The simple structure of the company, with its solidly embedded organizational chart restricting knowledge flow, cannot deal with the complexity of the networked economy. It takes too long to make decisions or try new things out. Looser hierarchies and stronger networks are required, but how do you go about this?
Working and learning out loud are essential practices that can change the nature of work. They help make transparent what is happening in the organization and democratize knowledge creation. First of all, everyone must be engaged in observing their environment. Then groups of people can work on problems together and learn as they work. The results of working and learning out loud can then be codified as network knowledge, which is always open for modification, as knowledge flow becomes knowledge stock. PKM – Seek > Sense > Share – is a core part of enabling knowledge to flow, unrestricted by hierarchies.
Imagine a community of explorers in a new land. There are many cooks who try out new recipes, testing to see what tastes good or goes well together. As they cook in groups to feed their families or part of the community, they talk and share their latest work. The cooks have a friendly competition to see who can come up with the most interesting meal. They have to prepare three meals a day, but each day is different, as the situation changes and new foods are discovered. Some of the recipes are popular, or especially good during certain seasons, so recipes are informally published. These are shared throughout the community and with travelers passing through, who also have their own recipes and bring new spices. In such a complex adaptive environment, working and learning together just makes sense.
Imagine if this community instead had a single chef and a team of food preparation specialists that reported directly to him. He would decide what to cook for the community kitchen. Weekly reports from community leaders would be collated by the chef’s staff, reviewed by the chef, and would inform the next week’s menu planning. Certain recipes would be published annually in the official community cookbook, certified for general use. Imagine how long it would take, and how much knowledge would be missed, with such a structure. Imagine how many wonderful recipes would not be created. The community members would be merely passive consumers of food, disconnected from the environment that nourishes them. Well, this is what happens with knowledge in most organizations today.