In response to my post on relevance, my long-time friend Ralph Mercer asked, “Why do I need KM at an institutional level when information is ambient at a global level and personal at a hyper local level?” This illuminates an observation made by Thierry deBaillon, which I have often quoted, “The basic unit of social business technology is personal knowledge management, not collaborative workspaces.” We are surrounded by information and have many ways to collaborate, but unless each person has effective sense-making processes, social business networks are mostly noise amplification.
Collaborative knowledge work must be coupled with cooperative knowledge sharing. Cooperation, or sharing without any quid pro quo, is the foundation of personal knowledge management. PKM is based on playfully seeking knowledge, not task-driven searching. It is also about sharing to inspire, not because you have to. The results of PKM can then be used in collaborative work.
Personal knowledge management is the only solid foundation of organizational knowledge management (KM). Without PKM, there is no KM, just databases of (mostly) unused information. Only individual knowledge workers can transcend the divisions between work teams, communities of practice, and social networks. Individuals connect these entities through their participation in them.
PKM is the active process of being cognizant of our networks and engaged in our communities, while still working with our teams. These teams, and the organizations they work in, have an opportunity to harvest some of the PKM knowledge artifacts of their members. However, individuals have to retain control of their own PKM processes, due to the knowledge-sharing paradox.
The gap I see in many collaboration initiatives, enterprise social network software implementations, and other social business projects, is a failure to help develop PKM skills. A course is not the answer. Allowing time to develop skills, and providing feedback, is a much better approach. Developing PKM skills is probably one of the best investments any knowledge-intensive organization can make.