An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.
- Niels Bohr (1885–1962), Danish physicist.
On 10/19/06, I attended a seminar held by the Boston Knowledge Management Forum on “Finding Experts.” Access to expertise information was much-needed at my previous firm, but as of the time I left in July 2006 there was no solution planned. In my new position I will be working with MOSS 2007’s new capabilities around social networking and expertise capture, and I wanted to learn about what others had done to facilitate access to experts.
Larry Prusak was there to discuss Keys to Success in Finding Experts. My takeaways from his talk were as follows:
What works, w/r/t employees finding the knowledge they need to do their jobs:
- Smallness – where co-workers have instant access to each other and sharing is a way of life
- Mission-critical organizations – where people are there because they love the work (e.g. the space program, scientific research projects)
- Colleagues that like each other
- Being there in the same place / knowing each other (as opposed to spread out geographically)
For any other kind of business environment, you need enforced social norms, i.e. carrots as well as sticks that will make employees contribute to the knowledge base, keep their own profiles updated, etc. (This was where knowledge management fell apart at my previous workplace – the firm did not fall into any of the above categories, hours billed was what mattered, and there were no incentives for performing non-billable tasks such as contributing to the knowledge management portal, even though the firm’s leaders recognized the importance of collaboration and KM.)
Other key points of Prusak’s talk:
- Knowledge is expensive. Prusak gave the example that it takes the same amount of time to learn French today as it did in 1800. In other words, knowledge is based on experience and you can’t speed up the process or take shortcuts.
- The knowledge at one firm sets it apart from other firms.
- The value of knowledge is in interpretation and adaptation. (“What would you do with this problem?”) This is why knowledge is different from information.
- 80% of employees’ knowledge is in their heads, and it can’t be captured in documentation. Facts can be documented, but not the interpretation and adaptation of previous learnings.
- Instead of spending time and resources trying to capture knowledge, it’s better to enable employees to find each other. To do this, you need both tools and process.
- Individual knowledge is not important – it’s the practice (i.e., the group working together). There is not that much difference between what people know, so stars are not as effective as a highly-functioning team.
- Knowledge work is profoundly social and has to be coordinated to work well.
- There is a need for the indexers and abstracters – the intermediaries or synthesizers who understand knowledge and help people work better.
In the coming weeks I hope to be learning and sharing more about how other companies manage Expertise information both internally and externally.
The full list of speakers at the KM Forum:
Larry Chait of Chait and Associates, who spoke about two products, Tacit’s Activenet and AskMe, and explained how they work.
Larry Prusak, Co-director of the Babson Working Knowledge Research Center and founder and Executive Director of the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management (IKM)
Rock Griffin, President, Skyward Consulting Group, whose presentation on LinkedIn totally hooked me.
Phil Knutel, Assistant Professor, and Director of Academic Technology, Library, and Research Services, Bentley College, who demonstrated Bentley’s faculty database:
Bob Wolf, Ph.D., former Manager at the Boston Consulting Group, who presented some fascinating network analysis diagrams.
Cesar Brea, Monitor Group, who spoke about social network analysis.
Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, who shared some interesting findings from his work with Match.com.