Nancy Dixon discusses The Three Eras of Knowledge Management, an excellent read on how lead organizations are using idea management. This post confirms, in my mind, the three principles of net work, or how work gets done in the network era. The description of convening is similar to openness, though in the explanation below, it is a more deliberate process than what might be thought of as a community of practice. .
The NASA example illustrates the three enablers of the third era, 1) convening, 2) cognitive diversity and 3) transparency.
Convening is the skill and practice of bringing groups together to develop understanding of complex issues, create new knowledge and spur innovation. It is about:
• designing meetings as conversations rather than presentations
• identifying who needs to be in the conversation, including those who do the work and are impacted by it
• framing the question in a way that opens thinking
• arranging the space to facilitate conversation
• using small groups as the unit of learning
I have written about convening and the role of the leader in The Power of the Conversation Architect to Address Complex, Adaptive Challenges
Cognitive diversity is the deliberate use of difference to bring new understanding to an issue. When faced with complex issues our inclination is to collect more data, survey, or assign a task force to conduct interviews; when what is needed is a new way to frame the issue. Cognitive diversity brings people trained in different heuristics, problem solving strategies, interpretations, and perspectives into the room. Cognitive diversity can be found in different parts of the organization (e.g. marketing, finance, engineering), in different disciplines (e.g. biology, neuroscience, archeology), or outside the organization (e.g. suppliers, customers, consultants, academicians, alliances).
Transparency includes the willingness of management to say, “I don’t know” and therefore to employ the organization’s collective knowledge. It is also about management providing all the available information and data on an issue so that those convened have what they need to do the work of sensemaking. Organizational members also have a role in transparency, that is, to be open about what is happening at their level, rather than hiding or discounting bad news to appease management – to bring the best available knowledge to bear on organizational issues
What I find implicit in the notion of idea management though, is shared power. Just doing idea management, like narration of work, is not enough. If the high-value work today is in facing complexity, not in addressing problems for which a formulaic or standardized responses have been developed, then learning and solving problems together is a real business advantage. If idea management requires those in control to say, “I don’t know”, then there are many organizations where this will not happen. If idea management requires employees “being open about what is happening at their level”, then personal knowledge management skills need to be widespread (something I have yet to see in most organizations). Command & control remain the major stumbling blocks in effective idea management. However, it is great to see that there are lead organizations, like NASA, setting the example.