Knowledge management to mirror the real world

The principles of knowledge management according to WinkWaves

This post summarizes the principles of knowledge management according to WinkWaves, a consultancy founded by Dr. René M. Jansen, who is also a research fellow at the University of Amsterdam. The principles have be gleaned from a book section (“Kijken naar de werkelijke wereld“, Dutch for “looking at the real world”), a video and a slideshow (both also in Dutch, sorry 😉 ).

WinkWaves    … is a knowledge management consultancy and software developer. According to Dr. Jansen “it is time to say goodbye to traditional organizational models and grow into an agile and learning organization: It’s not the strongest or smartest organisation that survives, but the organisation that is the most adaptable to the the ever more rapidly changing environment.”

Knowledge management       … is used by knowledge-intensive organizations to facilitate a social process that allures knowledge workers to engage in knowledge sharing by collaborating in meetings, groups or teams to address non-routine problems. The use of the verb ‘to allure’ is important, because many top-down, ICT-based knowledge management software does the opposite of allure, viz. discourage, deter and turn off.knowledge management - winkwaves

For social software to allure      …. It must emulate the self-organizing stigmergy of ants, e.g. ants (1) leave pheromone and other traces for fellow ants to follow; (2) ants wander off the beaten path from time to time, thus preventing the ‘solution space’ from becoming overly constrained. Now, self-organization is a characteristic of resilient (i.e. sustainable) systems. Social software must therefore enable and encourage knowledge workers to leave ‘learning paths’ for others to follow and for helping others to identify them as knowledgeable in a particular domain so as to invite them to learning groups.

Insipring vision        Ants have a third stigmergic algorithm, which is the imprinted vision of a prospering ant hill. Similarly, knowledge-intensive organizations need an inspiring vision that challenges its knowledge workers to find the best imaginable ways to bring that vision closer to reality. All this prevents people from doing what they have to do, without quite knowing why they have to do it, other than keeping the system machinery turning. It also keeps people on the right track when involving themselves in serendipitous exploration (see previous post).

Complementary roles       For a meeting, group or team to produce the best results, team members must play complementary roles. Winkwaves conducts persona research to understand the best ways for roles to complement each other for various tasks and how best to achieve that. To this end they use the role typology developed by Meredith Belbin and other management science.

What about systems thinking?           The idea of emphasizing the need for focusing the development of social software on learning from previous learning paths is very interesting, not in the least because it allows for self-organization among knowledge workers in ‘natural’ ways. I would like to add that it may be important to incorporate other ideas and concepts from systems thinking, depending on the nature of the non-routine problems to be handled. An obvious candidate is the systems approach, which also requires – at least some – people to understand how a ‘wicked’ problem differs from the more ‘tame’ varieties. For an overview of systems theory, click here.

Knowledge managment as wicked problem        One of the main reasons for this post on knowledge management in this blog is that it may be worthwhile to approach knowledge management as a wicked problem. In this case the problem is that important (tacit) knowledge is (locked up, as it were) in the heads of knowledge workers is in need of sharing effectively and efficiently with a view to improve their non-routine problem solving capacity. The trouble with tacit knowledge is that it is very difficult or impractical to formalize, simply because of the non-routine quality of the problems knowledge workers are supposed to address. This in turn means we have two wicked problems that are intertwined: the wicked problem of getting the hard to identify (specific, tacit) expertise in place to make some headway with the non-routine (i.e. wicked) problems . That is what makes knowledge management so intangible and that is what it is about. Let me leave it there, for the moment. More later. We’ll get to the bottom of this.

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