There has been a significant shift in thinking over the last few years. Reluctantly, leaders and managers are coming to terms with the implications of complexity upon strategic and operational planning. Unfortunately it seems that Knowledge Management is lagging behind the game.
Too often Knowledge Managers apply a reductionist, or traditional, approach to KM projects, where there is a propensity for linear processes – one direction of travel with milestones (checkpoints) that allow for the monitoring and evaluation of progress. Here’s the problem, KM operates in a complex environment, which logically requires leaders and managers to structure intervention from the perspective of the whole. There is no doubt that KM has the potential to respond to today’s complex management environments (see my three minute video on the links), but, to be successful, it will mean engaging with multiple roads of travel (multiple projects) that are dynamic, operating with their own speed restrictions.
The problem with the traditional reductionist approach is that KMers are trying to isolate a function (e.g. a Community of Practice), tune its output and then lift the barrier to see the impact upon the system. All sounds good, except that, given the nature of complexity, adjustment to one node (the CoP) will impact (intended and unintended) other nodes in the system. Not only this, but, depending on the time horizon, you will be working towards creating a fitness to a landscape (business environment) that is itself dynamic. Your CoP, if constructed using reductionist techniques will begin to to lack fitness to the landscape from day 1, drifting to the point where dissatisfaction occurs and a shock is required to realign its purpose with organisational needs (realigning its fitness to the landscape). For example, every KM project involves human agency (I challenge you to find one that doesn’t) and therefore requires KMers to engage with the HR cycle. How many actually do? How many KM projects build in feedback loops to enable projects to flex as the landscape changes? If the landscape is changing (show me a static landscape and you can ignore this conversation) and KM involves human agency then you have to be prepared to develop people. Do you see where I am going with this?
Work in a static, linear, traditional fashion and you may see short-term gain (a quick win), but I would argue that you will end up fighting a losing battle to sustain those gains against an ever drifting fitness to the organisational landscape. The traditional approach is not the way to develop resilient value in complex management environments and it is not going to bring long-term benefits to you, the organisation, your career or the KM profession.
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Check out our next KM Course (Resilient Knowledge Management Practice) in London, May 20th – 24th
Check out ‘Operation Punctuated Equilibrium’ (Resilient Knowledge Management Practice) in Edinburgh, October 24th – 25th
www.punctuatedlearning.com (a real time simulation environment)