Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Reduce Searching Start Talking

I just saw When Knowledge Management Hurts

Professors Martine Haas from the Wharton School and Morten Hansen from INSEAD, for example, examined the use of internal knowledge systems by teams of consultants in one of the big four accountancy firms trying to win sales bids. They measured to what extent these teams accessed electronic documents and how much they sought personal advice from other consultants in the firm. They figured that, surely, accessing more knowledge must be helpful, right?

But they proved themselves wrong; to their surprise they found that the more internal electronic databases were consulted by these teams the more likely they were to lose the bid!

So I naturally looked at the citation to read the details … Does Knowledge Sharing Deliver on Its Promises?

In a study of 182 sales teams that were bidding for new client contracts in a management consulting company, Haas and Hansen found that using personal advice from experienced colleagues can improve work quality.

"We find that using codified knowledge in the form of electronic documents saved time during the task, but did not improve work quality or signal competence to clients, whereas in contrast, sharing personal advice improved work quality and signaled competence, but did not save time," Haas says. "This is interesting because managers often believe that capturing and sharing knowledge via document databases can substitute for getting personal advice, and that sharing advice through personal networks can save time. But our findings dispute the claim that different types of knowledge are substitutes for each other. Instead, we show that appropriately matching the type of knowledge used to the requirements of the task at hand -- quality, signaling or speed -- is critical if a firm's knowledge capabilities are to translate into improved performance of its projects."

There is considerably more detail here, but this certainly calls into question the idea of creating large knowledge bases. It may even call into question sharing of Effective Patterns. However, my findings indicate that using Data Driven approaches ensures that you arrive at effective sharing, but it's certainly different to share patterns as opposed to sharing additional codified knowledge.

What is hugely important out of this is the reminder of the limits of codified knowledge and that Conversation Learning is essential but that there are limits to what should be shared and how effective that sharing can be. Still, I've come to believe the most important Knowledge Worker Skill Gap is the Leveraging Networks Skill. I've discussed this many times in Value from Social Media and Networks and Communities.

The research would seem to suggest that it's more than just an uneasy feeling after searching, but the reality is that you likely are missing things. You really do need to have that conversation.

The bottom line is to reduce the amount of time you spend search and spend more time talking.

This does make me wonder what this means for professions that focus on helping to create codified knowledge?

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