An organization may be the sum of its component parts, but sharing information and expertise across those parts isn’t as simple a task as it may sound. Many companies have taken on this challenge by developing knowledge management tools ranging from employee handbooks—a staple of countless organizations—to lectures from industry veterans and internal directories of senior employees who have wisdom to share.
While these techniques are effective at teaching existing information, as a recent article in the Harvard Business Review points out, they have a critical flaw: In knowledge management systems, the emphasis is on techniques that worked in the past and thus provide little to no encouragement or guidance on how employees can discover new knowledge outside their organization.
John Hagel III and John Seely Brown—the authors of the article—aren’t on a mission to tear down the knowledge management establishment, but instead, they hope to illustrate the value of knowledge creation. After all, in a world where innovative ideas and disruptive technologies transform the business and social environment on an almost daily basis, a reliance on the strategies and methods of yesterday simply isn’t enough of a competitive advantage.
As a result, Hagel and Brown call for organizations to move away from the traditional methods of knowledge sharing and “scalable efficiency,” which teaches only skills for specific situations that may no longer apply to contemporary issues, and practice “scalable learning” to help employees to develop new knowledge and adapt to an ever-changing business world.
Their point is well-taken. Choosing efficiency as the variable to scale implies that organizations can pursue improvements by enlarging the current structures they have in place, although this does little or nothing to prepare them or their employees for inevitable changes. On the other hand, efforts to scale learning enable employees to respond more quickly and naturally to the spate of transformative changes to the industry that are always around the corner.
Of course, adopting scalable learning practices is easier said than done. To help organizations get started, the authors list five features of scalable learning: emphasis on experience and tacit knowledge, building small workgroups of employees with diverse skillsets, focusing on performance improvement, unlearning outdated information, and developing capabilities, such as critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and so on.
Again, none of this means knowledge management should be discarded altogether. Instead, Hagel and Brown call for a paradigm shift in terms of how we measure knowledge since the mere spread of what we already know isn’t sufficient for a world that evolves overnight. Today, organizations need to do more than manage knowledge—they need to create it as well.