posted 18 Apr 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 7
By Chris Collison, member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board
My wife has a new occupation. From 9.00 to 3.00 on weekdays, she has been entrusted as the sole carer for Freddo, our eight-year-old’s Tamagotchi. For the uninitiated among readers of Inside Knowledge, a Tamagotchi is an electronic pet, which requires feeding, praise, discipline, medicine and play at frequent intervals. In return for this attention, your Tamagotchi matures, and changes its character until (oh joy!) it has a baby of its own – a second generation, after which the cycle continues. Last month we reached the sixth generation until, tragically, Freddo was left alone for five hours, and died in Louise’s handbag. It was a dark day in the Collison household.
So what of our occupation as knowledge-management professionals? Are we effective in developing ‘next-generation’ capabilities in our organisations?
First-generation KM works on the principle that knowledge already exists, and can be managed in an explicit form. It’s about making the most of what you already have, rather than synthesising anything new. First-generation organisations place their emphasis on lessons-learnt databases, best-practice templates, enterprise portals, document-management systems, taxonomies, metadata and search engines.
Second-generation knowledge management operates on the principle that new knowledge can be generated through learning. Not only can it be generated, it is ‘sticky’, and must be linked to an individual or community of practice. Any explicit knowledge has a finite half-life, which can be prolonged by retaining the link to its originator. Second-generation organisations invest time in learning – before, during and after activities. BP’s peer-assist process, bringing together expertise from around the globe right at the start of a project, the US Army’s after-action review and post-project appraisals in many other organisations are examples of this. Second-generation organisations also invest in networks, communities and the technology that makes and supports the connections between people. Corporate intranets become meeting places, rather than online libraries and newsletters.
And third-generation knowledge management? This is where sharing knowledge becomes part of day-to-day business, embedded in processes and reinforced by leadership behaviours; ultimately, part of the organisation’s culture. In some organisations, financial authority to proceed with project investment will not be granted unless the person seeking funding can demonstrate how they have already learnt from others as a part of the business case. Performance benchmarking creates the common language through which to share and learn, rather than generating halls of fame and shame borne of internal competition. Third-generation knowledge management is less likely to rely on a central team – in many respects the team’s role is to work itself out of a job.
Which generation of knowledge management do you see in your organisation? Are there those who have a vested interest in stunting its growth? Technology vendors would perhaps seek to persuade us that implementing another portal will give us the edge; an internally resourced team might be reluctant to embed knowledge management in the wider organisation. But faced with these obstacles, we would do well to reflect on the fate of poor Freddo.