A few weeks ago, my pal Venkatesh Rao, who usually blogs at Ribbon Farm, wrote a terrific piece over at Enterprise 2.0 Blog discussing the growing disconnect between the traditional Knowledge Management (KM) approach and the insurgent Social Media (SM) strategy for sharing information and tacit knowledge in the enterprise. Venkat observed:
The uber-cause of this war is that Knowledge Management was
conceived as a top-down Boomer (born 1946 - 62) management effort,
created by this generation just as it was moving into leadership
positions. Social Media, on the other hand, is a Millenial/Gen Y (born
1980 -) movement. This overall generational cultural divide has shaped
the ongoing corporate cultural war.
He then went on to list five points of generational conflict and five technical dimensions of the issue, concluding that:
It takes no great genius to predict how the war will end. The
Boomers will retire and the Millenials will win by default, in a
bloodless end with no great drama. KM will quietly die, and SM will win
the soul of Enterprise 2.0, with the Gen X leadership quietly slipping
the best of the KM ideas into SM as they guide the bottom-up revolution.And it won’t be just a victory of fashion. It will be a fundamental
victory of the better idea. SM is an organic, protean, creative and
The entire piece is worth your time. In any case, Venkat's observations drew a bunch of excellent commentary around the KM blogosphere, both supportive and skeptical. Here are some of the links:
He asked me to weigh in, which I did via private email. Here is the text of my response, for what it's worth:
Venkat, I emphatically agree
with your analysis. I think you accurately locate the enthusiasms and
skepticisms of each generation toward the different approaches. I also think
there are other issues that may seem obvious, about how social media displaces
authority and hierarchy, and is therefore inherently more threatening to the
senior cohort in the workplace, regardless of their generational orientation.
People who got to the top by hoarding info don't want to share; they want to
manage access. People at the bottom looking to move up quickly want immediate
opportunities to contribute and be recognized, rather than working through
approved channels. I suspect Millennials will be much less enthusiastic about
whatever succeeds SM in the enterprise if it is suddenly their knowledge and
authority at stake.
However, I think it's necessary
to back up a bit and look at the strategic objectives of the KM/SM initiative
in the first place. The goal is to share knowledge to improve some aspect of
performance, innovation, service, etc. Sharing knowledge has three components -
capturing knowledge, locating knowledge, and consuming knowledge. Any knowledge
transfer solution, from classroom training to wikis, has strengths and
weaknesses in each of those respects.
I use the following slide in my
presentations to talk about this issue:
Basically, knowledge transfer
can be oriented on an grid whose axes are Structured vs. Unstructured (X axis)
and Personal vs. Impersonal. Printed documentation is the quintessential
structured, impersonal (and static) type of knowledge repository. Search is
unstructured/dynamic, but impersonal. Real-time communication is unstructured
and personal, etc.
If you have a
multi-generational workplace and the goal is to get the knowledge-bearers to
share, and the knowledge-needers to consume, you need to cover as much of the
spectrum as possible to accommodate the whole range of learning and capturing
styles, bearing in mind that it will be very difficult to get Millennials to
appreciate or accept the highly-structured and linear modes of communication
(but it will be just as essential to have these options available for "Boomerang
Boomers" who join the organization in lower-level roles).
In the long run, the triumph of
social/unstructured knowledge transfer is inevitable, but the "long
run" is going to be longer than is convenient for many of us.
Boomers won't be past the tipping point of organizational influence for 10-15
years. In the meantime, organizations will need to keep a parallel, legacy
knowledge infrastructure in place to support the Boomerang Boomers and laggard
X-ers who require static, authoritative references, as well as more dynamic
social media for the Digital Natives. One of the goals of reciprocal mentoring,
which Dan and I talk a lot about, is to engage younger workers to help capture
the knowledge of their older peers in social media repositories and channels,
with the hope that some of the domain expertise of the elder will rub off on
the mentee, while the facility with social media tools and practices will
adhere to the mentor. Once the Boomers internalize and "own" the
social media channels, the top-down pressure for a managed, KM-oriented
strategy will probably start to die a natural death.
Anyway, Venkat expressed the desire to continue the conversation here. You are welcome to do so!