More on community

I published my last post in a bit of hurry because my battery was dying. When I read it again this morning I realized that I hadn’t quite finished my thoughts on the Joe Firestone – ActKM story.

I said that maybe the ActKM wasn’t the right place, or this isn’t the right time, for the ideas that Joe Firestone and Mark McElroy were putting forth. Like any type of group, in any field of endeavor, this group has spoken and decided they wanted to exclude someone. It happens every day. It is unfortunate in most cases, but especially so in this case because I think the theory and idea that Joe and Mark put forth are very valuable.

I can’t speak to whether their ideas are valid or not, because I’ve not had a chance to go through them in detail. But they are definitely worth considering. By consciously excluding these ideas, the group at ActKM seems to be saying, “We know what we’re doing, we don’t need your ideas because they don’t meet with what we already know and want to know.” Which is unfortunate and seems to go against the very ideals of things like knowledge management, learning organizations, etc.

The point?

I’m not sure how well I’ve made it, but my point through all of this is that in many ways communities online seem to follow many of the same “rules” of community offline. It all comes down to establishing a lot of connections in the beginning and maintaining only those connections that demonstrate their value. Just like in the offline world, sometimes communities make the right choice and sometimes they don’t.

“Community” in the information age

Several posts and other info I’ve come across over the last week or so reference various aspects of on-line communities. The ones that stand out in my mind include Denham’s lament on the state of KM on-line, Joe Firestone’s description of recent events on the ActKM group on Yahoo! groups, and an excellent paper by Lee Bryant entitled Smarter, Simpler Social: An introduction to online social software methodology (which I was first tipped to on David Gurteen’s K-Log).

Over the years I’ve noticed many of the same things these items mention. Along with recent discussions in various places concerning personal KM and KM in general, the role of community in the KM arena seems to be increasingly prominent, if not increasingly important. Some comments on the three items I mentioned above:

The Fall of Communities

In his post, Denham describes the “fall” of some communities, the growth of some, and the rise of a new community, the KM blogging community. I see in this a pattern that is prominent in many types of social or organizational environments:

  • at the beginning of a trend or problem, many fairly large groups of people may get together to discuss the issue and exchange ideas;
  • within the groups, individuals establish their own personal network of contacts from the group and attack the trend or problem based on their priorities;
  • once the trend or problem is in hand, the bulk of continued connection between members of a community will be a one-on-one connection for the most part;
  • the large number of separate groups will diminish and leave a few strong groups to maintain a presence;
  • when another trend/problem arises, the community of individuals will once again rally to address it.

Though it may seem strange to say, I see the trend as Denham describes it as a sign of the health of the KM community.

A similar process in the physical world is the human immune system. When an antigen is detected in the body, the lymphocytes start pumping out antibodies to try to find the right one. The lymphocyte(s) that find the right antibody then grow, solve the problem, and then withdraw a little bit. They stick around forever to address the next time that antigen, or a similar one, come around. The lymphocytes that don’t find the right one don’t grow and in fact may eventually just die out if they never find an antibody that protects against an new antigen.

A Time and a Place

Reading Joe Firestone’s account of his banishment from the ActKM group (this is in fact the only account I’ve read), my first thought was, “There is a time and a place for everything. As much sense as what Joe and Mark (McElroy) say makes, they are obviously not in the right place to be saying it. And at this stage in where KM is, perhaps it’s just not the right time.”

It’s like being at a SuperBowl party. You really want to talk about the new G5 you got, but everyone else is much more interested in watching the game. The more you try to get people to talk about your new G5, the more you will anger them and the more likely they are to kick you out. If you don’t want to join the party you’re at, sometimes you need to just find another party.

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Battery’s dying, so I’ll finish up with Smarter, Simpler Social: An introduction to online social software methodologyin another post

Business processes as part of KM Strategy

Several years ago, when I was still actively working in the KM business, I proposed to a client that the following four things would make up a “knowledge management solution” for the organization:

  1. Personal Information Management tools
  2. Team Collaboration and Information Management tools (this is where the obligatory document repository resided)
  3. Organizational Processes / Information Infrastructure
  4. Customer Relationship Management

For those of you following the recent, sometimes heated, discussion concerning Personal Knowledge Management** you know that tools and techniques for individuals are key to a successful concept of KM today. Likewise, team tools for the management of information and the connection of individuals into social networks is a key for innovation at the organizational level. CRM seems to be a world of its own, and in many ways today is really more information management than knowledge management.

Which leaves number 3 – Organizational Processes and Information Infrastructure. Although it had always seemed somewhat obvious to me that every part of an organization should use the same information, not copies of information, I’ve begun to doubt that lately. It still seems that from a theoretical standpoint this is how it should be, but from a practical standpoint sometimes it just seems too hard to do.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to see Research project: Integration of business process support with knowledge management posted by Jack Vinson. His post points to a research project headed up by Dr. Ilia Bider of IbisSoft:

Project Summary:

For knowledge management to be of use in an organization, it should be seamlessly incorporated in everyday business activities. Much of business activities, especially on operational level, are structured around business processes, for example, order processing, preparation of budget, or negotiation. Knowledge management needs to be integrated with these processes, which means that a system that supports business processes should also support knowledge management. The objective with the project is to work out techniques for developing integrated process and knowledge management systems, and investigate effects of introducing such a system in operational practice, e.g., effects on productivity, internal cooperation, democracy in organizational life, etc. The project’s objectives will be pursued through field studies at an interest organization that is currently introducing an integrated process and knowledge support system in its operational practice. In addition, new features for integrated systems will be investigated, designed and implemented as prototypes.

I, personally, am very anxious to see what their results are. I only hope I don’t have to wait until late 2006 to see some preliminary results from their study!!

** Here’s a good place to start if you’ve not been following the PKM discussion.

Das E-Business Weblog: Knowledge Management does not exist. Personal Knowledge Management does.

Das E-Business Weblog: Knowledge Management does not exist. Personal Knowledge Management does.

Hmmm….. I’m going to have to think about this one for a while.

I am a firm believer in the idea of Personal Knowledge Management. This has been around forever, technology has simply made it different.

I also believe that Enterprise Knowledge Management exists. But it is not the knowledge of the individual members of the organization that is being managed: it is the knowledge of the organization that is being managed. I’ve been putting together an article/paper on this thought, based on the idea that organizations are intelligent themselves. Some sources for my ideas concerning intelligent organizations include The Genius Within: Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, and Investigations.

Slow, but sure.