The ineffable, the inexpiable & the inexpicable

November 9, 2011

homer-simpson-wallpaper-brain-1024.jpg The last month has had a few deja vu moments with the ACS speaking tour and three virtual presentations to KM conferences in Singapore, Brazil and North American. The best part of twenty years ago I moved out of a operational business role into something that was a rather messily but emergently coherent combination of research and practice following the IBM take over of DataSciences. The initial vehicle for that was knowledge management which was in the early stage of its hype cycle and I suddenly found myself on the conference circuit, and enjoying it if I am honest with myself. Many of my best ideas and methods have emerged through interaction with those audiences and there is something ineffable about the interaction between audience and speaker that goes beyond one or two way communication.

What has been interesting, if depressing is to see the cycles go round and round. In the early days it was all about taxonomies, making tacit knowledge explicit and implementing a Lotus Notes system to create Communities of Practice. That eventually failed, not because it was wrong, but because is was only right within boundaries and did’t properly manage the informal, trust networks that are key to knowledge flow in an organisation. Something that I covered in one of the early Cynefin articles. In those early days Chief Knowledge Officers were on the main board or one off at least and the strategic intent was there, if not strategic practice.

Now as those programs failed, and as their initiators left to create consultancy businesses, the need did not go away. Managing knowledge properly understood is all about improving decision making, creating the need for communication and improving communication. None of those are done well in most organisations so its no surprise that many people started up again. Unfortunately little changed. For taxonomy reach semantic search and for Lotus Notes read Sharepoint (a step backwards from a poor starting position) but otherwise nothing much has changed bar one major shift. Knowledge management in most organisations is not strategic, its tucked away somewhere in the IT department and is contained by and/or serves the goals of its owners.

Now it doesn’t have to be like that, but it may need another name and another owner within the organisation. The stuff that people currently put under the KM label needs to be there, but with a different tool set and a more messy approach than at current. However all of that stuff is hygiene, the real focus needs to be elsewhere. As to what that is, and the meaning of the title I will return to that tomorrow.

The picture? Well its a good representation of the role given to the human brain in most KM programs.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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