The Epistemic Interactions of Knowledge Management

The first four phases of knowledge management are all about identifying and creating meaning and then making that meaning usable. Knowledge management is a set of epistemic actions, creating knowledge through interaction. This interaction is a way of creating a partnership between what happens in the head with everything in the world – Work-as-Imagined and Work-as-Done.

There are really four themes to a set of epistemic actions:

  • Foraging: Locating resources that will lead to understanding
  • Tuning: Adjusting resources to align with desired understanding
  • Externalizing: Moving resources out of the head and into the world
  • Constructing: Forming new knowledge structures in the world

These epistemic actions are all about moving from Work-as-Imagined through Work-as-Prescribed to enable Work-as-Done.

Knowledge Management is really about the embodiment of information, knowledge, and even wisdom through these epistemic actions to apply change upon the world.

Four Themes Mapped to Firts 4 Phases of Knowledge Management

Theme

Epistemic Interaction

Means

Foraging

Locating resources that will lead to understanding

Searching

 

Searching happens when you need information and believe it exists somewhere.

Searching depends on how we articulate or information needs.

Probing

 

“Tell me more.” Probing happens when the information you have isn’t quite enough. You are probing when you take the next step, move to the next level, and obtain more salient specifics. Probing is about drilling down and saying “show, explain, and reveal more about this.”

We can probe to reveal new patterns, structures and relationships. It brings to light new information that helps us to reconsider what we already know.

Animating

 

Animating is when we initiate and control motion in an information source. It includes learning-by-doing.

Collecting

Collecting is how we gather foraged information and tuck it away for future use.

Tuning

Adjusting resources to align with desired understanding

Collecting

 

Cloning

 

Cloning lets us take information from one situation and use it in another.

Cutting

 

Cutting is the way we say “this matters”, that “I need this part, but not the rest.”

Filtering

Filtering reduces complexity by reducing clutter to expose salient details.

Externalizing

Moving resources out of the head and into the world

Annotating

 

Annotating is how we add context to information. How we adapt and modify the information to the needed context.

Linking

Connecting bits of information together. Forming conceptual maps.

Generating

Introducing new knowledge into the world.

Chunking

Grouping idenpendent yet related information together.

Constructing

Forming new knowledge structures in the world

Chunking

 

Composing

Producing a new, separate structure from the information that has its own meaning and purpose.

Fragmenting

Taking information and breaking it apart into usable components.

Rearranging

The art of creating meaningful order.

Repicturing

Changing the way the information is represented to create understanding.

 

The Building Blocks of Work-as-Prescribed

Work-as-Prescribed – how we translate the desired activities into a set of process and procedure – relies on an understanding of how people think and process information.

The format is pivotal. The difficulties we have in quality are really not much different from elsewhere in society in that we are surrounded by confusing documentation and poorly presented explanations everywhere we look, that provide information but not understanding. Oftentimes we rely on canards of “this is what is expected,” “this is what works” – but rarely is that based on anything more than anecdotal. And as the high incidence of issues and the high cost of training shows, less than adequate.

There is a huge body-of-knowledge out there on cognitive-friendly design of visuals, including documentation. This is an area we as a quality profession need to get comfortable with. Most important, we need to give ourselves permission to adapt, modify and transform the information we need into a shape that aids understanding and makes everyone a better thinker.

Work-as-Prescribed (and work-as-instructed) is the creation of tools and technologies to help us think better, understand more and perform at our peak.

Locus of Understanding

Looking at the process at the right level is key. Think of Work-as-Prescribed as a lens. Sometimes you need a high-powered lens so that you can zoom in on a single task. Other times, you need to zoom out to see a set of tasks, a whole process, or how systems interact.

This is the locus of understanding, where understanding happens. When we take this position, we see how understanding is created. Adopting the locus of understanding means going to the right level for the problem at hand. When we apply it to Work-as-Prescribed we are applying the same principles as we do in problem-solving to developing the right tools to govern the work.

We are conducting knowledge management as part of our continuous improvement.

An important way to look is distributed cognitive resources, which means anything that contributes to the cognitive work being done. Adjusting the locus of understanding means that you can, and should, treat an SOP as a cognitive resource. Some of the memory is in your head and some is in the SOP. Work-as-prescribed is a cognitive resource that we distribute, routinely and casually across the brain and our quality system in the form of documents and other execution aids.

Other tools, like my favorite whiteboard, also serve as distributed cognitive resources.

So, as our documents and other tools are distributed cognitive resources it behooves us to ensure they are based on the best cognitive principles possible to drive the most benefit.

As an aside, there is a whole line of thought about why some physical objects are better at distributed cognitive resources than electronic. Movement actually matters.

Taking it even further (shifting the locus) we can see the entire quality system as a part of a single distributed cognitive system where cognitive work is performed via the cognitive functions of communicating, deciding, planning, and problem-solving. These cognitive functions are supported by cognitive processes such as perceiving, analyzing, exchanging, and manipulating.

Cognitive Activity in Work-As-Prescribed

The tools we develop to provide distributed cognitive activity strive to:

  • Provide short-term or long-term memory aids so that memory load can be reduced.
  • Provide information that can be directly perceived and used such that little effort is needed to interpret and formulate the information explicitly.
  • Provide knowledge and skills that are unavailable from internal representations.
  • Support perceptual operators that can recognize features easily and make inferences directly.
  • Anchor and structure cognitive behavior without conscious awareness.
  • Change the nature of a task by generating more efficient action sequences.
  • Stop time and support perceptual rehearsal to make invisible and transient information visible and sustainable.
  • Aid processibility by limiting abstraction.
  • Determine decision making strategies through accuracy maximization and effort minimization.

Driving Work-As Prescribed

As we build our requirements documents, our process and procedure, there are a few principles to keep in mind to better tap into distributed cognitive resources.

Plan for the flow of information: Think about paths, relationships, seams, edges and other hand-offs. Focus on the flow of information. Remember that we learn in a spiral, and the content needed for a novice is different from that of an expert and build our documents and the information flow accordingly. This principle is called Sequencing.

Break information down into pieces: Called, Chunking, the grouping together of information into ideally sized pieces. When building Work-As-Prescribed pay close attention to which of these chunks are reusable and build accordingly.

The deeply about context: How a tool is used drives what the tool should be.

Think deeply about information structures: Not all information is the same, not every example of Work-as-Prescribed should have the same structure.

Be conscientious about the digital and physical divide: Look for opportunities to integrate or connect these two worlds. Be honest of how enmeshed they are at any point in the system.

We are building our Work-as-Prescribed through leveraging our quality culture, our framework for coordinating work. Pay attention to:

  1. Shared Standards – Ways we communicate
  2. Invisible Environments – Ways we align, conceptually
  3. Visible Environments – Ways we collaborate
  4. Psychological Safety – Ways we behave
  5. Perspectives – Ways we see (and see differently)

Principles in Practice

When design process, procedure and task documentation leverage this principles by build blocks, or microcontent, that is:

  • about one primary idea, fact, or concept
  • easily scannable
  • labeled for clear identification and meaning, and
  • appropriately written and formatted for use anywhere and any time it is needed.

There is a common miscomprehension that simple means short. That just isn’t true. Simple means that it passes a test for the appropriateness of the size of a piece of content of providing sufficient details to answer a specific question for the targeted audience. The size of the content must effectively serve its intended purpose with efficiency, stripping off any unnecessary components.

We need to strive to apply cognitive thinking principles to our practice. The day of judging a requirements document by its page length is long over.

Constituents of cognitive thinking applied to Work-As-Prescribed

Vision and Psychology Safety Enable Change

Professor Amy Edmondson in 2016 wrote “Wicked-Problem Solvers” in HBR that laid out four leadership levers for collaboration that fit nicely into quality culture and nestle nicely with Kotter’s Eight Accelerators. Together they help define the leadership behaviors necessary to build quality culture, all informed by the enabler of knowledge management.

Levers and Accelerators of change

Professor Edmondson in this article is discussing cross-industry collaboration, but the central four levers apply in any organization.

Having a vision that strives for a True North of Quality is critical. Make it align to individual needs. Remember that vision grows and adapts as you go, and as others get the opportunity to shape. Vision has six criteria:

  1. Stimulus: Vision needs to include actual benefits for those affected by it. String vision brings people together as community, not as strangers. Stimulus means people see themselves in the vision and understand how they will benefit.
  2. Scale: Vision should be of great breadth and depth with potential for extension at later stages. Vision never leads to or accepts a dead end. It shows multiple potentials for expansion.
  3. Spotlight: Vision assumes responsibility, immediate and extended. The greater the vision, then the greater the responsibility for its impact on people’s lives and the legacy that will be left afterwards. This responsibility needs to bring opportunity for people who are involved. This is part of the vision that will drive the volunteer army.
  4. Scanning: A visionary sees the signs on the way to success. Pay attention to to pain points, spot trends and see where and how value can be added. Gemba walks are critical here.
  5. Simplicity: Vision is elegant thinking about complicated and complex things. A vision is not a vision unless it’s understood. Simplicity lets people believe in vision. If the vision is complicated most people will ignore it. Vision operates and makes execution possible from its simplicity. The simpler the vision in its core meaning, the easier it can be shared with employees, customers and partners and thus, easier to scale inside and outside an organization.
  6. Passion: Vision provokes strong emotions. A strong vision is always accompanied by excitement and passion. Excitement equals passion that gives an emotional power to a vision. A strong vision brings strong excitement that is difficult to contain. Strong excitement and passion are highly contagious. A simple and compelling vision excites more passion than any mere goal.

Psychological safety is the state where employees feel that there is safety in taking risks at work setting. In this safe environment employees will engage in risk-taking actions that are inherent to creative endeavors and if they perceive safety, then they are more comfortable to voice their opinions. This safety makes them more willing to take the chances to own the vision and try to experiment with making that vision a reality which motivates them to develop, promote, and implement new ideas.

This safety will enable knowledge sharing, which can come in many different styles, including combination which creates something new.

Through inclusive, democratic leaders who value the inclusion of employees in a particular work process, employees have the chance to raise their voice for generating, promoting, and implementing useful ideas
Through leveraging vision these inclusive leaders exhibit openness attributes that communicates the importance of taking innovative actions and gives employees the guarantee that in case of negative consequences they will not be punished, experiencing greater psychological safety.

Employees experience non-defensive behavior, and feel high levels of self-worth and self-identity, motivating employees not only to generate new ideas, but also to promote and implement new ideas in the organization.

The organization that is structured to accept these ideas will continue to drive iterative cycles of improvement.

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

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