Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Knowledge suppliers and users

We often get hung up on treating knowledge as if it were impersonal pieces of content; instead let's look at it as an interaction between supplier and user.

Image from wikimedia commons
All knowledge, if we think in terms of "Know-how" originates from people, and is re-used by people.  Sometimes it passes from person to person through conversation, and sometimes the interaction is more remote - through written or recorded words and diagrams.

Knowledge Management, therefore, is a systematic and structured approach to transferring strategic and operational knowledge from suppliers to users through whatever interactions are most effective and efficient. And in many cases co-developing the knowledge as well as transferring it.

In a recent blog post, I explained about Collect and Connect as being two routes for knowledge transfer between the supplier and user, but now let's look at the supplier and user themselves.

Knowledge is created through experience, and through the reflection on experience in order to derive guidelines, rules, theories, heuristics and doctrines. Knowledge may be created by individuals, through reflecting on their own experience, or it may be created by teams reflecting on team experience, or communities of practice engaged in collective sense-making. These are knowledge suppliers.

Knowledge is applied by individuals and teams, who can apply their own personal knowledge and experience, or they can look elsewhere for knowledge – to learn before they start, and benefit from shared experience. These are knowledge users. One of the challenges for knowledge transfer, is that often the user is unknown and the supplier has limited ways to interact with this user.

Knowledge management consists of building an enabling environment, or framework, where the users are expected to, and given the tools to, seek for and re-use knowledge whenever they need it, and where the suppliers are expected to, and enabled to, share and/or store their knowledge, wherever and whenever they have something of importance to share, using either Connection or Collection, depending on which is appropriate.

Monday, 17 September 2018

How to curb overconfidence by considering the unknowns

Overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases that affects KM. Here is how to address it.

Cognitive biases are the plague of Knowledge Management. They cause people to neglect evidence, to fail to notice things, to reinvent their memory, and to be overconfident about their own knowledge.

Overconfidence in particular is an enemy of learning. People are more willing to accept knowledge from a confident person, but confidence is more often linked to a lack of knowledge - the "Dunning-Kruger effect". Overconfidence leads to wishful thinking, which leads to ignoring knowledge from others, and is one of the primary causes of project cost and time overruns.

Overconfidence is therefore what happens when you don't know what you don't know, and a recent Insead study shows that overconfidence can be significantly reduced just by considering your lack of knowledge. In this study they gave people general knowledge questions, and found (as is often the case) that people were overconfident about their answer (You can take a similar test, to test your own level of overconfidence). Then they tried again with two groups of people - with the first group they asked the people to list a couple of missing pieces of knowledge which would help them guess the answer better, and with the second group they asked them to consider reasons why their choice might be wrong (a "devil's advocate" approach).

The paper contains a very clear graph which shows that the approach of "considering the unknowns" has a major impact on overconfidence, while the devils advocate approach is far less powerful. The report concludes:

In our view, overconfidence often arises when people neglect to consider the information they lack. Our suggestion for managers is simple. When judging the likelihood of an event, take a pen and paper and ask yourself: “What is it that I don’t know?” Even if you don’t write out a list, the mere act of mulling the unknowns can be useful. And too few people do it. Often, they are afraid to appear ignorant and to be penalised for it. But any organisation that allows managerial overconfidence to run amok can expect to pay a hefty price, sooner or later.

In Knowledge Management, we have a simple and powerful process that allows exactly this process of  "Considering the unknowns". This is the Knowledge Gap Analysis, or its more elaborate version for larger projects - the Knowledge Management Plan. Both of these processes require a team to list the things they do not know (thus reducing overconfidence) and then set up learning actions to acquire the knowledge (thus reducing the number of unknowns).

These are two of many KM techniques that can help address cognitive bias.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Connect and Collect - the two parallel pathways in KM

I mentioned Connect and Collect in yesterday's blog as being two routes for knowledge flow, so I thought I would expand on these two in today's post.

One of the earliest models in the history of Knowledge Management, and one that sometimes seems to get forgotten, is that there are two key dimensions in Knowledge Management, representing two routes between the knowledge suppler, and the knowledge user.

These are the Connect route, and the Collect route.

The Connect route supports knowledge transfer through connecting people.

  • In the Connect route, Knowledge is transferred through conversation - either face to face or electronically mediated. 
  • It can be supported by processes such as Peer Assist, Knowledge handover, knowledge exchange, knowledge markets, knowledge cafes, action learning, after action review, mentoring, coaching, and communities of practice.  
  • It can be supported by technologies such as collaboration tools, people-finders, community forums, webex, telephone and skype. 
  • The knowledge never needs to be written down; it can be - but it does not need to be, and knowledge can be transferred in tacit form.
  • The Connect route is necessary for complex knowledge, advanced knowledge, deep skills, and highly contextual knowledge. 
  • The Connect route is a highly effective way to transfer knowledge, but very inefficient, as the conversation must be repeated for each knowledge user.

The Collect route supports knowledge transfer through collecting knowledge into documents.

  • In the Collect route, Knowledge is transferred through documentation ("Knowledge capture"), through organisation and synthesis of that documentation, and through connecting the user with the documents, through search or through push.
  • It can be supported by processes such as Retrospect, Lesson Learning, Interview, creation of Knowledge Assets, and Knowledge Synthesis. 
  • It can be supported by technologies such as portals, lessons management systems, search, semantic search, blogs and wikis
  • The knowledge is written down or recorded, and transferred in explicit form.
  • The Collect route is ideal for relatively simple non-contextual knowledge which needs to reach a large audience, for knowledge that needs shelf life, for knowledge where no immediate user is available, and for knowledge which needs compiling and processing (such as lessons). 
  • The Connect route is an ineffective way to transfer knowledge, as we can only write a fraction of what we know, but very efficient, as once that fraction is captured it can be reused a thousand times.
Connect and Collect are not alternative strategies. They are two components of a single framework and a single strategy, which work in parallel. 

Your organisation will contain critical knowledge of very many kinds; some of which will need to be transferred through collection and some through connection. So make sure you address both dimensions

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Why so many simple KM loop diagrams are wrong

Here is another post from the archives, this one on the problem with so many simple KM loop cycles.

I have lost count of the number of Knowledge Management lectures, strategies, introductions and other material I have seen, which somewhere along the line have presented a single loop model for Knowledge Management.

Almost all of these have been wrong.

The ones that were wrong, were the ones that look like the upper picture - that start with "Create" (for creating knowledge), then immediately move to "Capture". Try a google image search for "Knowledge Management cycle" and you will see what I mean.

The reason why they are wrong, is that Knowledge does not always need to be captured to be managed. 

You can, in some circumstances,  operate a perfectly good Knowledge Management system while keeping knowledge tacit and uncaptured, and transferring the knowledge through planned and structured conversations between the right people (for example using Peer Assists, Knowledge Handovers, Knowledge Exchanges, Mentoring and Coaching). Therefore a single loop with a "Capture" step is only a partial truth.

In more general terms, Knowledge management can take two routes, generally known as Collect and Connect. In the Collect route, knowledge is documented and becomes content - it is "Captured" (leaving aside for the moment all the arguments around whether knowledge can ever really be captured). In the Connect route, knowledge need never be "captured" so long as it is transferred through conversation.

Therefore all these knowledge cycles, that require "Capture" somewhere along the chain, only refer to the Collect dimension of knowledge management, and miss the Connect dimension.

A single loop is a single line - a one-dimensional thing. Knowledge Management is two dimensional (if not more).  It is both Connect and Collect - it needs a Collect loop, and a Connect loop.

Therefore a more realistic model is the lower one shown here, which reflects the reality of the two dimensions, and expresses them in two cycles.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Why self-assessment of KM maturity often fails

KM self-assessment often gives false results, as people frequently don't know what "good" looks like.

knowledge management assessments for clients, we often run into something we call "overconfidence through ignorance", where someone will rank themselves good at something when they are really very poor, just because they have no knowledge of what "good" actually looks like.
When we run

"Yes, we are very good at sharing best practice" they might say; "We have a conference every second year where people present their best ideas". And because they have no experience of (for example) daily discussions in a community of practice, or projects routinely hosting peer assists, with the associated deep discussion of knowledge topics, they think that a show-and-tell conference is an effective way to transfer knowledge, and that every second year is an appropriate frequency.

Or they say "Yes, we capture knowledge when people leave the organisation - everyone has a 30-minute interview with HR before they leave". And because they have no idea of what a good Knowledge Retention and Transfer program looks like, they think that a 30-minute chat about "why are you leaving" is good enough.

This is one of the gorilla illusions - the cognitive biases that plague us all - known as the illusion of confidence.

So we find an interesting pattern;

  • A person who knows little about Knowledge Management, ranks themselves highly through false confidence
  • As they learn a little more about KM, their self-ranking drops dramatically, once they realise how poor they really are
  • Then as they actually start to implement good KM, their ranking begins to climb again

This is one of the primary reasons why any effective assessment of your Knowledge Management capability needs an experienced objective external view. One of the key pieces of knowledge any Knowledge Manager needs to know -

"What would things look like, if we were really very good at Knowledge Management, and how far are we now from that point".

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Analysing questions in a community of practice

An analysis of searches and queries can tell you a lot about the knowledge topics which are of the greatest value in your organisation.

Analysing patterns of searches helps you to identify the emergent knowledge topics, the knowledge gaps, and the "hot potatoes" in your organisation, your community, or in society.

We tried this approach by analysing questions within a big community of practice . The queries to the community forum were already characterised into topics, because when you ask a question using the forum software, you have to choose which topic it is related to. So that saved us having to assign categories.

We divided these topics into four quadrants;
1. Topics where there were few questions, but each one got lots of answers. These tended to be areas of common knowledge, where most people knew the answer and only a few new people did not. For these topics, we could write guidelines, knowledge assets or FAQs for the benefit of the new staff

2. Lots of questions, lots of answers. These were the important and evolving Knowledge topics where it was worth while setting up community meetings such as Knowledge Exchanges so that we could start to exchange and document best practice.

3. Lots of questions, few answers. These were the problem areas, where some more research or action learning was needed to start to develop solutions.

4. Few questions, few answers. Our assumption was that these are not particularly important areas, but that it was worth watching them in case they developed into problem areas.

This was a very useful analysis and led to a greater understanding of the important evolving and problem topics within the community.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Announcement - webinar on the new KM Standard

Please note that the British Standards institute is holding an open webinar on October 8th to launch the new ISO KM standard.

I am co-hosting the webinar, together with Ron Young and Judy Payne. We will cover

  • Why an international, principles-led, KM standard was needed 
  • The new standard’s requirements 
  • How to go about implementing the standard

You can find details and register your interest here

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