posted 1 Mar 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 6
Your Say: In praise of simple
There are currently two main tracks in knowledge management. One is the Artificial Intelligence route, where programs are built to learn about hidden relationships, contexts and patterns in large and ever increasing volumes of data, thus allowing knowledge to be created about, for example, customer buying behaviour. The second focus of knowledge management, and the subject of this brief note, is the humanist-pragmatist view that the most useful knowledge resides in individuals.
When this humanist knowledge management is used for business value, the goals are to create both a learned organisation and a learning organisation. 'Learned', here meaning that the organisation will build a fund of knowledge that can be tapped into, both by newcomers for orientation via a fast-track learning curve, and by existing team members to avoid re-inventing the wheel. 'Learning organisation' means instilling a culture that learns to pull whatever knowledge is needed, and a culture that is oriented toward sharing.
If we assume that a company has managed to create a sharing culture (not a trivial task) then tools can be designed to make capture of tacit knowledge a daily event. These 'trappers' can help to convert some of the tacit knowledge of individuals, to explicit knowledge for group and business advantage.
In a business organisation, formal explicit knowledge is predominantly created and passed around via documents.
As an example, imagine you are creating a document describing some part of a project that is going wrong. Suppose, further that you are creating the report as a contractual document as a basis for a legal claim against a supplier. Of course, when you begin the report you have some goals in mind and you try to guide your writing to cover those goals.
Once the first draft is in place, a trapper system is designed to present a series of relevant questions to tease out hidden assumptions and tacit knowledge.
Thus, you may re-read and edit the document while being prompted to answer the following sample questions:
The system might also have been set up to ask:
- Will this document help/hinder progress on the project as a whole?
- What is the current state of the project as a whole?
structure (DTD) of the trapping questions can be held as XML tags for a range of
standard documents, enabling a powerful self-interview technique. The results
can be stored as metadata linked with the document.
This becomes extremely useful metadata to enable colleagues (and the company's lawyers) to understand more about the circumstances under which the document was originally written, especially if considerable time elapses before the issue comes to negotiation.
Trappers can thus form the foundation of a methodology to create a valuable lessons-learned knowledge-base for the company - not bad for a collection of simple questions!
Professor Wilf Greenwood is a business change programme manager who lectures on the International MBA course at the Theseus Institute and CERAM Management Research Centre, France. He can be contacted at: