Wednesday 6 November 2019

Why a conversation with experienced colleagues is better than re-using captured knowledge

There are some circumstances where re-using captured knowledge is helpful, but many more where a conversation with an experienced person is a better option.

I have referred a few times in this blog to a very interesting paper by Martine Haas and Morten Hansen, who look at success data from bid teams in an international service organisation to find out when collaboration actually helps performance.

They looked at the context of the teams and the types of bids they were addressing, and at two types of collaboration; how much they accessed and re-used documents from previous bids (which they called "codified knowledge"), and how much they sought advice from experienced colleagues outside the team ("personal knowledge"). They then looked at bid success rates, to give an objective measure of the VALUE of the knowledge to the team.

The results are shown in the graphs here, and summarised in the table below. The terms Haas and Hansen use as "high/low need to learn" refers to whether the bid teams were experienced (low need to learn) or inexperienced (high need to learn). Also "high/low need to differentiate" refers to whether the bid they are working on is standard (low need to differentiate) or non-standard (high need to differentiate).

They found that the value of reusing knowledge or of a conversation with experienced colleagues varied with the circumstances of the team and the bid.

Re-use of codified knowledge
Conversation with experienced staff (personal knowledge)
Experienced team, standard contextHarmfulHarmful
Experienced team, non-standard contextHarmfulHelpful
Inexperienced team, standard contextHelpfulHelpful
Inexperienced team, non-standard contextHarmfulHelpful

What we can see from these results is that re-using codified knowledge is actually harmful to success in 3 out of 4 cases, while a conversation with an expert is helpful in 3 out of 4 cases. 

This is a message to all of us working in KM - that codified knowledge alone will not deliver the full value from KM, and that conversations are also needed if we are to make the most of corporate knowledge.

Conversation and content are the two sides of KM, and Haas and Hansen's results show that conversation is the more useful of the two in many contexts. 

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