Last night I went to a seminar. On the whiteboard, the seminar leader drew an oft-used framework:
There are things you “know.” For example, I know I can speak English.
There are things you “know you don’t know.” I know I can’t speak Chinese.
And there are things you “don’t know you don’t know.” Obviously I don’t have any examples of this.
But it got me thinking. There is one dimension that is never mentioned…
There are things you “don’t know you know.”
Inside of organizations, there is so much untapped knowledge. To combat this, over the past two decades, companies have invested millions of dollars in knowledge management systems. The objective has been to capture the company’s knowledge.
The problem is, the knowledge management databases usually become so large and unwieldy that they are unusable. I can attest from experience that these systems often end up becoming digital piles of untapped information. Finding what you want can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Or, more accurately, it is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles.
What’s the solution?
You might call it, “reverse knowledge management.”
Instead of posting knowledge which sits passively in a database waiting for someone to find it, you post your question to your “community” so that it can be answered at the time of need. Of course, asking the world for an answer to your question is not new. Yahoo/Google Answers did this a few years back.
But internally, especially when you have already invested in knowledge management systems, the dynamics can be quite different.
If you are using an internal collaboration tool like InnoCentive@Work, you might find that reverse knowledge management is an unintended benefit. When you have a challenge you want solved, the odds are, someone else within your organization has already solved a similar problem. But you probably don’t know who knows the solution or where to find the solution.
Sometimes the solution can be sitting in your knowledge management system…and you don’t even know it because it is too difficult to find.
Interestingly, “requests for information” posted on internal collaboration tools are sometimes solved not by the individuals with the expertise, by rather by the knowledge management team. When a question is posted, the knowledge management team masterfully scours their databases to find a solution. The advantage of this approach is that those with expertise in navigating the knowledge management systems do what they do best, thus freeing the rest of the organization to focus on what they do best. And it has the added benefit of breathing new life into your old knowledge management initiatives.
So, what is it that you organization doesn’t know what it already knows?
P.S. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised. If you Google “reverse knowledge management” (in quotes) you will see that the only place this term is used on the entire internet is in this article.