It starts with capturing knowledge

In the Altimeter Group’s Report on Enterprise Social Networks, four areas of business value were identified:

  1. Encourage Sharing
  2. Capture Knowledge
  3. Enable Action
  4. Empower People

I would suggest an order of difficulty and business value for these four components.

Capturing knowledge is the foundation, and drives value up the chain, enabling sharing of  knowledge and the ability to take action on that knowledge. All three can then drive empowered people (if the organizational structure allows this, and if it doesn’t, consider the resulting frustration).

As Dave Gray wrote in The Connected Company, capturing tacit knowledge is tough:

“The learning challenge for the company comes from the dynamic relationship between the two forms of knowledge. Tacit knowledge is where the action is, and in most cases, it’s the people with the tacit knowledge that deliver the results. But the only way tacit knowledge can be broadly shared is by translating it into explicit knowledge — a very difficult task that very few companies have mastered.”

If capturing knowledge, or making tacit knowledge more explicit, is the core challenge for social businesses, what should we do?

For the organization: Make it easy to share

For teams and groups: Narrate your Work

For individuals: Practice personal knowledge mastery

For learning & development (training) professionals:

  • Be a lurker or a passive participant in relevant work-related communities (could be the lunch room) and LISTEN to what is being said.
  • Communicate what you observe to people around you, solicit their feedback and engage in meaningful conversations.
  • Continuously collect feedback from the workplace, not just after courses.
  • Make it easy to share information by simplifying & synthesizing issues that are important and relevant to fellow workers.

13 Responses to “It starts with capturing knowledge”

  1. Harold Jarche

    Thank you for such a deep and nuanced comment, Tim.

    While of course, you cannot capture knowledge in the literal sense, people in organizations need to share their knowledge-making experiences. That is the spirit of this post. The aim is to help make tacit knowledge more explicit, not some type of fictional Vulcan mind-transfer. As I have quoted Dave Jonassen several times here, “Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.”

    However, it is very important to understand that organizations, and cultures, that do not share what they know, are doomed:

    “You start out with two genetically well-intermixed peoples. Tasmania’s actually connected to mainland Australia so it’s just a peninsula. Then about 10,000 years ago, the environment changes, it gets warmer and the Bass Strait floods, so this cuts off Tasmania from the rest of Australia, and it’s at that point that they begin to have this technological downturn. You can show that this is the kind of thing you’d expect if societies are like brains in the sense that they store information as a group and that when someone learns, they’re learning from the most successful member, and that information is being passed from different communities, and the larger the population, the more different minds you have working on the problem.

    If your number of minds working on the problem gets small enough, you can actually begin to lose information. There’s a steady state level of information that depends on the size of your population and the interconnectedness. It also depends on the innovativeness of your individuals, but that has a relatively small effect compared to the effect of being well interconnected and having a large population.”


  2. Marty Thompson

    Harold, good stuff. I would also suggest a fifth social network component, namely, “motivation promoters.” As a former product marketing guy at a KM software provider, we saw that time and time again, without motivation (the carrot, not the stick) even the best initiatives become cloying to the folks in the trenches.
    We’ll be seeing this as another key barrier to the success of any initiatives that rely on the latest renditions of social collaboration solutions in the enterprise. Hopefully, they are beating a path to your door.

  3. Dave Gray

    Great post Harold.

    For me it’s about how knowledge gets transferred from one person or group to others. Organizations that are smart about this recognize that the knowledge is transferred by interactions both in the course of daily work and also in contexts specifically created for sharing knowledge. In The Connected Company I use the term “Learning fields” which I borrowed from an excellent book called The Knowledge-Creating Company

  4. Tim Wright

    Harold thanks for your prompt and somewhat sarcastic response. Did I touch a nerve? As someone I follow and admire I found it surprising that you could use such a misleading and damaging expression as “capturing knowledge”, a phrase that has persistently distorted and hampered efforts to get organisations to take KM seriously. As such I make no apologies for treating it bluntly. Whilst you and I would probably agree wholeheartedly on the importance of organisations being mindful of and dependant on the skills, experience and insight of the human assets within and outwith them, the idea of “capturing knowledge” does nothing to further that and is, by your own reference, a grand illusion – I suggest you don’t perpetuate it if you object to short rebuttals.

    • Harold Jarche

      If “capturing knowledge” is misleading, then so is “knowledge management”, a term used by you, me, and many others, Tim. I used the term as I wanted to build on what the Altimeter report had identified. I regret that you do not feel that I am furthering the general KM conversation.

      Ara, I like your point about “low blame cultures”. It makes a lot of sense.

  5. Ara Ohanian

    Harold, thanks for this stimulating post. Any organization that takes learning and performance seriously absolutely needs to make tacit knowledge more explicit. What you’ve suggested is absolutely right at an individual level but there’s also a cultural issue here. Organizations, in my experience, that are good at sharing tacit knowledge are low blame cultures have a good esprit de corps and a sense of mutual support. As learning and development professionals it may be beyond us to create that culture in an organization but we should aim to live it in our own departments.

  6. Jack Vinson

    I was going to comment on Harold’s subtle terminology shift from “Encourage Sharing” to “Enable Sharing.” I wonder if you mean the same thing, or you intentionally shifted to the previous page in the dictionary? But then “enable” could include the social/cultural aspects along wtih the technical capabilities.

    The “knowledge capture” is accurately a myth. But the idea that Harold is suggesting is an interesting one. The “stuff” needs to be available for people to have something worthwhile for conversations that we want to happen on the “enable sharing” piece of things. (There is a bit of chicken-and-egg here, of course.)


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