E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Social Software in the Enterprise – Tacit vs. Explicit Knowledge

Every now and then I have got a tendency to check out my Technorati’s profile to see who is linking to my weblog because more than once I have been able to read some interesting and worth while mentioning weblog posts by other folks but this time around I bumped into another weblog post that I thought not only was it a good read but worth while sharing my two cents worth of comments. And you will see why. The weblog post is titled I’ll show you my tags if you show me yours by Jeffrey Treem and it is actually referencing another equally interesting post from Niall Cook on Social Software on the Enterprise.

Both weblog posts are worth while a read, I tell you, specially from the perspective where they are touching base on something that we see happening more and more inside businesses about how their different employees are managing their knowledge both in the Intranet and the Internet. Jeffrey, for instance, talks about IBM’s Dogear whereas Niall links to one of SAP’s initiatives. Either way, there is no doubt that over the last couple of years, if not longer, there has been an increase in the so-called social software in order to allow employees to share content and collaborate with one another in a perhaps much more effective way.

While reading through those weblog posts I just couldn’t help thinking that all this hype about the social software is something that actually happened a few years ago but from a different angle as far as Knowledge Management is concerned. Indeed, those folks who have been doing KM for quite some time would recognise some of this hype when the first strategies around KM came afloat; when for the first time there was a distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge; where from the very beginning there was probably far too much focus on the explicit knowledge and therefore there was far too much emphasis on the tools and processes as opposed to the people themselves.

For a number of years that is how most KM strategies were running. Everyone admitted that it was much easier to help promote explicit than tacit knowledge from the perspective where tacit knowledge is a lot more difficult to quantify and measure than the explicit one (Mind you though that I am not implying that measuring explicit knowledge is easy enough. It is not!). So after the initial hype of businesses adopting those KM strategies very soon they started to realise how it all wasn’t the complete picture. There was something missing. Something important and crucial to the success of every single KM strategy: yes, indeed, the people !

And this is where we are now. Companies have finally realised how crucial it is for every KM strategy to focus primarily on the people alone (Through the building of communities) as that will be the main trigger to get everything else sorted out. Thus there is now a massive need for that social software so that knowledge workers are encouraged to share what they know, their experiences, their knowledge, in short, their tacit knowledge with others in order to start capturing some of that, till now, invisible knowledge, that is perhaps even much more important than the explicit one, if we judge for how companies are aggressively implementing more and more of those social computing technologies.

That is why over the last few months we are starting to see how more and more companies are starting to implement some of that social software inside of their corresponding Intranets, like weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking tools, podcasts, vodcasts, VoIP, etc. etc. And I bet that would not stop any time soon, because it is thanks to all the excitement from those knowledge workers that more and more knowledge and information is shared across the board. So the initial effect of what happened with the explicit knowledge is now taking place but with the tacit knowledge.

So much so, that, if back then, we would be talking about Enterprise Global Knowledge Management (The Explicit Knowledge), now we should probably be talking about Personal Knowledge Management, more than anything else because people are taking now a much more committed and personal involvement towards the sharing of their knowledge and information in order to collaborate much more effectively with other peers. And this relatively new and fresh method of sharing what people know is mainly due to that social software we are constantly getting bombarded with: the so-called Web 2.0.

[tags]Knowledge Management, Personal Knowledge Management, KM, PKM, Social Software, Web 2.0, tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge, wiki, weblog, podcast, social bookmarking[/tags]

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  1. Luis,

    I tried to link to you in the original post, but for some reason your site was not loading that evening. Good to see you are back up and posting, and I have now added the link.

    You do a great job laying out the case that the successful companies will be the ones that can to a better job of aggregating and implementing knowledge from workers that goes beyond a company’s existing knowledge base. You also hit on the idea that these web 2.0 tools allow individuals to get more personally involved in building knowledge in organizations.

    Thanks for the great thoughts and keep them coming.


  2. Hello Jeffrey and welcome to elsua ! Thanks very much for the feedback comments and for dropping by ! Actually, I am not really sure what is going on but you haven’t been the first person who indicated that elsua.net was down and couldn’t access it, specially when I was offline myself, so I am checking into that with the folks where I am hosting the weblog and see what they say. I will keep you all posted. Thanks again for adding the link. Appreciated.

    “You do a great job laying out the case that the successful companies will be the ones that can to a better job of aggregating and implementing knowledge from workers that goes beyond a company’s existing knowledge base. You also hit on the idea that these web 2.0 tools allow individuals to get more personally involved in building knowledge in organizations.”

    What a great commentary, indeed ! I agree with you 100% and I am glad to see I am not the only thinking along those lines. I actually think that one of the main key success factors for businesses in this century would be how well they are able to manage what is almost impossible to manage, i.e. that tacit knowledge I mentioned earlier on. I feel that with the introduction of Personal Knowledge Management, next to the already existing KM strategies could certainly help address the need of allow those companies to capture an amount of knowledge that could well go beyond whatever expectations and more than anything else because of the much closer involvement from the knowledge workers themselves. Actually, if you have probably seen it already you will see how these knowledge workers are getting move involved and committed towards sharing what they know and apart from the different Web 2.0 tools that allow this new wave of knowledge sharing I think that Communities of Practice will play an important and crucial role in making it all click together; that is, mixing successfully the traditional global KM and the more localised, motivated, involved PKM that we are starting to see emerging stronger than ever.

    Whichever company is able to first implement such KM strategies would probably be the first one to lead the way and the rest of the pack. And somehow I must say that it will not happen too long into the distance future. It is already here ! Thus we better shape up !

    Thanks again for dropping by and for the great feedback comments !

  3. Amen, this posting could have been my introduction of my Masters Thesis I’m currently writing on, cause I’m studying the effects of social software like weblogs, wikis and social bookmarking on communities of practice. Very interesting stuff…

  4. Luis,

    Some very interesting thoughts in here. To follow my argument through, I wonder if the outcome of a “command and control” mentality is just explicit knowledge, and “facilitate and aggregate” is implicit?


  5. Hello folks and welcome to elsua ! Thanks very much for dropping by and for sharing your feedback comments with us ! Great stuff !

    RE: Martin‘s comments, that is really some interesting stuff, Martin, and I am glad that this weblog post may be able to provide you with some further insights. Actually, I have been checking out your weblog and it looks like you would have lots of great material to work with and I am wondering if you are planning to make the final study from your Master Thesis available to everyone so that we could all benefit from the great insights I am sure would be coming out of it. Is there a chance you could share the study with us all whenever it is ready ? Thanks !

    RE: Niall‘s comments, it certainly is, Niall. And to build up from what you have mentioned above I am sure that the latter method, the “facilitate and aggregate” knowledge (The tacit knowledge) would probably become much more relevant and meaningful to every single business out there. Reason why ? Because up until now, businesses have been more or less mandating their knowledge workers to share their knowledge by using whatever incentive programmes and the end result has been that people have not been very keen on being told what to do, regardless of whatever the incentives.

    However, with the tacit knowledge exchange the environment surrounding it is completely different because people would feel they would want to share their knowledge and experiences with others just for the sake of sharing it, not even thinking about incentives. Because of that people are starting to use more and more tools that enable and facilitate the ease of use when sharing information, like Wikis, weblogs, social bookmarking, etc. etc. without having to go through complicated approval processes, or content editors or whatever the complicated content management tools. People would just want to share knowledge with others and benefit from that collaborating with others in a much more open environment, which will make it all even more efficient and effective.

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