Jim McGee was the guest of honor at this month's KMPro Chicago meeting, focusing on additional thoughts around his ideas of Knowledge work as craft work.
We spent some time talking about the idea of the industrial view of knowledge management as represented by the traditional consulting firms in the late 90's. The focus was on creating the best way to do something, packaging that, and reselling it to everyone. This worked wonderfully for those companies where there problem matched the original context in which the best way worked, but it created all sorts of troubles when that context didn't quite match. Jim's argument is that this view of KM is based on outmoded, industrial-era thinking of how business processes work.
Jim told the story of his realizing that all this "knowledge management" stuff he'd been recommending for his clients and for his business didn't mean much if his own knowledge management house was not in order. How could he, as a knowledge worker, recommend these systems when he couldn't find articles and reports he had written six months prior?
This realization is a key component of Jim's description of what knowledge work is all about. Not only are we doing work "that our mothers don't understand," we also need to be evaluating what we do on a regular basis. Are we performing up to our own expectations? Where can we be better? What new tools out there might ease some "friction" in our knowledge work?
The group had a great discussion of these ideas. What does it mean to be responsible for one's own knowledge management? How does one go about doing this? How do we approach this question knowing that we will move from position to position in the work world? How do we manage if our organizations do not formally support this knowledge craft?
Someone eventually asked how we make a business case for supporting the knowledge worker. Jim fully admitted to having difficulty describing the business case. This is the same problem that any worker environment project faces. There are many tools and ideas out there that are cheap or free. With a directed experiment, what can it hurt to give it a try? (It may cost more to write the business case than to simply experiment.) The question again comes down to how important is it for me? Yes, the organization should care, but I need to make secure my future too.
Most importantly, Jim told the story of how I got into blogging: it was all his fault. We had been communicating via email and comments on some of his postings, when he finally suggested that I should start my own. And here I am, nearly a year into my own adventure.