Reporting on Sin

June 29, 2007

Some of the major posts here were Whence goeth KM, along with Weltanschauung for social computing Overall this post took several hours to write, but has given me an opportunity to pull together a lot of blogs in one cohesive group, and its done most of the work (with the HTML links) on two chapters of the book so that is good news although you may not appreciate just under 2000 words.
Slide the first

I started with a screen shot of yesterday's blog request and the responses I wanted to make a point about the radical changes that have taken place over the last dozen years since KM got started. Back then I could have sent emails, searched a much smaller internet that we have today. I would have been as likely to phone but I could not have connected so quickly with a diverse and intelligent group of people. Of course to have that network I have had to invest my time in this blog (its coming up to its first anniversary). You can't take without giving in the blogosphere, the rules of reciprocation are not written but they are understood.

Slide the second

I could not resist it, I reproduced with acknowledgment, Patrick Lambe's retelling of the seven deadly sins, which you can read in full in the comments to yesterday's request. His entry on pride was apposite in the light of Uncle Jerry's recent actions but they were all good. I said a silent ouch at wrath and resolved to be more temperate in future, but my all time favorite was Envy – looking at what other people are doing in KM and imagining that you can do KM simply by going through imitative motions – aka benchmarking to best practices. Easily the most dangerous.

Slide the third: THE PAST & PRESENT

I organised this into three sections as follows

Historical errors which for me starts with the DIKW model, seeing knowledge as some higher order level of information, rather than the means by which we create information from data. Without a shared context, communication is impossible; your information becomes my data. Converting transaction data to management accounts assumes shared knowledge by creator and receiver. Seeing knowledge management as the process of creating shared context makes it more practical and also avoids the terrible assent to wisdom management and thence to pretension. Having tackled that I went on to the model that launched a thousand failed knowledge management initiatives, namely Nonaka's SECI model. I used my standard counter to this, namely to take a phrase in English, translate it into French and then convert it back again: you get nonsense. And that where we have dictionaries, rules of grammar etc. etc. none of which are present with knowledge. Assuming you can make tacit knowledge explicit and that reading explicit knowledge will make it tacit is one of the great fictions and false promises of knowledge management. I then targeted consultancy firms designing and running KM programmes based on recipes and best practice rather than mentoring organisations to create contextually appropriate and sustainable programmes. Idealistic outcome based solutions and measurement concluded the litany of historical error and were compared unfavourably with naturalising approaches

Basic unchanged truths allowed me to go back to the three rules of knowledge management and in particular to talk about shifting from the tacit and explicit words to thinking about knowledge as ranging from knowledge that can only be acquired by experience, to that which can be codified and diffused rapidly in consequence. I talked about the role of narrative as a mediation and meaning making exercise between the two. To illustrate this I used the comparison between a taxi driver and a map user (I must record that story, and pod cast it as it is one of the oldest and most effective). The London taxi driver acquires knowledge through experience, but in consequence can get to a destination faster than the map user and is more resilient when things go wrong. However the map assumes shared context. I told the story of when I used a map in New York and came near to getting mugged, because of the assumptions of a shared knowledge context between map maker and map user. When I complained that the map did not say Here be muggers and other strange beasts, I was told …but everyone knows that to which my response was Well I don't. Its one of the most common mistakes with information management, assuming shared context around the common place.

Errors relating to cognition and this is as much current as it is past. My first point was to attack to my mind the two major faults in our understanding of the human mind, namely using a cybernetic or a behavioral model. THe behaviorists in effect tried to ignore the question of the brain and sought to create a trained dog, but the greater danger is the assumption that the human brain is an information process, like a computer. This has been especially pernicious in the case of knowledge management as it has increased the focus on information processing and structured decision making. The danger of course is that if we spend out time in a rigid process based environment then we come to think like that. I summarised the differences and the issues on this subject here. Having dealt with that one I questioned the all to common assumption that language means the same thing in different contexts and that computers can see patterns in that language. I argued that all the search engines in the world, not to mention the ontologies and all the other trappings of IT were like Newtonian physics based on a necessary simplification. They are limited and we are approaching those limits.I raised the question of natural numbers and the failure to apply them in community building and then summarised it all by arguing that we have for too long been attempting to substitute human intelligence with software, when in reality we should be attempting a symbiosis.

Slide the fourth: NEW POSSIBILITIES

After an enjoyable rant, loosely sprinkled with stories I moved on the to positive. Eight points here in summary

  1. The possibility of fast, cheap and resilient approaches to getting a KM approach started. By taking a Safe-fail experimental approach, using standard (and mostly free) software you can get a KM programme running with minimal investment, and the see what works. That allows you to amplify the good and dampen the bad. I previously elaborated this approach here
  2. We increasingly understand the opportunities of focusing on relationships (that after all is what social computing is all about) The cow-chicken-grass test produced its normal impact and allowed me make the point of balance, we tend to categorisation but need to rebalance the relationship aspects while maintaining the exploitative power of categorisation.
  3. Out there I am seeing Executives increasingly disenchanted with the old ways of doing things. They have endured plagues of consultants, swarms of process based solutions and floods of anodyne recipes based on best practice. The intelligent ones know it does not work, they are finally ready to try something new. This is an opportunity, we could miss it, but it is there.
  4. Increasing understanding of networks and in particular the power of nodal networks is becoming more visible to business leaders with globalisation, outsourcing and the like. Also issues with matrix management (two competing hierarchies) open them up to new possibilities. I have written about this, and techniques such as SNS which allow a bottom up generation of those primary agents of knowledge sharing, the informal network, to be stimulated.
  5. Increasing power and capability of visualistion with modern computers. A huge element of brain is linked to our visual senses and we can do more here, than with raw data. I showed an examples of our work on landscapes which got people interested and excited some stories.
  6. Increasing understanding of narrative and its potential, especially when we avoid story telling and instead focus on the fragmented nature of human memory and its capacity for blending anecdotal material with our current context. I elaborated that difference here.
  7. Experiments in creating single measures of impact, rather than multiple measure of outcome and providing genuine opportunities for people to move from fail safe design to safe fail experimentation when everything they do is not subject to rigid and constraining measurement systems.
  8. The ability afforded by social computing and the power of the web to see things from different perspectives to look at the world through another eyes. I did not reference my favorite quote >from Terry Eagleton's Holy Terror, but I should have. While this applies to counter terrorism, it is also true of customers, citizens and employees, we need to see the world anew to act differently in it.


Slide the fifth: MAJOR ISSUES
I have previously discussed three major issues, namely Scalability, Validation and Cognitive Development. That material was presented at a recent online conference and the pod cast can be found here. To these three I added two more:

Transparency: you can't hide on the net. Try and contain an issue through censorship and your material will propagate fast, it will get picked up and commented upon by others. A good working assumption is if its digital its being shared. You views are open to examination by all.

Velocity: things happen fast, the old sense-respond mode no longer works, you need to pay attention to boundaries, containment and resilience. We live in far from equilibrium times, attempts to re-impose or create equilibrium will not work.

There is a common element to both of these. Knowledge, unlike land or energy cannot be managed using models of scarcity. Instead it requires a philosophy of abundance, what matters is speed of exploitation not ownership. Open Source is just one example among many, in which sharing and openness are the new economic paradigm.. Attempting to create scarcity through control, or to protect people from change will not work. It doesn't matter if its attempts to senior management to prevent their employees linking and connecting in other than approved ways, or the patronising controls of Uncle Jerry.

You can't control uncertainty, but you can evolve with it.


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Confusing story telling with narrative

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Narrative work, in the sense that I presented it involves the mass capture of anecdotal ...

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