Aug 23, 2004

The Collar of KM

Bijoy Goswami CEO of Aviri Inc talks about the collar of KM coat:

There’s an old Chinese saying: pick up your coat from the collar. Indeed, bad
things happen when you pick it up from the sleeve – the coat hangs clumsily, the
rest of it dangling on the floor. Holding it from the collar produces an
entirely different effect – the coat hangs nicely and behaves quite well! You
can sling it on your shoulder and walk down the street singing a happy tune.
Practitioners on the journey of Knowledge Management in organizations have been
trying to discover the collar of the KM Coat. Sadly, ten years on, we’re still
fumbling for it. We encountered a number of solutions along the way that seemed
like the collar, but learned from painful experience otherwise. Some of these
legitimately belong on the KM coat – such as the sleeve or pocket – but not the
vital collar. For the benefit of practitioners either just beginning, in the
middle of a KM project, or wondering how to make your KM initiative naturally
grow, I’d like to share three of these “pockets masquerading as collars.” I will
conclude by turning my attention to the true collar of the coat. For those
impatient to get to the conclusions, go to the section titled “What is the
Collar?”It is my sincere hope that in the spirit of KM, you will not reinvent
the lessons learned. Not only will you avoid the unnecessary pain of carrying
heavy boulders up the KM Mountain, you will instead discover that your
knowledge-sharing initiative will begin to feel more like coasting downriver.

And then he links it to The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I always knew there had to be a connection. And Bijoy articulates it so well !

In The Tipping Point, a popular book, especially in KM circles, Malcolm
Gladwell identifies three unique kinds of individuals he terms: mavens,
connectors and salespeople (evangelists). I will use the term “evangelist” when
referring to Galdwell’s “salesperson” in the rest of the article. [4] Mavens
discover and create knowledge, connectors know people and build relationships,
and evangelists combine people with knowledge they need to create action. In
Marcus Buckingham’s insightful book on management, First, Break All the Rules,
he discusses the difference between talents, skills and knowledge. Buckingham
explains in detail that while skills and knowledge can be learned, talents
cannot. Illustrating this point through the allegorical story of the scorpion
and the frog, he concludes that great managers understand the core talent
required in a particular job. They consequently hire, manage and fire
individuals based on these talents. What are the talents, according to
Buckingham? They are: analytical – working with knowledge; relating – working
with people; and results-creation – creating action in the world.
Unsurprisingly, these map directly onto mavens, connectors and evangelists. In
one the most comprehensive personality-typing works, Personality Types, Don Riso
describes the Enneagram, an ancient nine-type system. The nine types are derived
from three core types, which once again map to mavens, connectors and
evangelists [5]. The list goes on. Like the famous example of blind-men touching
the elephant, a long list of individuals in diverse fields - academia, business,
psychology, anthropology – have arrived at the same understanding through
different paths.Fine, but how is this related to KM? First, most KM efforts
focus almost entirely on mavens – those with the knowledge. We try to capture
their knowledge (section 1 above) or give them tools to discover and create
knowledge (section 2) or motivate them to “give up” their knowledge (section 3).
We have excluded two very important players integral to how knowledge is brought
into the world – specifically connectors and evangelists. If we assume an equal
breakdown of mavens, connectors and evangelists in our organizations, we have
effectively excluded two thirds of the organization!
Mavens: Knowledge + Knowledge = New Knowledge
Even with our maniacal focus on mavens, however,
we’ve missed the boat. In their groundbreaking book, Driven, Nitin Nohria and
Paul Lawrence discuss the core human drives to “acquire” and “defend.” This is
intuitively true – mavens, for example, feel a sense of ownership to their
knowledge and also, a need to defend that knowledge. The document-submission
approach completely ignores these core drives by not only asking people to
“give-up” their knowledge, but also by disassociating the knowledge-creator from
their knowledge. Furthermore, mavens feel differently about sharing their
knowledge based not only on their personalities (for example, mavens tend to
have very little patience with non-mavens), but also relative to their
reputation in the organization. If Jane, a maven, has just joined a company, her
desire to share her knowledge – even standard, mundane or trivial knowledge – is
very high because she can build her reputation and “reciprocity capital” with
that knowledge. She roams the organization advertising that, “No question is too
stupid, I’m glad to help! ” However, six months into her job, Jane’s reputation
has grown and her desire to answer those questions has dropped dramatically.
Comfortable in her place in the organization, she now wants to be able to choose
how to help others. Jane’s behavior will differ greatly from a connector or an
evangelist, who are each motivated by different drivers. Following these natural
incentive trails (much like ant colony scientists follow the pheromone trails)
is important and incredibly useful.
Connectors: People + People = New Relationships
Connectors differ from mavens in that the object of their
study is not knowledge, but people. If mavens’ function is to combine knowledge
with other knowledge to create new knowledge, then connectors’ function is to
combine individuals with other individuals to create new relationships.
Connectors spend time with people, seek to understand them and build strong
relationships. Just as mavens trade their knowledge, connectors trade their
relationships and seek to extend their reputation for knowing who knows. They
create a new connection to the knower. And just as mavens feel ownership of
their knowledge IP, connectors feel ownership of their relationships and must be
allowed to protect them. Mavens and connectors put a new twist to “it’s not what
you know, but who you know.” In fact, it’s both. The most powerful way we
develop trust in others is through our direct experience of them. Connectors
play the vital role of scaling trust – by leveraging their direct trusted
relationships between individuals so we don’t have to undergo the time-consuming
process of developing trust in others’ through our own direct experience.
Evangelists: People + Knowledge = New Actions
Evangelists are motivated by action. Evangelists, consummate storytellers, are constantly combining people with knowledge to create actions. On a continuum of people and knowledge, evangelists sit squarely in the middle. Not as interested as mavens to spend time understanding the nitty-gritty details, they’d rather know that the answer is 42 and then get as many people to believe it through their powerful persuasive skills. Indeed, rarely will mavens popularize their ideas –
evangelists will do that for them. Steve Jobs, the evangelist, brought Steve
Wozniak, the maven’s elegant PC design to the world. Malcolm Gladwell’s unique
contribution with Tipping Point, for example, has been to spread the word about
concepts that have been around for a while. Not as interested in developing as
deep an understanding of people as connectors, evangelists tend to have large,
superficial networks – if only because the message has to get out to as many
people as possible.