Remember the Conversation - A Knowledge Management Best Practice

In Sharing Hidden Know-How (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011)  Earley & Associates consultant Kate Pugh provides a methodology for transferring knowledge from those that have it to those that need it.   Most  importantly, she seeks to rebalance knowledge management from its contemporary focus on codifying practices, organizing content and enabling search to one based on effective conversation. Her approach focuses on preparing, executing and disseminating  learnings from “knowledge jams”, interactive sessions where originators transfer knowledge to other participants.    

At the core, her argument is that people are not good at absorbing new knowledge unless they engage in dialogue.  This is hardly a radical notion; it traces back to Plato and more recently, to the influential educational theorist, John Dewey, a century ago.   Nevertheless, it’s a perspective that seems easily lost, both within business and educational organizations.  Kate’s illumination of the knowledge-acquisition side of knowledge transmission is a timely and welcome reminder to knowledge management practitioners.

Kate has many deep insights on what is required to effectively enable knowledge acquisition.   Of critical import is the role of the facilitator.   Knowledge transmission doesn’t just happen. It takes preparation, and in particular, a very intentional focus on translating knowledge into terms that can be assimilated by a learner.     The role of the facilitator is much greater than a session moderator. The facilitator engages throughout the knowledge transfer process, from planning through post-session follow-ups:  “They play the role of process consultant, project manager, change agent, cheerleader and networker. (p.31)”    Although Kate gives attention to techniques and templates, these are mere scaffolding to the facilitator’s artistry – an artistry based on three key conversational elements (p.69):

1.       Posture of openness

2.       Pursuit of diversity

3.       Practices of dialogue

“Openness sharpens our ability to see the bigger picture, diversity expands our problem-solving resources, and dialogue takes in these two ingredients and channels them into meaning and lasting relations.”   In short, it is the soft skills that count, but only insofar as they are wed to skillful inquiry and big picture thinking.   

Kate’s approach reflects a synthesis of several business management disciplines that have had a profound influence both on her personally and on general management practices over the last twenty years.  These are Intelligence Acquisition, Organizational Learning, and Collaboration Technology.   These provide, respectively, the intellectual grounding for the facilitation, conversation, and translation disciplines of Kate’s “knowledge jam” program.  Although most authors stand on the shoulders of those that have come before, few are as clear and explicit as Kate about the debts they owe. 

While Sharing Hidden Know-How is a handbook on planning and executing knowledge jams, it is also much more.  There is a lot here that can benefit managers and management consultants alike.   This should be no surprise as at the heart of the methodology is getting engagement and buy-in to change.  Learning is about behavioral change; and this is the day-to-day business of managers and consultants alike.

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