Content Catalysts

Knowledge managers  sometimes divide the world into two camps:  content creators (the folks on the front lines of an organization, as well as a small handful of knowledge managers with subject matter expertise) and content managers (the bulk of the knowledge managers and librarians). In this scheme, most knowledge managers are working well behind the front lines and feel best suited to the task of organizing content rather than creating it. And, the content they seek to organize is explicit knowledge.  In reading Nick Milton’s post, KM and content management – the turf war,  I was struck by the fact that the disputed turf at the heart of this war (i.e., explicit knowledge) is relatively small.  If you look at his Venn diagram, you’ll see he identifies three types of turf:  non-knowledge information, explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.  The first usually is the domain of librarians, and the last the domain of knowledge managers.  Both areas provide ample challenges and rewards.  Yet the turf battles continue with respect to managing explicit knowledge.   When you consider whether many (or any) of us should be fighting over KM 1.0 efforts to create and organize document collections, the turf battle seems even more pointless.

Therefore, in an effort to shift the conversation, I’d propose to expand the roles available for information professionals.   What if we were to add a new category:  Content Catalysts?  Rick Ladd pointed to this function in his comment on my previous post, Librarians vs Knowledge Managers:

It seems to me we KM professionals have been saying for years that an organization’s most useful knowledge lies between the ears of our people; up to 80% (obviously an approximation) of the total available. What I’m seeing is the use of social media to discover, connect, build relationships . . . in other words, greasing the skids of close to real-time knowledge transfer . . . is transforming how we deal with information and knowledge.

I’m of the opinion most value – at this time – lies in developing those “social” capabilities in an organization. Not to say managing the explicit knowledge assets isn’t important (precedent and all that comes with it isn’t going to go away, whether it’s judicial or the laws of physics); merely that connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge, etc. is likely to have a bigger payoff than organizing our explicit assets.

This seems like a more productive route for knowledge management.  As information explodes around us, we’re finding that we’re able to corral less and less of it.  Our best hope is to have search engines that find what is necessary in the moment of need while we spend our time as Content Catalysts ensuring that information flows rapidly and is shared easily within our organizations.  (This is the promise of Enterprise 2.0.) It seems to me that knowledge managers should be able to add a great deal of value to their organizations as Content Catalysts, without the distraction of engaging in outdated battles over questionable turf.  What do you think?

[Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk]

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11 thoughts on “Content Catalysts

  • April 29, 2010 at 3:44 am
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    Hi Mary,

    Thanks for the post and for the reference! Always welcome!!

    As far as I am concerned, “connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge” has always been the primary goal of Knowledge Management and of Knowledge Managers. It certainly was a primary goal for our KM program in BP in the 90s

    However connecting needs to be balanced with collecting – I dont think you can isolate the two (see here http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/02/my-latest-on-…).

    Connection without Collection is ephemeral, Collection without Connection is lifeless. Therefore I would be unwilling either to ignore the disputed territory, or fragment the field further.

    Therefore I would be unwilling to ignore the disputed territory, or fragment the field further by creating new names for components. I would rather integrate than separate – see below for more explanation.

    http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/11/pull-together
    http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/10/polarity-of-k

  • April 29, 2010 at 5:19 am
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    Sorry – one more thought! (there needs to be a word for those thoughts you get after you press the “submit” button)

    If you have a role that focuses on “connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge”, then “content catalyst” is probably not the best term.

    A lot of knowledge sharing is tacit, and never creates “content”. Peer assists, After Action reviews, coaching discussions, many of the face to face means of knowledge transfer that happen when people are connected to people, will never create content. The orginal Polyani definition of tacit knowledge (which is what is so often shared between people) is that which cannot be expressed, and therefore never can become content.

    I would he happier to call this role “connection catalyst” or even “knowledge transfer catalyst” (although I see the role as one of many roles of the knowledge manager), but to my mind, calling it “content catalyst” presupposes a content-centric view. And to be honest, content is not what we are after. Content is not the end point. We are ultimately after knowledge transfer and reuse, and content is only one means to get there.

    I don't mean this comment to sound negative; what I am trying to do is explore and clarify the ground between KM and content management, and terminology is important here!

  • April 29, 2010 at 10:43 am
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    Nick – There is, I believe, a term that's very close to what you're asking. It's esprit d'escalier, generally defined as staircase wit – that great comeback you think of after you've left the party (meeting, blog, etc.) See (where else?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27esprit_de_l%27….

    I love this topic (thank you Mary). I think it's an important one and would like to engage further in the discussion, but I don't have much time this morning. Let me just say I agree with the direction Mary is taking this, but I do have some concerns about what seems to me an overly analytic (as opposed to synthetic) approach to understanding what happens when knowledge is created, shared, etc.

    In all fairness, I want to read (and watch) some of your stuff as well, Nick, before wading in too deeply. BTW – Do you know Kent Greenes, Nick?

    As the Governator of my “great” state of California is wont to declare, “I'll be back”.

  • April 29, 2010 at 11:26 am
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    Thanks Rick. Yes I know Kent, he was my line manager for nearly 3 years.

  • April 29, 2010 at 11:51 pm
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    It's great to be in conversation with you, Nick.

    You're right that connecting people and facilitating information sharing has always been part of the core KM function. However, I have to confess that over the years it seems as if I've met more knowledge managers fixated on databases and document collections rather than people and information exchange. (Perhaps I need to meet more people?)

    Connection without collection may be ephemeral, but I'd argue that sometimes those passing points of contact can have an enormous impact. By contrast, a collection jammed full of “stuff” requires much more overhead and doesn't always deliver the desired results. One of my big concerns with collecting is that it's hard to know now what current material will be even remotely relevant or useful in the future. So we either just grab everything or we exercise a little judgment now and keep our fingers crossed that we haven't omitted anything crucial. It's a dodgy effort at best.

    – Mary

  • April 29, 2010 at 11:53 pm
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    You're most welcome, Rick! Please do come back when you've got a bit more time. There's a rich vein to mine here.

    – Mary

  • Pingback: Catalog Content Not People | Above and Beyond KM

  • April 30, 2010 at 12:10 am
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    You can have as many postscripts as you wish, Nick! I suspect this is a conversation that will continue for some time.

    In the short-term, however, I'd like to learn more about your definition of content. Based on your comments above, it appears that you have a more specific notion of content than I do. Mine is admittedly a bit generic and was meant to cover the range of possibilities from data to knowledge. (I'm not sure I'm ready to include “wisdom” in the range.) With a broad definition of content in hand, then any activity that sparks the creation or articulation of knowledge is useful. Any activity that causes a person to communicate their knowledge is useful. Provided the communication is recorded in some fashion (whether in writing or on videotape, for example), then we have content. Under this scheme, it would be possible for a face to face knowledge transfer to produce content.

    In any event, if you can tell me more about your view of content I'd be grateful.

    Thanks!
    Mary

  • April 30, 2010 at 4:18 am
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    Mary, you ask “I'd like to learn more about your definition of content…… Provided the communication is recorded in some fashion (whether in writing or on videotape, for example), then we have content. Under this scheme, it would be possible for a face to face knowledge transfer to produce content”.

    Yes, that's my definition of content as well. Some sort of record, which can be stored.

    However it is equally possible for a face to face knowledge transfer NOT to create content, but still to transfer knowledge; and as you say in another comment, “those passing points of contact can have an enormous impact”. They can have even more impact if they are strategic and routine.

    To my mind, knowledge management encompasses the whole range of knowledge transfer, whether content is produced or not. Now in the legal field, knowledge and content have historically been more closely linked than in fields such as (for example) sales, or geophysics, or talent management. Legal knowledge has often been transferred in the form of annotated examples, or other documents, and legal KM is traditionally content-focused. But this is not the case in all professions.

    So I would not personally take a content-centric view of KM, and I would not divide the world into content creators and content managers. I think if anything I would start with knowledge providers and knowledge users, and then look at whether the exchange between the two needs to involve the creation of content.

    This comment is at risk of becoming an essay, so I will turn it into a blog post instead!

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