Tuesday 29 March 2011

Knowledge Management leads to a boring life


Knowledge management, if done well, leads to a boring life.

If you ensure that teams and individuals in your organisation always have the knowledge they need to make the right decisions, and to anticipate and meet the challenges they face, then you remove all the excitement, danger and uncertainty that makes life interesting. Instead, people can just quietly and effectively get on with work, and deliver excellent results without any of the fuss. Efficient, but boring.

We saw this again last week in our Bird island game, where the teams building the winning towers saw it as unexciting. It was much more fun when they didn't know what to do - when they could be creative and chaotic - even though their performance was far far worse. Ineffective, but exciting.

I remember a drilling manager in BP saying "my goal is for drilling wells to become boring" (no pun intended). He wanted no danger, no excitement, no unpredictability, because (as the Macondo well showed us) the hazards are too great to work in any other way.

Just be aware of this, and think how people are incentivised.

Does your organisation reward the people who single-handedly pull their project out of trouble and disaster?

Or do you reward the ones who quietly and effectively learn, so that their project never gets into disaster in the first place?

Do you reward the troubleshooters, or the trouble-avoiders?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Thank you for the interesting post! It's something I've been thinking about too, because indeed it seems as though we're striving for utter efficiency here.

However there's an interesting catch here: KM is not just about making work and our tasks more efficient and effective. I believe it also has to do with learning and finding new ways to look at that work.
When KM focuses actually more on KS to solve problems, with the social dimension comes a set of new questions and insights that leads the way to more questions, more challenges, more ideas. If one works in the not-for-profit world it becomes all the more obvious as we are dealing with societal problems which require that diversity to generate innovation: issues lead to new questions, lead to new insights, lead to new approaches, lead to new problems... leads to new questions, and the cycle continues... Perhaps it is that reflexivity that we should encourage more than anything else in KM... it would certainly help to keep our work fun!

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