Tuesday, 12 July 2011
I don't know if I am getting grumpy in my old age, but I seem to be on a run of blog posts which challenge popular models, approaches or analogues in Knowledge Manager. Today's challenge is to the analogy of the coffee machine.
Gerald, I am sorry, I am going to pick on you as an example of this analogy, but it is a pretty widespread analogy. The coffee machine is seen as somewhere we make connections, meet people, and share knowledge.
Intrigued by this, I have loitered around some coffee machines to see if this is true.
Firstly, very few of the conversations I overheard had anything to do with knowledge. Most of them were purely social, covering the weather, holidays, "How are you, fine thanks" and other social interplay, most of it of little value other than reinforcing social bonds (Yes, I know that has value).
Secondly, the bulk of material posted on the notice boards by the coffee machine were also purely social. Postcards, thank-you cards, items for sale, notices of forthcoming concerts or lectures, etc.
Once upon a time, when computers were used mostly for word-processes, I did use a coffee-area noticeboard to broadcast new lessons, as we had no other way of getting new knowledge into people's attention-space. But I have never seen it done since.
A coffee machine is therefore a good metaphor for any social media that you are introducing purely to form social bonds. And I know that there is a school of thought that says "all we need to do is form social bonds, and knowledge will flow". But for me, for our view of knowledge management, its a poor analogy. The exchange and re-use of knowledge is far too important an issue to leave to chance encounters at a virtual coffee machine.
As I said in this post on the water cooler metaphor, just imagine managing your finances the same way - "I need money for my project - I will go to the coffee machine and hope I bump into someone who can give me some money". If you need knowledge for your project, it would be equally crazy to say "I will go to the coffee machine and hope I bump into someone who can give me some knowledge".
Knowledge management is too important to leave to serendipity. It needs to be a deliberate and managed approach to providing people with the knowledge they need, when they need it.
If you want coffee, go to the coffee machine. If you want knowledge, you need something far more focused.
Posted by Nick Milton at 07:14