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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Reverse Knowledge Management

by Stephen Shapiro

Reverse Knowledge ManagementLast night I went to a seminar. On the whiteboard, the seminar leader drew an oft-used framework:

There are things you "know." - For example, I know I can speak English.

There are things you "know you don't know." - I know I can't speak Chinese.

And there are things you "don't know you don't know." - Obviously I don't have any examples of this.

But it got me thinking. There is one dimension that is never mentioned...

There are things you "don't know you know."

Inside of organizations, there is so much untapped knowledge. To combat this, over the past two decades, companies have invested millions of dollars in knowledge management systems. The objective has been to capture the company's knowledge.

The problem is, the knowledge management databases usually become so large and unwieldy that they are unusable. I can attest from experience that these systems often end up becoming digital piles of untapped information. Finding what you want can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Or, more accurately, it is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles.

What's the solution?

You might call it, "reverse knowledge management."

Instead of posting knowledge which sits passively in a database waiting for someone to find it, you post your question to your "community" so that it can be answered at the time of need. Of course, asking the world for an answer to your question is not new. Yahoo/Google Answers did this a few years back.

But internally, especially when you have already invested in knowledge management systems, the dynamics can be quite different.

If you are using an internal collaboration tool like InnoCentive@Work, you might find that reverse knowledge management is an unintended benefit. When you have a challenge you want solved, the odds are, someone else within your organization has already solved a similar problem. But you probably don't know who knows the solution or where to find the solution.

Sometimes the solution can be sitting in your knowledge management system... and you don't even know it because it is too difficult to find.

Interestingly, "requests for information" posted on internal collaboration tools are sometimes solved not by the individuals with the expertise, by rather by the knowledge management team. When a question is posted, the knowledge management team masterfully scours their databases to find a solution. The advantage of this approach is that those with expertise in navigating the knowledge management systems do what they do best, thus freeing the rest of the organization to focus on what they do best. And it has the added benefit of breathing new life into your old knowledge management initiatives.

So, what is it that you organization doesn't know what it already knows?

P.S. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised. If you Google "reverse knowledge management" (in quotes) you will see that the only place this term is used on the entire internet is by me.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Anonymous Atle Iversen said...

This is a golden oldie from 1998 :-):
"If Only We Knew What We Know"

The sad part is that very little has changed; in fact, with the introduction of "information overload" you might say things have even gotten worse ?!?!

7:02 AM  
Blogger scott said...

Thanks for sharing. Wonderful idea. KM failed so utterly, so it's instructive/ironic/appropriate to reverse the settings.

Changes are afoot that will change this. And, it will not be linear; it will be a step function. That's because there is a scissor-action at the convergence of several trends. In particular, (1) increasing centrality of tech tools for self-serve among GenY etc, (2) increasing ease-of-use of many information-centric tools, like Business Intelligence, (3) increasing infusion of Web2 tech/approaches into all varieties of work/processes/tools and (4) opening up of organizational decisioning/leadership models in many corporate cultures.

What this will ultimately look like is still TBD by the people who step up and get involved. But, we can start to see how some seemingly simple ideas can be combined to make big changes in findability and understandability of an organization's intelligence assets.

Colin White, Allen Bonde, and Dr. Barry Devlin have written white papers on emerging models for collaborative intelligence which can be accessed at http://www.lyzasoft.com/whitepapers.php

Also, Shawn Rogers shared an excellent blog post on the topic at http://www.analyticresponse.com/blog/2010/2/22/collaborative-business-intelligencewe-have-a-leader.html

2:08 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Great comments. I agree that this is not a new idea. Or should I say, a new dilemma.

And Scott, it will be interesting to see how thing progress. As people become super-connected via social media tools, they might have the ability to find the experts more quickly than ever. The challenge, at times, is knowing where to look. We have found that some of the best solutions were provided by the most unlikely sources - places we would never have considered. This is the advantage of the broadcast method of inquiry versus the seek and find approach.

This is an exciting space, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Nicholas Hawtin said...

Thanks for the blog.

Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood have created something along these lines at Stackoverflow.com. It’s focused on computer programming, but the tool they’ve created facilitates the knowledge exchange you seek. Basically, you post a question and people answer it. Site-users vote on the best answer, which then rises to the top of the list of answers.


They also have a super podcast, whose old casts track the development of the concept and the site.

Spolsky's blog is also worth reading on the subject of knowledge-sharing: joelonsoftware.com

3:56 AM  

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