Archive for Definitions

Knowledge Wheel

This is based on a much more simplified version from a Patrick Lambe video on how to conduct a knowledge audit. This wheel also owes a lot to David Snowden’s ASHEN framework but the language has been simplified. I recommend this video highly. My version here grew out of my last project in the MSc programme at HKPolyU. I am now finished! At least I hope so, I need to see what the final marks are in a few weeks time. Assuming successful completion, this has made me reflect on what I’ve learned and this sums a lot of it up. I have a much better idea on what is explicit and tacit knowledge. Also, I understand much better the tension between trying to ‘manage’ all the different kinds of explicit and tacit knowledge. There will always need to be choice on where to put knowledge management effort and it depends on the organization’s goals, resources and abilities. The explicit / tacit distinction is fluid much of the time which is what I’m trying to show with the blurry lines and spaces. Methods and Relationships as well as Skill and Experience are two sides of the same coin. Explicit may not always be as concrete as a document but it could become a document, webpage, recorded talk very easily. Tacit may not be as ephemeral as ideas, thoughts or hunches since many people have very good tools to help them describe and share them with others. The knowledge wheel gives a pretty bumpy ride.

I’ve decided to update the Knowledge Wheel in 2013. The wheel is showing the 6-facets of knowledge. The top three are more concrete, what knowledge managers like to call explicit, and these are either actual knowledge artifacts (from Snowden) or could be easily made into documents, visual images or audio recordings. Explicit-like knowledge is where most knowledge management programmes spend time, effort and resources. The bottom three are less concrete, what knowledge managers like to call tacit, and these are difficult to quantify and make visible. This is the knowledge that most people perceive as being the most valuable. This value may be difficult to describe but there is a gut feeling that this is what counts. Knowledge management programmes don’t spend enough time nurturing these three sectors of the knowledge wheel. Facilitation methods that bring people together to explore different perspectives are helpful.

Inspired by Dave Snowden and Patrick Lambe

Knowledge Wheel – Updated

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Future Centres

I went to a half-day seminar at the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park about Future Centres.  Four main presenters, Prof. W.B. Lee from HKPolyU, Mr. Hank Kune from the Netherlands and associated with the Dutch Future Centre network, Dr. Ron Dvir from Sweden and associated with Innovation Ecology and Prof. Leif Edvinsson founder of the Skandia Futures Centre and well-known for his work on intellectual capital.  This was prelude for the Knowledge Cities Summit starting tomorrow in Shenzhen, just across the boarder in China.  The summit will go on for 2 days and now I’m sorry I will miss it but I must concentrate on my school work.  Back to the future centres.  The HKSTP is very impressive; built on the waterfront of Tolo Harbour, a collection of about a dozen low by HK standard glass and steel towers on a green campus.   Its been a work in progress for years and rumor has it that it is having a hard time getting tenants.   There were quite a lot of people around at lunch but many of the towers looked rather empty.  It is a bit difficult to actually get to but by bus, train and bus I was there in just at an hour.  This is not bad considering I’m coming from Discovery Bay on Lantau Island which is about as far away as one can get in Hong Kong.

So what is a Futures Centre?  It seems to be a physical place which is outside of normal experience.  Hank Kune said “it is a place you can think outside of your normal mental patterns.”  It is not just meeting rooms but really different physical places, with unusual colours, unusual furniture – just generally unusual – sometimes quite jarring.  The concept is that by putting people in a new, different and unusual environment they will think about the future more easily.  Well ok, I guess this may be true.  The analogy is that most inspiration happens when people are doing something like hiking, going to the theatre, taking a shower and so on.  Somewhere it was decided that Future Centre meant Innovation Centre.  I’m not too sure when that happened but it was never questioned by the group.  Can we re-create and facilitate this sort of spontaneous innovation space and call it a Future Centre?  From the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Finland and the UK they gave us examples of Future Centres.  Typically associated with government bureaus and departments but there were a few examples from banks and the like.  Places where people could have the time to think about what may happen.  There were some impressive results – start-up companies formed, conflicts eased between bureaucrats and   construction industry , faster and more consolidated public service and so on.

Dr. Ron Dvir talked abou the Operating System for Future Centres and what that OS is made up of.  You can find a short list on his website here.   He came up with a much longer list so I’ll list them all again here.  Think how all of these can come together to create a space where people while embrace the future – lots of Nonaka’s ば, ba, here.

  • Value proposition
  • What are future centres
  • Building blocks
  • Models
  • Metaphors
  • Future centre as BA – ば
  • Organizational perspectives
  • Methodological perspectives
  • Physical perspectives
  • Technological perspectives
  • People
  • Results & Impact
  • Lifecycle
  • Business models
  • Permanence management
  • Visit
  • Play
  • Meet
  • Watch
  • Prototype
  • Innovate
  • Futurize

Prof. Edvinsson asked what would be the opportunity cost of not doing a Future Centre.  DaVinci entertained his patrons with his games, puzzles and ideas and used that income to fund his serious work.  It seems as reasonable as any other explanation, although I do think DaVinci made some money in building war machines for some Italian princes.   Prof. Edvinsson left us with a new word ‘actuality’ defined as what will happen in 0-12 seconds – apparently this is via Prof. Nonaka.

We toured the HKSTP briefly and saw some very well-kitted out rooms with science museum like games and activities.   A brain-storming center with a dozen laptops and a 4 huge screen overheard where participants could ‘brainstorm’ quickly and efficiently.  I don’t think my comment that 2.5 million HK dollars (my quick mental arithmetic on the kit) was needed to build something that could be done with post-it notes and a white board was well-received.   It was impressive and it would give almost perfect anonymity to the brain-storming participants.  Some of the other kit, like the brain wave game, was purely fun.  Are these rooms a Future Centre?  Most people agreed that the rooms were not the critical factor but rather the facilitation of using the rooms is what would make them become a Future Centre.  Now they are just rooms with fancy kit.

I spoke to a senior manager at the HKSTP at the end and it was revealing that  most of the 300 or so companies in the complex do not have any explicit knowledge management role in their organizational structure.  The HKSTP doesn’t have any group who facilitate knowledge management for the complex as a whole.   This is disappointing because the HKSTP is one of the most knowledge using intensive places in Hong Kong.  Maybe it will change in the future.

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CM, IM, KM, LS, RM – Is there any difference?

I am inspired to blog about this after reading Patrick Lamb’s blog here.
A list of my acronyms.

  • Content Management – CM
  • Information Management – IM
  • Knowledge Management – KM
  • Library Science – LS
  • Records Management – RM

I’ve wanted to blog about the CM/IM/KM/LK/RM divide for months.  For me, a long time records manager, they are all so inter-related that I can’t really recognize them as separate disciplines – different facets on the same subject area seems like a more reasonable perspective.  Academically, Library Science and Information Management are the most common in university programs.  Most of the time, IM straddles somewhere between information technology and business management.  Increasingly, library science programs are described as information management programs.  Library Science programs produce academic librarians and organizational libraries.   Academic libraries are now heavily computerized and give many traditional library services on-line.  Organizational librarians seem to often morph into information managers and knowledge managers because they deal with electronic records and online services and want to distance themselves from the vision of the dusty under-used library.  Content Management should be about managing all sorts of content; hard-copy records, electronic records such as email, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, small and large databases, web-pages, moving and still images.  In practice, in the job market it almost always means internet/portal design and management.  There is nothing wrong with this but it may be more practical to just advertise for intranet or portal managers and avoid the confusion.  Records Management is about keeping organizational records needed to run the organization and comply with regulations.  It has existed in one form or the other for centuries and its processes are embedded in organizational structures.  This does not mean the processes are necessarily good or effective but there are embedded processes that can be very difficult to change.  Knowledge Management takes bits from all the above; explicit knowledge from Records Management, technology from Information Management, classification and taxonomy from Library Science, the wide scope from Content Management and then adds one of its own many flavors of tacit knowledge identification, decision-making, story-telling and complexity, among others.

RM and LS are old school disciplines that existed before computers.  CM, IM and KM are new school disciples in the post-computer age. This is at the core of why they often don’t communicate well with each other.  They speak different languages and have a high level of mis-trust.   Many Librarians and Records Managers learn about information technology but are blocked from applying what they know to real-world problems.  Content Managers, Knowledge Managers and Information Managers spend too much time re-inventing the wheel because they haven’t learned basic library science and records management concepts.  So much of the time when I see approaches devised by CM, IM, KM managers to solve problems I wonder, ‘why don’t they just learn a little bit of library science and records management methods and techniques?’  By the same token, I see KM managers who seem to have no understanding and amazing even less wish to learn about web-pages, electronic repositories, databases and system design.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Knowledge Manager and have no understanding of the technology of managing information (call it explicit knowledge).  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Content Manager and have no understanding of how classification and taxonomy can be applied.  There are too many examples of extremely naive classification systems being put into place to manage intranet and portals simply because there is a lack of knowledge of what librarians and records managers have been doing for centuries.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Records Manager and have no understanding on how to assign value to records.

Specifically, here are some examples.

  • When KM talks about building electronic repositories it is doing a kind of RM.  KM repositories all to often have no concept of expiration and retention and then become overly full of expired and untrustworthy knowledge.
  • When RM talks about assigning retention periods based on business value it is doing a kind of KM.  How do you decide what is important?  What is needed to make a better decision?  KM has real value to offer in these areas.
  • When CM talks about keeping content current it is doing a kind of RM.  The concept of retention periods only seems to exist in records management and it needs to become pervasive across all the facets.
  • When IM talks about managing information it disregards anything that isn’t electronic.  There are then huge holes in the scope of information being managed.

If you are going to be involved in CM/IM/KM/LK/RM then you need to accept that you will need to become reasonably competent in each of these facets.   Spending time on demarcating the differences is not worthwhile.

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SECI & ‘Ba’ Frameworks – Misunderstood

From Nonaka & Konno 1998


In order to understand the SECI framework one needs to read these articles and book written by Ikujiro Nonaka and his collaborators.  The SECI model is very easy to mis-interpret.  Simply put, Nonaka and his collaborators intent was to explain why and how Japanese companies were so successful in creating innovative products and fostering creative ideas in the workplace.  It seems to me that too much of time people believe they were developing theoritical frameworks which I don’t think was their purpose.

  1. The Knowledge-Creating Company, Ikujiro Nonaka, Harvard Business Review, 1991 and reprinted in 2007.
  2. The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  3. The concept of “Ba”: Building a foundation for knowledge creation,  Ikujiro Nonaka and Noboru Konno, California Management Review, Spring 1998.

In 1991 Nonaka described the ‘knowledge spiral’ with copious examples from innovative Japanese firms: Sharp, Honda, Matsushita, Canon.  He did not use the now famous model/diagram but he did define tacit and explicit knowledge and describe the 4 knowledge transfer processes: tacit-to-tacit, tacit-explicit, explicit-to-tacit, and explicit-to-explicit.  This is not an academic theory.  It is an explanatory framework to describe what can be observed in these companies.  The “knowledge spiral” is actually not the primary focus of the article.  The focus is the importance of motivating employees, the use of metaphor, analogy and models and the interaction of front-line employees, middle-management and senior management.  The central role of the middle manager is high-lighted as vital for the knowledge-creating company.   The importance of redundancy in an organization to allow employees to have the freedom to innovate and the time to explore is vital for the knowledge creating company.

In 1995 Nonaka and Takeuchi used the SECI model for the first time in an English language publication.  The model has been used over and over and modified by many different knowledge management practitioners.  It is unfortunate that people don’t stick to the original model.  The purpose of this book is to explain how Japanese companies are different from western companies and how this leads them to more innovative.  Is this true?  I’m not sure, but I am confident that this is the overlying purpose of the book as is explained on the very first page, ‘we make the claim that Japanese companies have been successful because of their skills and expertise at ‘organizational knowledge creation’.  They are more successful because they approach business from a philosophically different way from western corporations which vastly improves a Japanese companies ‘organizational knowledge creation’ processes.

From Nonaka & Konno 1998

From Nonaka & Konno 1998

In 1998 Nonaka and Koona expanded the SECI framework with the concept of ‘Ba’, 場、ば。 See the diagram.  I think this really pulls the whole SECI framework together but it is not discussed much in KM literature.  I suspect because it is too mystical for most westerners.

1.  Originating ‘Ba’ – emerging care, love, trust, and commitment.  Corresponds to Socialization in the SECI model.

2.  Interacting ‘Ba’ – depends on sharing mental models and being aware of one’s own mental model, extensive dialogue between peers, extensive use of metaphors to enhance understanding.  Corresponds to Externalization in the SECI model.

3. Cyber ‘Ba’ – a place of interaction in a virtual world instead of real space and time.  Corresponds to Combination in the SECI model.

4.  Exercising ‘Ba’ – facilitates the conversion of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge.  It depends upon learning through action in many cases.  Corresponds to Internalization in the SECI model.

Five dimensions of care need to take place for ‘Ba’ to exist in a network.  All of these dimensions relate closely to the giving and receiving of trust between individuals and groups.

  • Mutual trust – trust compensates for the lack of knowledge we have about others.  Trust is reciprocal.
  • Active empathy – creates a basis to assess and understand what someone else needs.
  • Access to Help – care must encompass real and tangible help.
  • Lenience in judgment – failure must not be punished, experimentation need to be encouraged not corrected too quickly when it appears to be a mistake, failure must be allowed so that people will learn from errors.
  • Courage – seniors must let juniors experiment, juniors must reveal their work and ideas, everyone must give their opinion and feedback.

More than anything, ‘Ba’ is a network of interactions, determined by the care and trust of participants.  Without trust and care ‘Ba’ cannot exist in organizations.  Although this may sound rather mystical and vague, the same general themes are echoed time and time again in knowledge management discussions on the basis of trust in networks, organizations and communities.

The SECI and ‘Ba’ frameworks are similar to anthropological models developed to explain why a group behaves in a certain way or why a kinship system is in place for the group.  Can the SECI and ‘Ba’ frameworks be realistically applied outside of the Japanese corporation?  I believe they can but they need a significant amount of careful nurturing in order to become accepted and utilized in another culture.  Interestingly, I just read that the US government’s recent ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program to get US car-buyers to replace old automobiles was a huge success for Toyota.   More US car-buyers bought new US made Toyota’s than any other automobile with their government subsidy.

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Blogs and Wikis – confusion reigns

A few months back I went to a KMRC event in Hong Kong atteneded by a cross section of government agencies, NGOs and private companies.  Most of the attendees had taken the time to prepare a brief presentation on what sort of KM activities they were doing.  It was really interesting that many groups confused blogs and wikis.   Being able to post to a shared location was understood to be both a blog and a wiki.  Also, most everyone thought a wiki had to be wide open to everyone in the organisation.

Just for my record, a blog is for me a place where a person or a small group of people who speak as a group, keep a rolling diary of views, events, how-to, links and so on.  A blog is a public diary.

Just for my record, a wiki is a shared collaboration site.  It can be shared among a large group or a very small group.  The Wikipedia is the ultimate example of collaborative site shared among a large group.  However, many wikis are just for a few people to collaborate on a project, event or process.

The difference is significant.  A wiki is about group collaboration.  A blog is about sharing knowledge.

Take a look at Stewart Mader’s Future Changes blog for excellent resources on wiki development.

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A good KM definition from Patrick Lambe’s Green Chameleon Blog

“Knowledge management is simply an attempt to alleviate some of the problems of access, confusion, poor control and poor use of knowledge and information resources in the face of increasing complexity.” (P. Lambe, 2003)

This is a succinct definition that touches on the two key aspects of KM; difficulty in finding and multiple paths to resources.  Technology has not made these appear but has made them much more prevalent and worse.   KM is trying to use organizaitonal behavior with some technology to improve the situtation.

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