Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why does contextual history matter

When you talk to organizations about sharing deeply held expertise, they will often tell you it is very important, but they do not dedicate time or resources to capturing it. There is also the fear of being mired in the past. Somehow sharing the contextual history of an organization's products, decisions, etc. leads people to believe they will be constrained by that knowledge, rather than empowered to use it to make better decisions in the future.

For example, one of my clients holds unique knowledge about a set of products critical to the success of his company. The products have gone through 30 years of design and marketing changes. As my client prepared to retire, it was critical to capture and share the contextual history of the product including decisions made, intended and actual results, lessons learned and so forth. As we developed a process to capture the information, we heard comments such as, 'Why do we need to know what happened 15 years ago, the world is in a new place now.'

We designed an interactive workshop and invited those people involved in the development of the products to share the product histories. The audience learned about past decisions in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. They learned how to help differentiate their products from the competition and describe product benefits from a more complete viewpoint. The outcome from the workshop was a shared understanding of past decisions and better informed future decision making.

We, as KM practioners, need to help our clients understand that we do not wish to share every bit of tacit knowledge in the hopes that things will be done in the future exactly as they have been done in the past. Nor do we think all knowledge or experience is worthy of being brought forward. Instead, we wish to concentrate on the relevant, unique and critical knowledge which allows us to make sense of the future and levarage the past.

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