posted 3 Nov 2008 in Volume 12 Issue 2
The knowledge: Avigdor Sharon
Knowledge sharing for Avigdor Sharon began in 1984 during a team project to write with the medications compendium for the Israel Pharmaceutical Association. Now he's the new owner of the Association of Knowledgework.
In 1984, he unknowingly began his career in knowledge management. In 2008 he is the new owner of the Association of Knowledgework.
His first experience was in a team that assembled and wrote the medications compendium for the Israel Pharmaceutical Association – a large volume about all medical compounds and drugs. There were no online resources, no internet, e-mail or even CDs at the time. The only sources were on paper – reports, research items, leaflets, textbooks. The team was composed of specialists from different, often competing, companies.
“There was no room for even the slight misinformation or error,” Avigdor Sharon recalls. “Every adverse effect between one drug and another had to appear in both listings. Generic information that was valid across a range of medications, such as beta blockers or penicillins, had to be consistent and accurate across the board.
“The collaborative atmosphere was incredible” Avigdor recalls. “No ego trips, no loud voices, no arguments. Just pure proactive collaboration among people from different pharmaceutical companies to create one document, neatly organised and rich in up-to-date knowledge. The meetings were so professional and the collaboration was so focused that it left a strong impression on me.”
In 1984 they were using personal computers for the first time – IBM XT PCs with just a pair of big floppy drives. There were no hard disk drives. Internet connection was for them not even a distant dream. For categories and tags they used sticker labels.
From an early age Avigdor had an obsession for gaining knowledge. As a kid he had a myriad of interests. At the age of nine his geography teacher called him in front of the class and gave him an impromptu verbal quiz. “How were mountains formed? Where is
“Then he asked me what my name was,” Avigdor smiles. “At this I got completely confused and struck out without an answer. The entire class burst into a big laugh.”
Later when studying biology at the Hebrew university, he managed to cover his range of interests by learning not only botany, ecology and biotechnology but also information structure, city planning and Italian.
Age of wonder, discovery
Avigdor’s first PC experience at the time of mainframes and flickering amber and green monitors led to an evolution of applications and information services. That led Avigdor to write four books about using computers and then he went to work at a publishing house specialising in popular science, computers, business and new age topics as well as science fiction and other genres.
In the early 1990s he became editor-in-chief of the publishing house. “This was another age of wonder and discovery,” he says. “A time of great innovation.” PCs were now commonplace. Multimedia titles were springing up everywhere and the age of the public internet had begun. During this time Avigdor edited and published dozens of books about topics such as fractals and chaos theory, artificial intelligence, using the internet, computer programming and many others.
KM lives, more potent than ever
“When the web appeared on the scene, a whole new world of possibilities opened up,” he says. “The boundaries are no longer location but attitude and that opened the door to knowledge management.
“Now some people declare KM dead,” but Avigdor disagrees. “Actually, the fact that some of the earlier rigid and centralised concepts are being replaced with the new ‘folksonomy’ and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ concepts and methods means KM is alive, thriving, bursting with new ideas and possibilities and is more potent than ever.”
Avigdor says KM is an inter-disciplinary practice, science and art.
“Our ancient fathers were practising KM when they were telling stories to the tribe around the campfire. Hebrew scholars and Greek philosophers were practising KM 3,000 years ago, writing scrolls of wisdom and teaching generations of pupils.
“Recent KM theory and practice just gives it a name, brings together, studies and perfects a wide range of practices that were done intuitively for ages,” he says. “Bringing together these practices and showing the relationship between them, then finding ways to deepen and expand the culture and processes of knowledge work. Giving better tools to more people to practice is the big benefit of modern KM theory and practice.”
Thirteen years ago Avigdor landed at Amdocs, a global hi-tech corporation that provides customer experience business solutions and services for customers. He is enterprise knowledge architect. He started leading the intranet team and it has evolved into a full KM commitment.
“I prefer the title of enterprise knowledge architect rather than officer or manager because I wanted it to be clear I am not managing or taking possession of anyone’s knowledge. I am just assisting them.”
Nine ways to KM
In his new job, Avigdor organised the internal knowledge sharing tech offerings and consulting into a portfolio of nine categories such as knowledge sharing, collaboration, content management, web publishing, etc.– working to provide both methodology and tools (which he prefers to call ‘media’ – wiki, discussion forums, community websites, document management and so on) across the enterprise. At the same time, he addresses specific work with specific groups to figure out and implement with them the exact flavor of knowledge sharing methods and processes that work for them.
“My work focuses on two planes,” he says.
On the horizontal, cross-corporate plane, the effort is to create a matrix of efficient knowledge sharing and flow processes throughout the organisation, ensure effective collaboration and integration by using a consistent set of supporting tools which he calls ‘knowledge media’ including the intranet portal, a cross-corporate wiki, document management library, discussion forums and the like.
Then on the vertical plane, he works with specific groups to address their unique work processes and needs, providing tailor-made solutions. But no matter how focused and unique, the solutions are still based on the same knowledge media and tools fabric that allows experts and developers to interact with their colleagues, avoid silos and share lessons learned and good practices.
Balancing on pillars
Regardless of which plane, Avigdor says knowledge management is a balancing act stabilised by four pillars – people, culture, work processes and enabling technology. Often people approach him about the technology alone. His advice: “The ‘give them the tools and they will use them approach’ will not work. The human touch, the interactive brainstorming, teaching, learning and interaction can never be replaced by bare technologies.”
Avigdor says Web 2.0 was tailor made for KM. But still, he sees collaboration and knowledge sharing in organisations as very different than on the web.
“You can see kids sitting for hours communicating, writing blogs and posting comments. It is because they have the desire to express themselves and communicate with friends. The same is true with others who share an interest that is dear to their hearts. These people may have never heard of the terms knowledge management or collaboration but they do share knowledge and collaborate like crazy.
“Many people within organisations have the same need to communicate, consult, write and reply to their peer’s questions. But they may not feel they have an attentive and caring environment around them. Managerial recognition and a supporting corporate culture are very important. But initiative from the bottom up is just as important. Bottom up, top down – neither will work without the other.”
Now a new adventure
Up-down collaboration is the opening strategy in Avigdor’s new role as ‘enterprise knowledge architect’ for the Association of Knowledgework [AOK). Continuing to focus on the exciting knowledge work within Amdocs, the work responsibility for AOK is a volunteer professional commitment carried out on his own time.
To start, he invited the six dozen or so KM notables who have served as Star Series dialogue conveners over the past eight years to provide expert advice during a worldwide roundtable discussion with all the members regarding a proposed change in AOK from ‘all talk to action’ by establishing a Future Centre for Knowledgework.
A self-forming group has been discussing the future centre idea for the past year and will follow the big roundtable with a smaller online café to review the roundtable discussion and begin laying the foundation.
Avigdor Sharon took over the leadership responsibility of AOK because he thought it was time for him to ‘give back’ to the field that has fulfilled his passion for learning and knowledge sharing over nearly a quarter century. He will soon learn that facilitating AOK will give back way more than he has to give. So says its founder and still number-one member, Jerry Ash: “Avigdor is… well… AOK.”
Connect with Avigdor Sharon: email@example.com; AOK website: www.kwork.org