Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Knowledge Sharing: It's 80% about people and 20% about tools

Ron Weisenburger was the Government of Alberta's first Chief Knowledge Officer. He is the author of the heuristic (rule of thumb) in this blog's title. I had the good fortune to work with Ron for five years in knowledge management. He had the reputation of being one of the "wise men" in the department of agriculture. He also is one of the best networked individuals I have ever met. He has a dazzling I.Q. and a capacity to bring good ideas to cutting edge implementation. He set a bar for knowledge management practitioners that continues to challenge me and others who know Ron. He's retired but still engaged. And he provides advice to organizations that are intelligent enough to listen.

Onto Ron's heuristic: "Knowledge sharing: it's 80% about people and 20% about tools".

It is the first, the primary, the most important guide on what to pay attention to when cultivating knowledge sharing in an organization.

I return to this rule of thumb regularly to review my KM action plan and activities. When I find myself spending too much time down in the weeds making tools work, I know it is time to switch gears. Time to do advocacy, communications and coaching. You don't often find a coach in the office during working hours. And you have to interact with staff to coach knowledge sharing. We never could track down Ron. He was always in someone else's office learning about their information sharing challenges, reminding them of the tools that already existed and then brainstorming with them on how to make the information sharing process and tools work better for them in their work.

Do this and the need to practice elevator speeches to executive team about why knowledge management matters to the organization is reduced.

Ron's heuristic also puts to bed debates about different tools and the debate about the generational war between knowledge management and Social Media. Most of the early innovators in KM would acknowledge that the tools in the early days did not work very well. And most would also acknowledge Marshall McLuhan's:
"The medium is the message". So tools do matter.

And if you think we have figured out the implications of the Internet and "connectivity" in the last 10 years, then give your head a shake. Because the reason the "Medium is the message" is because it is the "medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action."

But all the attention and discussion about how tools shape and transform human interactions can lead us away from the essential. Knowledge sharing is a rich, complex human activity. Focus on the people side of knowledge sharing and the tools (and their importance) fall into place.

Now start the conversation again with; "Knowledge sharing: It's 80% about people and 20% about tools".

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