Information Gaps

An information gap is a known unknown, a question that one is aware of but for which one is uncertain of the answer. It is a disparity between what the decision maker knows and what could be known The attention paid to such an information gap depends on two key factors: salience, and importance.

  • The salience of a question indicates the degree to which contextual factors in a situation highlight it. Salience might depend, for example, on whether there is an obvious counterfactual in which the question can be definitively answered.
  • The importance of a question is a measure of how much one’s utility would depend on the actual answer. It is this factor—importance—which is influenced by actions like gambling on the answer or taking on risk that the information gap would be relevant for assessing.

Information gaps often dwell in the land of knightian uncertainty.

Communicating these Known Unknowns

Communicating around Known Unknowns and other forms of uncertainty

A wide range of reasons for information gaps exist:

  • variability within a sampled population or repeated measures leading to, for example, statistical margins-of-error
  • computational or systematic inadequacies of measurement
  • limited knowledge and ignorance about underlying processes
  • expert disagreement.

Improvisation

Improvisation Takes Practice” in HBR is a great read. When I first read it, I chuckled at how it brings my gamer hobby and my quality practice together.

Employee creativity—the production of novel and useful solutions, procedures, products, and services—is critical to organizational success. I would argue, creativity drives excellence. Improvisation is a key employee behavior that drives creativity and innovation.

Improvisation is essential for navigating volatile, uncertain, and complex environments and dealing with unforeseen obstacles. Improvisation is also key to drawing distinctions, implementing new ideas, and converting knowledge and insights into action in real time. When confronted with critical and disruptive events, employees can resolve challenges by following existing protocols and procedures. In contrast, when faced with novel events, employees cannot rely on routines and conventions to respond. Rather, they will have to shift their focus to new perspectives, features, and behaviors.

The process of building expertise, when practices are assimilated, embodied, and rendered tacit, creates improvisational competence. Improvisation is an important source of action generating learning: people act to make events meaningful and situations understandable and, in the process, deepen their expertise through further learning, becoming reflective practitioners.

As part of knowledge management, today’s improvisations are absorbed and embedded into tomorrow’s routines.

Improvisation leads to better decision making, as I discussed in the post “Yes…but….and

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

Nonaka classified knowledge as explicit and tacit. This concept has become the center piece of knowledge management and fundamental concept in process improvement.

Explicit knowledge is documented and accepted knowledge. Tacit knowledge stems more from experience and is more undocumented in nature. In spite of being difficult to interpret and transfer, tacit knowledge is regarded as the root of all organizational knowledge.

Tacit knowledge, unlike its explicit counterpart, mostly consists of perceptions and is often unstructured and non-documented in nature. Therefore, mental models, justification of beliefs, heuristics, judgments, “gut feelings” and the communication skills of the individual can influence the quality of tacit knowledge.

The process of creation of knowledge begins with the creation and sharing of tacit knowledge, which stems from socialization, facilitation of experience and interactive capacity of individuals with their coworkers.

Creation and Sharing of Knowledge

Knowledge creation involved organizations and it’s individual transcending the boundaries of the old to the new by acquiring new knowledge, which is considered to be mostly tacit in nature. The key to tacit knowledge sharing lies in the willingness and capacity of individuals to share what they know (knowledge donation) and to use what they learn (knowledge collection).

Knowledge quality is the acquisition of useful and innovative knowledge and is the degree to which people are satisfied with the quality of the shared knowledge and find it useful in accomplishing their activities. The quality of knowledge can be measured by frequency, usefulness and innovativeness, and can be innovative or new for the system or organization. However, if the knowledge is not beneficial to achieving the objective of the objective of the organization then it does not fulfill the criteria of knowledge quality. There are six attributes to knowledge quality: adaptability, innovativeness, applicability, expandability, justifiability and authenticity,

Sources

  • Kaser, P.A. and Miles, R.E. (2002), “Understanding knowledge activists’ successes and failures”, Long Range Planning, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 9-28.
  • Kucharska, W. and Dabrowski, J. (2016), “Tacit knowledge sharing and personal branding: how to derive innovation from project teams”, in Proceedings of the11th European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship ECIE, pp. 435-443.
  • Nonaka, I. (1994), “A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation”, Organizational Science, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 14-37.
  • Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995), The Knowledge-Creating Company, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
  • Nonaka, I. and Toyama, R. (2003), “The knowledge-creating theory revisited: knowledge creation as a synthesizing process”, Knowledge Management Research and Practice, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 2-10.
  • Nonaka, I. and Von Krogh, G. (2009), “Perspective—tacit knowledge and knowledge conversion: controversy and advancement in organizational knowledge creation theory”, Organization Science, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 635-652
  • Riege, A. (2005), “Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 18-35.
  • Smedlund, A. (2008), “The knowledge system of a firm: social capital for explicit, tacit and potential knowledge”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 63-77.
  • Spender, J.C. (1996), “Making knowledge the basis of a dynamic theory of the firm”, Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 17 No. S2, pp. 45-62.
  • Soo, C.W., Devinney, T.M. and Midgley, D.F. (2004), “The role of knowledge quality in firm performance”, In Tsoukas, H. and Mylonopoulus, N. (Eds), Organizations as Knowledge Systems. Knowledge, Learning and Dynamic Capabilities, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 252-275.
  • Sorenson, O., Rivkin, J.W. and Fleming, L. (2006), “Complexity, networks and knowledge flow”, Research Policy, Vol. 35 No. 7, pp. 994-1017.
  • Waheed, M. and Kaur, K. (2016), “Knowledge quality: a review and a revised conceptual model”, Information Development, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 271-284.
  • Wang, Z. and Wang, N. (2012), “Knowledge sharing, innovation and firm performance”, Expert Systems with Applications, Vol. 39 No. 10, pp. 8899-8908.

Knowledge Transfer

Our organizations are based on the interactions of individuals, teams and other organizations into a complex adaptive environment. We need to manage productive relationships as part of a complex system and interactions among parts can produce valuable, new, and unpredictable capabilities that are not inherent in any of the parts acting alone. This is why knowledge management, having a learning culture, is such a fundamental part of the work we do.

There are seven major categories we engage in when we manage, maintain, and create knowledge.

ActivityConvertsInvolvingMeaning
SocializationTacit-to-Tacitdifferent agentsSharing of tacit knowledge between individuals
IntrospectionTacit-to-Tacit same agentThe conscious or unconscious examination of one’s own tacit knowledge, as taken at an individual level
ExternalizationTacit-to-Explicitagent to knowledge managementThe expression of tacit knowledge and its translation into comprehensible forms interpretable by external agents
CombinationExplicit-to-ExplicitAll usersThe conversion of explicit knowledge into other variants of explicit knowledge
InternalizationExplicit-to-TacitTraining and deliberate practiceThe conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge
ConceptualizationAction-to-TacitContinuous ImprovementThe creation of tacit knowledge from aspects related to real work actions.
ReificationTacit-to-ActionProcess/ProcedureThe activity of bringing tacit knowledge into action (e.g. translating a mental model of a process activity into the actual operating tasks)
Knowledge Work Activities

As can be seen in the table above these seven activities involve moving between tacit and explicit knowledge. The apply to both declarative and procedural knowledge.

Examples of tacit and explicit knowledge

Socialization

Socialization is the level of interaction between, and communication of, various actors within an organization, which leads to the building of personal familiarity, improved communication, and problem solving. Often called learning the roles, this is the the process by which an individual acquires the social knowledge and skills necessary to assume an organizational role. Socialization encourages two-way information exchange, builds and establishes relationship trust, and enable transparency of information.

Socialization creates an operating style, enabling people to communicate with each other, have a language that they all understand and behavioral styles that are compatible. It reinforces basic assumptions and shares espoused values by helping create common norms and compatible cultures.

Socialization enables many influencing tactics which makes it critical for change management activities.

Introspection

The exploration of our experiences. Introspection can arise naturally but it can also arise deliberatively, for example journaling.

Introspection can also include retrospection, especially as a group activity. This is the strength of lessons learned.

Externalization

The work of making the tacit explicit. Knowledge management as continuous improvement.

Combination

The combination of knowledge drives innovation and a learning culture. This includes the ability to identify different sources of knowledge, understand different learning processes, and combine internal and external knowledge effectively.

Knowledge combination capability generates through exchange of knowledge between individuals and work teams is a process that allows the transfer of knowledge to the organization and that can be applied to develop and improve products and processes.

Internalization

As we move towards qualification we internalize knowledge.

Conceptualization

The insights gained from doing and observing work. Deliberative learning.

Reification

The process of translating work-as-imagined into work-as-done through work-as-prescribed on a continuous loop of improvement. The realm of transformative learning.

Making Learning a Part of Everyday Work

Cultivating expertise, in short learning, is critical to building a quality culture. Yet, the urgency of work easily trumps learning. It can be difficult to carve out time for learning in the inexorable flow of daily tasks. We are all experienced with the way learning ends up being in the lowest box on the 2×2 Eisenhower matrix, or however you like to prioritize your tasks.

For learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to our working days. We need to build our systems so that learning is an inevitable result of doing work. There are also things we as individuals can practice to make learning happen.

What we as individuals can do

Practice mindfulness. As you go about your daily job be present and aware, using it as an opportunity to ability to learn and develop. Don’t just sit in on that audit; notice and learn the auditor’s tactics and techniques as you engage with her. Ask product managers about product features; ask experts about industry trends; ask peers for feedback on your presentation skills. These kinds of inquiries are learning experiences and most peers love to tell you what they know.

Keep a to-learn list. Keep a list of concepts, thoughts, practices, and vocabulary you want to explore and then later later explore them when you have a few moments to reflect. Try to work a few off the list, maybe during your commute or at other times when you have space to reflect.

Build learning into your calendar. Many of us schedule email time, time for project updates, time to do administrative work. Make sure you dedicate time for learning.

Share meaningfully. Share with others, but just don’t spread links. Discuss why you are sharing it, what you learned and why you think it is important. This blog is a good example of that.

What we can build into our systems

Make sure our learning and knowledge management systems are built into everything we do. Make them easy to use. Ensure content is shared internally and leads to continuous improvement.

Ensure learning is valued.

Plan for short-term wins. There is no nirvana, no perfect state. Ensure you have lots of little victories and shareable moments. Plan for this as part of your schedules and cycles.

Learning is a very effective lever for system improvement. At the very least it gives us the power to “add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure” (lever 4) and can also start giving us ways to change the paradigm (lever 2) and eventually even transcend paradigms (lever 1).