Tuesday, July 28, 2009

August Meeting: 7 Principles of Knowledge Management

Tuesday, August 11th: 5:30pm
For location details, see right-hand column. Please note, there will be no meeting at Allstate for this event.

Dave Snowden will join us downtown to lead a discussion on his “7 Principles of Knowledge Management,” summarized below:
  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can’t make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but not knowledge.
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act.
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice it’s impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts.
  • Everything is fragmented. We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information.
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. When my young son burnt his finger on a match he learnt more about the dangers of fire than any amount of parental instruction cold provide. All human cultures have developed forms that allow stories of failure to spread without attribution of blame. Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success. It follows that attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing.
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. There is an increasing body of research data which indicates that in the practice of knowledge people use heuristics, past pattern matching and extrapolation to make decisions, coupled with complex blending of ideas and experiences that takes place in nanoseconds. Asked to describe how they made a decision after the event they will tend to provide a more structured process oriented approach which does not match reality. This has major consequences for knowledge management practice.
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. This is probably the most important. The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified.
Dave Snowden is the founder and chief scientific officer of Cognitive Edge. His work is international in nature and covers government and industry looking at complex issues relating to strategy, organisational decision making and decision making. He has pioneered a science based approach to organisations drawing on anthropology, neuroscience and complexity.

He is currently leading a series of experimental programmes to create a new approach to measuring impact in public services, in the areas of health, education and social policy. This has involved the design of a new research tool to capture qualitative and quantitative data in social contexts using self-signifed narrative, based on ethnographic principles. This is currently in pilot with the UK Government, the Government of Singapore together with a major hospital in New York and various Indigenous projects in Australia.

He previously worked for IBM where he was a Director of the Institution for Knowledge Management and founded the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity; during that period he was selected by IBM as one of six “on-demand” thinkers for a world wide advertising campaign. Prior to that he worked in a range of strategic and management roles in the service sector.

His company Cognitive Edge exists to integrate academic thinking with practice in organisations throughout the world and operates on a network model working with Academics, Government, Commercial Organisations, NGOs and Independent Consultants.

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