7- Interactivity and Context

We saw earlier that knowledge is capacity for effective action.

Let us study the following observations about ineffective actions:

    1- An X-ray film enables a radiologist to make better diagnosis, but it is meaningless to a plant engineer. Specifications of a turbine enable a plant engineer to make design decisions, but it is meaningless to a radiologist. The right skill must go with the right information for effective action to result.2- A best practitioner fisherman tries to replicate his best practice in organizing fishermen to set up a marine protected area in another coastal community. He cannot duplicate the success he had in his home community. The right procedure does not work equally well in a different social or relational context.

    3- A winning BPI (business process improvement) team has been very effective in solving problems together and thus making many improvements over the last two years. After a team member transferred to another team, she found she could not work as well with her new team in similar problem solving sessions. Effective thinking together depends on good or well-established relationships; disruptions in the relationships reduce the effectiveness of a team. (Psychologists say the ease to retrieve knowledge within the context of team members who know well each other’s thinking styles and specializations comes from “transactive memory”.)

    4- Computers of the same brand and specifications were donated to school librarians in different locations in the country. After three years, some were working and others were not. The differences were found to be due to differences in availabilities of spare parts and skilled repairmen in the locality. The effectiveness of a technology depends on the socio-economic context within which the technology is embedded.

    5- An expert senior engineer who will soon retire was asked to take in an understudy who is scheduled to replace him after he retires. They were piloting a knowledge transfer process designed by the HR Director. The senior engineer and the understudy cannot work together due to differences in their working and thinking styles – something the two were largely unaware of. Frequent disagreements slowly led to erosion of mutual trust. After several months of trying, the senior engineer requested for a new understudy. Effectiveness of coordination depends both on right procedure and right relationship. The knowledge transfer process failed to consider differences in styles (incomplete procedure), which led to or worsened the relationship.

The implications are clear: effective action in any particular work context comes from the right combination of human capital, structural capital, relationship capital and technology (a tangible asset) suited to that context.

Thus, the impact of KM is attributable to the combination of knowledge assets, and not to any single knowledge asset. If knowledge asset A is added to an existing mix of knowledge assets B and C, the incremental improvement in productivity may be mistakenly attributed to A alone when in fact it was due to the interactive combination of A, B and C.

For example, let us say that a self-customizable and role-based portal was introduced in an organization’s intranet. As a result, the time spent in hunting for information was reduced by an average of 1.2 months per year per employee. Can we conclude that the company savings amounting to 1.2 months of payroll every year was solely attributable to the new portal? Maybe not. More precisely, the cost savings was attributable to the interactive or joint effect of: (a) technology (the new software), (b) structural capital (the configuration of each portal and the use of knowledge taxonomy tailored to each employee’s functional role) and (c) human capital (the skills of the employees in customizing and utilizing his or her own portal). Let me hasten to add: (d) the empowerment that accompanies a company policy of training and encouraging each employee to customize/personalize his/her own portal to suit his/her specific needs enhances motivation that contributes to the effectiveness of the portal!

Does this make sense to you?

By the way, the total economic impact is the present value of the annual productivity increments coming from use of the extra 1.2 months made available per employee. If this benefit is greater than the cost of the new portal and training of employees in its use, then the portal project was worthwhile.

One Response

  1. […] to A alone when in fact it was due to the interactive combination of A, B and C.”  A posting with very concrete examples on the giraffe blog. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social […]

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