Supply and demand of knowledge

[Update: Something happened to the first couple of sentences when I posted this last week. My apologies to Dave Snowden for dropping the appropriate attribution.]

For people in the knowledge management community, Dave Snowden has articulated one of the big challenges of knowledge management. When it comes to filling a "knowledge base" with "knowledge," it is difficult to force people to provide what they know. His seven rules of Rendering Knowledge describe the problem fairly well. And these are based on an earlier three rules.   

  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. 
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it.
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. 
  • Everything is fragmented. 
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. 
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. 
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. 

I have referred to these from time to time, and I keep them in mind as I think and read about knowledge management.  This has even come up on a non-KM mailing list recently, where one of the long-time members of the list was asked to provide a history of the topic, and he said he would remember best if people were to ask more specific questions.

Nick Milton has recently been thinking about these and suggests that Snowden's rules are primarily about the person who is offering knowledge (the "supply" side of KM). What about the people doing the requesting? Milton has come up with a list of rules for the "demand" side of KM as well, 8 demand-side KM principles. (Or maybe this is more about the people who are getting knowledge pushed at them?)

  • People don't pay attention to knowledge until they actually need it.
  • People value knowledge that they request more highly than knowledge that is unsolicited. 
  • People won't use knowledge, unless they trust its provenance. 
  • Knowledge has to be reviewed in the user's own context before it can be received.
  • One of the biggest barriers to accepting new knowledge is old knowledge.
  • Knowledge has to be adapted before it can be adopted.
  • Knowledge will be more effective the more personal it is.
  • They won't really know it until they do it.

Milton provides a lot more thought behind each of these in his blog post.  I like the thinking here.  Somehow the first entry resonates for me today.

4 Comment(s)

The first item presents an interesting paradox - if people dont pay attention to knowledge until they need it, how do you build awareness that a particular domain of knowledge is available?

Great observation, Matt. It does seem a paradox. What I see is that people pay attention, but only lightly, to the world around them. They see what comes and goes. They participate in interesting conversations. But when the REALLY need something, then they go back to people (and to a lesser extent places/web/books) that they recall from previous experience and from these "lightweight" conversations.

The way I see this getting played out in a KM system is like this:
1) create an obvious knowledge repository which is extremely clear about which domains it tackles. Then promote it in multiple venues so that people become aware of it for a certain set of problems
2) Promote a "survival of the fittest" mentality for the various bits of knowledge within the KM system. A "fit" piece of knowledge is one that can replicate itself into a lot of different kinds of scenarios, increasing its overall exposure and likelyhood of being found and replicated again. A "unfit" piece of knowledge is one that is poorly defined, unexpected, irrelevant, and unlikely to get replicated.

Your thoughts? How would you implement it?

So long as the "survival of the fittest" isn't used as an incentive mechanism, your idea is essentially what the Google PageRank algorithm does (or used to do). How often to people reference a given item? Within a company, this algorithm is going to be different because the practice of referencing is different - there are a lot fewer linking behaviors that Google relies on to run their algorithms.

Aside: a challenge of internal systems is that links are usually some gobledigook alphanumeric string instead of something intelligible that people can look at and see / guess what is underneath the link.

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