When KM becomes so relatively unimportant…


There are things in life that explain the relative unimportance attached to knowledge management.

Having a baby is one of them.

My son Ilan Jan was born on 12 June and we have been blessed with his advent in our life. For now, KM is totally on the back burner, but learning will be back on the agenda pretty soon, while going around the world through the eyes of a new born child.

Now is the time to enjoy though…

Ilan Jan - the reason why KM matters much less to me (just) now

Ilan Jan – the reason why KM matters much less to me (just) now

Get personal: KM closer, together, for the bigger picture


Three related events push me to blog about the importance of getting personal in KM this week:

  1. The preliminary results of a fascinating study we (IRC) are conducting in Burkina Faso to find out what are current practices for information management and knowledge sharing, under an overall banner of sector learning (find an introduction to sector learning on the Learning for Change blog);
  2. The negative advice I was given to the initiative I had designed to investigate personal effectiveness among my colleagues – an idea I had introduced here;
  3. The video below which I saw recently on the blog of ZDNet about the social media revolution (though dating from 2009).

Getting closer to see the details and the bigger picture

Getting closer to see the details and the bigger picture (Photo credits: TheFocusPhotography)

The first study mentioned above clearly emphasised the importance of personal KM, both in terms of personal information management (to filter the wealth of information, to keep one’s expertise sharp, to get a bigger picture) and in terms of knowledge sharing (by attending the meetings and events when crucial knowledge is exchanged and relationships are built, but also virtually by means of communities of practice which for once, in the WASH sector, were mentioned as key to get a lateral view of an issue and find better solutions).There is a wealth of information available in the sector but everyone relies on personal contact – and prefers doing so. Perhaps it is the oral culture that prevails in West Africa which puts so much importance on interpersonal contact – one of the respondents even mentioned: “I would like to keep that side of things where we meet people”. People are key. Personal communication is central.

The second event was of course a blow to my aspirations – though I haven’t given up ;). When informed that one of the main reasons for the rejection of that initiative was that it ‘wasn’t the right time for it’, I realised how we all tend to undervalue the contribution of every individual to the well-functioning of an organisation (or any other human grouping, for that matter). How is it that we can expect to have well-functioning, ever learning organisations if the people that make it up are not organising their learning and their expertise gardening? Actually that last point also reminds me of that Ted Talk video with Seth Godin about leading our tribes where the man with 1000 ideas brilliantly makes the point of hiring caring individuals if you want a caring organisation – among many other gems that I invite you to discover in that really inspiring video speech. The bottom of it is again: we have to get personal!

The video about the social media revolution (below) is perhaps less about personal KM but it does emphasise the importance of getting social and personal. It actually triggered a flashback in time to the kick-off meeting of a new project earlier this year, where the entre consortium dismissed the idea of social networks as being too early-in-the-day, too fluffy, not serious enough for the work we had to do. And then I had a ‘hum hum’ moment: how can we dismiss the social nature of our work? How can we say no to connecting to other individuals and organisations that are genuinely interested in what we are doing? How can we keep believing that people prefer formal environments when we have ALL experienced the warmth and quality of conversations at the bar or reflections in a car, or walking on the beach? How can we afford not to get personal if we want to understand and improve our world with others in a deeply meaningful way? And that is exactly what social networks do.

You must understand that in spite of initial frustration, I am not stigmatising the reactions I faced. I am only trying to understand what is at play behind these reactions.  And it raises questions:

  • Is what I am seeing the fruit of my imagination or is it really happening? Is there a point of putting persons at the centre of it all?
  • If I am isolated in a pocket of converts to these ideas, how can I reach out to the non-converts?
  • What makes people – and the organisations they form – value any other factor than human beings?
  • How can we most effectively demonstrate the value of investing in people’s personal KM for the organisation and wider arenas (e.g. as in ‘sector learning’)?
  • What is the added value of documenting processes of personal knowledge work as opposed to letting it be and counting on people’s natural tendency to share insights about it with one another?

We are perhaps (I would personally say very probably) at the dawn of an entirely new age of communication, but it seems business is going as usual in many ways. All I know is that I prefer to dream about this deeply-caring personal world than to just focus on its down-to-earth nemesis.

It is high time we got personal, don’t you think?

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