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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Owentsia Hunt Ball -- Chicago (1904)

Has KM Been Done? Part 2
Commentary on Dave Pollard's Blog on Social Networking (continued from Part 1)

KM, Social Network Management (SNM) and Conceptual Drift

You then went on:

"Four important unanswered questions:

1. What role can Social Network Enablement and social software play in enhancing individual and organizational learning?"

Social network enablement and social software can provide a stronger foundation for more intensive and connected social interactions. However, this may not have a uniformly beneficial effect on knowledge processing and its outcomes. Much depends on the underlying social psychological preconditions in the organization receiving such software.

If mistrust and division, are present to begin with, SNE software may produce greater integration within conflicting groups and factions and may lead to an increase in inter-group conflict within an organization. Moreover, it is not clear what impact either decreased or increased conflict would have on knowledge processing. Much would depend on the initial state of conflict in an organization and the context of the SNE intervention. I think one thing is fairly certain, however, the impact of SNE and social software on knowledge processing will be beneficial in some respects and harmful in others, and it will be one of the concerns of Knowledge Managers to track the impact.

"2. How do you measure and reward contributions to a network (a) by full-time knowledge workers (people in the organization, like researchers and help desk staff whose sole value is contributing to the network) and (b) by network 'players' outside the organization?"

This is an interesting question, but it is not clear that it is a KM question. Isn¹t it a Social Network Management (SNM) question? Also, the question implies the desirability of introducing a formal incentive system to "reward contributions" to a social network. But this assumes that it is desirable to reinforce participation in the network beyond the reinforcement provided by participation itself. This may be unwise, because it involves a managerial imposition of a perceived desirable outcome on the network. Enabling the network with software is one thing; manipulating the incentives to participate in it is another. If we want to take advantage of natural tendencies to self-organize, we should avoid the second.

"3. How do organizations equip and foster networks without unduly controlling their actions and membership and therefore crushing them?"

Very carefully. And the real question is, how do Managers, Knowledge and otherwise, equip and foster networks without impairing the organization¹s ability to adapt and remake itself by incenting or imposing behavior that the organization taken as a pattern would not incent? I think the answer to this question, is that managers should equip and foster networks, and then do whatever else is necessary to enable people to use them. After that, managers must trust to people themselves to use their social networking tools to do their jobs including solving the problems that occur in the course of doing them.

"4. How do we capture summaries and abstracts of organizational conversations that occur in other than written form (voice-mail, teleconferences and meetings), so that the blog record of networks is complete?"

We wait for the technology that makes it convenient to do this. Until then, we do what we can with what is in the written record.

Of these four unanswered questions, only the first of them relates to either knowledge processing, or KM directly. I think this illustrates where too great a focus on Social Network Enablement and Social Software will take us, namely away from KM and into Social Network Management.

One of the continuing problems in KM is that of "conceptual drift". Since the foundations of KM as a discipline are relatively undefined and we are in disagreement over what we mean by Knowledge, KM, and the distinctions between Data Management, Information Management and KM, as well as distinctions among a number of other basic concepts, we find ourselves subject, from time-to-time, to claims that KM "really is", or should be "reinvented as" (take your choice): Quality Management, CRM, Data Warehousing, Organizational Learning, Collaboration Management, Library Management, Information Management, Human Resource Management, Communities of Practice, Content Management, and now Social Network Enablement. I think such advice is incorrect, and, thus far, at least, always based on a superficial account of the nature of KM. In fact, it is because those who offer such proposals do so without a careful analysis of "knowledge" and ”Knowledge Management" that their ideas often initially seem plausible.

Even though I don¹t agree with your suggestion that we should re-invent KM, I do think that Social Network Analysis is important for KM, and Social Network Enablement and Social Software are important trends that we should incorporate into KM interventions as appropriate and necessary. But as with every other KM intervention alternative, tool, or technique, both before and after we undertake projects that use SNE, we should try to assess what the impact of our intervention will be or has been, as the case may be. And to do this, what we really need, on an urgent basis, is a better network of concepts, indicators, and metrics that will allow us to talk more precisely about the direct impact of our interventions on knowledge processing and Knowledge Management, as well as their indirect impact on other organizational outcomes (for which better metrics may already exist).

Lastly, I hope you don¹t consider this or other posts I¹ve offered in this AOK session as hostile to you or your work. Actually, I¹m very favorable to Social Network Analysis as a perspective, and I think you¹ve done a great job with your blogs and the contributions you've made here. I¹ve offered my posts, because in many respects, my views are different from yours and both of us may benefit by exchanging communications on these differences. I¹ve tried not to use any ad hominems or unsupported assertions in what I¹ve written, in hopes that you would see this in the way I intend it, as an attempt at discussion.

In Part 3 of "Has KM Been Done?" I'll finish this series of blogs with an exchange between Dave and I and a preliminary consideration of the question providing my title for the series.

11:55:31 AM    comment []

The Fifth Plague of Egypt (J. W. M. Turner, 1800)

More On Knowledge Management and Strategy

I'd like to thank Olaf Brugman and Jack Vinson for their comments on my blog post about Knowledge Management and Strategy. I am very interested in the parallel between the view of The New Knowledge Management (TNKM) and Rudolf Steiner's work of 1919, and I agree that one implication of what we are saying is that, as Olaf says: "knowledge development should not be subordinated to - or monopolized by - economic life (be it corporate or societal". I also agree very much with his statement that:

"Economic reasoning and decision-making cannot solve all social issues, and it shouldn't. However, to be able to move, as a society, towards a better version of society, we need all three impulses that make for change: coming from economic life, rights life, and cultural (= knowledge and feeling) life. And economic and bookkeeping logic should not be the only one governing our knowledge development."

And I agree, as well, with Jack's observation that:

"I think Joe's point here is that knowledge management can serve much more than strictly the goals of individual businesses. In this light, I also begin to hear the strains of Debra Amidon and others, who argue that the "innovation superhighway" should serve the public good for everyone, not just the companies who have bought "KM solutions.""

As important as the points made by Olaf and Jack are, however, I don't think the important ideas that KM transcends (1) economic life and also encompasses rights life and cultural life, or (2) the goals of individual businesses, should overshadow the main point I was making. It speaks directly to those who believe, unlike Olaf and Jack, that KM should not transcend economic life, or the goals of individual businesses.

Once again, that point is: even if your company's strategy is strictly focused on only its own economic goals, it is still true, nevertheless, that if you want to achieve these goals continuously and on a sustainable basis, you should implement an autonomous KM function that is not aligned with current strategy, but rather with a KM strategy of enhancing knowledge processing. Keeping the three-tier model in mind, and also my previous blog posts entitled "All Life Is Problem Solving" and "Organizational Problem Solving", here is another, shorter statement of the key argument leading to the conclusion that there is a contradiction in practicing KM and aligning it with strategy.

(1) Strategy focused on economic goals is implemented through business processes which use already created knowledge including strategy iself.

(2) Knowledge use is not specifically a knowledge process. Rather it is part of every act of decision making and of every pattern of actions constituting a business process.

(3) Knowledge Use Management is therefore every manager's job, Knowledge or otherwise and it is not what I mean by KM.

(4) Organizations, including profit-oriented companies, are complex adaptive systems. In such systems the outcomes of routine, rule governed processes based on previously created knowledge, frequently deviate from the objectives and goals of the system. This creates a need for adaptation (and an epistemic problem) that must be fulfilled by problem solving (or knowledge or learning) processes.

(5) These processes are used to produce new knowledge that, in turn, is applied in re-inventing business processes so that the deviation of their outcomes from strategic goals and objectives is less or is entirely eliminated. The knowledge processes of knowledge production and integration are the organization's way of problem solving and producing new knowledge that it can use to adapt.

(6) Among the possible outcomes of new knowledge production and learning is creation of new strategic knowledge that modifies or replaces the goals and objectives themselves and that evaluates the old strategy as too costly, impossible to implement, or simply non-adaptive relative to the organization's economic goals.

(7) New strategic knowledge of this sort is often essential for organizational adaptation and for the sustained attainment of its goals and objectives through time, and therefore knowledge processes and the knowledge workers who implement them must have the capacity to produce it when necessary.

(8) Organizational Knowledge Management is the set of activities and processes that maintain and enhance the knowledge or problem solving processes of organizations, including the capacity of knowledge workers to implement them.

(9) If KM is aligned with strategy, it must focus knowledge processing on solving problems that arise, by viewing them as problems of implementing strategy, rather than as problems of strategy itself. Thus, if KM is aligned with strategy, it should pursue policies and programs that discourage inquiries criticizing the current strategies it is aligned with, or that inquire into whether those strategies are valid.

(10) But this view of KM, a logical implication of its alignment with strategy, is in contradiction with (6). KM cannot be both aligned with current strategy and also committed to enhancing the organization's capacity for sustainable problem solving and adaptation, since enhancing that capacity includes enhancing problem recognition and problem solving involving current strategy itself.

(11) Therefore, since there exists a set of organizational activities, a function, that can enhance the organization's capacity for sustainable problem solving and adaptation, and we choose to call that function Knowledge Management, it follows that it (KM) cannot be aligned with current strategy, but must be independent of both its dictates and of the authority of those whose function is to both implement and formulate it.

In short, KM is about more than implementing economic goals, it is about maintaining and enhancing the capacity to adapt, which in turn requires other goals, as Olaf says, cultural goals and rights goals (See Excerpt #1 from The Open Enterprise). And why is this so? Because complex adaptive systems such as organizations are not about only one thing, not even a thing so important as profit or economics. They're also about culture, politics, social networks, communities, people, values, ethics, and goals in each of these areas. And they're also about the knowledge necessary to pursue these diverse goals, and the knowledge represented by goals, objectives, culture, strategy value claims, and ethics, that are produced by such systems as they re-make themselves in co-evolving with and meeting the challenges of their environments.

So, in the end, it's not at all surprising that adaptive functions of organizations, including problem solving and KM, are about more than just serving the economic goals or strategies of organizations. Rather, they are about change and the capacity to change themselves, and so they must transcend and check other executive functions of the organization, lest they freeze its pattern in a way that makes it too rigid to withstand the winds of change.

12:43:20 AM    comment []

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