July 7, 2008

Knowledge Management Made Mandatory?

In my earlier post, Knowledge Management Made Easier, I reported on Tim Leberecht's proposal that we use widespread blogging within organizations to make tacit knowledge explicit. I was very taken with the idea of providing everyone with an easy way to capture and share their learning, and even imagined, for a moment, what it would be like to have a vibrant organizational culture in which people felt comfortable with this level of transparency.

Since then, others have weighed in on this issue. Take, for example, Dave Snowden whose post, Oh When Will They Ever Learn, trenchantly argues that making blogging mandatory violates the very nature of social computing. For him, social computing is intended to make collaboration and sharing possible for those who wish to participate. Or, as he puts it:
Aside from the perpetuation of the myth of tacit-explicit knowledge conversion ..., the idea of compulsion flies in the face of all theory and practice in social computing. Its a classic; find something which is working, then ruin it by compulsion.
In a similar vein, Patrick Lambe's comment on my prior post directed me to the wisdom of Dr. David Vaine on the subject of Forced Corporate Blogging (a.k.a. "Flogging"). Dr. Vaine clearly does not believe that compulsory blogging is either useful or wise.

While I understand and sympathize with their objections, I'm mindful of another approach. For years, authors such as Julia Cameron have recommended that people who wish to increase their personal creativity engage in the practice of keeping a daily journal. While this isn't mandatory (in that there isn't any external enforcer), making a good faith attempt to meet the challenge actually does improve one's writing and expands creativity. I might say the same for those of us who try to blog regularly. The more we exercise the blogging muscle, the better we get and the more rewarding it is.

Although mandatory blogging may seem like a contradiction in terms or an exercise in futility for proponents of a purely voluntary system, it could also provide an opportunity to participate for people who wouldn't otherwise think of trying this. Given that businesses need access to the learning of all their employees (and not just those who choose to share), there might be merit in finding a middle path between the mandatory approach and the completely voluntary approach.

Is there a better way that achieves higher levels of participation reasonably quickly without doing violence to the nature of social computing? The answer to this question could transform your KM program and your organization.


Ron Young said...

Hi Mary

I felt compelled to comment on your blog KM made mandatory?

Not only does the discipline of journaling improve creativity, but the discipline of writing, as an act, helps to organise, and sometimes, reorganise your knowledge. The very process of getting people to write down their learnings, as a discipline, adds greatly to the creativity and quality of knowledge.

As a knowledge worker, I think this discipline is not to be simply chosen, but should be taught as a key competence of knowledge working.

I accept David Snowdens comment, of course, as a principle, but in practice would you be happy to be driven around in a car by somebody who has chosen not to develop the competence through driving lessons and a test properly.

For me, effective knowledge workers need to be taught several new key skills, and blogging is one of them.

I say more about this in my blog
and website

Good luck, and keep writing!

Ron Young

Doug Cornelius said...

Mary -

I see mandatory blogging as just creating another KM system that is not integrated into your normal workflow. (Obviously, I have incorporated it as part of my workflow.)

I would prefer team based blogs or wikis to manage projects or cases. "Put it in the wiki! Don't send me an email!" Then, the team leader could make it mandatory.

Patrick said...

Hi Mary - kudos for pushing the envelope on this! My impression of Dr Vaine is that he is extremely keen on forced blogging. He sees it as a very good way of killing all spontaneous contributions that might interfere with work.

I do appreciate your point about establishing a rhythm and discipline, and sometimes people need to be encouraged (and supported, as Ron suggests) into this. We run regular capability development programmes for our clients, and we strongly encourage participants on our programmes to maintain learning blogs on a shared platform. We also provide support to help them blog. Some of them do, and do well, some of them just post once in a while and never really get into it, others will just drift by and comment, and others are completely passive.

I don't think we could enforce a compulsory journaling of this kind. Different people have different capabilities, some people are more about action than reflection, others are much better at organising other people's stuff, others are much better at face to face communication.

And corporate politics can always come into play - fear of saying the wrong thing, desire to say the right thing, writing anything, just anything so as to meet the mandatory daily target while developing a deep loathing of this "knowledge sharing" lark.

So while encouragement and good visible examples if fine for me, making blogging mandatory is a very dangerous slippery path in the wrong direction.