The Hardest Part of Knowledge Flow

Last week, APQC´s experts discussed a very interesting topic regarding Knowledge Flow:

It’s no surprise that many organizations find access and use to be the trickiest part of knowledge flow. After all, people are more inclined to share what they know than to trust and rely on others’ knowledge. But I was interested that several other steps received similar numbers of votes. I think it all comes down to what type of organization it is, the maturity of its KM program, the resources it devotes to different aspects of knowledge flow, and the cultural backdrop. For example, some organizations are great at the front end of the Knowledge Flow Process—they identify what knowledge is critical and collect it effectively—but don’t have cultures that support and encourage sharing. Others have very open, sharing environments but don’t invest in the underlying structure to determine what’s important to share. Collection received the smallest number of votes, and I would guess that’s because it’s tangible and relatively easy to measure. There are also a lot of well-defined, proven collection processes out there that organizations can adopt wholesale.

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I have a few thoughts regarding this topic and a few questions I would like to place on the table:

The knowledge paradigm is associated with trust and openness towards knowledge sharing. However people do share their knowledge but unfortunately most of this knowledge is transferred through informal means. When it comes down to making knowledge part of an structured knowledge mechanism a few barriers arise. It´s important to take into consideration that this type of knowledge transfer accounts for approximately 80% of the total knowledge flow. Such is the case of my company.

Thus it is important to tap into the informal knowledge flows. However, we need to consider the following points:

For a long time, KM has focused on the following aspects:

-Registering knowledge without securing its application or not providing knowledge bearers with the right audience will slow down knowledge flow
-People know more than they can tell: its far more easy carry out a conversation than having to write it all down.
-Culture 1.0 vs 2.0: this can also be understood as openness vs control. How do users interact, are they really in charge of the content they receive or generate? Is KM too bureaucratic? Let´s ask ourselves the following questions: Why do we share content with others? What motivates us to do so? What tools work and which ones are just a pain in the neck?

Lets consider both sides of the coin. Its not about fitting theory into practice. KM has to be extremely flexible and Knowledge Managers have to understand the business jargon. I often see that Knowledge Managers are just too preoccupied with bringing people together and getting lessons learned registered that they just forget the rest of the KM principles. In some cases, they themselves don’t even understand the business problems or what it needs to really generate value.

Knowledge Managers are just facilitators, they align KM goals with the company´s strategy and develop objectives and KPI. Who is really responsible of carrying out the strategy? The answer of course, is senior leadership and other key figures.

Coming back to the point of knowledge flow, social media provides a very interesting solution. In our company we have found that by developing a system very similar to the social networks that we are accustomed to use and provide informal means by which people can share their knowledge and experience, KM eventually works far more better.

Its all about using the right tools and making things easier for people. Our old KM portal was just too “rough” and didnt make KM easy. We had formal tools such as Forums, Blogs, Virtual Libraries, and other collaboration tools but we were suffering from the 90-9-1 rule, in the sense that in Internet 90% of users only access content but don’t necessarily contribute new information. The other 9% just comment and tag information. Only 1% of users actually generate content.

Taking this into consideration we modified our Intranet and provided each project with an informal space to share information and other valuable experience. The objective was to eradicate the formalism associated with KM and get people to really connect with one another and share knowledge in the way that they defined that suits their learning style . We provided them with Wikis, forums, blogs microblogs and a portal architecture similar to that of Facebook with a wall, capacity to share content, follow specialists and even place “likes”. In order to oversee the contents and monitor activity we hired a KM analyst who taps into those informal knowledge flows and registers all relevant information and content in order to translate it into a formal KM system. We even developed specific KPI to measure its impact (application) in other projects.

This are just some thoughts which I believe KM needs to consider right now. The future of KM resides within the elements, technologies, process and methods that define a 2.0 culture; i.e openness and placing the user at the center of it all.

Can anybody else provide thoughts, experiences or general ideas regarding this topic? I think it would be interesting to understand how we can tap into informal knowledge flows in order to generate a competitive advantage.

4 responses to “The Hardest Part of Knowledge Flow

  1. Well said! As a KM Practitioner, I can truly understand the scenario. But what we tried in our organization is to work with Senior Leaders and Human Resources Dept. to seamlessly incorporate KM related goals and objectives into Individual’s Yearly G & Os. We feel that all employees of the organization should not even think that they have extra burden of creating and sharing knowledge. All their inputs and outputs to the organization are made to be captured in a fashion, without disturbing the day-to-day priorities of knowledge workers. Thanks for your article!

    • @karthikeyan: thank you very much for your comments. What you describe is really important and I believe is a greater challenge in India where diverse cultures come together in the sense that there are various ethnic groups and religions that differ from one another. I lived for a long time in Sri Lanka and I found it particularly interesting that there are various barriers between ethnic groups and religions that have deeply penetrated into the country´s roots and directly affect organizations in terms of team work and knowledge sharing.What are your thoughts regarding this aspect?

  2. There was a much closer solution the KM problems once, than exists today IMHO, and it may re-emerge someday.
    There weren’t many of us who had a chance to use it. It was written for the UNIX and X-Windows world. It was an application of hypertext technology, and it was not just a place to visit, it was place where the user lived and worked and could be shared with everyone over the network.
    Imagine a place where ALL work products and communications shared a common interface with no file naming required. Files existed, but the naming convention was embedded within the organizational/cultural context of the users. At the core, it was an incredibly simple paradigm of frames with user created objects (text or graphics) that could link to other frames. The user created framesets and they could be shared.
    I know, it sounds like the internet, but this system allowed for the user to build content without thinking about it. The mouse and keyboard were like extensions of the user’s cognition because the entire content was an extension of the user’s words and associations.
    i could share more about this system if you’re interested.

  3. I think that using Intranet to encourage informal exchange of ideas and sharing of experience is key to create a critical mass for knowledge sharing within organizations.

    I have noted that during seminars and workshops, the most rich and active fora for cross fertilisation and creation of ideas is the canteen or the lunch table. When sitting next to people coming from heterogeneous background many people have already turn on the explorating side of mind and are willing to exchange experience as well as seek answers to specific qustions related to their projects.

    In virtual fora moderation and accompanyment are key elements. Sometimes discussion come to a deadlock, so the role of moderator/facilitator is to place emerging questions or encouraging spin off for activating new perspectives into conversation. The key question here is how to capture the dynamics and the core learning of these volatile groups?
    Lists of Bullet points, brief notes? so as not to get the knowledge fade out.

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