"If HP only knew what HP knows." This is a classic line from knowledge management proponents everywhere. Why doesn't this work as smoothly as we'd like?
My friend and local knowledge management networking colleague, Kate Pugh, published Sharing Hidden Know-How about a month ago. She gave me a copy, and I have enjoyed reading through it and connecting what she has to say about knowledge sharing to other work I've done. Kate's voice rings through this book loud and clear - if you haven't come across her before, this gives you a good sense of her style.
The central thesis of the book is that most modes of "knowledge sharing" in organizations are broken and that the Knowledge Jam should be able to remedy the issues that Kate sees. These issues are that there are knowledge blind spots, knowledge mismatches, and knowledge jails. The blind spots are places where one part of the organization has knowledge that could help another, but no one knows that the other exists. Mismatches are places where a successful connection might have been made, but then the conversion into the new context is not made or not made at the appropriate time. And finally, jails are knowledge stores that are created (documents, repositories) but which no one bothers to use or reference because they make no sense out of context.
The Knowledge Jam idea addresses these three problems with three specific elements: facilitation, conversation and translation. Facilitation helps overcome the blind spots by explicitly getting people talking to one another about specific topics for specific business needs. Conversation helps align the contexts of the people who are trying to learn from one another. And translation is the act of taking the conversation and making explicit plans for using what was learned: don't simply write up minutes of the discussion, but take what you have developed and commit to putting it to use. It's hard to say that any one of these are more important, but from my perspective the focus on explicit translation and re-use of the knowledge has been missing from many knowledge sharing initiatives.
The Knowledge Jam itself has a five-step process, the core of which is a 90-minute facilitated discussion between the participants: people with experience in a given area, and those who have need of guidance (or brokers to those in need). But without the other steps, the Knowledge Jam can easily devolve into any other post-mortem conversation. The planning and setup steps leading into the Jam set the stage and roles and topic for the conversation. And the wrap-up steps take this conversation, frames it for use in new areas and then has explicit calls for making use of what was learned.
In reading about how facilitation, conversation, and translation work for the Knowledge Jam, I had frequent thoughts to myself in wonder of why these things don't happen successfully in organizations today. Why aren't experts available and known? Why can't people share successes and failures in useful ways? Why doesn't HP know what HP knows? These are the classic questions of business and knowledge management. The skills of facilitation, conversation, and translation can definitely help, and they need to be part of a dedicated strategy that seeks to remove blind spots, mismatches and free knowledge from jail. In the final chapters Kate addresses the opportunity for using these ideas outside of the explicit Knowledge Jam process and embedding them into the fabric of the organization. That will create a real knowledge sharing organization.
One thing I wondered about from the outset was the connection to IBM's Innovation Jam. Kate addresses this question toward the end of the book: the focus of Innovation Jam is coming up with new ideas and involves tens of thousands of people over multiple days and then an immense effort involved in synthesis and reporting back to the community. This is very different from the focus on knowledge sharing in a 90-minute Knowledge Jam session with moderate effort made before and after.
I had other questions in the early chapters that were addressed and clarified in later chapters. One thing I find entertaining in the context of this particular book is that any book is a classic "holder of knowledge." If people don't read it or if it doesn't connect to problems people have today, a book becomes its own "jail" of knowledge. In the case of Kate Pugh's book, there are elements that can be applied right away.