Knowledge Strategies Embracing Complexity

July 19, 2008

Following on from my last post on knowledge strategies for the future, below is a very good quote from Stacey on the links between complexity theory and strategy.

“Given that the key finding claimed for complexity theory is the effective unknowability of the future, the common assumption among managers that part of their job is to decide where the organisation is going, and to take decisions designed to get it there is seen as a dangerous delusion. Management, afflicted by increasing complexity and information overload, can react by becoming quite intolerant of ambiguity. Factors, targets, organisational structures all need to be nailed down. Uncertainty is ignored or denied. The management task is seen to be the enunciation of mission, the determination of strategy, and the elimination of deviation. Stability is sought as the ultimate bulwark against anxiety, which might otherwise become overwhelming. All of these managerial reflexes, many of them seeming unassailably commonsensical, are (we shall see) quite counter-productive when viewed from a complexity theory perspective.”

Having worked in very large organisations developing strategic plans, I feel very much in Stacey’s camp with the attitudes of management towards stability and the intolerance of ambiguity.  This is one of the reasons why I like Anecdote’s Three Journey’s model with the first journey having the leadership working out the rough mudmap of the destination but not getting into the detail and the second journey having the troops work out the detail of how to get there. 

Since the world is more complex than we take it to be, successful strategies, especially in the longer-term, will result less from fixing an organizational intention and mobilising around it and instead, they will emerge from the relationships and conversations between people.  Keep the strategy broad, set your short-term targets and look out for the signals of change that may require you to amend your strategic direction. 


Steve Denning on Knowledge for the Future

July 17, 2008

Just going back through about a month of actKM listserv posts and found this snippet in a gem from Steve Denning.  Steve’s book on the Secret Language of Leadership is one of the seven sitting neglected on my bedside table. 

[There was a] Q&A panel at the recent KCUK conference in London, where Victor Newman,  formerly of Pfizer, had some interesting things to say, when someone asked (inevitably) whether KM was dying.

Victor distinguishes two kinds of KM. One is KM related to supporting the company’s existing strategy. The other is KM related to supporting the strategy that the company will need to survive in tomorrow’s world. His assumption is that most companies are dying in the sense that the strategy they are currently pursuing will not provide long-term survival, a premise supported by the fact that roughly half of the Fortune 1000 companies of 20 years ago no longer exist. And all the signs are that the death rate is accelerating.

So it’s not so much a question of whether firms will have to change their strategy, but rather: when? And how much time have they got? In effect, every strategy has a sell-by date. The knowledge angle on this is: the knowledge that you need to be successful today is not likely to be the knowledge that you will need to be successful tomorrow. The easy, the convenient, the comfortable thing to do is to keep focusing on the knowledge that makes you successful today, and delivering that knowledge more efficiently. At best, this buys you time, not survival. The more important, more difficult and more uncomfortable thing is to focus
on what knowledge you will need to be successful tomorrow.

I particularly liked how Steve has put into words my approach to link KM and futures.  The key aspect of my “future” work is not in developing strategies for getting current knowledge to workers but in identifying the knowledge strategies required to discover, create and share knowledge for the future direction and viability of the organisation.  

Now many would think that of course that is what a knowledge strategy should contain, identifying the future knowledge requirements.  But many, if not most, do not.  They fail to question assumptions, explore uncertainties or consider the longer term.

Dilbert’s Wally on Using Knowledge

July 14, 2008

A wonderful Dilbert cartoon came through yesterday featuring a discussion about knowledge.

I love the lines “Chasing knowledge is a fool’s game” and “I use experience to answer questions without the burden of knowledge”.

I confess to being a fool, a pure and unadulterated fool. I could critique how Wally differentiates between experience and knowledge but I believe that he would have difficulty answering the question to my satisfaction based on his experience!

Identity and Meaning

July 14, 2008

I read an interesting review of the recently-released second edition of the book by Harrison White on Identity and Control. A couple of sentences caught my eye:

“Meaning” is triggered by switching among the countless networks in which we are enmeshed.
Identities are from the interaction of relations in the social environment.

The meaning comment particularly rings true for me at the moment as I switch between my various identities and networks of father and husband, friend and bachelor, worker and networker, and futurist and strategist!  Often, greater meaning is generated when I switch networks but also when those networks interact.

White points out that rather than assigning the attributes of a particular identity as an individual, you look at the role in relation to others and the context of the group. Identity is socially assigned, not individually assigned. You can act the clown but that clown identity is only yours if others give it to you. 

He further notes four different types of identities:

  1. If you are in a new situation, you need to establish your new identity that achieves a social footing as source and destination of communications to which identities attribute meaning.
  2. This second sense of identity is that of a role where a group might settle down and celebrate themselves by story or other work.
  3. The third is when you carry the identity you achieve in one setting into another setting, often resulting in a mismatch between what is appropriate for one role and the other.
  4. The fourth sense of identity is “what is usually meant by identity in ordinary talk”: identity constructed by stories after the fact.

PS. It’s been a long while since the last post due to travelling with the family around the UAE and in Egypt over the past few weeks. The posts will keep coming with more frequency over the next couple of weeks.