complex, Adaptive Challenges
Cognitive diversity is the deliberate use of difference to bring new understanding to an issue. When faced with complex issues our inclination is to collect more data, survey, or assign a task force to conduct interviews; when what is needed is a new way to frame the issue. Cognitive diversity brings people trained in different heuristics, problem solving strategies, interpretations, and perspectives into the room. Cognitive diversity can be found in different parts of the organization (e.g. marketing, finance, engineering), in different disciplines (e.g. biology, neuroscience, archeology), or outside the organization (e.g. suppliers, customers, consultants, academicians, alliances).
Transparency includes the willingness of management to say, “I don’t know” and therefore to employ the organization’s collective knowledge. It is also about management providing all the available information and data on an issue so that those convened have what they need to do the work of sensemaking. Organizational members also have a role in transparency, that is, to be open about what is happening at their level, rather than hiding or discounting bad news to appease management – to bring the best available knowledge to bear on organizational issues
I would welcome other’s thinking on the third era and the supporting elements of convening, transparency and cognitive diversity, as well as useful references and examples.
My thanks to Xuehui Liu, a KM Professional in the Strategy and Planning Department of Huawei Technologies Ltd., Zhenshen, China. In addition to being a skilled knowledge management professional, Mr. Liu proved to have great skills as a videographer.