• David Griffiths

Unflattening Knowledge Management

This blog is about looking at Knowledge Management anew.

When I work on organisational Knowledge Management, Agile Learning or Learning Organisation projects - select your label du jour - I ask people to participate in an unflattening process, which is what I am going to ask of you here.

Take a coin, hold it on your hand and take a look at it; that coin you are holding is is Knowledge Management. Do you see a functional currency or do you see all the people who have touched it, all the places it has been, the times it has experienced? 

Next, take the coin, rotate it between your fingers and absorb all it has to offer. Now, place it level with your eyes and turn it so that all you can see is the thinnest of lines. That line is Knowledge Management today.

The Knowledge Management you experience today is the result of all decisions taken to this moment, and, sadly, it is failing (read the 2020 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report here). 

"Our research this year shows that many organisations remain focused on - and struggle with - the basics of Knowledge Management." - Deloitte 2020

Knowledge Management was once the new frontier, a space of unlimited opportunity driven by pioneers who sought to exploit the riches of the Knowledge Economy.

Today, this once exciting new frontier is troubled flat earth. Early discoveries led to people protecting their gains. Protectionism led to a suppression of original thought, where to work at the new frontier you had to accept the traditions of those who went before. 

Ask yourself, what people, objects (technology through to books by KM experts) and processes (qualifications) have influenced your KM beliefs, and have they flattened or unflattened your thinking?

Across time and place, Knowledge Management has been eroded, flattened out, to become a thin line of SharePoint, Lessons Learned and Communities of Practice. Here you stand, today, on the flattening of Knowledge Management. 

However, Knowledge Management is possibly more critical to the success of organisations and society today than it was during the heady days of the late 1990s. KM has the potential to bring about unbridled human advantage at a time when the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning are accelerating.

However, adventure requires mental toughness and resilience. Are you ready to suffer the discomfort that comes from unlearning your assumptions, becoming aware of the weight of bias, both conscious and unconscious, that is the past? 

Are you prepared to unflatten Knowledge Management because to do so requires you to consider that knowledge is a human condition and, therefore, Knowledge management cannot be a technology solution in search of problems?

Powerful questions that can bring about the unflattening of Knowledge Management

If you are ready to rediscover the adventure and excitement of that new frontier once again, ask yourself a few powerful questions to expose your boundaries and purpose:

  1. What does Knowledge Management mean to the people who influence my organisation (insiders and outsiders - participants and observers)?

  2. What drives the need and, therefore, value, for what people consider Knowledge Management to be?

  3. What does an excellent Knowledge Management experience look, sound and feel like for the people in my organisation?

  4. What can I do to influence and, in doing so, create an impact across my organisation? 

It is not possible to provide meaningful answers to these questions without engaging with the views of the people who will determine the future. Here, I'm speaking of the people who define the boundaries of your organisation as a system.

Insiders and outsiders, participants and observers, each have a view that shapes the scope and scale of what Knowledge Management could and will be. You will discover a shifting landscape of peaks and valleys, where Knowledge Management has to continuously adapt to sit atop the highest mountains and avoid becoming buried in the deepest canyons.

By engaging, you are developing fast feedback loops that shine a light on the terraforming occurring in your environment, allowing you to anticipate and respond to need. By synching with those fast feedback loops, you amplify influence, impact and value. 

However, the journey starts with powerful questions that equip you for the challenges of an adventure at a new frontier. 

What will opportunities will you discover in the unflattening of Knowledge Management?

If you are interested in high-impact Knowledge Management principles or perspectives on the unflattening of Knowledge Management, drop me a line and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com).