Friday, 15 July 2016

KM - the next best thing to "sitting next to Carlos"

In this article, Tom Stewart makes some interesting points about Knowledge Management, and the balance between technology and human interaction.

Image from wikipedia
The article is entitled "The case against knowledge management" and is taken from Stewart's book "The Wealth of Knowledge". In the article, he tells this cautionary tale regarding Knowledge Management.

"Jack Whalen, a sociologist, works at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. A few years ago, he was assigned to the Institute for Research on Learning, a nonprofit group Xerox supported. He spent a couple of years there studying how people, computers, and expert-system software interacted in a customer service call center in Lewisville, Texas, north of Dallas. 
"The software (in this case, Inference Corp.'s CasePoint) was supposed to help employees tell customers how to fix problems with copiers -- paper jams, faded copies, and the like. When the call-center operator typed words spoken by a customer -- "jam," for example -- the software searched its memory bank of diagnoses and solutions. Trouble was, employees weren't using the new software. Management decided that employees needed an incentive to change. 
"The company held a month-long contest in which employees earned points (which translated into cash) each time they solved a customer problem, by whatever means. The winner was an eight-year veteran named Carlos, with more than 900 points. Carlos wasn't a big favorite among managers -- "He's a cowboy," one of them said -- but his victory was no surprise. He almost never used the software.
"The runner-up was a shock. Trish had been with the company just four months and had no previous experience with copying equipment. Her 600 points more than doubled the score of the third-place finisher. She didn't even have the new software, only an older, less sophisticated system. But she had a secret weapon: She sat across from Carlos. She overheard him when he talked. She apprenticed herself to him and persuaded him to show her the innards of copiers during lunch breaks. She built up a personal collection of manuals and handwritten notes about how to fix problems".
In this story, and in the rest of the article, Stewart makes the case that addressing KM through software gets you nowhere without also addressing KM through "wetware" (people). As we say at Knoco, you need connection as well as collection, and you need to address conversation as well as content.  Both of these aspects need to be part of any balanced Knowledge Management framework - both collecting the solutions, and "sitting across from Carlos".

Stewart continues his article by analysing a KM solution that actually does work - an informal community-based solution at PWC known as Kraken - and draws out the following success factors:

  • First, it's demand-driven. The founders imagined that people would spark discussion by uploading white papers and the like .... Instead, the spark comes first -- 80 percent of Kraken traffic starts with questions: Does anybody know? Does anybody have? Has anybody ever done something like? 
  • Second, the Kraken gets at tacit and latent knowledge, provoking responses from people who didn't know they had something to contribute until they heard the discussion; similarly, it tolerates fuzzy, badly formed questions better than formal databases where one often needs a bit of expertise even to begin. 
  • Third, it's front of mind, right there with the morning mail and coffee -- you don't have to make an effort to go there. 
  • Fourth, it's full of engaging opinion held strongly, rightly or wrongly. There's an old saying at Xerox PARC: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points."
 All of these are pointers towards what is needed for KM - a focus on demand for knowledge as well as supply, on seeking as well as sharing, on connection as well as collection, on wetware as well as software, on conversation as well as content, and as making it as similar as possible to "sitting across from Carlos".

If you need help balancing your Knowledge Management framework in this way, we can help you. 

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