Knowledge itself is not a great business advantage, and if it were, academic institutions would be running circles around the Fortune 100. It’s what gets done with the knowledge that matters. But there still needs to be a good flow of information and ideas that get tested out in the specific context of the organization, such as its markets and the technology available. Nick Milton describes four types of organizational knowledge: Core, Non-core, New, & Competitive. Moving competitive knowledge into core knowledge is a key part of this flow.
Competitive knowledge. These are areas of new evolving knowledge that the company knows a lot about. This knowledge may well give them a competitive advantage – the first learner advantage. In areas of evolving knowledge, the company that learns the best and learns the fastest, has the potential to outperform its rivals. The KM focus for competitive knowledge is on the development of best practice. As this knowledge is being applied around the business, there needs to be a continuous capture of knowledge from practice, comparing of knowledge through communities of practice, and development of best practice. Ownership of competitive competence probably lies with the communities and networks.
I have mapped Nick’s Boston Square to the coherent organization to show how communities of practice provide the link between social networks and enterprise work teams to filter new knowledge and find competitive knowledge.
One challenge of finding new knowledge is that social networks are comprised mostly of non-core knowledge. There is often more noise than signal. However, given their diversity, social networks are where we can find innovative ideas. This is why curation and PKM skills are so important for organizations today. Testing new knowledge is where communities of practice can be handy. Gaining competitive knowledge is the obvious ROI for fostering internal and external communities of practice.
So here is a clear value proposition. Communities of practice act as filters of new knowledge in order to find competitive knowledge for your organization. People who understand the context of the work teams must participate in communities of practice, as only they can identify what new knowledge could be competitive. That means that those doing the work need time and support to get away from their teams and see the bigger picture. Does your organization provide this time, or is everyone too busy focused on managing core knowledge? The implications of myopic work practices are quite obvious.