Knowledge is everywhere…but is it important?
Having transitioned from 20 years in Corporate America to education back in 2005, the readings and articles this week took me back to a time in my life that resonated strongly with me. Dixon’s message about knowledge management, best practices, shared practices, and knowledge is power were all too real for me in my role as a client manager in a variety of technology and healthcare related fields. From 1986 through 2005, I worked at as many as 15 different companies. Not a lot of stability you might say – but for one stretch of time, I worked for four different companies without ever changing my work address. Companies bought and sold other companies like poker chips. Much of this explosive growth of companies was under the premise of purchasing knowledge. I actually worked at a company that had NO PRODUCT. We were bought for our expertise and knowledge. And then, with too many fingers in the pie, that knowledge, and the thirst for more, was obliterated. I digress, so thank you for allowing me that trip down memory lane.
The topic of knowledge management in my current field of educational leadership remains a quandary for me. We have a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge. Be it fact, fiction, legend, or experience – it all contributes to the “knowledge” of our school. And that’s just from the inside. With the access to knowledge at our fingertips, how do we continue to work in the model that exists today with all of the knowledge that exists out there? The issue becomes not necessarily about knowledge – but what knowledge stream should we be wading in. Does this sound familiar: we have to be 1:1 with iPads. Good. Now we need to talk about flipped classrooms. Okay. But what about project-based learning, isn’t that where we should be heading? Okay let’s introduce that, but should that come before, after, or during social/emotional learning? And to be fair – it is not a complaint or a judgement on anyone. It is an observation, much like last week with our technology review, that EVERYONE has a great idea, and people will flock to that idea and get behind it, until the next great idea. This also brings about a side-effect that not everyone gets onboard with the next one or two great ideas because they didn’t like the last idea or how it was implemented. This speaks in part to the implementation of knowledge, or ideas – pushed down from the top.
Is this what Davenport was referring to with the thought that Google helped to kill KM? With access to every great new idea and the ability to search for anything and everything, sharing knowledge feels like a thing of the past.
I will go one step further. Having worked outside of schools, as a teacher in schools, and now as an administrator in schools, I do see two common threads that impact the sharing of knowledge – trust and power. We, as humans, still operate on a premise that knowledge is power, or those with the knowledge retain the power. Some people hoard power and control, and lack trust. Others distrust those who are looking for knowledge. If trust does not exist (and this goes both ways management to worker and worker to management) what is the incentive to share knowledge beyond another very human tendency of wanting to help each other out.
There is a tremendous amount of knowledge in my workplace. There are pockets of knowledge sharing occurring every day. Is it widespread? Not as much as it could be. Some of that is topically-driven based on areas of knowledge, and some of that is parochial in retaining knowledge keeps people safe. Can it be better, and can it be managed? I think so, but it has to encompass all facets of the educational spectrum in the building, with a grass-roots support keeping it going – not just because management says to share knowledge. And I will go back to Dixon’s message at the end – the conversation is where the knowledge sharing is happening. We need to continue the dialogue.