Those of us working in the so-called “knowledge domain” have entered a new professional age.
Yes, we have often heard phrases describing societal forces taking place in earlier times, relating to how people earned their living and what kind of labor force was required for successful productivity (“the industrial age,” “the agricultural age,” and so forth). We even heard a lot about “the information age,” especially after the growth of technology in the later part of the last century. As we moved forward — as a society — into how information could be retrieved for the benefit of whatever organization employed us, we learned that through this technology we are able to retrieve what we need to know faster, more accurately, and more usefully. It was a critical development for us, as we stepped beyond information-for-its-own-sake. Taking this step brought us to what I like to think of as a new era in information management, knowledge management (KM), and strategic learning. I like to think that we’ve now entered into a new age, a period in our intellectual and professional history I like to think of as (perhaps a little grandiose here) “the golden age of knowledge-sharing.”
Knowledge sharing is the new game in town. Sharing what we know with others who also need to know it, and who join with us in using it for our mutual success (workplace or otherwise) is now recognized as the direction we must take if we want to “get things done.” And now that we can codify knowledge sharing — through the successful convergence of the three elements I mentioned above (information management, KM, and strategic learning) — we are positioned to establish an effective strategy for knowledge sharing, regardless of the organizational environment or setting. And by that I mean that it doesn’t matter whether the organization is a business, a volunteer organization, a not-for-profit, or even a group of people seeking to move an idea or an activity forward. Whatever the group, a collaborative situation will lead to knowledge sharing that will ensure success.
“Collaborative” is probably the key word here. It’s been two decades since Edward Marshall identified the working characteristics of collaboration (in Transforming the Way We Work: The Power of the Collaborative Workplace, published by the American Management Association). Marshall contended that collaboration is “principle-based,” that it represents “the way people naturally want to work,” and that it “replaces or challenges hierarchy,” all considerations we recognize in today’s knowledge services workplace (although with the last there might be some argument about how or even whether collaboration “replaces or challenges hierarchy.” And certainly over those two decades it has become clearer and clearer that collaboration and knowledge services are critically linked.
When we recognize that connection, we understand that it is not difficult for those of us in the knowledge domain to move into a collaborative, knowledge services way of working. From where I sit, I see five specific steps every knowledge worker can take to bring knowledge services into an organization or group of people seeking to work together to achieve some agreed-upon objective:
- Give some thought to situations where knowledge sharing breaks down, where there are problems with knowledge sharing. Can you identify why information and knowledge isn’t shared in those situations?
- Don’t go it alone. Are there other knowledge workers – perhaps in other departments – who are experiencing the same sorts of problems? Talk with them. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you and they will come up with solutions for benefitting you both.
- Identify what’s been done already. If a similar problem was resolved elsewhere in your organization, can that solution be adapted, or built on as a foundation for a customized solution for your unit?
- Conduct a knowledge audit/evaluation. Identify what information and knowledge is required for different knowledge workers. What do they need? How will they use it? And how successful are they in obtaining it when it’s needed? Is it easy or difficult?
- Finally, figure out how to make a case for moving in the knowledge services “direction.”
This last is where we want to focus, since it’s clear that none of us (knowledge strategists or otherwise) can do it alone. Send me feedback about how you would approach the move to knowledge services. Or, if you prefer, how any one (or more) of the other “steps” I’m recommending will support building a management case for introducing knowledge services.