While reading Jay Cross’s comments on John Hagel’s definition of the Big Shift the thought came to me, that this is really a re-definning of knowledge management within a framework that would be acceptable to a social-cultural-constructivist. Here are a list of Hagel’s definition categories and my thoughts about them.
From knowledge stocks to knowledge flows: I interpret this as a shift from an attempt to objectify knowledge to the recognition that knowledge is bounded by people and contexts, and that knowledge becomes useful when actualized in real-time processes. You don’t need a database of content that was written for different contexts and different times. Instead you need access to conversations with people who have a degree of shared understandings (cognitive contexts).
From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation: Constructivism is often considered synonymous with discovery learning and I don’t think that is correct, but learning is a building process. Except for modeling (think: mirror neurons) transfer isn’t a valid metaphor for learning. Better metaphors are creating, building or growing. These are literal metaphors if you think of learning as the neurology of synaptic development. Knowledge creation is often achieved by synthesizing new connection between previous knowledge in new ways and learning is represented neurologically by making new connections between existing neurons.
From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge: I really don’t like the term tacit knowledge; I’ve never seen a good definition. Sometimes it’s explicit knowledge that hasn’t yet been well expresses, sometimes it refers to contextual elements. I’ve always believed that knowing only exists for doing things, the idea that the deed preceded the word. Sometimes explicit knowledge is just about trying to ascribing more capability to abstract knowledge than it is able to handle. Let’s just accept that knowing is for doing, it’s one of the main reasons for getting learning out of the classroom and into the world. Hagel doesn’t seem to realize this yet and why I don’t seem to get much value from his paragraph on tacit knowledge.
From transactions to relationships: Trust is indeed becoming more and more important. I also relate the idea of trust to Umair Haque’s idea of profiting by creating thick value, doing things that make peoples lives better. I really believe that the transition from transactions to relationships and from thin value to thick has a lot more to do with financial and accounting frameworks than it appears on the surface. The financial set up has to fit the situation correctly, especially if finance is driving your activity.
From zero sum to positive sum mindsets:
This has a lot to do with boundary crossing, open source, and the aforementioned transaction to relationships paragraph. A major goal of all organization should be identifying their zero sum process pockets and thinking about moving them to positive sum frameworks. Often the key is not in the processes themselves, but in the frameworks and cultural understandings that support those processes.
From push programs to pull platforms:
People tend to think of social media here, but that’s just a technology platform. What is needed first is a cultural platform that makes employees partners and then a relationship platform that blurs organizational boundaries so there is a network to pull from. While technology can facilitate much, people are the foundation and institutions are important facilitators.
From stable environments to dynamic environments:
This is not a choice, environments are becoming more dynamic, the trick is to develop resilience, the ability to identify when change is needed and the ability to adapt in a timely fashion. The trick is to not let change become disruptive from a cognitive and a work-flow standpoint. Sense – learn – respond, it needs to happen all the time and at all levels. Organizations can cope if individuals are always learning and striving to improve, (something I believe is a part of human nature, that is if organizations do not make structures to stifle it) and if organizations take steps to be flexible in their policy structure. Refer to the previous paragraph on transactions and relationships. It is important the employees trust their organization and that their organization must trust their employees. It;s about creating thick value through and through.
Again this is all pretty much consistent with a social cultural constructivist psychological and educational framework. Previous ideas about knowledge management could be thought of as a management corollary to positivist psychology. A rational view that just doesn’t square with the way things seem to work in real life.