Global Knowledge Review November 2004www.globalknowledgereview.com
We tend to measure work by its outcomes – reports, designs,deals, products – and often don't look at the process thatleads to them. And even if we want to see the process,it's often hidden: in people’s heads, in project communicationsdistributed over hundreds of emails, in drafts of documents and notes locked on personal hard drives, andin conversations that vanish into thin air…Why is process important? Because it's learning fromstories of construction, alternatives not chosen, tricksinvented on the way, best practices and mistakes thatmake a difference in today's markets that expect innovationand customer care.
When there is a discussion about communities of practiceit is often about the value of exchanging ideas andproblemsolving. Active involvement in conversations isappreciated and supported, while lurkers are often perceivedas 'free-riders' who benefit fromcontributions of otherswithout adding much value themselves. Usual metrics for judging community success often do not take intoaccount that lurking is a form of participation –legitimate peripheral participation – that has its ownvalue.Listening and reading is learning. It is getting to knowcommunity norms and language, picking up trends andstaying updated, learning about others and theirconversations. All this leads to an awareness of contextthat makes it much easier to become an active participantwhen the right moment comes. Non-active participationis also about creating a larger audience for any conversationthat can motivate experts to share and about giving spaceto others by being silent.
Learning takes a variety of forms. Courses, seminars ormentoring programs are probably those that come tomind first. These forms could be referred to as formallearning, i.e. planned and controlled by an organisation.In practice, such 'organisationally controlled' learning isonly a tip of the 'learning iceberg': up to 80% of job-related learning is informal and driven by individualsthemselves. This learning takes many forms starting withwell-planned personal learning projects to the serendipityof coffee-table conversations and ideas implicitly pickedup though lurking in a favourite discussion forum.Researchers studying informal learning often find thatit is so natural, so embedded in doing work or communicatingwith others, that even learners themselves don't acknowledgeit as learning. However, driven by learners’ immediatework needs or long-termpassions, this 'invisible learning'can often be more powerful than formal learning.
Interpersonal relations are becoming more and moreimportant for learning, coming up with new ideas, stayingconnected with informal communication flows (that areoften more meaningful than official communications), andgetting work done. While job descriptions for topmanagement or marketing positions often indicate thatdeveloping 'insider knowledge of an industry' or 'personalclient base' is an important part of the job, this is rarelythe case for engineers or front-line employees. Time and effort spent doing netWORK (Nardi, Whittaker,& Schwarz, 2002) – building and maintaining personalnetworks – is not reflected in time sheets and hardly evertaken into account during performance appraisals or projectevaluations. There is more that is invisible out there: ideas beforethey are articulated in conversations or written down,best practices embedded into everyday work, social networks,stories and myths that represent the real organisationhidden behind the organisational chart and corporatepolicies, and so on…The challenge of knowledgemanagement – or 'just management' in this case – is todiscover and appreciate these invisibles and to shift frommanaging only what can be easily seen and measured tosupporting and fostering what really matters.
Appreciating the invisible
I work as a researcher in areas of workplace learning, collaboration andknowledge management. In my work Itry to bring together my experiencesof facilitating learning and managingchange, my interest in technologiesand my passion for understandinghow people work in knowledge-intensive environments.
McGee, J. (2002). Knowledge work ascraft work,
Nonnecke, B., & Preece, J. (2003). Silentparticipants: Getting to know lurkersbetter.
From Usenet to CoWebs: Interacting with Social InformationSpaces.
Cross, J. (2003). The other 80%,www.internettime.comNardi, B., Whittaker, S, Schwarz, H.(2002). NetWORKers and their activityin intensional networks.
Computer Supported Cooperative Work,
Volume 11,Issue 1-2, 205-242.blog.mathemagenic.com/invisible
Lilia explains how she is becoming more and more convincedthat knowledge management is about facilitating the invisible