Knowledge work is lumpy - use the lumps
JP Rangaswami is thinking - thinking about cognitive surplus in this fairly long piece: Thinking about cognitive surplus in the enterprise. This quote about knowledge management comes about halfway down the page.
I’ve watched attempts at knowledge management in the enterprise fail for decades, and rationalised the failures in many ways. The technology wasn’t ready. People didn’t want to share. Management didn’t want people to share. And so on and so forth.
He's got an interesting set of observations about knowledge management in the context of the idea of cognitive surplus. When people are running like crazy - heavily focused on the work of the moment - they don't have a lot of extra time to pay attention to how they are doing that work. Nor do they have the energy to do more with their work around making the work available to others: what we often think about when discussing knowledge sharing. (And if they work in an environment where "knowledge is power," the request to share knowledge is like asking someone for keys to their house and the location of the nearest pawn shop.)
JP suggests that the very nature of knowledge work is lumpy - that there are heavy times and low times. There is cognitive surplus in knowledge work. In the past, we've been too afraid to acknowledge this - a fear based on our measurement systems (which are based on old models of business). We need to acknowledge this lumpy profile and take advantage of of the "low points" to take care of the next time where the lumps of work are big. Coincidentally, I said almost this same thing on Quora in response to a question about productivity techniques - just yesterday.
Thanks to Luis for pointing me to these articles in Twitter. I think Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus is now even higher on my to-read list. JP has another follow-up post with more on KM and cognitive surplus. And don't forget to check out the comments on both pieces.
[Image: "cognitive surplus" by Will Lion - couldn't resist that one for this post]
Previous entry: Cognitive constraints
Next entry: Choice architecture at Boston KM Forum