posted 1 Jun 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 9
TITLE: Enabling Knowledge Creation
AUTHOR: George von Krogh, Kazuo Ichijo, Ikujiro Nonaka
PUBLISHER: OUP, 2000
We have all (those of us in the KM community) come to understand the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge and to place a high value on those members of our various communities who can make the tacit explicit. That is, there are people who are skilled at articulating concepts and capturing nuances from a body of community knowledge and presenting it so that others can take meaningful action. The authors have given us a book that goes beyond the assertion that we cannot 'manage knowledge' to a framework for creating an 'enabling context' in which knowledge can be valued, exchanged, and created.
The enabling context - that which 'makes an organisation appropriately flexible, future-oriented, and a fulfiling place to spend time' - gives precedence to the notion that knowledge creation - the source of innovation, competitiveness, and survivability of an organisation - happens in 'microcommunities' and is enabled by caring. The dimensions of care include mutual trust, active empathy, access to help, lenience in judgment, and courage. This emphasis on caring for people and for the context in which they work, learn, and are valued, might seem obvious to practitioners of knowledge management, but may not be as obvious to those in our organisations we need to influence.
This brings me back to my first point: The authors have done so well at articulating much of what we have come to understand implicitly that we now have a book that we can give to managers who have been resistant to the 'soft side' of knowledge management. Although we have seen systems that support knowledge workers and have measured returns on investment in terms of productivity and the like, these systems haven't transformed organisations. The organisations that have seen transformation attended to the systemic, holistic context in which people react, interact, and synthesise, and transform ideas.
The body of the book is devoted to examination of five knowledge enablers, with case studies and practical suggestions for managers implementing KM programmes. The first enabler, Instill a Knowledge Vision, for example, summarises management actions for creating a vision. The actions are as simple and down to earth as 'identify and gather participants and organise the process' and 'write-up and use narratives of the future as platforms for the vision process.' Similarly, guiding principles for the second enabler, Manage Conversations, include both the obvious (guidelines for facilitation, conversation etiquette) and the thought-provoking; 'edit conversations appropriately' and 'foster innovative language.'
The authors haven't themselves shied away from creating (or co-opting) new terms to present the concepts, as is evident in the terms of the third enabler, Mobilise Knowledge Activists. Here, they provide perspective on and examples of three roles for knowledge 'activists' - those individuals in an organisation who are empowered to smooth the way for the human process of knowledge creation. The types are 'catalysts', 'coordinators', and 'merchants of foresight'. Merchants of foresight are those who envision and bring to life innovative approaches to knowledge generation and sharing - workshops, universities, physical and virtual spaces.
Central to the fourth enabler, Create the Right Context, is the concept of ba, which is based on a Japanese idea that encompasses the environment, social, physical, and emotional context of 'place'. There is, of course, in our modern day, both ba and 'cyber ba', as well as the imaginative places in which we can develop new knowledge from imagined communities brought into being by knowledge activists. Organisational roles and responsibilities come into play in the transformation process, as the vision is put in place that supports the work of knowledge activists, the generation of conversations at multiple levels across group, division, and company boundaries, in the fulfilment of the mission.
The fifth enabler, Globalise Local Knowledge, requires the integration of social and technical strategies to move knowledge from its source (usually closest to the customer) through a process of packaging and re-creating that gives the greatest leverage in global environments. Here, again, the authors provide some very practical 'how to' advice for managers that connects the abstract concepts to concrete steps, activities, and organisation structure guidelines.
Did I say I liked this book? My copy is already marked up, dog-eared, and tabbed with sticky notes. It resonates in a way few of the books in our evolving literature do, and at a time that KM practitioners are getting uneasy with the mechanistic approaches of information and organisational technology change agents. As I prepare for a new challenge in a new organisation in a new company, I am charged with some new language, fresh insights, and some new possibilities for opening up conversations and managing context. It's a good time for us all to have this book.
Patti Anklam is director of knowledge management at Nortel Networks Global Professional Services (as of 5/1/200. Patti was formally with Compaq Professional Services). She can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org