Would you like to collectively try my explicit, experiential knowledge?

Knowledge is everywhere: Whether obtained from books, brains, the web, or networks makes no difference. While their creation, storage, understanding, and distribution modes may differ, they are uniformly essential (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009).

Nancy Dixon (2009) eloquently explains the concepts of knowledge management (KM) in her illustrations of the three eras of KM, which are unique, nonetheless complimentary of each other.

Books exemplify explicit knowledge or data that is easily documented and cataloged. Following, “know-how,” or knowledge obtained from experience habitually shared between peers, and more challenging to write and catalog is considered experiential knowledge (Dixon, 2009).  

Notably, explicit and experiential knowledge share a significant flaw. Their distribution tends to only occur laterally, leaving those occupying the varying horizontally oriented levels within businesses in the dark about potential solutions to organizational problems. The third era of KM addresses this difficulty. Collective knowledge integrates ideas that are explicit and experiential. The main difference in this era is that knowledge is created from scratch in a process called sensemaking (Dixon, 2009). Dixon (2009) expounds the following in the third part of her three-part KM series:  

But unlike the hierarchical process of passing everyone’s ideas and data up the chain of command to someone at the top who would then made sense of them, with collective knowledge the sensemaking is done jointly by those who hold those many perspectives and who own the data. It is the joint sensemaking that is a hallmark of Leveraging Collective Knowledge (para. 3).

Collective knowledge then requires the constant and continual sharing of diverse ideas communicated verbally or via text, in person, or remotely by (hopefully) heterogeneously minded individuals – If all factors needed for collective knowledge are aligned, the opportunities are genuinely limitless (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009).

The latest era of KM is undeniably a social event without borders and with few, frequently imperfect, controls. Dixon (2009) correctly highlights the days of guarding information as treasured secrets are forever gone, particularly with the introduction of social networks accelerated by the infinitely flowing internet (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009; Jarche, 2016; Jarche, 2018; Kelly, 2016).

With that, the following existential question arises: What is the role of leadership in knowledge management now that it is marginally, if at all, manageable? According to Dixon (2009) and Dixon (2020), leaders should facilitate its occurrence by leveraging collective knowledge rather than attempting to control it. They can do so by advocating transparency, encouraging internal and external stakeholders’ involvement in decision-making processes, planning events, and selecting the most appropriate venues and people to facilitate discussions. The multitude of web-based applications makes such a task ever more attainable. Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram are only a handful of hundreds of tools at our disposal.

However, as expected, there is always another side to every story. The ardent arguments and invaluable knowledge shared by Dixon (2009), Dixon (2020), Jarche (2016), Jarche (2018), Kelly (2016) assume we live in an ecosystem that is remarkably receptive to KM. Davenport (2015), however, argues KM is being shunned as it requires too much time and too much effort to ensue. His most convincing argument is that “Google […] helped kill KM. When people saw how easy it was to search external knowledge, they were no longer interested in the more difficult process for searching out internal knowledge” (p. 2). Indeed, how many of us still visit a library to read books about any subject we might be researching?

Additionally, the unregulated free flow of information allows misguided, immoral, and dubiously intentioned individuals, governments, and organizations, to manipulate the masses. In 2009, long before fake news gained its current notoriety, Dixon (2009) somberly questioned: “How we can tell if knowledge is valid or trustworthy[?]” (para. 1). Was Dixon (2009), more than a decade ago, seeing signs of what is happening today?

Fortunately, the information market, like the financial one, appears to in some ways, regulate itself even if sluggishly and poorly. Fake news is often fact-checked, and violent individuals are banned from social networks. That’s a good start. Still, we are far from an unbiased, altruistic, and entirely factual system.

In our defense, the internet as it exists today and collective knowledge are still in their infancy when contrasted against the big scheme of things. Nevertheless, one can still hope for the desperately needed advancements in knowledge and information sharing within modern networks.

References

Davenport, T.H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-CIOB-7428

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going- Part Three. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

Dixon, N. (2009, May 02). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going- Part One. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge Management: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going – Part Two. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html

Dixon, N. (2020, August 31). Ten Big Ideas of Knowledge Management. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2020/08/the-big-ideas-of-knowledge-management.html

Jarche, H. (2016, December 08). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche – Work is learning & learning is the work. https://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/

Jarche, H. (2016, July 09). Knowledge-sharing paradox redux. Harold Jarche – Work is learning & learning is the work. https://jarche.com/2018/07/knowledge-sharing-paradox-redux/

Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape your future. Penguin Books.

6 Comments

  1. Interesting post, Dan. It is the other side of the story that requires leadership! I blogged about this in https://bwatwood.edublogs.org/2019/07/14/truth-3-0/

    Cory Doctorow discussed alternative facts in his post https://boingboing.net/2017/02/25/counternarratives-not-fact-che.html – noting “As I’ve written before, we’re not living through a crisis about what is true, we’re living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true.”
    So as leaders, can we create cultures of truth?

    Like

  2. Insightful post, Dan. A couple of ideas really resonated with me. First, the days of guarding lots of information are long past, as Dixon (2009) suggested. However, I think companies need to be very strategic about what they share on the web and what they keep confidential. While companies benefit greatly from brand exposure through social platforms, there are certain items a company needs to keep confidential. According to Putnam (2017), companies’ success depends on keeping ideas, formulas, financial info, how products are produced, R&D work, and other trade secrets confidential. Putnam (2017) also wrote about the trust companies place in employees to keep the information confidential.

    I also liked how you ended your post acknowledging that collective knowledge and how the internet exists today are in their infancy. If anything has become clear from reading Kelly (2016), technology is a force shaping the future that continues to evolve. I wonder what KM will look like in 5 years with the continuing technological changes.

    Megan

    Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

    Kelly, K. (2016). The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. Penguin Books.

    Putnam, (2017, November 28). Considering confidentiality in the workplace. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/considering-confidentiality-workplace-mark-s-putnam/

    Like

  3. Dan,
    I enjoyed reading your post as usual.
    I have a question: You mentioned that “we are far from an unbiased, altruistic, and entirely factual system.” How can advocates and policy makers effectively create incentives to bring about a system that is unbiased, altruistic, and factual, especially in a day and age where the primary desire is engagement in whatever form?

    Thanks,
    Vivi

    Like

    1. Hi Vivi,

      Great question and one I believe is lacking a comprehensive answer. I agree the desire to go viral appears to trump decency at times, and censoring is very much counterintuitive to free speech.

      Emily Gersema (2020) from the University of Southern California offers a few techniques to limit the spread of misinformation, including researching the information analyzed and requiring media companies to identify and remove fake news from their platforms rapidly. Those interventions, however, sound a bit obvious to me. The real question is how to get ordinary Americans, not scholars, not college-educated individuals, to do their due diligence before believing what they read online?

      Thanks,
      Dan

      Like

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