KM is not the management of knowledge itself, but rather the management of the organization with a particular focus on knowledge. It is exactly what Daniel Bell in 1976 argued that we are moving away from traditional management where the focus is on static production factors (such as land and labor), to a new type of management where the focus is on the dynamic production factor 'knowledge'.
Knowledge is dynamic because it is created through changes in cognitive structures. Dave Snowden describes the dynamics of knowledge as that 'we only know what we know, when we need to know it'. So we should create an environment where people can make use of their long-term fragmented knowledge to enhance the organizational's ability to make sense of and decide over new challenges in a fast and innovative way. But how do we get such a A-HA moment. Is there a role for social media in this?
Yes, there is. Over the years we have seen that KM practices moved from a focus on the content (controlling knowledge by making it explicit in big databases) to a focus on context through conversations. Or how Clay Shirky highlights it in his book Here Comes Everybody: from publishing to interacting. He argues that with the new (mobile) communication technologies of today we can now connect, communicate, produce, share, replicate, locate and distribute information and knowledge. These new (mobile) communication technologies are often described as social media. But why is this way of communicating so 'social'?
Social Media is social because it has created a big shift in our social and cultural practices. In the 1980s it was normal to have a pen pal. A person with whom you communicated by sending a letter to a particular location (most of the time an address). Even when Internet was becoming a part of our daily life in the beginning of 1990s there were many websites that connected people with each other and let them start becoming pen pals. Not by communicating on the digital highway, but still by dropping off a letter in the mailbox in the hope it would be delivered a week later. So before you got an answer back, it probably took weeks or even months. The difference between the Internet age of then and now is that we can connect to persons directly, rather than to locations. This makes it more social. However, the biggest driver why our (mobile) communication technology is so social is that there is a time issue. We connect to people directly and can instantly get a reply, no matter where we are. Therefore I argue that the new (mobile) communication technologies give us the possibility to have cross-border, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary conversations.
These conversations are valuable to generate and share knowledge, because through these real-life conversations it can help us to get a A-HA moment. By talking in an space that crosses cultural and disciplinary border, there is more diversity and we can create innovative ideas and - hopefully - solutions. In my blog post 'The Painful Truth of Best Practices in 2010' I already argued that:
Without having 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.
Let's show an example why these types of conversations are so valuable. It is a conversation I recently had via Twitter:
So, as you can understand from this conversation, I had sent out a message that people could apply for free tickets for the TedxOresund conference. Even though I did not know Rasmus, we were still able to generate and share knowledge with each other (not to mention the free beer - which he still owes me :-) ).
Additionally, you can see that the conversation didn't take months. Sometimes we were replying to each other instantly, an other time we replied within a day. So, within only a short period of time we managed to generate and share knowledge, but create trust. For many years I argued that it is far more easier to destroy trust than to create the most powerful forms of trust that accumulate over long periods. This can be true, but as you can see in this example it shows the opposite. Why? The conversation via the new (mobile) communication technologies let us generate trust via direct interpersonal contact and a reputation through a network of other trusted parties.