August 28, 2008

Dancing and Knowledge Management

In a recent conversation with Patrick Lambe and Dave Snowden, Larry Prusak described the three stages of knowledge management:

- content collecting, organizing and searching
- collaboration
- ad hoc development tailored to the needs of a specific organization

But how do you move systematically from one stage to the next?

For people new to Knowledge Management, there are any number of how-to guides and a myriad of opinionated people who offer views (helpful or not) on what constitutes KM and how to carry out an effective KM program. If you survey the offerings -- especially in the context of law firm knowledge management -- you'll realize that there are still lots of folks stuck at the initial content stage. A few intrepid souls are thinking about collaboration and social media tools, but relatively few have implemented robust collaboration programs within law firms as of yet. And what about Larry Prusak's third stage?

In some ways, that's a false question. It's not clear to me that a KM program has to move in a linear fashion through the three stages. For example, there may well be organizations that successfully skip over the first stage (content gathering) and rely on the second stage (collaboration) to collect and surface useful information in a timely fashion.

But for those of you who really feel you need an instruction book that you can follow in a systematic fashion, please go ahead and do some reading. There's lots to read. But before you get too committed to any single approach, take a look at these instructions for learning to dance. Try them out and judge the results for yourself.

There are days when I think that learning how to "do knowledge management" from instruction books is as futile as using written instructions to learn how to dance. Success in both endeavors depends on critical intangibles largely relating to the humans involved. A personal sense of rhythm and physical gracefulness for one, vision and organizational culture for the other. So as you learn to "do KM" or dance, keep in mind that the books don't know your individual circumstances and can't dictate a single best course of action. All they can do is suggest approaches that have been helpful for others. The job of the knowledge manager (or neophyte dancer) is to take that information, learn from the experience of others, and then personalize it to fit the realities of your situation.

Perhaps that gets a little closer to Larry Prusak's 3rd stage.

3 comments:

Matt Moore said...

Hi Mary - I love the metaphor of KM as dancing. Any particular dance? The rhumba? Disco? Ballet? St Vitus?

Mary Abraham said...

Hi Matt -

Thanks so much for the morning chuckle!

At the risk of pushing the metaphor too far, I'd suggest that sometimes KM most closely resembles the disco dance, The Hustle. It involved a few steps backwards, a few steps forward, some steps sideways, turn, and then when you're facing a new wall, you take a few steps backwards, a few steps forward, some steps sideways, turn, face a new wall, etc.

For those too young to remember this dance, here are a couple of videos:

demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-FhczpCZ84

instructional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TsRdkrxl4g

Of course, if someone can suggest a more apt dance, I'd be delighted to hear about it.

- Mary

Samuel Driessen said...

Great article. I agree with you that you don't have to finish stage 1 to go to 2 and 3. It may be even better to go through the stages as quickly as possible over and over again. Just keep on dancing!