Knowledge management tools that aren’t tools

This article by Neil Olonoff discusses the conundrum that can be faced with the implementation of knowledge management tools that are supposed to make managing knowledge assets easier but which, in reality, can create more complicated workflows. Olonoff focuses particularly on SharePoint, which is the system we use in my institution. Olonoff argues that:

We call software a “tool,” even though you can’t turn a screw or lever a log with it. That’s how symbolic and abstract work has become. But the basic idea of a “tool” — a utility external to our minds and bodies — remains. It’s still something that’s supposed to make work easier. So this becomes a very useful heuristic for gauging the effectiveness of knowledge management methods, and, dare I say it, tools. When something demands more effort and time and expense than the way we did things earlier, i.e., before [the] introduction of the New Tool, then that utility is simply Not a Tool!

Certainly, in the case of my institution, the roll out of SharePoint has not been what I would call particularly successful. Many units do not have a SharePont site, even though the institution adopted the software three years ago.  I’m always a little leery when implementation and maintenance of knowledge management software resides primarily in the hands of information technology departments, who might not have sufficient understanding of how to manage knowledge assets, implement proper metadata, ensure proper flow of records, maintain retention schedules, and so forth. I have encountered a fair degree of resistance to using SharePoint amongst colleagues because, to quote Olonoff, the new tool doesn’t meet the basic definition of a tool. It makes them work harder.

Next-generation techniques for managing tacit knowledge

In this article, Kate Simpson, national director of knowledge management at Bennett Jones LLP, discusses new techniques for managing tacit knowledge. Simpson defines tacit knowledge as the personal experiences and deliberate practice by individuals built up over their 10,000 hours on the knowledge ladder of expertise. Knowledge managers have debated the best ways in which to extract tacit knowledge and convert it into recorded, explicit, knowledge for decades. Simpson discusses three new techniques that could be used for this conversion:

  • Guided Practice:  practice over the course of 10,000 hours is what creates experts… Deliberate or guided practice requires reflection and commitment to improvement as well as with an expert who can provide performance feedback throughout the learning process.
  • Guided Observation: to understand what someone actually does you must observe. There is a notorious gap between what people say they do and what they actually do.
  • Guided Experimentation: developing simulations allow lawyers to practice what they have learned and to test theories and experiment with different approaches (presumably, this approach could be modified for different environments).

 

Millennials and knowledge sharing

This post examines how the knowledge-sharing practices of millennials can affect the organizations for which they work.  The article discusses the importance of collaboration in the workplace, and notes that while older workers prefer face-to-face interactions, for millennials, this is anathema. They would rather communicate using online meetings, chat apps or online tools to get things done. A coffee and a face-to-face meeting is too outdated for them. I’m not a millennial, but I have to agree with them on this one, but this might be related more to my introversion than it does to my age. This is the danger of generalization, of course.

The author notes further that it is the millennials who want tools to help them work through a problem the fastest. When looked at by age groups, a large number of millennials (71%) said they face challenges with their collaboration tools, compared with Generation Xers (62%) and baby boomers (45%). The always-on generation need [sic] to fix their cravings for information instantly.

The author points to the importance of having collaborative tools that function efficiently, but that have robust features to maintain the integrity and security of information.