Read this post in: French
From knowledge management to social business, nearly every framework or practical initiative tackling the human dimensions of organizational efficiency emphasizes on knowledge sharing. Most of social tools and features’ justification is grounded in the simple assumption that openly and transparently sharing knowledge is the best way to help workers achieving their tasks. So far so good, unless knowledge doesn’t want to be shared.
Most of the tasks we are trying to achieve in our daily job are either complex or complicated. They involve multiple steps, human-to-human or human-to-machine interactions, use of different tools, all of which require following procedures, navigating through -and sometime despite- hierarchical requirements and validations, mobilizing resources whose availability isn’t aligned to your needs, producing some outcome for clients, either internal or external, whose logic isn’t yours, all of that in a reduced time frame. Whether we run a home-based business, are a public sector clerk or a Fortune 100 executive doesn’t make much difference here.
In my last post, I wrote about how people often develop “grey behaviors” in order to compensate for the lack of appropriateness between most business applications and the way the work is really done. Moreover, interactions between people is ridden with uncertainty, inappropriateness and fuzziness, even in a business context. We are human, after all. While modern organizations have developed enough processes, procedures and control structures to avoid black swans and mitigate unproductive mist, one of the main driver of efficiency remains the ticking clock.
To keep the flow running
Have you ever looked at a torrent? Water always follows the least resistance path, but this path often winds in unintuitive ways down the mountain. Local slopes can trump the global direction of the flow, even if this proves ineffective, and would a rock slip or a change occur to the torrent’s banks, the water will eventually create an alternate path without discarding the old one, unless it gets highly inefficient.
The same prevails in the workplace. In order to keep the workflow running as fast as possible and get their job done, people learn a huge amount of small tricks and tweaks, and don’t give up on using them unless a really more proved-to-be-efficient procedure is pointed out to them.
Of course, everybody wants to work smarter and faster, but what everybody wants overall is to ease the pain caused by lenghty or known to be ineffective organizational bottlenecks. Whether it be by directly calling out someone who may influence a decision in order to bypass a manager or by removing a security shield from an industrial saw to avoid sawdust accumulation, we all have gathered such knowledge.
Getting “social” from talk to walk
While one of social software’s goal is to harness freeform communication to facilitate knowledge sharing, this kind of tacit knowledge, mostly learned by doing or exchanged nearly in secret between peers, is quite never shared. In a short exchange with Harold Jarche in the Social Learning Community created by Jane Hart (you should join it if you haven’t yet and are interested in the use of social media for working and learning ), I called it Renegade Knowledge, as it clearly subverts organizational behavior. Paradoxically, it is also the kind of knowledge which makes up for processes and procedures shortcoming and helps things keeping running.
Never documented, quite never openly shared, renegade knowledge is yet an important part of organizations’ assets. It is fully actionable, as it directly relates to people’s expertise, and has the power to help companies improve the way they operate. Nevertheless, it takes a really high level of trust and resilience to allow it to flow and be made explicit. Unleashing the hidden power of renegade knowledge is removing the ultimate barrier between believing how an organization works and knowing how things really get done. Until we get there, the truly collaborative enterprise will be mostly talk and little walk.
I would love to hear about your experiences, if any, and thoughts in dealing with renegade knowledge.