Monday 3 July 2017

"My knowledge is unique - I can't write it down"

"My knowledge is unique" is another challenge you meet on your KM journey. How do you respond?

image from wikimedia commons
This observation was shared with me by a knowledge manager in the UK health service, who hears it all the time from top doctors and surgeons.

"Nobody can do what I do" they say; "I am unique, my knowledge is unique, it is part of who I am. How could you ever capture it?"

And you can see their point. They quite possibly do have some unique knowledge and skill - they are probably top of their profession, have built their understanding over a decade, and much of their knowledge is probably now so ingrained and so tacit that they may not even understand how they know it.

But that doesn't mean this situation is OK, nor that KM cannot help. For a start, if this knowledge is so important and so unique, then this person represents a "single point of failure" (as they say in engineering terms). If they die, the knowledge dies with them, and (in the case of doctors and surgeons) patients will suffer as a result.

So you need to get into a conversation with the person, and ask a series of questions.

  • What is it that you know, that is so unique?
  • Are you really the only person in the organisation/industry/country/world who knows this?
  • What would happen if you became ill, or were otherwise be unable to work, or reached the end of your career, and that knowledge was unavailable?
  • What would be the effect on the company/customers.patients?
  • Would that be OK?
  • If not, what can we do about this?
Through this questioning you are hoping that the expert will realise that "my knowledge is unique, and that is not OK", and then you can start to design some mitigating actions.

The sort of things you can do include

You will never capture or transfer all of the unique knowledge, but even 10% may be enough to save a few lives.

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