Mining for knowledge in a social word

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Last week I published a post titled Mining for Knowledge where I discussed some of the research that I’ve been doing in my doctorate program.

One of the favorite lines from the article, and one that resonated with a few others as well. The line was:

…converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

I’ve been thinking about this (and reading A LOT of articles, papers and books on the subject) and have come to the conclusion that trying to force someone to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge is a wasted effort.

Why?

Can I truly convert 100% of my knowledge into the written form?  Will the context of my knowledge be converted?  Perhaps a good portion of my knowledge can be converted, but can my experiences, thoughts and believes that shaped that knowledge be converted?  Can I ‘write down’ the knowledge that I have and truly make it meaningful to others?  I don’t think (feel free to disagree here).

Does that mean that an organization should stop trying to gather an individual’s internal knowledge to add to overall organizational knowledge-base?  Nope…. definitely not.

Rather than forcing a conversion from tacit to explicit (which is darn near impossible), are there ways to manage the internal knowledge of people?  Managing that knowledge is a much easier process that converting that knowledge.

Knowledge is best internalized when wrapped in context

Nonaka and Takeuchi, the godfathers of Knowledge Management, argue in their book The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (affiliate link) that tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge only through externalization and describes this process as being one of dialogue, discussion and reflection.

Basically, they’re saying that in order to share internal knowledge, you’ve got to start a dialogue with others.  That’s why activities like storytelling, mentoring and other forms of social interaction can play a huge role in knowledge managment…they help to start and maintain dialogue and discussion on various topics.  These activities help to provide context around knowledge, which helps a person internalize that knowledge and make it their own.

In my previous article I talked about ‘mining for knowledge’. I talked about using web 2.0 platforms to capture knowledge and to share knowledge. All good stuff (and still interesting to me) but I’m looking at other methods to make these platforms more social.  Make dialog and discussion a more active portion of these tools.

If we can find ways to create dialogue and discussion within the enterprise, knowledge sharing would happen much more naturally.    This is why I like the idea of Enterprise 2.0.  While some people hate E2.0, I think there’s some real value there. Of course, E2.0 won’t solve world hunger and probably will never truly win over its detractors, there are many aspects to the idea that make sense.

What would it mean for an organization’s knowledge managements capabilities if a system could be implemented that found indexed the many disparate repositories of structured and unstructured data sources found throughout the enterprise and then provided that information in a socially aware platform that could wrap context around the indexed knowledge as well as provide a mechanism for dialogue, discussion and reflection?   You’d have a platform that could capture and share explicit and tacit knowledge.

Anyone know of any companies with products in this space?  I know SocialText is out there but I don’t think they have a platform as robust as the one above. SharePoint also has some aspects to this but not everything.

Decision Speed, Performance and the CIO

Last week I wrote about “Turbulence, IT & The New CIO” and discussed the need to embrace agility and speed in order to address the turbulence that we see in business today.  In order to be agile, I mentioned the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) model for use in helping keep agility at the front of your mind while planning and doing.

After writing last week’s post, I ran across an article by Kathleen Eisenhardt from titled “Making Fast Strategic Decisions in High-Velocity Environments“.  In this article, the author reports on a study that was conducted to compare the speed of the decision making process and the performance of those decisions at eight microcomputer organizations.

At the time of the article’s publication (1989), popular belief (and much research) stated the following:

  • Leaders & organizations should be autocratic
  • Decision making should be centralized for speed and control
  • When planning, an organization should look at future projections, not operational data
  • Careful analysis of the ‘best’ option should be performed
  • Fast analysis means less data

Sound familiar to anyone?  I still see a lot of organizations and leaders following this approach today, especially in the IT space.

Eisenhardt’s research showed something interesting.  She was able to show that those organizations that made quick decisions were more apt to use more information and look at more options than those that made slow decisions.  The data also showed that centralized decision making isn’t the fastest route to a decision; organizations that shared data with a larger audience and welcomed feedback were more apt to perform better in the long run.

I won’t go into the full outcome of the research, but I wanted to highlight a few of the key propositions from the paper:

  • The decision making process speeds up when you make use of real-time data
  • The decision making process speeds up when you increased the # of alternatives considered simultaneously
  • The more integrated your decision making process is, the faster it can go
  • In “high-velocity environments”, the faster the decision making process goes, the greater the performance.
  • Politics slows decision making and degrades performance.

So…what does this have to do with IT?

Everything.  To compete in the turbulent world today, we’ve got to be agile in our thinking and execution.  This research helps highlight that fact.

Organization’s, and especially organizations that use technology, are high-velocity environments.   We are doing more with less and have to do it faster than before.

The faster we can make decisions with more accurate data (real-time) and the more options we review, the better that decision outcome will be in the long run.  Will every decision be correct? No…but it will be a decision that moves you a little further.

If you take the OODA approach discussed last week, you’ll be making decisions, acting on those decisions and immediately looping back to review the post-decision environment and determining what needs to be tweaked in your strategy for the to reflect the ‘new’ environment and to prepare future.

Integrated Decision Making

One of the outcomes of the research showed that decision making processes worked better when they were integrated with each other.   Eisenhardt reports that in those organizations that had strategic planning integrated integrated with tactics (see my thoughts on this topic in Minding the gap between Strategy and Tactics), performance improved.  In addition, those leaders who brought together people from different parts of the organization during the decision making process performed better.

Surprised?  This is why it’s such a huge issue for The New CIO to be engaged and involved with the organizational strategic planning process and be tied in with other groups and teams’ decision making.    Eisenhardt reports that making decisions with as many options as possible using as much real-time operational information as possible is the key to performance…CIO’s should take this and run with it.

The New CIO needs to take research like this to heart.  Use all the data you can, include your team and others from the organization in your decision making process.  In addition, as CIO you need to push for inclusion in other teams’ decision making process.Ensuring integrated decision making with the proper people & data, you’ll be able to mind the strategy/tactic gap and act in an agile manner.

References

  • Eisenhardt, K. (1989). Making Fast Strategic Decisions in High-Velocity Environments. The Academy of Management Journal, 32(3), 543-576.

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges. Join me next week for another article in the series.

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Using Stories to share knowledge

As part of a research project for my doctorate work I’ve been looking at the use of storytelling for knowledge sharing in project teams.  I’ve found the topic extremely interesting and perhaps even something I can find a dissertation topic out of.

While looking through my RSS Reader last week I ran across Glenn Whitfield‘s post titled ‘When thinking isn’t an option – tell a story‘ and felt a sense of deja vu….Glenn was talking about the very subject I’ve been researching.

The last two paragraphs of Glenn’s post are:

So how do you get your point across when people don’t want to think?

Just tell a story. For thousands of years, human beings have learned many life lessons from stories or fables (remember Aesop’s Fables). So why not use them to get your point across? In just a few paragraphs, you can tell someone about a problem (the issue), provide a plausible explanation (impact of the issue), and teach a lesson (the solution to the issue). Nice and neat, and everyone is satisfied. By using the facts and information you have and molding it into a story that the audience can relate to, you will have their attention, and you can make your point effectively. Yes, you will have to really think about how to put your facts into a story your audience can relate to, but remember, you want to make sure that your issue is clearly understood.

As much as we may want to get people to think more, when it’s clear your audience is not up for it, telling a story is a very effective way to get your point across and get what you want. Remember, we all like a good story.

Great introduction in the use of stories to get your point across.

Stories have been used to pass down wisdom and knowledge from the beginning of time.   Every culture has had its own stories and storytelling techniques so it makes sense that using stories to transfer and share knowledge within project teams might prove worth researching.  I’m currently researching this topic and will be working a paper that I hope to get published later this year.

In the meantime, If you’re interested in learning more about storytelling applications in knowledge management, take a look / listen to the  presentation I put together for one of my courses on the topic of storytelling and knowledge management.  You can view the PDF here or watch/listen to the quicktime presentation here. You can download the Quicktime video (in Zip format) here.

Does Outsourcing affect Customer Loyalty?

A recent study by researchers at University of Michigan and University of Richmond shows that outsourcing/offshoring certain aspects of your business can affect customer loyalty. The research, titled “Does Offshoring Impact Customer Satisfaction?” and posted on the Social Science Research Network, points to collected data that shows:

offshoring of front office processes that interface directly with the customer has a negative association with customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, perceived quality and customer expectations. On the other hand, we find that offshoring back office processes that do not interface directly with the customer has a positive association with customer loyalty.

Well…I could have told you that myself…and many of you probably could have guessed this was the case.  It is good to have some academic research to back up my ‘gut’ feeling.  I’m still reading through the article, but so far the research methods seem fair and sound.

Hat tip to ArsTechnica for the link to this research.

BTW – You can download the paper in its entirety at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1010457

Experience vs Ability Redux

In early March, Mind Hacks had an interesting article titled “Are you experienced? Does it matter?” which adds another wrinkle to my the argument I made in my Experience vs Ability post.

The article, which cites a Time magazine article titled “The Science of Experience“, states that, according to research reported in the Time article:

research has failed to show that experience, on its own, predicts task performance. In other words, old hands often do no better than novices (Reference).

The Time article reports on a study conducted at Florida State University over the last 30 years. This study claims that:

three decades of research into expert performance has shown that experience itself — the raw amount of time you spend pursuing any particular activity, from brain surgery to skiing — can actually hinder your ability to deliver reproducibly superior performance (Reference).

The article quotes Anders Ericsson, author of Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (2006) as pointing out the following:

rather than mere experience or even raw talent, it is dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion — repeatedly practicing the most difficult physical tasks for an athlete, repeatedly performing new and highly intricate computations for a mathematician — that leads to first-rate performance (Reference)

The basic point of the article and the Mind Hacks post was the following: Experience doesn’t guarantee a higher performing employee….it might…but it might not. The performance will come down to how passionate, how committed, and how interested the employee is in constantly pushing themselves. The question now is: how do you quantify these traits when looking to hire?

I still say that innate ability + passion + an interest in constantly learning will bring an extremely high performing employee, and therefore a high performing organization.

[tags] ability, experience, Florida State University, Mind Hacks, Research, Time [/tags]

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