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.

Ambiguity

Ambiguity is present in virtually all real-life situations and are those ‘situations in which we do not have sufficient information to quantify the stochastic nature of the problem. It is a lack of knowledge as
to the ‘basic rules of the game’ where cause-and-effect are not understood and there is no precedent for
making predictions as to what to expect

Ambiguity is often used, especially in the context of VUCA, to cover situations in situations that have:

  • Doubt about the nature of cause and effect
  • Little to no historical information to predict the outcome
  • Difficult to forecast or plan for

It is important to answer whether there are risks of lack of experience and predictability that might affect the situation, and interrogate our unknown unknowns.

People are ambiguity averse in that they prefer situations in which probabilities are perfectly known to situations in which they are unknown.

Ambiguity is best resolved by experimentation.

The Subject Matter Expert

A subject matter expert (SME) is typically an expert on a division of a process, such as a specific tool, technology, or set of process steps. A process may have multiple subject matter experts associated with it, each with varying degrees of understanding of the over-arching process.

SMEs should have depth in their subject area. A great way to identify them is to look for individuals who have a proven track record as formal or informal mentors. To be effective, the SME must be approachable and able to show others the “how” and “why” behind their work. Building expertise, and thus building SMEs, is a fundamental part of a learning organization.

The archetype SMEs has the following attributes:

  • Are really, really smart and know more about their subjects than anybody else in your universe
  • Are willing, able, and looking forward to serving as experts
  • Can tell you what they know in a logical way
  • Understand why it is important for other people to know what they know
  • Are approachable and often fun to work with
  • Love to teach their subjects and make great presenters or facilitators
  • Stay current in their areas of expertise
  • Know when to refer you to someone else
  • Possess situational awareness
The Subject Matter Expert

Subject matter experts are a huge part of knowledge capture.

SME’s help drive Innovation through their strong knowledge of what-was and what-is in order to provide a solid foundation to comprehend what-could-be.

Sensemaking, Foresight and Risk Management

I love the power of Karl Weick’s future-oriented sensemaking – thinking in the future perfect tense – for supplying us a framework to imagine the future as if it has already occurred. We do not spend enough time being forward-looking and shaping the interpretation of future events. But when you think about it quality is essentially all about using existing knowledge of the past to project a desired future.

This making sense of uncertainty – which should be a part of every manager’s daily routine – is another name for foresight. Foresight can be used as a discipline to help our organizations look into the future with the aim of understanding and analyzing possible future developments and challenges and supporting actors to actively shape the future.

Sensemaking is mostly used as a retrospective process – we look back at action that has already taken place, Weick himself acknowledged that people’s actions may be guided by future-oriented thoughts, he nevertheless asserted that the understanding that derives from sensemaking occurs only after the fact, foregrounding the retrospective quality of sensemaking even when imagining the future.

“When one imagines the steps in a history that will realize an outcome, then there is more likelihood that one or more of these steps will have been performed before and will evoke past experiences that are similar to the experience that is imagined in the future perfect tense.”

R.B. MacKay went further in a fascinating way by considering the role that counterfactual and prefactual processes play in future-oriented sensemaking processes. He finds that sensemaking processes can be prospective when they include prefactual “whatifs” about the past and the future. There is a whole line of thought stemming from this that looks at the meaning of the past as never static but always in a state of change.

Foresight concerns interpretation and understanding, while simultaneously being a process of thinking the future in order to improve preparedness. Though seeking to understand uncertainty, reduce unknown unknowns and drive a future state it is all about knowledge management fueling risk management.

Do Not Ignore Metaphor

A powerful tool in this reasoning, imagining and planning the future, is metaphor. Now I’m a huge fan of metaphor, though some may argue I make up horrible ones – I think my entire team is sick of the milk truck metaphor by now – but this underutilized tool can be incredibly powerful as we build stories of how it will be.

Think about phrases such as “had gone through”, “had been through” and “up to that point” as commonly used metaphors of emotional experiences as a physical movement or a journey from one point to another. And how much that set of journey metaphors shape much of our thinking about process improvement.

Entire careers have been built on questioning the heavy use of sport or war metaphors in business thought and how it shapes us. I don’t even watch sports and I find myself constantly using it as short hand.

To make sense of the future find a plausible answer to the question ‘what is the story?’, this brings a balance between thinking and acting, and allows us to see the future more clearly.

Bibliography

  • Cornelissen, J.P. (2012), “Sensemaking under pressure: the influence of professional roles and social accountability on the creation of sense”, Organization Science, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 118-137, doi: 10. 1287/orsc.1100.0640.
  • Greenberg, D. (1995), “Blue versus gray: a metaphor constraining sensemaking around a restructuring”, Group and Organization Management, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 183-209, available at: http://doi-org.esc-web.lib.cbs.dk:8443/10.1177/1059601195202007
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  • MacKay, R.B. (2009), “Strategic foresight: counterfactual and prospective sensemaking in enacted environments”, in Costanzo, L.A. and MacKay, R.B. (Eds), Handbook of Research on Strategy and Foresight, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 90-112, doi: 10.4337/9781848447271.00011
  • Tapinos, E. and Pyper, N. (2018), “Forward looking analysis: investigating how individuals “do” foresight and make sense of the future”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 126 No. 1, pp. 292-302, doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2017.04.025.
  • Weick, K.E. (1979), The Social Psychology of Organizing, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
  • Weick, K.E. (1995), Sensemaking in Organizations, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.