Specify Desired Modes of Knowledge Flow, Part 3

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

December 03, 2020

In the two previous posts, I discussed the first four modes of knowledge flow: collection, connection, boundary-spanning, and discovery. This third and final post includes the fifth mode (creation) and provides examples.

Creation: processes for stimulating innovation and facilitating invention

Creating new knowledge is an important goal for most organizations, but it is difficult to enable. By using the other modes of knowledge flow – collection, connection, boundary spanning, and discovery – and adding explicit processes to use these flows to create knowledge, innovation can be stimulated.

Let’s look at an example. In a consulting firm, information about customer projects is captured in a repository (collection). Communities for each type of consulting service are active (connection), and include consultants, partners, contractors, and salespeople from all regions of the world (boundary spanning). Details on the win rate, delivery time, and profitability of each service offering are available in a data warehouse (discovery). Competitive and industry trends are available in a corporate library (discovery).

The leadership team has been asked to increase the gross profit margin of the consulting business. They take the following steps:

  1. Search the project repository to see which customers are doing the most repeat business. Survey those customers about their upcoming needs.
  2. Ask the communities for each service offering to offer their suggestions for improving profits. Select the best ones for implementation.
  3. Analyze the information in the data warehouse to see which service offerings are the most and least profitable. Improve on the profitable ones and develop new offerings with similar attributes. Discontinue the unprofitable ones and deny approval to future proposals for offerings with similar attributes.
  4. Review competitive and industry trends to see which competitors’ offerings are the most profitable and what the analysts predict will be profitable. Use these findings to help shape new development efforts.
  5. Combining all of these inputs, the leaders decide to drop their three worst-performing service offerings, invest in further developing their top three, and decide to create two new offerings based on customer input, community feedback, and analyst predictions.

By institutionalizing the process used in this case, a knowledge creation process can be reused for future innovation. It is not simple or intuitive to create new knowledge, but it is worth perfecting because the potential benefits are significant.

Examples of Knowledge Flow

Demand-driven knowledge sharing, which can also be called just-in-time knowledge management, emphasizes connection instead of collection. It assumes that knowledge will be provided at the time of need.

Here is how it works. Someone has a question, problem, or need to know who, what, when, where, why, and/or how about a topic. They search existing repositories and threaded discussion archives to see if there is an existing answer. If so, they use it. If no answer is found, they post their question, problem, or need to one or more relevant threaded discussions. Other members of the threaded discussion respond with their answers. The answers may include links to content in other repositories. The answers are automatically archived so that future searches will produce useful results.

Tacit knowledge can be shared through connection, and it can be turned into explicit knowledge through collection. Communities and social networks are the usual mechanisms for sharing tacit knowledge.

Here is an example. Someone wants to share an insight, a nugget of knowledge, or a solution to a problem which others may face. They post to a relevant threaded discussion. They may choose to write up their knowledge more formally, thus turning it into explicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is captured through collection and shared through connection. Repositories are typically used to capture this form of knowledge.

For example, someone wants to share reusable content such as a document, presentation, recording, process, procedure, template, tool, software source code module, or some other form of data. They upload the file containing the content to the appropriate repository. They post to the related threaded discussion to let the members know about the file, including a link to it.

By considering all five modes of knowledge flow, and incorporating them appropriately into your plans, you can decide how to enable and support all needed flows. This will be incorporated in the corresponding people, process, and technology elements which you design as part of the program. And encouraging demand-driven knowledge sharing can help knowledge flow in very practical ways.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto, with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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