In yesterday’s post, I predicted that 2010 would be the year the Knowledge Management (KM) thrived or died. In its current state, KM has turned into a mechanism that attempts to capture explicit knowledge in a way that is seamless to the person creating that knowledge. The results turn out to be databases filled with retrievable information presented as contributed knowledge from someone within the firm. So, we end up with CRM databases, document management systems, research capturing tools and expertise databases. All of which are simply ways that KM has attempted to capture the explicit knowledge of those within the firm as it written down in order to be retrieved at a later time by others in the firm. Unfortunately, this has become the classical KM routine, and the resulting product turns out to be a rarely used resource because the data is either ‘dirty’, obsolete or irrelevant to the current needs of those within the firm. It is this type classical KM strategy of capturing explicit knowledge and supporting the resources that store and display this explicit knowledge that is killing KM. So, how can KM break away from this classical approach?

In their blog post “Networking Reconsidered“, John Hagel III and John Seely Brown discuss networking and how the most important knowledge is tacit knowledge – “the knowledge that we have all accumulated from our experiences” – the type of knowledge that cannot be written or captured in an easy way. While I was reading the posting, I started viewing it from a KM perspective. Some of the same issues that Hagel and Brown discuss have real application in the KM world. For example, bring up the phrase “networking” and many KM professionals picture “images of classical networking and schmoozing, driven by individuals intent upon prying business cards out of others and relentlessly expanding their contact lists, manipulatively using their contacts to advance their own interests.” In fact, most attorneys conjure up this image as well, and it is one of the primary reasons that some attorneys do not share this knowledge in the KM resources. They think that if they do share, then it will give someone else in the firm a way to steal this information and use it for their own benefit.
Hagel and Brown suggest implementing a process that moves away from the classical approach of “manipulative exchange” of knowledge and create a new approach that focuses on understanding the current needs of those within the firm and aligning them with others that can help solve those current needs. They suggest that social networking as a way of creating this new approach. However, before you start rolling your eyes, let’s take a look at their reasoning.
First of all, Hagel and Brown suggest that the goal of networking should be the building of long-term relationships. These long-term relationships are built by working on common issues, working together to solve these issues, and building a trust that everyone in the relationship is learning and contributing. By building long-term relationships, you build “trust”, and by building “trust” you build in the reciprocity that becomes a powerful foundation for future needs.
Traditional KM and networking is designed to capture explicit knowledge and then use it to identify others within the firm that you should introduce yourself because they have handled a similar issue in the past. This type of “Push” technique is usually limited in value because that information may not be captured, thus “we cannot push if we do not yet know who we are pushing towards.” Even when the “push” technique works, it usually creates a “one-way learning mindset” where one person is seeking to learn from another, “rather than creating the foundation for collaborative learning.”
Hagel and Brown promote the idea that social networking creates the ability to collaborate on current issues (two-way learning) rather than attempting to identify past successes and apply them to the current issue (one-way learning). Because social networking exposes current needs rather than past successes, it creates a way to draw people together in a collaborative learning process. Instead of the traditional method of capturing knowledge, social networking allows us to “participate in the knowledge flows that matter the most” to the firm and exposes “our ability to master a new set of practices at a personal level.
Traditional KM practices are still important in capturing the explicit knowledge of the firm, but this should not be the overall mission. KM must attempt to expand its goals by creating methods to expose the “knowledge flows” of the firm as well. The goal is to expose the tacit knowledge, not simply capturing it. By exposing the tacit knowledge through social networking, KM can create a conduit for individuals to share current issues they are confronting and attract other individuals to collaborate in addressing and solving these issues.
  • KM as we know it is dead. The sooner we all realise that, the better. You argue that the captured data "is either 'dirty', obsolete or irrelevant to the current needs of those within the firm" and you are right.
    The other key problem of traditional KM tools is a human one: When something becomes obvious (to them) people tend to stop sharing. Rajesh Setty explains this phenomenon beautifully here:
    What is needed instead are simple tools that connect people to people and their knowledge. In my 7 years at Microsoft plenty of KM initiatives came and went but nothing was anywhere near as successful these simple social tools:
    1. Searchable discussion forums – by far the most important mechanism for sharing knowledge. Why? Because it is based on NEED. People ask questions, and you give them what they need, when they need it. (Too many KM entries are based on what experts think people need, or what they think is good for them)
    2. People Search – the ability to search for people based on their area of expertise
    3. Instant Messaging – to be able to ask questions of experts in time critical situations. You should aim to create a flat organisation. Create a culture where staff are empowered to ask questions of experts and where experts are rewarded for sharing knowledge.

    Blogs and Wikis also had a place, but I think I have probably written enough here for now. This is an interesting and complex topic though, so I may follow up with a more detailed post on my own blog ( a little later.

    Happy to share more of my experience if anyone is interested.


  • Great start, plant the seed!

    You also need to rember that senior lawyers are less likely to want to empower junior ones, so putting in systems that allow a junior to be as effective as a senior, can be quite intimidating.

    On the flipside, in this time of recession and fixed fees, having a cheaper resource provide the same result has got to be a good thing.

    Seniors can then spend more time on QAing the results and maintaining the relationship with the client…

    Just my 2c and no, I'm not a lawyer.