Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Knowledge Management and Simplicity

How does Knowledge Management help in an increasingly complex world? It allows people to simply structures through communication and collaboration.

Simplifying through collaboration is the topic of a Ted talk by Yves Morieux, in which he gives us 6 rules to simplify complexity (thanks to Roxana Bahrami for alerting me to this). Watch the talk to get the context, but here are the 6 rules (with more explanation here)
  1. Ensure people in the organisation full understand what others really do. 
  2. Look for cooperation - reinforce managers as integrators, by removing layers so that managers are closer to the real work. 
  3. Empower everybody to use their judgement and intelligence. 
  4. Create tight feedback loops that expose people to the consequences of their actions. 
  5. Increase reciprocity, by removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient.
  6. Reward those who cooperate and blame or sanction those who don't cooperate. 
Do these sound familiar? Rules 1,2,4,5 and 6 are all components of Knowledge Management, and Knowledge Management is needed to support Rule 3.

Yves explains that as these rules are brought into play, and organisation begins to be able to manage complexity not through adding more and more complex structures and requirements, but by allowing people to take ownership of issues, and sort them out together, rather than passing them on to someone else.

When I started work in the oil business, over 30 years ago, there was little communication or collaboration. I was a geologist, and part of my job was to provide data for the drillers. I would write a report telling them where to drill and what rocks to expect to encounter, and they would take the report and drill the well. The world was simpler then - all wells were vertical shafts.

Nowadays the world of oil drilling is far more complex. Often the driller is trying to drill the well horizontally, along a particular geological horizon; an exceedingly challenging thing to do. No longer can the geologist and driller communicate through reports - they have to sit together in front of the same screen, looking at the same data, making joint decisions in real time and learning quickly about the results of those decisions.  Sharing knowledge and learning from experience are key factors in achieving success in a complex world.

Yves finishes his talk by explaining how CEOs can help support the 6 rules of complexity, and gives us this story, which should resonate with all KM practitioners
The CEO of The Lego Group, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, says, blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help or ask for help. This changes everything. Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.

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