Shifting Learning and Development from Push to Pull

Blog Topic: 
Knowledge Jam

The following were answers to questions Laden Nikravan from Chief Learning Offer Magazine posed to me on August 25, 2011.

How is knowledge sharing changing over time?

 Knowledge sharing is shifting from being about packaging and storage of knowledge, and more into human interactions. In my work I'm seeing more attention being paid to knowledge-pull, rather than knowledge-push. That amounts to more emphasis on getting people into conversation -- online and offline. (I would go so far as to predict that today's investment is 80% about packaging or codifying knowledge into text, and 20% about discerning where the knowledge is hidden in people's heads and habits, and getting people into conversation to transfer knowledge. In five years it will be just the opposite: 80% conversation (pull), and 20% packaging (push).

What are the benefits of having internal information (apart from what should be protected) open for access through technology channels?

It's not just about making it easier to reuse knowledge and reduce that proverbial "reinvention of the wheel." Transparency also improves the coherence and the cohesion of the organization. When I know more quickly what is going on in other parts of the organization, I have the opportunity to contribute either directly or indirectly, and, as an organization, we are able to more quickly mobilize when we are in conflict. For example, when we see that part of our organization is shorting a stock and another part is recommending it to clients, we can make this discussable. We can ask, "Is this consistent with the mission of the organization? Are there conflicts of interest?"

How does it help leaders be open to constructive criticism?

 Leaders are on view in this situation, and they need to be the first to see the inconsistencies and even strengths that that transparency reveals. If one leader is funding a project, say, to evaluate a new product space, and another leader is funding a project to reinvest in the existing product space, this is all out there for the organization to see.  The leadership is now responsible for making the strategy crisp and clear to the organization. "We believe that if anyone is going to undercut our market, it should be we ourselves."

Will relying on so much technology create a greater gap between generations?

 As I said, the trend will be toward more interaction (including conversation). Yes, that could use a lot of new technology, such as social media discussions, Microsoft-Skype videoconferencing, and even more video'd conversations. But, given new developments, there will be an increase in human-centered technology, not just text and menus. We're already seeing that with Apple's Lion operating system. On balance, I think that there's reason for hope: new technology will be more inviting for older-generation users, and the greater use of conversation and dialogue between the experts and the knowledge-seekers will take us back to the conversation skills that the older-generations know well.  In fact, the younger generation has been letting conversation atrophy a bit, so learning will go in both directions.

Explain how it should be done. What platforms have you seen used? What information should be transparent? Who should be able to see this information?

 As I write in my book, Sharing Hidden Know-How, we need a rigorous process for discovering pockets of insight and bringing people together in conversation to get that insight out and get it into circulation. This process is called the Knowledge Jam, and it may use social and collaboration (even social network analysis) technology to identify those pockets, and then it uses any of a number of different types of web-conferencing (like Gotomeeting or WebEx) or online discussions tools (like Yammer or Jive) to help seekers draw out the insights of experts. Often this is with the help of a facilitator or moderator.

During that conversation -- whether it's real-time or asynchronous -- the content becomes transparent. The words are out there for the participants to see, to validate, or to amplify. (Within reason, of course, as you might not broadcast expletives or merger discussions!) Then, you have two invaluable artifacts.

  • One is the content you've generated that is "pulled" not just pushed, so it has immediate relevancy and context suitable for the knowledge seeker. (And, the artifact that can be stored, tagged, associated with related artifacts, and automatically pushed to the users of your knowledge platform.) 
  • Another is an enduring relationship that begins with this conversation. A conversation that is based on respect and curiosity plants the seeds of trust. The people who participate in Knowledge Jams are more likely to seek each other out and collaborate in the future -- sharing knowledge and getting work done more efficiently. That's a nice shift from the knowledge silos and fragmented repositories of the past.

How does all of this affect the learning and development space in organizations?

 Knowledge conversations like the Knowledge Jam are more efficient at drawing out content that matters for practical problems. That's because you have seekers (or their representatives, or brokers) in the "room" pulling, not just experts documenting. In the conversation you're eliciting ideas in a sequence that helps the seeker translate to his context -- in effect, you're being more Socratic.  But, others outside the "room" may learn, too.  The conversation is captured -- either as a document or as a threaded social media discussion. Those other learners might watch, subscribe or search for the Knowledge Jam at a future data.

Learning and development become more of a "pull" process, and less of a push process. It's perhaps messier, but content will accumulate more organically around hot or business-relevant topics, rather than top-down through a curriculum development. Moreover, it will be more efficient. A Knowledge Jam could come together over weeks, whereas harvesting and packaging course material could take months.  The L&D budget will now need to be less in "instructors" and more in Knowledge Jam facilitators. Less in LMS's but in social and collaborative tools with great tagging and searching.  This is shift is underway in many organizations, and it will only accelerate with better ways to enable and facilitate conversation.


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