Knowledge Boots Are Made for Walking

Over the last several months I have engaged with conversations both internally within Intel and externally around the work I am doing with enterprise social computing. Inevitably someone always states, “Knowledge management has been attempted and failed over the last several years. Why is it going to be different this time?”

Warning- the following might be considered heresy by KM loyalists :):

From my perspective I believe social computing will ultimately achieve what traditional KM has been attempting to do for years. Call it a paradigm shift, but unlike traditional KM, social computing is not about managing knowledge. Rather, social computing is about enabling more effective people interactions. Therein lies the yellow brick road to bringing knowledge to the forefront. How could I possibly make this claim? Because tacit knowledge is a key portion of the knowledge this is relevant and necessary. Traditional knowledge management tactics have struggled to effectively capture and harness tacit knowledge. Within Intel, we have substantial efforts to document processes- especially within our engineering and manufacturing organizations. Many white papers have been written. But at the end of the day, all that captured and managed knowledge isn’t enough to effectively transfer a process completely or in Intel terms “copy exact.” It takes the documentation, white papers plus a team of people to do the knowledge transfer. Ultimately tacit knowledge is at the heart of the matter. It is the golden key. With social computing, we are finally able to see more light at the end of the tunnel.

So what does this mean for us, for you? There are a number of environmental pressures that are descending on Intel and peer companies. The first – Knowledgification- essential for economic growth in the 21st century: I recently had an opportunity to hear Gene Meieran, an Intel Fellow and employee for 34 years, speak at our Intel IT Technical Leadership conference. Gene stated that during the 20th century, the #1 innovation was electrification- the delivery of cheap power to homes and factories. Gene makes the case that the capturing and sharing of knowledge between people, organizations and communities, will be the force that drives the economy in the 21st century. Knowledge is the glue the holds our virtual universe together. The global sharing of information will change the world for the better - if we do it wisely. Knowledgification also powers radical innovation. Radical innovation is rarely seen in mature companies. It is risky, has high failure rates and is birthed by individuals. Gene argued that it is the institution’s job to enable the culture of innovation. The role and responsibility of IT is to create an environment that supports collaboration and sharing of information across time zones, across geographies, across organization hierarchies. IT must develop technology that allows people to work better and more effectively (asynchronously and synchronously) than we currently are today.

The second environmental pressure is one of the biggies. Starting in 2012, the U.S. is going to experience a large portion of our workforce aging out of the system. Yes, baby boomers will be retiring. That means that tacit knowledge gets up and walks out the door. As a 40 year old company, this should be enough to have Intel shaking in its boots. If effectively implemented early, I believe social computing provides the ability to extract and capture knowledge tidbits or knowledge streams- a fundamental portion missing from KM today. Instead of exerting even more efforts to formally document, house, realize knowledge - social computing captures the knowledge that is shared informally via conversations and people interactions. Social computing naturally fits over ways that people connect and share knowledge, tacit in particular. Metcalf’s law of exponentially increasing the value of your knowledge network, by increasing its volume – can be achieved.

You may be thinking I had a big breakfast of motherhood and apple pie this morning. But I challenge us to think differently. I challenge us to look in the mirror and determine if we have achieved the highest levels of being a learning organization. Do we feel we are effectively capturing tacit knowledge today? What is the business impact of having large amounts of knowledge walk out the door? How much does the knowledge transfer process cost today? Could there be a better way? I believe there is a better way and it’s wearing social computing boots. Knowledge boots that keep the knowledge from walking out the door and boots that kick radical innovation into high gear. Are you ready to try on a new pair of boots?