Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The curse of the little black book


books is power
Many operators and technicians carry a little black book.

This is where they keep their notes of how to do things - their checklists and workarounds and tips and hints. It's their means of personal knowledge management.

However the little black is both a risk to knowledge management, and a symptom of poor knowledge management.

The risk is that the knowledge in the little black book can be better (more accurate, more up to date, more useful) than the "company knowledge," wherever that is stored. And that means that the company knowledge is out of date.

The symptom would be that the knowledge in the little black book is worse (less accurate, less up to date, less useful) than the "company knowledge," wherever that is stored.  And that means that the operator or technician is not getting the access to the knowledge they need.

A well known  "little black book" story is the Xerox technicians case history, which I am sure most of you have heard at some time. The Xerox technicians all kept their own personal knowledge base; an annotated copy of the official manual, and each annotated version was different from all the other annotated versions. The manual itself, despite being seen by management, was woefully out of date, and the plethora of little black books was a symptom that KM was not happening in Xerox. The rest of the sotry is well known; the creation of Communities of Practice, the opening of communicaiton between the technicians around the globe, and the creation of the Eureka knowledge base; owned, maintained and kept live by the technocians themselves. Eureka became a shared "black book" - a Big Black Book that all the tecnicians used and trusted.

SO watch out for the little black books (or their equivalent) in your organisation. They are a symptom that KM is not working, a risk to effective operation, and also an opportunity, if you can help the operators and technicians to open their books so that the knowledge can be shared, and held in common.

1 comment:

Pancho said...

"...and also an opportunity, if you can help the operators and technicians to open their books so that the knowledge can be shared, and held in common. "

Exactly. I think the trick is making it easier to access and edit the company KB as it is to update their little books -- and letting them do so. Say, for example, an iPad with wiki access. Coincidentally, that even looks like the LBB.

For techies and other K workers this risk and symptom lies in their "own little laptop" their "own little inbox", and the three ring binders behind their desk. To encourage them to put this K into the shared system requires access and editing to be extremely easy.

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