Knowledge Leadership in the Era of Convergence

In The World is Flat (2007), Friedman described the ‘Triple Convergence,’ or a confluence of three systemic changes that created a new economic and technological environment. These changes, which generally included the emergence of new players in the world economy, the opening of new world markets, and the development of new processes and habits for collaboration, enabled companies and individuals to approach knowledge management and business processes from a horizontal perspective. This perspective, which redefined knowledge as a community, rather than exclusive property, was made possible by the development, use, and widespread adoption of communications technologies, data storage devices, and other internet-related technological advancements. According to Friedman, the ‘Convergence’ lessened the importance of systemic control and increased the need for companies and individuals to expand access to knowledge, consider outcomes and effects instead of hierarchical power relationships, and develop new tools and technologies to increase collaboration (2007).

Within this environment, the rise of the internet enabled knowledge to diffuse much faster and provided all members of the organization with the ability to access information regardless of rank or position. Furthermore, according to Jarche (2010), the advanced communication capabilities that the internet provided increased reaction times and feedback loops, making it necessary for individuals to search for and access answers in real-time. This forced individuals to rely on trusted colleagues and friends for quick answers to business issues. Jarche identified this cycle as ‘Social Learning,’ and stressed that the trust relationships necessary to support Social Learning develop over time through shared experiences and interactions (2010). This suggests workers who deepen social relationships with a cadre of trusted colleagues and rely on those colleagues to provide advice and guidance function more effectively in an interconnected, fast-moving world. Furthermore, in doing so, workers acquire knowledge during these information exchanges, which increases their competence, and they are able to pass this learned knowledge to other members of their trusted circle.

Friedman’s Triple Convergence and Jarche’s Social Learning are both predicated on the idea that the internet and its associated tools and capabilities have created an environment where knowledge resides in the masses and learning occurs in a horizontal manner. Dixon supports this idea; in her 2009 analysis of knowledge management, she identified that knowledge management professionals must transition from a pre-internet standard of hierarchical, concentrated knowledge to a diffused, diverse, and community-based knowledge management perspective. In doing so, Dixon suggested knowledge professionals expand access to knowledge repositories, provide community members with the ability to edit repositories, encourage diversity, and incorporate social media into a comprehensive knowledge management strategy. If implemented properly these steps will result in a knowledge management capability that is appropriate in a world where users generate content, access to information is not dependent on organizational position, and collaborative engagement is a typical business practice.

Of the resources highlighted above, Friedman’s Triple Convergence described the changing environment, Jarche’s Social Learning outlined learning-specific behavioral reactions to that environment, and Dixon’s thoughts highlighted ways to excel in the resultant new knowledge management paradigm. Taken together, these three ideas suggest that knowledge is now socially developed, and businesses must make knowledge easily accessible from all hierarchical levels in order to maximize productivity. Furthermore, businesses must treat knowledge as community property that can be augmented, changed, and expanded by all community members. To facilitate these attitudes, leaders must develop organizational cultures that stress collaboration, openness, and sharing. Furthermore, leaders must consciously democratize knowledge, and create systems that enable all organization members to access as much data as possible and contribute data. Additionally, leaders should incorporate Jarche’s Social Learning by creating peer mentoring opportunities, giving new workers the opportunity to learn from more experienced employees, and creating a company wiki resource that allows any employee to contribute. In an environment where speed, access, and tools allow workers to seamlessly collaborate across time zones, store massive amounts of data, and crowdsource the answers to difficult organizational issues, organizations that trend toward openness in the knowledge management arena will be better able to use new technologies and react to cultural and business changes. This makes leaders responsible for developing an open, collaborative culture, and suggests that inspiring these attitudes toward knowledge management will have positive individual and organizational consequences.

Dixon, N. (May 2, 2009). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat (3rd ed.) New York: Picador.

Jarche, H. (February 24, 2010). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/

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16 thoughts on “Knowledge Leadership in the Era of Convergence

  1. I understand your comment regarding the responsibility of leadership to democratize knowledge for everyone in an organization, but…I’ve run across several situations where when knowledge is readily available, the potential for error (both intentional and inadvertent) goes up. Some time ago I started posting our monthly financials for everyone on the staff to see. It helps if everyone knows the data. Bear in mind that while our end of year financials are available to anyone, our monthly data contains sufficient information that if you wanted to work backwards from, and you were talented, you could tell a lot about our payroll, etc. Despite saying “Don’t share this data” invariably one of our staff did and I ended up not only having to discipline an employee, but deal with the media on an issue regarding a contract we had for some lobbying. Yes, our employee did something stupid, but was I also stupid for putting the data out there for everyone to use? I think the new benchmark for leadership in KM is risk management, where every piece of data, and combination of data sources, needs to be assessed for risk management before any decision is made on making it available. Our desire for transparency needs to be balanced against the need for private data when privacy makes sense.

    • I do think risk management is important, especially as it pertains to proprietary technology, processes, and information. Companies do have to balance collaborative engagement with prudent security measures, and it is sometimes appropriate for organizations to compartmentalize certain programs or data sets. This will always be necessary, and it is incumbent upon leaders to identify those subject matter areas that are not viable candidates for transparent approaches and exempt them from broader collaborative efforts. As a general rule, though, it does appear that many organizations are choosing collaboration over compartmentalization and are somewhat willing to live with the security risks such a decision presents.

  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself Timothy. The intensification of the internet empowered everyone to access information and gain knowledge. It is important to realize that any member of an organization irrespective of their role may obtain the same tools as their managers and become just as efficient and intellectual. Managers must take into account that if they want to be effective leaders they must establish a collaborative culture where all employees regardless of their location and time zone can collaborate and complete the tasks at hand. That is what triple convergence is all about.

  3. Timothy, well said on your last paragraph about leadership duties and responsibilities. I completely agree and this is very similar, although better, to what I was attempting to convey as well. There is the point of risk management that Peter raises that frankly, I had not thought about. Peter also raises another interesting concept of data versus information. At what point does data become information? This begets the question of should data be treated identically to KM? This is a timely pontification for me because my employer is currently going through a data architecture redesign within the data services / business intelligence area for the purpose of creating a single source of truth. Historically there have been many separate databases and tools that were created in silos throughout the company. Reports in the past have been created by department with DB2, SQL and Access databases using various tools from hand scripted SQL code to Excel. This invariably creates problems with interpretation of the data to form knowledge. For example, two different departments can query the same data, but their department specific SQL code is not the same. One department may have a defect in their code. Ergo, we have two different answers and interpretations against the same data, yet one is erroneous. The department heads may not know which one is right and which one is incorrect. In response to this situation, my company has embarked to incorporate data governance methodologies, to standardize the data model, to create a single controlled data warehouse and to standardize which tools are used for reporting and analysis. These tools are more “drag and drop” to automatically create the code behind the scenes and eliminate the need to write code. In addition, more advance tooling that permits code writing will be restricted. I’m curious about your thoughts on this as on the surface, it may appear to be counter to flattening? Could it be that flattening and risk management trade offs may need to be made?

  4. Tim –

    Both logical and well-written, your post makes perfect sense; if more people have access to information we will increase participation and reach better conclusions.

    There is, however, “a fly in the ointment”, as they say. Let’s take your job, for instance. How comfortable are you in opening up your OSI case files to the masses so we can help you solve crimes? In the same vein, how interested is Google in sharing their next product in development, so those frustrated programmers out there can use the information to beat them to market?

    The knowledge management discussed in this week’s reading, to me, was more knowledge control. Holders of knowledge will only share information when doing so is to their advantage. That seems to go against a theory of flattening the world.

    The idea that knowledge holders will suddenly open the kimono because the internet allows it seems a bit naive, don’t you agree?

    Thanks. BPW

    • BPW, interesting point, though this particular fly in the ointment seems to be diminishing. Many police departments now use social media to inform the citizenry. If a crime occurs on my college campus, I and all students get a text message instantly warning us of the area to avoid. And check out Google Labs. There are lots of products in beta testing that may or may not be mainstream.

      I agree that risk management is important…but some of that risk may come from not being transparent.

    • In many cases, I think there is a significant distinction between intra-organizational and inter-organizational openness. My comments are more directed toward the former; while certain KM trends appear to be increasing collaboration between entities, that collaboration is dependent on security, business advantage, and other items you highlight. These types of relationships are useful but, as you identify, may not be practical or appropriate. Many of Jarche and Dixon’s thoughts appear to be better suited to the KM environment within an organization, where knowledge may be more effective if democratized. In some contexts, sharing with external entities is necessary and beneficial, but the business case for doing so must be sound and safe. In my experience, the business case for increasing information flow and collaboration within an organization is usually strong, and leaders should focus on expanding access to knowledge in their own organization before risking collaboration with external entities.

      • Well said in terms of internal versus external stakeholders. I don’t disagree. The challenge for leadership is that far to often leaders have defined their role as protecting data, in part to keep themselves in the loop on decision making. When information flow is horizontal, the role of the leader changes from gate keeper to gate supervisor. Supervisors need to monitor the information flow, watching for potential issues, but they don’t need to step in and decide what gets shared or what does not. This is a huge sea change and the information tools to monitor information flow, across multiple channels, 24×7, have to be far more robust.

        There may also be sectors that resist horizontal information flow. Having worked in a Governor’s office, information flow by definition need to be vertical as while I can make a major screw up and cause huge embarrassment, the worst that will happen to me is that I lose my job and go find a new one. My boss, the Governor, would lose the election. This doesn’t mean all information, but again, the robustness of the tools need to be able to distinguish between levels for risk for even internal data flows between like/like users.

      • Matt, great point…and I think we all are trying to figure out the balance in this digital age. News story yesterday of a Congressman tweeting about financial contributions and then trying to delete it…but it was out. “Public” takes on new meanings with social media.

  5. Tim, your comment that “knowledge is now socially developed, and businesses must make knowledge easily accessible from all hierarchical levels in order to maximize productivity” resonated with me. Our three authors reviewed this week align with another concept I have studied…the idea of a personal learning network. See Tobin’s post – http://www.tobincls.com/learningnetwork.htm

  6. Thank you for an interesting blog post. You describe Friedman’s “The Triple Convergence” well and provided examples to support your ideas. It is true that leaders of organizations should continuously improve the ways that they make knowledge easily accessible for employees. Providing this information is very important; however, the information must be managed and supported by people in order for it to be effective. Dixon (2009) notes in a recent blog post that that KM professionals began to discover that “technology alone was not enough to manage knowledge. “People to content” was a necessary step but fell far short of being sufficient to leverage an organization’s knowledge.” You suggest that “organizations that trend toward openness in the knowledge management arena will be better able to use new technologies and react to cultural and business changes”. As a leader how would you prepare your organization so that the information that is provided is managed appropriately?

    Dixon, N. (May 2, 2009). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

  7. In the second paragraph of your post, you mention the critical role of trust in Jarche’s concept of social learning. Although I agree with this ideal, it seems almost counter-intuitive to think that “trust” can be better promoted in more open and anonymous platforms and environments. This seems to challenge everything we have previously learned about trusting relationships: Trust is developed slowly over time; Trust is the result of established and intimate relationships; Trust often is associated with confidentiality and security…I am interested in hearing others’ feelings about the role of trust in the new global world.

  8. You have a beautiful Blog! Regarding you post, in the past few years, massive investments in technology – satellite broadband connectivity, undersea cables – have changed the shape of the world, making global communications cheap. At the same time, computers are cheaper and available all over the world.

    In some of the economically disadvantaged areas in the city in which I live this concept hits home. Cheap broadband internet access is now available through grants which provide access and computers to homes. I certainly see access as an issue that will undoubtedly be changed in the near future.

  9. Pingback: Best of Friday’s Finds 2013 | Harold Jarche

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