Alchemical Thoughts

A little note on change and knowledge management

Posted on: April 3, 2009

I get the KM World Magazine in print at work. I am not sure who started the subscription, but I am the one getting it now. Most of the time I scan it, but once in a while I come across something that catches my eye. This small article in the April 2009 issue by Art Murray seemed a bit too idealistic, but it had a nugget or two that I think is worth a thought. Then again, librarians are not the demographic of this publication, but in our line of work I think we should be reading stuff like this every once in a while.

The nuggets then:

  • First: "Even after the network sees itself, nothing happens until knowledge flows freely across the connections. It’s ironic that resistance is greatest at the very time when knowledge sharing is needed the most. The common objection is, 'Why should I share what I know when I may not be around tomorrow?' The answer is that in many ways a lack of sharing is what got us here, and it only continues to make a bad situation worse. The problems we are facing are complex and demand collective brainpower coupled with strong leadership."
  • We do need the collective brainpower. I just worry when you are lacking the strong leadership. Or worse, when the leadership simply does not see the value of your unit and chooses to ignore it. Better coordination to get that collective brainpower is helpful as well.
  • Second: "The success stories of after-action reviews and other lessons-learned techniques have become mainstream. Yet, except for the U.S. Army and a few other organizations, the knowing-doing gap remains wide. The excuses run the gamut: not enough time, little or no incentives, etc. But one reason you might have to cut costs and lay off people is because you’ve been spending 30 percent or more of your project dollars correcting repeated errors. Developing a culture of making mistakes once would go a long way toward addressing budget concerns." 
  • We have got to stop reinventing the wheel, and usually for the worse. Sure, in library land we have plenty of bloggers who do some reflective writing outside of the usual "we did this cool thing" post. But often they may be blogging it. But do their organizations actually see it? I have always been advocate of learning from our experiences, of getting out the best ideas from what we do after we do it. But in this constant rush, finding the actual time to do it is difficult when most everyone cares about simply keeping their heads above water. For some librarians, their blogs are what helps them do some of the learning after an activity.
  • The author's solution: "Formalize and habituate learning before, during and after a task or project."
  • This should be a basic operating philosophy.

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