Friday, June 08, 2007

Knowledge->Information->Communication->Language and Context

A recent discussion that I was a part of, involved looking at the role of language and communication skills in the context of Knowledge Management. Opinions were varied and interesting to analyze. I thought I’d attempt to collect my own thoughts on this topic by blogging about it – one of the best ways for a person of my sort. Needless to say, I look forward to opinions from readers – complementary or otherwise.

If one were to take a case involving a knowledge seeker and knowledge sharer, how important is it - in the context of KM - that the knowledge seeker has reasonably good language and communication skills? How important is it that the knowledge seeker be able to articulate her context, problem and specific assistance required to the knowledge sharer? “Very important” may sound like a no-brainer! Now, add to the context the fact that the knowledge seeker and the knowledge sharer are not face to face and the communication is written (to start with) and the knowledge sharer and seeker are both anonymous (that is, the knowledge seeker posts a query to a set of experts out of which she expects a few to respond). How much more significant does the role of language and communication skills now become? I don’t have to answer that, do I? :)

So, given that it is quite important to articulate queries well enough to extract appropriate and spontaneous responses from experts who are otherwise busy, what should the KM function (which is likely to be responsible for such a process) do? Does it wash its hands off as this is too fundamental a problem to handle or does it step in and influence the stakeholders and contribute to the process in such a way that the knowledge sharing that happens is more efficient and effective? How is it handled in your organization/organizations you know? Here are some initial thoughts from me.

-As a proactive step, the KM function ought to be in a position to easily convince and influence the organization and its training/learning arm(s) to improve the overall communication competencies of its workforce. An analogy that comes to mind is that of bringing up children – when one wants to influence them in certain ways and that is not completely under one’s control, it is important to influence their teachers in school to get things done. We can’t and for that matter don’t step away from the need…!

-As a reactive step, the KM function ought to be able to lend assistance to knowledge seekers who require and request for assistance in articulating their problem

Additionally, I think there is a need to bring in another dimension to this discussion. More often than not, a lot of knowledge seekers underestimate the importance of the context while seeking knowledge. Sometimes, they are too lazy to elaborate on the context and assume that the gist of the situation is likely to bring forth the solution from experts. The latter may in reality not be able to put together the small pieces of information emerging from such communication and fill in the gaps and get a view of the big picture. Or even worse, in complex situations, the experts may assume quite a few things and provide inappropriate solutions! Life is not simple, is it?!! In such situations, what should the KM function do? Adopt proactive and reactive methods to educate the workforce about the importance of communicating the context and also to help build the context by using skilled resources who can ask the right questions!! What do you think?

PS: Sometimes, when life brings out a symptom (example) which may not completely and/or accurately represent a problem, we sometimes react to just that particular symptom/example rather than look deeper and identify the underlying issue and solve a problem that is bound to make huge noise about its own existence in just a matter of time. Life is entertaining!


Bong said...


Assuming that KM function is performed by a facilitator, encourager, and/or player like organization, special interest group, knowledge manager, and/or etc., you are right all about this. In addition, it is also the empowerment of the people to think, communicate, participate, and interact effectively to transform KM to its direction.

Thinking about communication means, things like action research, consensual process, dialectical process, reasoning process, communication process, participation, negotiation, discussion, conversation, how to manage criticism, dialogue, brainstoring, meeting, interpersonal, intrapersonal, small-group interaction, big-group interaction, attitude towards professionalism and socials, attitude towards respect, attitude towards arguments, leadership, values, and etc. are essentials (in my view) to impact KM transformation.

Note each of those process and thinking through above need a different mindset and skills profile.

Hope this could help.

Kind regards,


Nimmy said...

Thanks a ton for leaving your thoughts in response to this post, Bong! :) Really appreciate it. I like the way you've gone into each of the elements required for communication and collaboration! Do come back to leave more of your thoughts!! :)

Anonymous said...

I think Bong is definitely in the right direction.. in it's simplest form I think KM = facilitation / facilitative leadership = creating the conditions within which others can be successful. In this sense, the KM function has to a) create the conditions to enable groups to collborate successfully (e.g. everything from helping launch and nuture communities of practice to facilitating AARs and Project Retrospectives, b) build strong links with HR so that management and leadership development programs focus on building "knowledge conscious managers" who make the right decisions at all levels, AND employee development includes collaboration skills as per Bong's comments, and c) creating, packaging and marketing the tools / methods / techniques / templates that enable managers and employees to become self sufficient in managing / exchanging knowledge.

Nimmy said...


Really appreciate getting to know your thoughts on this topic. Sounds good to see two similar perspectives. There are quite a few KMers who are proclaiming to be too much into KM technology and core KM processes to be bothered about the such fundamental things (which doesn't sound great to me...actually, it sounds quite scary because it means we may not really succeed if we go with that attitude). I definitely believe that KM needs to be close to the CEO's heart and he/she needs to drive these concepts through every business function/practice...!