Building Communities, Not Databases

I read Weinberger’s (2011) three chapters with great anticipation since perhaps the author would have some insights based on social connections and the internet into why concepts such as Knowledge Management (KM) and other management fads such as Total Quality Management and 360-degree feedback never seem to be sustainable. Davenport (2015) is correct that the internet is killing KM since there was not much life in KM at the working level anyway and rightly so. To me, KM is another example of an idea dreamed up by consultants and academics that could be pitched to corporations and other organizations as a ‘weakness’ that needed to be addressed. Who better to identify and install KM at your corporation? Why, none other than a group of consultants who were more than willing to work with your employees to build a KM database and conduct training to teach your employees how to access the database. I remember when the KM consultants made their rounds at my organization in the late 1990s to launch KM and it was pitched as the best and latest way to capture knowledge with the help of technology. I don’t think KM has ever been mentioned again at my workplace since perhaps 2004. KM failed the same way that other management fads failed at my workplace: no one seems to ask the frontline worker what they needed or wanted to perform their job better and meet their own personal career goals, assuming the worker had any career goals. Shocking to some but quite a few employees are there just for the paycheck. It is not my intention to play down the past work of Nancy Dixon (2009) and others in the KM field but I believe this was yet another management concept conceived in an echo chamber to use Weinberber’s (2011) analogy on group think.

I believe leaders should encourage social learning among their staff members backed up with the formal training that almost every organization provides. Knowledge Management in this way is more natural to employees especially as the internet becomes the de facto repository of knowledge rather than companies trying to develop and maintain their own in-house version of a knowledge database. My own organization still struggles with our own proprietary database and after 15 years, it is still not user friendly and many gaps in information exist and/or subject portals have not been updated in many years. Jarche (2010) is correct that social learning combined with other aspects of organizational learning holds better promise for employees to connect and find answers rather than relying on key knowledge holders (usually senior managers) for guidance and direction. I am glad to see that KM professionals are finally seeing the light in terms of connecting people with the right web based tools such as wikis or blogs and encouraging managers to support social media. As Dixon (2009) mentioned, the goal of KM professionals should be to assist senior leaders and managers in locating and building communities within their own organizations and branching out from there.

References:

Davenport, T. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/06/24/whatever-happened-to-knowledge-management/

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and here it is going – part three. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/

Weinberber, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

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3 thoughts on “Building Communities, Not Databases”


  1. Ben,
    Thanks for your reflection on Knowledge Management (KM). It is refreshing to hear a personal reflection springing from personal experiences of KM. Do you think that KM consultants will be well received within an organization, like yours, even if their attempt is to empower groups and organizations within the institution to build stronger networks that make use of collective knowledge, from divergent sources to solve problems. What would such KM consultants need to do to ensure that the service they offer is appreciated (especially if staff may think that KM is not unimportant). Or, is this service relevant at all today?
    Edletech

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    1. Hi Edletech,

      If KM consultants showed up at my organization today and offered to build stronger networks that made use of collective knowledge from divergent sources to solve problems, they would probably be met with many perplexed looks especially from our younger staff members. In my conversations with my younger team members, say less than five years on the job, many of them feel that the tools to share knowledge and solve problems already exist in the forms shared by Weinberger (2011) such as crowd sourcing and networked experts and that ‘old-timers’ in senior management prevent the use of such resources. I do not totally disagree with that point of view. If the KM consultants arrived and offered to make our existing knowledge databases more user friendly and improved the search algorithms, then they would probably be hailed as heroes if they were successful. I believe that KM has some relevance today but the KM practitioners need to take Dixon’s (2009) advice in changing their approach to organizational learning and assist leaders in creating and more importantly, maintaining on-line communities. Ben Hammer

      References:

      Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and here it is going – part three. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html

      Weinberber, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

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  2. Ben,

    Super interesting thoughts on consulting and their ploy to get into businesses with their “knowledge.” Why do you think this particular type of consulting failed at your organization? Do you feel like it was the consultant who failed, or was your organization not ready for the change?

    Thank you!
    Kaylea

    Like

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