Monday, July 26, 2010

Relationship Between Information and Knowledge Services

I've been involved in quite a few conversations recently about the relationship between information and knowledge, and the resulting relationship, if any, between information services and knowledge services. These are very difficult discussions to engage in without finding yourself in a 'definitional rat hole' in attempting to create common language or frames of reference, or relying on a set of philosophical underpinnings that invariably differ from those of the people on the other side of the table.

I'm beginning to think that the differentiation between information and knowledge is a practitioner perspective and not a common, business-oriented one. Business people simply want to get things done as quickly and effectively as possible and can always use some form of help. And most importantly, they want to access the help quickly and effectively as well.

In most basic form, from my perspective, we are processing machines, taking input (e.g past experiences, environmental context, what we read, what we hear from others) learning from and making sense of the input, and ultimately take action, no action, or shifting to a different state (e.g. more knowledgeable, more confused, more capable, more frustrated). The results of action are also for input into the next process cycle. (Think of the experiential learning cycle.)

We all have a job to do, we leverage and learn from everything and everyone we can, if we're smart, to do that job so that we can achieve the results we want. And if you think about the highly flexible, improvisational nature of knowledge work, the leveraging and learning takes place before, while and after taking action (as so eloquently explored in Learning to Fly. And most importantly, how we use information and how we engage with the people around us is highly integrated.

But we all try to be successful in a challenging work environment. We all hear and read about (and experience) the information explosion, organizations being complex adaptive systems, the almost fluid comings and goings of people in and out of organizations or moving between roles and responsibilities inside organizations.

It seems to me, given the above reality we all work in, having on internal service group that a business person could contact for a full range of help / services similar to the partial list below would be a significant benefit:
  • self-serve or assisted "single search" of pre-qualified /selected / quality information originating from inside and outside the organization, with integrated results
  • unsolicited or subscription based provision of focused internal and external information in context based on user-completed profile information and monitored activity
  • facilitated networking with others with similar interests to validate information, information sources, and bridge information silos
  • facilitated group conversations with others to make sense of / contextualize and learn from information and from each other
  • on-demand serendipitous discovery of all of the above
  • all of the above in both provided via in-person and on-line environments
(And, for those of you who don't believe that facilitation of networking and group conversations is a need, from what I hear, even basic meetings haven't evolved much since John Cleese first released Meetings Bloody Meetings in 1976! We all need HELP! Lots of it!)

Interesting related reading:

Learning + Knowledge = ? by Matt Moore, Training Australia Magazine Vol. 8 (4) 2009

Moore also has recently published Performance Enhancing - an e-book that builds on his Training Australia Magazine article and further examines the links between training & development, knowledge management, organizational learning and performance improvement from a practical perspective.

A brilliant graphic poster on Informal Learning developed by XPLANE.
(Special thanks to Peter Stoyko at for the above two references.)

Smashing Silos, a Businessweek article by Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration

Stenmark, D. (2001) The Relationship between Information and Knowledge in Proceedings of IRIS 24, Ulvik, Norway, August 11-14.

Stenmark also explores a number of these ideas in more detail at

Friday, July 09, 2010

"Who Will Care When I'm Gone?"

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ottawa Canada, War Memorial
I was reflecting on a series of conversations I had a while back with a work colleague (let's call him "Lloyd") who was soon to retire. He had agreed to be the focal point of a proof of concept "knowledge transfer" approach.

Lloyd was a long serving employee, and was involved in a number of the organization's key functions and major corporate initiatives. He was a very good communicator, very well respected, and was able to think objectively enough to contribute to the design of how he was going to share his knowledge.

First, he and I had a series of conversations reviewing his career, experiences, accomplishments and some interesting key learnings.  Within the context of the organization we identified 5 key "knowledge domains."  We then identified 2-3 thought leaders in each domain, and I sent these people a number of probing questions intended to uncover what they thought they would like to learn from Lloyd in their respective knowledge domains. Using the responses to these questions I began to design a series of "talk show" like events, one for each domain, which would feature a host, Lloyd, and guests, all of whom would have a conversation in the knowledge domain, seeded by the preliminary questions received from the thought leaders. Anyone in the organization could attend in the audience.  After the conversation was well started on the stage, anyone in the audience would have the opportunity to ask questions and get involved in the conversation. (Dare I say Johnny Carson meets Jerry Springer?)

I was also planning on recording these events, segmenting them, and making them available via our intranet at some point on the future (I was also working on promoting the creation of a section on our intranet for "legacy pages" - profiles, histories, interviews (videos / transcripts), projects, documents etc. for retirees.

Part way through the design of the talk show events, Lloyd came to me and said that he had changed his mind, and no longer wanted to participate. I was stunned, given how active he was in the conversations / process to that point. Of course, I asked him why.

He told me he was reflecting, in large part because of my probing, on his experiences in the organization and concluded that no one would care about what he had learned or had to say. Despite my best efforts, I could not convince him otherwise.

Clearly, there is a direct relationship between the degree to which people choose to volunteer what they know, and the recognition / appreciation they will received for their effort.