It’s not 1997: Stop worrying about Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management (KM) had a time and place in the history books regarding “effective management principles B.I. (Before Internet).”  According to Nancy Dixon (2009), Knowledge Management, the goal of KM was “to make sense of collective knowledge in an organization.” With the adoption and implementation of social learning tools and the Internet, KM has been doomed because:

  • It is too inward facing
    • KM relies on the expertise of an exclusive group of people. It does not recognize the importance that connected experts can bring to solving problems and issues (Weinberger, 2011). Jarche (2010) pointed out that a collection of the “right” people can lead to success above those holding only internal knowledge.
  •  It cannot change fast enough
    • We move at the speed of the Internet (or real time). Employees do not have the patience for waiting for lengthy corporate training sessions to take place. By the time these do happen, many workers have developed their own solutions or learned about it on YouTube. We are living in the Twitterverse. What do I mean by this? We have the incredible ability to connect and interact with others in real time (Drexler, 2014). Google can provide us with instant answers, but Twitter and other social networks can instantly create a two-way conversation with others experiencing the same thing. People are learning in crowd settings (Weinberger, 2011) not just in individual siloes.
  •  It no longer meets the needs of the workforce
    • Diversity, diversity, diversity.  The environment is diverse, workplace settings and cultures are diverse and workers are more than diverse than ever. The knowledge that is shared and used to teach others must also be diverse to add to its stickiness. Developing expertise in a connected world naturally connects pieces that are different from one another (Weinberger, 2011).

It is worth noting that Dixon herself has not posted on the topic since 2012.

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The Leader’s Role: Model the Way

Kouzes & Posner (2007) developed five practices for exemplary leadership. The first being Model the Way. To me, this describes, in the most basic terms, the role of the leader-you must walk the walk not just talk the talk. walkthewalkIn the unfiltered world, a leader should help followers navigate through the myriad of information and knowledge that is available literally at one’s fingertips. At times, the leader must act as the filter to help followers uphold a shared vision. The leader must invest into the right digital tools to help this filtering process. Through the analysis of these tools, it is clear that there is not a one-size-fits-all tool, so the leader’s ability to find and vet (or appoint a follower to handle this) the right tools for the job. Even when these tools are adopted, there is a continuous cycle of networked learning.

Even when the right tools are implemented to encourage connected knowledge, the leader’s role does not end there. Too much filtering on one extreme or too much diversity on another extreme can lead to more paralysis than production. The leader must find the balance to meet the demands of the environment, the culture and the workforce.

I’m a Total “Slack”er

I admit it, I’m a total Slacker, but I’m also an avid Tweeter, Linker, Grammer, and Snapper. In this sense, I’m referring to my addiction fondness of digital tools that help us connect, learn, lead, and innovate. This week I researched the digital tool Slack, which is self-described as “where work happens”. It is an online communications tools where teams can collaborate with one another and has tremendous integration with other tools, such as work flow management tools like Asana, microblogging tools like Twitter and video platforms like YouTube. The cloud-based software was first launched in 2013 by the founder of Flickr, Stewart Butterfield after a failed attempt at creating an online game. Slack provides users with more than instant messaging tools or internal communications portals because it connects with external programs and incudes this information into the Slack content stream seamlessly (Koetsier, 2013). If you insert a video, it automatically plays in the content stream.

As David Weinberger (2011) discussed, this aggregation of content provided by Slack allows for filter forward, or the phenomenon when filters do not decrease, but increase the amount of information and knowledge the user has access to; however, Slack takes this a step further by presenting this information in one interface and with full search capabilities. The tool also provides users with the ability to categorize conversations into channels to keep projects, initiatives, and topics organized for the user.

The tool has quickly been adopted and utilized with both small and large companies with great benefits. Clay Shirky (2014) commented on the importance of studying how people collaborate, I would argue that Slack has been recognized as the tool that disrupted traditional collaboration in the workplace. One of the best features of Slack is its simple user experience, making it attractive to a seasoned technology geek or a smartphone newbie (Brown, 2014) and allowing for a similar experience in both mobile and desktop versions.

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From a leader’s perspective, Slack creates an easily accessible and free, communications platform for connecting individual team members both on- and off-site. Did I mention the Slack emoji integration? 100 This feature can add “tone” to sometimes toneless written and emailed communications to one another. It provides a virtual community to team members where documents can be shared or lunch plans can be arranged. In the words of one user, “If you go to work in a drab, colorless building, work can feel sterile. Slack isn’t sterile” (Tetzeli, 2015).

From my own personal experience, I found Slack incredibly useful to connect my team within an advertising agency. Agencies tend to draw employees who are naturally curious and passionate about digital tools. As the former leader of the public relations and social media department, I noticed that Slack not only provided the tangible benefits of decreased inter-team email and increased levels of collaboration, but it also brought the team closer. It was common for our Slack channels to light up over the weekend as team members shared their weekend plans, client projects, or just shared a virtual drink with one another.

Can this constant this connectivity lead to information overload, employee burnout, or blur the lines among a leader and his/her followers? These can be potential downsides of the tool. In addition, because users can set up new, private channels, there is the possibility that the tool can be used to fuel rumor mills and water cooler gossip. But a leader faces these challenges in both the virtual and real world. The key is for the leader to provide a forum for addressing these issues before the run amok.

Given the benefits and drawbacks of Slack, with great confidence, I still profess: I am totally a “Slack”er!

Flat, Spiky or Somewhere in between: The World is Still Round to Me

Thomas Friedman (2007) makes a compelling case for the flattening of the world in his book; however, given the current levels of connectivity in the world, I claim that it is still round and becoming rounder by the day. When one reflects on their contacts and relationships, these are often visually displayed as interlocking circles and spheres. It is where and how these circles overlap and collide is where the While Friedman provides a solid argument for why this should redefine the world as flat, what has happened in an elimination of geographic, socioeconomic and racial barriers. Today these circles bring Muslims and Christians, Americans and Europeans, and rich and poor together through the use of digital tools. Tools which are now available to nearly everyone in the world. If not right now, then in the very near future.

Richard Florida (2005) argued that the world is not flat but describes it as spiky. These spikes are created through the lens of economic prosperity and population density. Globalization requires that countries and regions are connected with one another to thrive and remain competitive. Florida’s spiky interpretation goes a bit down a rabbit hole as the spikes of the world decrease based on the lens through which he observes. His final map with the least spikes that define scientific discoveries provides a very limited view and disregards the reliance of turning scientific discovery into mass market products and services. For this to happen, the discoveries must rely on the globalization to become adopted by mainstream consumers.

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So, the world is round because of the vast connections that have been created through the ten forces that made the world flat for Friedman, such as infrastructure, globalization, and people to provide and share the content. A great example of this info sharing comes from the many TEDx events held throughout the world and the vast library of these talks shared online. At the opening of TED2016, Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots (CEO) of X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory for building ideas, described how his company is working to provide WiFi in the most remote places of the world—using balloons. X allows for super geniuses to dream of the endless possibilities of science and technology. X also allows for the celebration of mistakes because without the mistakes, the dreams will not continue to thrive.

It is true, we are on the verge of creating the machine super intelligence as described by Nick Bostrom (2015). IBM’s Watson is currently working alongside physicians to diagnose and provide treatment options for cancer patients (2013). We still need the most important force that makes our world round, and that is people. People need to create the infrastructure, create the content, share the content, connect with others, dream and fail. That is why the world is round to me.

Getting Started

I have been delaying this moment for two years, but now the time has come to start this blog. I registered the site on the plane on my way to orientation at Creighton University for the Ed.D. program in Interdisciplinary Leadership. Two years later, the planets have aligned and I need to blog for my current course. Join me on this epic journey through the study of leadership and the work that goes into achieving your doctoral degree.