Monday, 25 February 2013


The equation that governs the flow of knowledge?


In their 2011 presentation, Tim Stouffer and Reid Smith took an interesting look at the flow of knowledge, and likened it to the flow of oil, water or other fluid in a fluid-bearing rock.

In such circumstances,  flow is governed by the equation shown here, which is known as Darcy's law. Flow is governed by the permeability of the rock, the dynamic viscosity of the fluid, the pressure difference, and the distance the fluid needs to travel. Stoufer and Smith used this equation as analogy to draw some conclusions about how to increase knowledge flow in organisations - I would like to make my own conclusions from the same equation.

The equation implies that if we want to increase knowledge flow, we need to decrease the permeability of the organisation to knowledge. This is the area most KM programs focus on - providing the tools and the organisational structures that remove or reduce the barriers to knowledge flow, making the organisation as transparent as possible as far as knowledge is concerned. They do this through the introduction of community forums, good search, well constructed knowledge bases, lessons management systems with good workflow etc.. This is vital to success of a KM program, but is only 1/4 of the equation.

The equation implies that if we want to increase knowledge flow, we need to reduce the viscosity (the stickiness, or flow-resistance) of the knowledge itself. Many organisations will claim on the one hand that knowledge does not flow round their organisation, while on the other hand agreeing that gossip spreads like wildfire. That's because gossip is low-viscosity knowledge - it will find any little gap through which to flow. We need to reduce the viscosity of technical knowledge to a similar level, through packaging it well, through the use of stories, video, examples and lessons. Well written, catchy, punchy, and speaking directly to the reader/listener/viewer.

The equation implies that if we want to increase knowledge flow, we need to increase the driving pressure. This is the cultural side of the equation, the pressure to share and (more importantly) the pressure to Ask and Learn. The pressure is the sum of Pull and Push, and is the sum of peer pressure and management expectations.

The equation implies that if we want to increase knowledge flow, we need to decrease the length knowledge needs to travel. The ideal is to transfer knowledge face to face, in after action reviews, peer assists, knowledge handovers, knowledge exchange etc. Failing this, it needs to be transferred through communities of practice. In a CoP, every member is only one degree of separation away.

1 comment:

  1. Fun!
    Another one for engineers: K = f I * (ESA)
    Knowledge = a function of Information times Experience, Skills and Attitude.
    So Delta K = Delta ( ....etc)
    It makes clear what happens is I or E or S or A equals zero.
    Source: Weggemen

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