When our family travels, we often visit local marketplaces. It’s a great way to get a sense of what matters in that area. You can see what is (or is not) for sale. You can observe who is talking to whom. You can get a sense of what they are interested in. This experience inevitably provides insight beyond what most guidebooks can offer. In light of this, it is no surprise that in ancient Athens the center of civic life was the agora — the marketplace or public square.
While researching some knowledge management techniques, I came across an article by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind entitled “Leadership Is A Conversation,” which included the concept of sharing organizational knowledge by creating a knowledge marketplace. They give the example of Kingfisher plc, a leading home improvement retailer that used the power of “intentional organizational conversation” to turn their many and varied business units into one unified team. As part of this effort, they convened their retail executives in a gathering structured like a marketplace.
In this marketplace, the participants were divided into three separate groups:
- Sellers: the sellers wore aprons and stood in individual stalls, ready to provide information on successful business practices developed in their part of the organization. They were “purveyors of ideas.”
- Facilitators: members of Kingfisher’s executive committee circulated throughout the market, providing encouragement to the sellers and buyers.
- Buyers: most of the participants were buyers. Their assignment was to visit the various stalls in search of useful knowledge to “purchase” for use in their own business units.
The buyers were given special checkbooks with which they could write up to five checks to purchase ideas in the marketplace. While these checks had no street value, they did send the strong message that the buyer thought the seller’s idea was valuable.
In recounting this story about Kingfisher plc, Groysberg and Slind provide the following summary:
The essence of the marketplace was the peer-to-peer sharing of best practices in an informal, messy, and noisy environment. But the idea was also to treat conversation as a means to an end—to use it to achieve strategic alignment across a diverse group of participants.
While Kingfisher may have been using these marketplace conversations to achieve strategic alignment across the company, it was also using it in a classic knowledge management way to share recommended practices across the company. We know that conversation is one of the most effective ways by which to share knowledge. And face-to-face conversation beats most online interactions hands down.
There may be some organizations that believe that their intranets function like a marketplace of ideas. But I’d challenge them to prove that their intranet is as vibrant and dynamic a place for sharing information as the “informal, messy, and noisy environment” of the Kingfisher plc knowledge marketplace.
Consider hosting a knowledge marketplace event in your organization. The ability of these marketplace conversations to spread knowledge rapidly throughout your organization will impress you.
[Photo Credit: Fotoworkshop4You]