Why is it that people are completely beside the mark when they are referring to ‘Best Practices’? Last week, Luis Suarez repeated his thoughts about best practices in knowledge management initiatives in his blog ‘Why Best Practices Don’t Work for Knowledge Work’. I think he makes it fairly clear what is wrong with best practices by arguing that:
Best Practices are the worst thing you can apply to any kind of knowledge work. Any kind. Social Computing is no different! More than anything else because best practices will always suggest concepts like static, fixed, inalterable, unmodified, unbeatable, perfect. And, as you can imagine, those are the kind of characteristics that would be rather the opposite to what knowledge is all about and the capturing of some of it; knowledge is supposed to be dynamic, flexible, malleable, modifiable, flowing, a continuous learning experience, imperfect. Always leaving room to improve the already existing knowledge by acquiring plenty more!
Even though his point is clear to me, this week I was confronted with the stubbornness of people who argue they are working in the knowledge management field. I attended a seminar with the title ‘Learning Methods and Learning Technologies: Best Practices’. For years a big group of KM practitioners already argued with sound-proof arguments that best-practice is a waste of time, but still - in 2010 - there are professional networks that cannot grasp the field they are working in and still hold themselves to something that ones was being introduced as a way to learn in - perhaps - simple organizational contexts! You cannot apply this in the complexities of nowadays.
During the seminar I realized that some of the ‘specialists’ confronted with the issue how the organization can best learn, do not apprehend the core of learning - which is knowledge. Learning is all about the transfer of knowledge. So, if you were to work within organizational learning, you should understand how particular ways of thinking originate. Ralph Stacey argues that ‘ways of thinking evolve’. They have a history and understanding this history enables us to understand the nature of the assumptions we are making now as we approach important practical issues. So, every organization has its own history, its own context, and you just cannot reuse an example that might have been successful in one organization with another history and context. Take the example of reusing LEAN from a manufacturing context to a service context. Even though LEAN was successful within the factories of Toyota; it is certainly not automatically a success in other factories, or even other areas of practices.
Another point I want to make about best practices is that we don’t want to standardize the learning. Literature is already pointing out to all the learning possibilities social computing is offering us, because it generates diversity. Without having this diversity we would all look through the really small hole in the hoarding at the same time. However, social computing is exposing us to people who are looking at the same object through other holes in the hoarding. And when we can easily connect to these people, our view on reality will certainly improve. This certainly results in more sustainable improvements while making a decision. (By the way: that is also why I think that NING has started to dig its own grave by announcing that the service is not free anymore - connecting easily to each other is the power of social networking sites)
Think about Twitter ... so many people with the same interests ... But they are all looking through a different hole to the same topic. They are filtering their external sensations differently. Based on a set of keywords I try to make sense of what could be interesting for me. I use Google Reader, Delicious and StumbleUpon. However, another person, is using other tools to filter the external sensation and - because they have an other knowledge based, they use a different set of keywords that describe the same topic I am also looking at. Thus, they find stuff I never found before, and by sending this through social networks you give a fragment to the others and if the other are doing the same, you get an other fragment back.
Let’s go back to the seminar again. The reason why some of the participants of the seminar probably do not grasp the meaning of their area of ‘expertise’ is that they are not aware of the world around them. I have often heard that Twitter is like a echo-room. During the seminar I experienced the meaning of the echo-room. None of the 30+ participants had Twitter, so I was talking to myself. Is this bad? Yes! Twitter and other social media tools and technologies are great ways to understand the working of diversity in learning. But when they are not bothered to experiment with it, how would they know.