Fat chance! - I'm a lawyer, after all. (Thanks, by the way, to Denham and everyone who chimed in and tracked-back!)
In his "final" comment, Denham cited a paper by Ralph Stacey entitled The Impossibility of Managing Knowledge in support of his assertion that "real knowledge emerges in dialog, accrues through validation, is grounded in social gesture."
Well, I opened the Stacey paper, started reading, and then printed it out, read it more carefully, and marked up my copy extensively. The paper came from a talk given in 2002 and revolves around the problems with government attempts to measure and control the quality of services provided in the British health care and education systems. I can certainly understand Prof. Stacey's frustrations with the sorts of "solutions" he describes, but I found his conclusion that knowledge management is impossible a vast stretch from the examples he used.
I have lots of objections to Stacey's argument, but many are summed up by his attempt to illustrate why he thinks knowledge management is impossible by using an example he took from complex systems theory involving computer simulations of flocks of birds. Recognizing the difficulty of modeling the behavior of autonomous birds (or people), the complexity theorist called his computer simulations "boids."
Apparently, boids can be made to fly in formation with as few as three "instructions." As Stacey explains it:
It turns out that these three rules are enough to produce flocking. All the boids are exactly the same and they all follow exactly the same three rules. Then they produce this flocking behaviour. They will part around obstacles and come together again.
That’s an example of emergence. Flocking behaviour is emerging in the local interaction of the boids.
If that were all that Stacey (and Denham) meant by "emergent" knowledge through social interaction, I certainly would want no part of it. Flying in formation with the rest of the flock is not something I would want to do, at least not all the time.
I doubt that they would, either, and Stacey recognized the weaknesses of his example by adding:
It gives you an idea of what emergence and self-organisation mean but the entities that are us, individuals, don’t all follow the same rules. To the extent that we have any regard for rules at all, we’re always making our own local interpretations of them. We’re all different and we follow different organising principles in our interactions with each other.
Despite this last insight into the effect of individuality, Stacey makes what for me is an unjustified leap to his central "claim that it’s impossible to manage knowledge because knowledge emerges in the interactions between us. It isn’t locked up in our heads. Knowledge is an aspect of relationship, of interaction between human beings."
I remain unpersuaded. In fact, I remain unable to quite grasp how the leap gets made from the inside-the-head activities of the individuals who engage in social interaction to the claim that knowledge is only what's somehow "out there" in the spaces between the members of whatever group they're part of.
I hope I've made it clear in the previous discussion that I completely agree knowledge can come from social intereaction, indeed often does. Both collaboration and vigorous debate are prime examples of how this occurs.
But the notion that "real" knowledge can only occur via social interaction is, I think, untennable. Stacey's own argument includes the observation, "Knowledge is constantly being re-produced and transformed in our interactions with each other, sometimes through an artefact like a book." (Emphasis added.)
My reading of Stacey's paper seems just the sort of "creative abrasion" Denham wrote about. But was it "social interaction"? Did I get any knowledge out of it?
Denham might argue that the result won't be "real" knowledge until I write about it here, and mabe not until I get some feedback: "The real knowledge emerges in dialog, accrues through validation, is grounded in social gesture."
But what happened in my head when I read Stacey's arguments, evaluated them, refined my ideas in light of them? My reaction to Denham's last-quoted statement is, the "real knowledge emerges" where? "accrues" where? "is grounded in social gesture" by whom?
My answer to all these questions is the same. The knowledge starts and ends up back in the heads of individuals. Helping them do their knowledge work better - both the solitary thinking work and the social interactions that spur, test, and improve on it - is what knowledge management is really all about.
And yes, as Stacey wrote, it's hard to "manage" knowledge workers. Actually, this morning's reading on the subject of defining knowledge work and knowledge workers is what got me started. Since I've already gone on too long, I'll add this quote from Ton Zijlstra's Interdependent Thoughts post on Defining the Knowledge Worker, which captures how I believe the individual and the social interaction knowledge work are connected:
A better understanding of what a knowledge worker is, is relevant because it then can form the basis of a better understanding of what personal knowledge management is: what can an individual do to be a more effective knowledge worker, within his social network.
and this one from Peter Drucker, offering insight into how knowledge workers - rather than "boids" - can be "managed" - via Jack Vinson's link to the Specialist Library's KM page:
What motivates workers - especially knowledge workers - is what motivates volunteers. Volunteers, we know, have to get more satisfaction from their work than paid employees precisely because they do not get a pay check. They need, above all, challenge. They need to know the organization's mission and to believe in it. They need continuous training. They need to see results. Implicit in this is that employees have to be managed as associates, partners-and not in name only. The definition of a partnership is that all partners are equal.
With that I'll stop. Here are some links to the posts and articles that prompted my "outburst" today:
As so often happens, it started early this morning at Jack's Vinson's Knowledge Jolt with his newly posted Knowledge worker thread.
From there I visited (in some cases, revisited):
Martin Roell's Das E-business Weblog and Terminology: "Knowledge Worker" (Another great discussion-starter from Martin.)
McGee's Musings: Knowledge work as craft work (Exceptionally thoughtful and well-referenced piece.)
Florian Heidecke's Information Work Productivity blog, with Knowledge Work Management on an organizational basis (Study his new diagram and the seminal piece he cites, Payne, Riding the Wave: Managing Knowledge in an Unmanageable World.)
Synesthesia post on Hypertasking. (Follow down through the comments for ideas on how our inside-the-brain knowledge work happens.)