Chasing the Rabbit, Sharing the Knowledge

Bob Lewis is an IT columnist who I find consistently worth reading because of his clear and dispassionate insight into how organisational politics really works.

He is the ultimate pragmatist, with a low tolerance for cheap insights and bullshit. So I was pleased to see that he recently finished reading Chasing the Rabbit by Steven Spear and found it worthwhile.

Although I'm slightly ashamed to have not read through the whole book myself, I've read a lot of Spear's supporting articles and read Joe Firestone's analysis of the book's content. From this I know that the principles described by Spear in his book are largely those of modern Knowledge Management. Bob summarises these principles as:

  • Recognize problems as they occur
  • Fix problems rather than muddling through
  • Spread the knowledge
  • Have leaders who train other leaders to lead this way

While I had no problems with the majority of Bob's analysis of what these principles mean in practice, he did seem to believe that the only way to "spread knowledge" was through documented procedures. I wrote back to suggest some other ways of spreading knowledge:

“Spreading the knowledge” doesn’t have to mean rigid adherence to documented processes. It could mean:

- a culture of apprenticeship and/or mentoring
- highly integrated and valued social networks, either f2f or web 2.0
- strong organisational narratives which tacitly reinforce important lessons
- a culture that encourages “safe to fail” experimentation as an important tool to solve complex or “wicked” problems

It's great to see some of the ideas of adaptive organisations spreading into mainstream thought, although it seems that embracing the complexity (Cynefin sense) of modern organisations is a concept that people are still struggling with.

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