Monday 21 November 2011

Knowledge oversupply, a cautionary tale

ou termine le contenu de nos boîtes aux lettres ? Earlier this year I met up with a company who had taken a popular approach to KM; the approach of Explicit Push. However they had taken it to extremes, and as a result destroyed the value they had hoped to create.

Explicit Push is that component of KM that deals with publishing written material. It is only one of four components of KM, and it is the component that takes the longest to deliver any value. Push is "just in case" knowledge, and while there are times where Push is the correct approach, it is a wasteful approach for anything other than the publishing of guidance for repeat activity. It is an answer looking for a problem, rather than a problem looking for an answer.

This company, who shall remain nameless, had introduced
  • A blogging platform for all staff. Directors and other senior staff are taking the lead, people rank each other's blogs, and star bloggers are given prominence and recognition
  • A platform for publishing articles, again linked to recognition. Many blog posts are repeats of articles
  • A wiki platform. Much wiki content is repeated on blogs, or contains contents of blog articles
  • A discussion forum, used primarily for announcements. Many of the posts are notifications of new articles ("read my new blog post")
  • A microblogging platform, mostly used for notification of new blogs, articles and wiki pages
Explicit push in this company is
  • modelled by senior management
  • very visible
  • rewarded through recognition and manager support
  • reinforced by wall displays around the building
  • modelled by peers, and
  • supported by many channels.
Pull, on the other hand (and by Pull I mean the demand for knowledge - the curiosity to learn), is
  • not modelled by senior management (no managers are asking their staff for advice)
  • not visible
  • not rewarded
  • not mentioned on any wall displays
  • not modelled by peers, and
  • supported by only one channel, which doesn't work very well.
As a result they have created a vast supply of published material, much of it duplicated, and none of it well structured, and have almost no demand for that material. Almost none of it is being reused. Even if you know that knowledge on a topic has been published, it can still be impossible to find it. Nobody can keep up to date with the volume of published material. This system is destroying value and adding cost.

The vast volume of duplicate material creates a wall of noise, within which the signal of knowledge transfer has been lost.

Explicit Push is such a popular first-pass approach to KM strategy, that it is worth looking at what happens when taken to extremes, and how the sheer volume of pushed material can destroy all value in the system.

This is a reminder to make very very sure that the other three KM components are addressed as well.

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