Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pitfalls of managing deeply held knowledge

Most of the clients I work with have experts who hold knowledge felt to be critical to the success of the organization-- or at least to one project, technology, customer relationship etc.
At the same time, they have no idea how to capture that knowledge or even how to think about it. Write it all down, is the most common solution. Write what all down, I ask? And why?

Tacit or deeply held knowledge has the unique characteristic of being obsolete quickly-- almost as fast as it is identified and articulated. How a key relationship works, why a decision was made, how a problem was thought through and solved-- those types of things are critical at a point in time, and then they might move through the phases of being contextual help, background information and eventually outdated. Why would you write it down? Without the context around that information, the story behind the story, you lose the meat.

Why not try something new-- let's talk to each other, listen to each other and ask questions. Ah, a novel approach in our fast paced organizations today. Many consultants would be looking for new employment if clients would learn to communicate effectively and often. In the meantime, structured dialogue, active discussions and learning, collaborative problem solving would allow you to create a way to share the knowledge critical to the organization and not worry about obsolesce or documentation. (OK, you might want to document some of it, but not all of it).

Effective managing of knowledge is not rocket science but it is discipline. It is mindful communication, organization of information and the ability to self reflect. It need not be painful, though it does require some time and effort. No more time or effort then continually looking for information when you don't know where it is, who knows it or if it is up to date.

Next time your kids ask you why you got into the career you did, what made you move to Minnesota and was it a good idea, or how to make that very good golf shot, think about the deeply held knowledge you are sharing. Would you write it down? No. Do you want to share it? Yes.

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