Dave Snowden interviewed by Jon Husband

Jon Husband has posted a Dave Snowden Podcast ... The Impact of Web 2.0 on Knowledge Work and "Knowledge Management".  If you are interested in knowledge management and are looking to what is new in KM, have a listen.

I recently caught up with Dave Snowden, the well-known complexity theorist / expert and acknowledged guru on the construction and use of knowledge ... quite a feat given Dave's last-minute bout with gastroenteritis, his round-the-word schedule and his doggedly determined pursuit of good rugby matches.

It's a nice interview, and it is strange to hear Dave Snowden's voice after seeing his words in print (on screen) for so many years.  I met Dave at a conference in 2002 (before my blogging), and we've been operating in similar circles for years: AOK, Act-KM and blogging (of course).  Here are some things I pulled from the podcast as I was doing some work around the house:

One theme that ran through the interview was the importance of context in knowledge work.  Context is usually removed when you remove the human element, whether that is by archiving best practices to a "database," or by asking experts to "tell me what you know" about a given topic, or assuming knowledge is a fixed thing as opposed to an interconnected flow of many things.  Context is one of my favorite aspects of KM discussion as well: context gives you one connection to the human element of knowledge that old-school KM tends to miss.

And the connection to Web 2.0 technologies?  Dave said something that I know but that I hadn't realized as key to what is happening in Web 2.0.  The tools and capability to intermix and reuse data gives knowledge workers and their organizations the opportunity to stop worrying so much about specific applications.  Rather than having a massive document management system or the "best" blogging platform, use whatever makes sense and is available at the time.  The Web 2.0 aspect gives you the ability to pull together knowledge from many different sources, independent of how it was generated.  The implication of this for businesses is that they should focus on their business processes and making sure they have access to that knowledge (i.e. the people). 

For IT departments, Dave has an interesting suggestion: Open up the business to any applications that provide these knowledge flows; ban email attachments (forcing people to use blogs / wikis / etc); and lock down truly proprietary data.  Otherwise, let people free.

And what about tagging and folksonomies that have gained a lot of notice?  Dave is doing interesting things with narrative and knowledge fragments represented in those narratives.  He's seen that people tend to name and tag content in different ways, depending on the request.  When asked to provide "keywords associated with an item," people tend to provide words and terms that aren't in the item.  I assume this is contrasted with "keywords in the item."  Similarly, when people are asked to "name an item," they provide words not in the item.  Dave uses this as another example of how people can provide contextual clues that cannot be done by auto-summarizers and other tools.

3 Comment(s)

Very interesting post. I'm especially interested in "stop worrying so much about specific applications."

I'm on the search for the "perfect" tool to organize my novels before I write them (that's how I stumbled onto Knowledge Jolt). But there are any number of programs that work just fine, and my goose-hunt is probably not an efficient use of my time.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:


While Dave's comment was directed to the idea that full organizations should worry less about the specific application, it probably applies to individuals as well. There are many tools that will do a good-enough job.

There is a "sharpen the saw" or "maintain the toolbox" aspect of personal effectiveness that comes into play. You have to have the tools you need to do the job. And you have to make sure they are in good working order. And you probably want to monitor the hardware store for anything that might improve upon what you already have. But you don't want to spend all your time at the store or in the workshop, trying out new things. You actually need to get work done!

Richard said:

I have known Dave Snowden for a number of years and have had some very informative discussions with him. His innovative and creative thinking is quite something, I have gained the greatest respect for him as an academic and a person that is very carring. His work in the field of complexity theory and the application thereof in the field of managment has made a substantial contribution to the field concerned. While acknowging the relevance of traditional scientific management thinking in order contexts he provides very different insights as to how to effectively respond in complex and chaos states. The notion of emmergence provides a powerfull means of sense-making in complex states. His latest paper in the Novemer 2007 Harvard Business Review, co-authered with Mary Boone makes great reading.

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