Sharing via explicit, evolving documentation is receiving more attention as wikis and blogs move into the enterprise. Let's take a deeper look:
Why and how does explicit knowledge sharing make a difference?
1. Reflection: in the fast and furious pace of f2f there is no time for deep reflection. An explicit documented exchange gives you the opportunity to review without the pressures imposed of 'thinking on your feet'. Many of our insights come from making connections and changing our internal models. There is something about 'seeing the text' that helps here. Perhaps it is the very process of moving thoughts from the brain to your finger tips as you type that does it?
2. The Record: so often we forget the bits and pieces that do not matter on their own, but when presented in context, when connected or experienced together, can deliver magic. Having a record you can return to, that reminds you of commitments, resurfaces tacit ideas and helps with synthesis is a major help. Often my clients find it is not the actual text that is important, it is the associated ideas and the insights that crop up and pop up that make this worthwhile.
3. Getting in deep: most groups, teams or communities of practice do not take the time to dig down to the differences that really matter. They gloss over assumptions, meld or skip different mental models, do not make the effort to clarify terms or wrestle with distinctions. Using language to 'bring forth another world' is an advanced skill that is enhanced by asynchronous virtual exchange. This approach can surface vision and build alignment that is often not easy face to face.
4. Helping novices: the biggest hurdle new folk face is understanding why: things are done this way, why we believe xyz, why we say abc. A written record (summarized at strategic intervals) goes a long way to bridging the gap between old timers and newbies. Conversations are a lot like stories, after reading through an on-line discussion, you have a different feel and appreciation for people, their beliefs, their interests, drivers, fears and their values.
5. Communication: how often have you not wished we had recorded the reason or taken notes of the other things we talked about? Having a sustained practice of recording the context behind key decisions, helps to spread the word, surface new connections & ideas, test assumptions, gives the group a decided leverage and advantage.
- Capturing ideas, thoughts, context and rationale on the fly
- Adding and enabling notification & interactivity (connecting and annotation)
- Moving seamlessly between structured formalizations and informal conversation / critique
- Using the repository to elicit and capture evolving insights (idea generations)
- Validation, weeding, summarization, encouraging engagement, creative abrasion & critique
- Navigation and intuitive access
- Integration of news with archival functionality
- Making forward links, i.e. from existing documents to new stuff.
The key to building a corporate memory, is not the content, not the review and 'editing' process, not the structure, ontology or indexing, not the meta-data and the search facility - it is the informal affordance(s) that permit or allow access and empower annotation.
Any repository that does not enable dialog, promote awareness, encourage back-channel connections, make it easy to connect to the source person, push notifications or foster diversity of opinion and offer affordances for annotation, is unlikely to survive.
What we need is explicit conversations.