Every organization today is trying to address the changing nature of work, driven by rapid technological change, and made more complex by global changes in economics, politics, and resources. Simultaneously we are seeing rapid advances in all the sciences and their intersections. But what about our structures that organize how people work together? Providing better tools and developing individual skills only address part of the needs of the digital workplace. There is also a need for cognitive skills that enhance creativity and initiative. For example, working and learning out loud in online social networks significantly change the flow of knowledge and influence power structures. Pattern sensing becomes all important. Even leadership has to be exercised in a different way from the hierarchical organization, understanding the dynamics of networks.
Personal knowledge mastery is a foundational discipline needed to work in digital communities and networks so that personal know-how continuously feeds organizational knowledge. The PKM framework is currently used by Domino’s Pizza, Bangor University, and the UK’s National Health Services amongst others. It has been adopted by hundreds of professionals around the world who have participated in PKM workshops. PKM gives a structure to develop a network of people and sources of information that can be drawn upon daily. It a process of seeking knowledge, active sense-making, and discerning when and with whom to share knowledge. Initially, with good PKM practices, less time is spent on answering email or finding information, and more time focused on being a better knowledge worker. As mastery is developed, professional learning networks become more diverse and resilient, so that serendipitous finds of new knowledge and people become commonplace.
Only providing digital tools and teaching people how to use them is not enough. A new language of working in digital networks and communities must be mastered. Practices like network weaving have to become natural. So does the idea of sharing ideas before they are fully formulated. One challenge is to understand the difference between Alpha and Beta ideas, and with whom to share each. Another challenge is to think critically, questioning assumptions and using the network to help surface the best knowledge. Workers are no longer employees but knowledge artisans, whose relationship with knowledge is entrepreneurial, driven by self-determination. Organizations structured on flattened hierarchies and self-managed teams are more attractive to these artisans, who will drive the emerging creative economy.
Most organizations are playing with all these new digital technologies and not putting in place structures to support knowledge artisans. But all these levels of hierarchy and control processes, based on a systemic lack of trust, will be overwhelmed by the resulting complexity of a hyper-connected economy. Overarching knowledge work principles have to be first established. An adult-to-adult relationship model like wirearchy is one example; “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” Complex environments are the new normal. Relationship building is needed in order to share complex knowledge. Implicit knowledge takes time to share, so time has to be set aside for sense-making, reflecting, and conversing. These are significant workplace changes, but can be mastered with a stable foundation of PKM practiced by interdependent and autonomous knowledge artisans. When everybody is engaged in sense-making, then any organization can better sense where it needs to go.