Few days ago I came across Matt Simpson's story on "The manager who thought he could create a community". It is a kind of stories that you often face during work with organizations and executives. A story which combines Executives, Knowledge and Technology, and misunderstanding of the nature of knowledge in organizations.
Now let's have a look on the photo above. What you see here is a group of people talking. You can see that these people are from different origins, only by look at them, right? Now, let me add few more details: they were gathered together in a specific location, in that case, a herb farm in Awassa, Ethiopia. Here is some more: they were talking here on a specific issue which they all have some interest – dealing with insects that damage the herb crops. Now, what the photo does not explain is that these people have specific agenda and interests, yet in the sense of elimination of insects in that farm they all share a common interest: to overcome this problematic issue successfully.
So, what is the story…? Well, the people in that photo that came to Ethiopia few years ago were buyers of herb products from Europe; Italian, Germans, British and French. The Owners of the farm were an Ethiopian businessman and an Israeli who runs the farm. The marketing and sales manager was also an Israeli. This group of people have a priceless wealth of knowledge on herbs, based on dozen of years of experience on all angles of herbs life-cycle.
The essence of this story reflects the core of the "Knowledge" issue – or let me be more specific – the "Knowledge management" issue.
And why is that? Because, knowledge is for action, not for "warehousing". These buyers were invited to Ethiopia in order to show them all the process of growing the herbs, sending them to Europe, so the will be assure in person and develop trust relations with the new growers.
No one planned in advanced that the issue of insects will be raised during the visit. Nor, they were asked to come to the visit as formal advisers or experts in the field. However, when they were following the growing process in one of the hothouses in this huge farm, a question in regard, was raised.
Even though I work with executives and organization on Learning and Knowledge processes, at this visit to Ethiopia, I was only a company to a friend, so I took this non-official presence and opportunity to "Shadow" the event, observing it and reflect on what I saw through a prism of Knowledge and Management.
And indeed what happened was precisely adequate to what is called "Knowledge to action"; all people who were presented started a professional knowledgeable dialog between experts. No one was forced to, or lead to, or guided to open a formal session. It was ignited naturally, was held with openness, honoring each opinion and cherish experience, benefit from it. When I observed that I knew I am facing a community of practice.
This "COP" was 'built' from people who have relevant knowledge, which they were sharing disregard the fact that they may represent or have opposite interests, the manner of the dialog was professional, focused, open and the most important: I saw how they were all pleased when the agreed together on a mode of operation which was new knowledge that they created together.
And one more thing: they ere telling stories. I mean, when you hear what they say – you realize that they communicate their message, experience, suggestions, solutions, market details, agriculture methods, past experience, research processes – in a form of stories. These stories were their personal stories, told by them directly, and they were told in a humble manner – not to emphasize how much they know, but the contrary: how much more they have to learn, and would other people present will kindly share their experience, too. It left nothing but a deep positive impression that the main interest is to find a solution and to prominent one of others.
No technology was used in this case; or shall I say that the most ancient technology took part dominantly – people gathered and talked on an issue they find relevant and interests – in this event: how to overcome the damage from insects.
The same event duplicate itself when we got back to the farm headquarters and with the group of agronomists, working at the farm.
Here again was a get-acquaintance meeting which smoothly and naturally flowed into a multi-dialog between experts on several issues which keep agronomists as well as growers busy in finding solutions.
I can only imagine trying to "pump" this new contextual knowledge and "warehouse" it in a form stored in a database.
Dave Snowden in his "Rendering knowledge" called that (2nd point): "we only know what we know when we need to know it". Larry Prusak once said "Knowledge is profoundly social…it happens only in social interactions…". (Hebrew!).
I believe that initiating and establishing a successful community of practice can be a combination of these two insights, and frankly, do not need "Management". As we already know, in if not we can read Jones & Goffee research on it, titled "Leading Clever People" and raise that is the main challenge for executives today, for what this researchers ask: "How do you manage people who don't want to be led and may be smarter then you…"
What's your story?