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March 25, 2013

Knowing When Knowledge Knows Best

Posted by Paddy Rao (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:37 AM

When we moved into NJ from Boston, we  bought a house with a large, unfinished basement. To my wife, who enjoys painting, that space downstairs was a blank canvas. There were all sorts of things she wanted to do with the basement, including, of course, adding  an art studio. As she began to surf the web looking to implement her renovation ideas, she came across a company that allows you to create your own nameplate for the front of your house or mailbox. Her experience with that company is an ideal example of the three important foundations on which effective and innovative organizations operate: mass customization, and maintaining relevant knowledge.

The nameplate company is based in Oregon. The actual plates are manufactured in Australia. And their customer help desk is located in Ireland. My wife can select the size, shape, color, and even the mounting style of the nameplate (as well as what she wants printed on it). That little company essentially thought of everything my wife might have needed or asked of them and wrapped it all up into a tidy, easy-to-use online delivery model. I'll bet that the company also has a sound methodology in place that takes a century of metal-forming and painting know-how and combines it with the latest, state-of-the-art design and manufacturing processes. 

Today, savvy, nimble organizations are asking themselves what their core competencies are and entrusting these to the best-suited person within the company. He might not be known as a chief learning officer or knowledge officer, but that's what he's doing - making sure everyone stays on point.  Ideally, this person also holds the purse strings. A chief knowledge officer who has spent time figuring out which programs are relevant is best equipped to allocate the funds required to take it to the next level. Money, time, and effort need to be closely linked.

Changing consumer behavior is accelerating change in organizations and we need to readjust continuously. But are we really challenging the status quo to explore new capabilities or simply going through the motions and responding to external pressures by just repackaging the old stuff with new looks? Who knows, may be the new generation needs a square wheel! Legacy processes sometimes are simply not relevant to the times. Have you heard the funny story of "holding horses" in armed forces?  The British army were using horse drawn cannon carriages used during WW I and soldiers held the horses away to prevent them from bucking under noise. Although horses were phased out with mechanized cavalry, soldiers continued to step back from tanks and hold their arms aside! So a chief learning officer should be combining knowledge from other sources, internal and external, and determining what's relevant and necessary to move the organization forward. He validates the relevance of the company's trove of knowledge. And weeds out workflows that are no longer relevant.

And before you tell me about all that relevant knowledge available from social media, let me stop you mid-Tweet. I realize that everyone is sharing everything with everybody. But data is not necessarily insight. No doubt about it: People are dumping a lot of data out there. However, like the old proverb goes, you should know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Be cautious.  Social media may hold valuable insights but it has the potential to dilute or drown out  actual knowledge.

So do you have a way to assess your relevant competencies to take on the future and document your learning?  What do you do with skill sets that you no longer need? And how can you sustain a pipeline to all the emerging knowledge you'll need  in the days ahead? Questions worth pondering.

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