There is a brigade charge underway to capture the wisdom (knowledge + experience) of the retiring corporate crowd. The urgency is perhaps driven by the fact that these “wisdom holders” will retire, then turn around and charge their former employers a hefty consulting fee for continuing their services. Not a bad gig if you can get it. But, those who have tried the knowledge management (KM) thing in the past will tell you that this harnessing, leveraging, capturing, harvesting – pick your favorite over-used word - is a hard row to hoe. And for the record, please do not try to harness or harvest my knowledge. I am not a horse, nor a corn crop.
Why is it so hard to get your smart people to share? Because human beings typically share their precious knowledge only with people they trust. Not a software application.
If you’re one of these retiring wisdom holders, or perhaps a Gen X/Y subject expert, you smell what I’m steppin’ in. You’re the ONE individual who really knows why the chemical process behind your best-selling adhesives is what it is, or how to deal most effectively with your top three multi-million-dollar clients, or the Colonel’s secret spices. Maybe you’re the only one who knows why your corporate authentication directory evolved into the weird Galapagos-Island-like thing it is today: “Hey, what’s a red-footed Booby doing in there?”… “Ask Lincoln, he’ll know.”
Because you are the one individual who knows this stuff, you are reluctant to advertise that fact, for fear of the avalanche of requests to collaborate. You need more emails, IMs, and phone calls like you need another orifice in your cranium. Plus, these people who would swarm you like flies on poo will not perhaps care too much if you are over-extended. But, you are more than happy to share what you know with one or two others, after you’ve discerned that they won’t abuse you, won’t stab you in the back, won’t take credit for your intellectual capital, and will perhaps return the favor. The people who invest in creating a relationship with you are rewarded with your experienced point of view.
It is impossible for anyone to imbue the full power of their experience into a profile, a blog, a forum, a wiki, a presentation, a tag, a podcast, a video, or anything else. A wisdom holder’s value lies in their ability to bring their experience to bear on a situation within context, in real time. This is most often done extemporaneously, and in my world, over the phone. And if done well, true breakthrough thinking can happen. But, that’s another topic.
The spoken word trumps the written.
The whole point of social software, from the perspective of retaining corporate wisdom, is to make a wisdom holder’s surface knowledge available to a general population, so that other people can do the following:
- Be aware that this knowledge exists in the organization, and who has it. This is a huge pre-cursor to effective collaboration – knowing people exist, and knowing what they know. In social network science terms, the goal is to increase your organizational network’s density, which means more awareness / connections between more people, and to reduce distance, which means fewer network “nodes” between two people, based on trusted relationships – you can’t call Kevin Bacon directly, for example, until you ask a guy you know who knows his agent to get you an appointment.
- Determine with whom they should collaborate, if they even need to. The irony of social software is that many may never need to collaborate with you if you share your surface knowledge. And an added benefit is that if you ever do need to collaborate with that person, you’ve accelerated that effort beyond the “dumb question” stage. You can get to the really good stuff faster.
- Begin a trusted relationship with someone. This is done by “talking” to them in a forum, a blog, commenting on their document, etc., in hopes that in the future, you can boldly call them and ask for their tacit wisdom.