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

From the blog

The KM and Social Computing Culture Changes

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo & SurroundingsI know that for a good number of years Social Computing and Knowledge Management have been walking different paths. Even more, I would probably be able to state that all along they haven’t gotten on well with one other. Quite the opposite! Knowledge Management doesn’t want to do anything with Social Computing, because of the chaotic, messy and unstructured sharing of knowledge and information, and how little control organisations may have over it all, specially within communities (Which are currently the major drivers of social software adoption within the business world). And Social Computing doesn’t want to do anything with Knowledge Management because all of the "management" piece of knowledge and that willingness from KM to control both the flow of information and knowledge within an organisation.

I know that I may be oversimplifying in this, but I am sure that you would agree with me that is very rare to find some common ground between traditional Knowledge Management and Social Computing. Yet, to be honest, they are both the same! They are both trying to help improve the overall productivity of knowledge workers. That’s probably their main premise. Each of them placing the focus on the own key areas: KM on the processes and tools and Social Computing on the people themselves.

Still, like I said, they are both the same! Or, at least, trying to achieve the very same thing! So why do we still keep them both separate as if they where fighting against one another when they could actually complement each other? Remember? The good old KM pyramid graphic of tools, processes and people?

Well, that’s what I would like to talk about today. Especially, after I have covered some of this, just recently, in a couple of recent posts ("Defining Knowledge Management and Enterprise 2.0 — Sharing Your Story" and "Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch"). However, I would want to pick things up again from the latter article I put together. The one about culture and strategy and how Social Computing could well be the glue to make it all work out just fine within the corporate environment.

Now, for a minute, I would like you to do me a favor. In that trend of thought outlined here I would like you to substitute Social Computing for Knowledge Management. Outrageous, I know! But bear with me. From there, and I know how you are starting to get a bit nervous, I would like you to go and read the absolutely wonderful blog post that Nick Milton (From Knoco Ltd) put together under the title "What Is the KM Culture Shift?" and read through what I think is one of the most inspiring articles around KM AND Social Computing that I have read in a long long while!

Nick is back at it sharing a couple of great stories that I’m sure we can all relate to (both of them!). But towards the end of the article he comes to put together a very thought provoking couple of sentences that explain very clearly, in my opinion, the cultural changes that will need to happen, RIGHT NOW, in order for both Social Computing (or Enterprise 2.0, whatever term you would want to use) and Knowledge Management to succeed in the current business world.

I am going to quote those few words over here, because they’re just far too good to miss out on them, and they surely would set the stage over what I would want to add further out in the next couple of minutes:

"BP had been through a deliberate process of culture change, bringing in a culture of Openness, Performance-focus, Networking and Empowerment. This was the culture change that made KM implementation so much easier in BP. So how do we characterize this change in culture as it relates to knowledge? For me it is a profound shift from the individual to the collective"

Goodness! You will have to agree with me that Nick is just spot on. Right on the money! Right in the middle of the challenge every single organization out there is currently facing with the adoption of social software within the corporate firewall. Just brilliant!

But it gets better. Way better! Take a look now into a follow-up blog post that he put together under "The KM Culture Change", where he’s sharing a link to a recent YouTube video that he did where he explains in plenty more detail what that cultural shift needs to be like.

In fact he explains further what that profound shift from the individual to the collective is going to be like, or should be like. So, as a teaser, I thought I will quote, very briefly, some of his major key points and then I would just leave things right there and point you to the YouTube video so that you can savour an amazing four minutes of inspiring thoughts that will make you think for a while. And if you don’t believe me, here’s the teaser:

  • "From “I know” to “We know”
  • From “Knowledge is mine” to “Knowledge is ours”
  • From “Knowledge is owned” to “Knowledge is shared”
  • From “Knowledge is personal property” to “Knowledge is collective / community property”
  • From “Knowledge is personal advantage” to “Knowledge is company advantage”
  • From “Knowledge is personal” to “Knowledge is inter-personal”
  • From “I defend what I know” to “I am open to better knowledge”
  • From “not invented here (i.e. by me)” to “invented in my community”
  • From “New knowledge competes with my personal knowledge” to “new knowledge improves my personal knowledge”
  • From "other people’s knowledge is a threat to me" to "our shared knowledge helps me"
  • From “Admitting I don’t know is weakness” to “Admitting I don’t know is the first step to learning”"

And here’s the embedded video for you to enjoy just as much as I did:

Some pretty amazing stuff, eh? Still think that Knowledge Management and Social Computing should keep fighting against each other as opposed to perhaps help one another into providing, once and for all, that original premise where Knowledge Sharing is all about a successful combination of the best technology with the top notch business processes "managed" by the best talent you have got as a business: your knowledge workers. Your people!?!?

Maybe we should quit fighting against each other and, instead, "admit that we don’t know it all as a first step to learning"… … What do you think?

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  1. The thing is – how do we get people to this point? Especially in this economy, where people are fearful for their jobs, I see people feeling like they have to protect anything which makes them look more “indispensable” – anything which gives them an edge over the next person. How do we make them realize that it is not the information they hold that makes them valuable? (Information can be re-gathered. Yes, it is at a cost, but being a bottleneck is a cost, too.) How do we make users understand that their value is in their skills, experience, energy, and insights in what to DO with that data? And that if we all share our data around, we might find other datasets that make us think of something that will improve the business…and prove our value.

    We are going through a very basic project right now of getting various business departments to put their instructions, policies, etc. into a database shared within their department. We are making the process of doing this as simple as possible. “Being too busy” is our first hurdle, but beyond that, I am seeing a big reluctance to share as our second hurdle…and it seems to come from this idea that “my value is in what I know that other people do not know”.

    1. Fear! I hear this every day – “Fear of change”, “fear of sharing my knowledge that i will become less important somehow”. I have a saying i use in my organisation “for every piece of pie i give away, i receive a second helping in return, and as you can see – i have eaten a lot of pie!”
      Ok, so how do you overcome this fear? Practical solution: Use the collective intelligence of your staff to work together on overcoming those change / fear barriers.
      Example: Take 2 teams of approx 5 people. Each team spends 15 mins discussing what barriers they face in sharing information / knowledge. After 15 mins, swop the barriers you have noterized with the other team, and then spend the next 15 mins coming up with solutions to the opposing teams barriers. Once done, comeback together as a group and discuss the ouput collectively.
      The advantage of this practical solution is that they feel part of problem and solution.
      We use this method as part of our socialnomics change workshop and so far it has worked a treat.

  2. Bravo Luis – various disciplines are essentially saying the same thing…but sometimes so loud that they can’t hear the similarities in the chants from the other camp. These (and other) worlds are bound to come together…

  3. Mmm…should i set the cat amongst the pigeons here 😉
    Why do we still talk about “traditional Knowledge Management” – has this not evolved into something that is no longer recognisable as KM? We no longer “manage” knowledge, and yes we do “share” knowledge, but surely what we now do more than ever is “evolve” knowledge collectively.

    In our organisation we have taken the tools out of KM and created a new group called Social Networking & Business Collaboration which focuses on the people and adoption of those tools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of individuals and teams. Thus leaving KM to focus on some of the basic processes. So in essence we have taken a key component of Social Computing and a key component of Knowledge Management and combined them together.

    Guess the point I am trying to make is somewhat similar to Luis’ hypothesis, but just from a different angle. It’s the components of KM and Social Computing and how they work together to evolve knowledge that is important, not how they should be pigeon holed.

  4. Thanks for the interesting post, Luis. But I do have to agree with Maria. I think we all know WHAT needs to happen but nobody or very few know HOW to achieve it.

    How to get people to ‘share knowledge’ has been a key question from the very beginning of KM. Organisations tried everything from providing incentives to implementing expensive and sophisticated yet useless KM systems. Problem was that incentives didn’t work long-term and tools ignored the way people work and exchange knowledge.

    But in the past few years we have been witnessing a fundamental shift in the way people get work done and are connected to others thanks to social tools. It’s not about knowledge management anymore but knowledge networking.

    1) Getting work done
    Today we have tools that make people more productive and at the same time provide unprecedented transparency. Thus, knowledge-sharing becomes a by-product of getting work done!

    2) Connecting with people
    People assume it’s good to hoard ‘knowledge’. But if no one knows what you know, what is the value of that? I wouldn’t know about Luis and his amazing expertise if it weren’t for these kind of public conversations.

    We need to understand that these days people are a platform and not an end-destination anymore. Think of Facebook, Twitter or the iPhone. All of them are platforms, but what makes them really valuable is their ecosystem of applications. However, that ecosystem wouldn’t even exist if the platform did not exist OR if it was closed.

    Of course, there is a continuum of what ‘knowledge’ can and should be made accessible to others. I am sure people will learn when it benefits or hurts them to put out certain type of ‘knowledge’. And if they are honest with themselves they might realise that hoarding isn’t always helpful.

  5. Some interesting thoughts here, a business culture is not going to change overnight.
    The business needs a leader to get employees engaged in knowledge sharing, and there need to be systems in place to support knowledge sharing. There also needs to be a valid business problem that is going to be solved, that people can latch onto. People just need a leader, I have been at this for 2 years at my company with full executive support, and only know am I starting to get buyin and change from a few employees. At best, it is a 5 year plan (that evolves every year) There is definitely no silver bullet.

  6. I like the idea of a Social Networking & Business Collaboration group within the organization. We currently have ‘engineers’ who go around and try to improve our operation processes, and I see the potential for a group to do the same thing for collaboration/km/social networking… visit various departments/locations and see how they work, what they need, how it could all flow better/faster/cheaper. The advantage with having a group like that is that their visits plant seeds and get people thinking about it, then their recommendations plant more seeds, the tools/processes we put in place water the seeds, etc. I can see that being more sucessful than just throwing the tool out there with a quickstart guide. That’s something I’ll have to chew on and talk up.

    1. You are spot on with your thinking and assessment. The growth of the Social Networking & Business Collaboration (SNBC) approach in Oracle has been purely organic and grown at a phenomenal rate with strong roots. The challenge we have now is how to meet demand…
      The obvious advantage of this method is that you embed and change cultural habits for good. Localised change agents evolve how tools/knowledge/processes are created and shared through a self sustaining social network of other change agents.

  7. Luis, you lost me at “chaotic, messy and unstructured”. Three very positive adjectives, when we are talking about productivity and supporting improvised performances driven by tacit knowledge.

    I’m afraid most KM initiatives do for knowledge what McDonalds does for beef: they grind it down to size, and make it easier to control. Productivity is only allowed to exist within structures of control.

    The difference between KM and social computing is visible in different tools, different approaches to process, and different attitudes to people.

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