KM World 2012 Notes: Learning & Knowledge Sharing

I am pleased to be at the 2012 KM World. Here are my notes for 2011 and 2010. I attended the keynote address, Learning & Knowledge Sharing provided by John Seely Brown, Chief of Confusion; Visiting Scholar at USC; Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

Here is the session description.

By exploring play, innovation, and the cultivation of the imagination as cornerstones of learning, Brown creates a vision of learning for the future that is achievable, scalable, and one that grows along with the technology that fosters it and the people who engage with it. The result is a new form of culture in which knowledge is seen as fluid and evolving, the personal is both enhanced and refined in relation to the collective, and the ability to manage, negotiate, and participate in the world is governed by the play of the imagination. Gain insights from our experienced speaker to apply in your organization for better communication, collaboration, innovation, and knowledge-sharing.

John spoke about the Entreprenurial Learner.

It is about questioning as we encounter knowledge, and about starting a business. He argued that we are at a new moment in the history of people. In the past, everything was driven by infrastructure technologies. They take a while to develop, there is breakthrough, then there is a long period of use and stability.

You get an S curve. Cars, planes roads, ships have not changed much in the past 50 years. However, in the digital age there is no sign of slowing down or leveling off. We will continue to see this rapid change. The half-life of our skills is now down to 5 years.

There is now a movement from “a world of push” to “a world of pull”. We are moving from “a world of stock” to “a world of flow”. In a world of stock, it is about protecting assets and transferring skills. Now, it is how to participate in knowledge flows.

The old world had explicit knowledge. The new world has strong tacit knowledge. This has big implications for knowledge management. There is a new S curve cycle almost every year. New stuff, like the cloud, keeps changing the game.

He referenced Dave Weinberger’s book, Too Big to Know. Context is now king, rather than content.

Now the facts are not the facts and the smartest person in the room is perhaps the room.

Authority focused, standards-based learning no longer works. We need a social view of learning and to move beyond a Cartesian view of the world. Understanding is now socially constructed.

He gave a case of the Skadden law firm. They bring in new lawyers every year. They give them cases and the newest class did them too fast.  They tried to figure out what was happening. The incoming class built a group and did group problem solving to solve cases in rapid speed. So the head of the law firm decided to do some reverse mentorship. They got the kids and the older partners together to learn from each other.

John said to imagine a large scale learning environment where people measure and evaluate their own performance. What if we did our own after action reviews?  An example of this is the World of Warcraft which he participants in. There is in-game learning and knowledge ecology of out-of-game learning on the edges.

Within the in-game learning you build your own virtual group. There is a collective indwelling where you experiment and learn. These groups are a community of practice but more than this. The members get an intuitive feeling of what the others are thinking. Members create their own dashboards. There is exponential improvement. In the out-of-game learning, thousands of new ideas get generated and must be processed. This processing is done by the group.

He gave another example from SAP. It wants to inspire new ideas from customers on uses of NetWeaver. The SAP Developer Network was created for this. In 2004, there were 109k members and now there are 1.4M participants. These are not customers and not employees. I wrote about it in 2004 and 2008 (see my posts – Workspace Portal Realized: SAP NetWeaver and Four Examples of Wikis Working within the Enterprise)

He went on to social bookmarking. You can easily find people interested in the same thing. He showed Mitre’s Onomi. (see my post – Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise – Mitre’s Onomi). People within Mitre have found colleagues working on the same problems.

John gave an example of training Xerox tech reps to repair machines. They were spending $300 – 400 million training the reps. However, it did not work.

They also did not use the large manuals that were developed at great expense. Xerox hired anthropologists who said the reps will not want to bring manuals into their clients because they will look stupid. What actually happens is that they would call in another rep to help them. The reps would also swap stories at the bar after work. I saw this happening with British Gas repair people in the pubs in 1995.

Much of the real work happens in informal emergent processes to adapt to reality. It goes beyond the authorized processes. What if you could do this “water cooler” or ‘pub” knowledge sharing on a global basis? Google+ at a wide-publc scale, and enterprise collaboration or social business platforms (e.g., Atlassian Confluence WikiIBM Connections, Jive SBS,  and others) are potential tools for this. You can have debates and have others in your group listen in on the debate.

Traditionally, IT has only supported the authorized process and worked against the informal emergent learning. This needs to change.

Best practices do not travel that well. They are too explicit and the tacit part is underground where it is hard to transplant it. The process of dis-embedding and re-embedding can provide new learnings. Context is now critical. Also, having the answers is less important than having to the ability to know where to find the answers.

There is a big shift – from what I am, wear, own, control to what I create, share and what others build on it.

He closed on this note. This was a great opening keynote and I certainly agree with his points.

Blog post by Bill Ives of the Merced Group and AppFusions, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

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