'Voices' in the Knowledge Management process
1 November 2014
A man and woman are stuck in an empty room in a deserted building in London. The door is open. They wish to leave. Why don't they leave? Towards the end of the play a third character joins them and changes the course of the play till its surprising ending.
'Voices' is a play I wrote, performed these days in the Alley Theatre of Jaffa, Israel. The play was born from a basic image which intrigued me: two people in a closed room. The door is unlocked yet they cannot leave. Since besides writing (plays, scripts, books) I am a KM consultant, I will attempt to show what is can possibly be learned from the insights I gathered in the journey of the play (an internal one, as the heroes of our story are in a closed room…) for our personal lives as well as the 'life' of an organization as a whole.
Out of the Box
We all feel sometimes stuck. Opening the door and leaving the closed room is a metaphor for change and growth. An organization can sometimes be "stuck in a room". The door is not locked; all that is needed is the courage to open it. This is not always simple, since the organization and its members are "accustomed" to certain patterns, even if following those patterns leaves the organization and its workers in the closed room. In order to perform the change, the organization must adopt new work methods and enable new knowledge to be created and available. Opening this kind of door can occur through an identification process and mapping knowledge needs, work teams dedicated to developing new knowledge, making knowledge accessible via sites and communities etc.
To go through a process together
In the play, a relationship that grows between the heroes and the sharing and closeness enabled by it, are the 'engine' for the clarification process that leads them to growing and knowing each other beyond the initial façade of belonging to different sectors. Likewise in organizations: work meetings for creating new knowledge allow people to know each other beyond their official position as well as beyond a certain image. This acquaintance which includes a description of personal successes and shortcomings generates trust, closeness, growth and sharing and eventually an evolution of the organization. Changing the perception from keeping the knowledge in the "closed room" of the individual worker or specific department to opening up and sharing allows us to listen to different, new voices. The sharing process assists in developing new knowledge and (equally important) creates synergy between the people themselves.
Working in conditions of uncertainty
Let's return for a moment to the man and woman in that mysterious room in London. The wait lengthens, yet no one comes, calling for them. The room is empty, besides a single bed and a loudspeaker emitting strange voices. They slowly realize that the voices are 'activating' them and feel trapped in the frightening room. In an attempt to understand where they are, they provide different interpretations to the reality in which they are imprisoned. Without spoiling the mystery in the play, I'll just add that these interpretations are wrong and what really happens in the mysterious room is totally different than what they imagined.
Workers in organizations also feel an undermining feeling of uncertainty and yearn for a guiding voice and directing hand. The world of Knowledge Management can ease this feeling through solutions such as directories, lesson knowledge-bases, insights and lessons learned can be of assistance in the moment of truth, when a decision must be made and direct them to the most effective work processes and organizational knowledge that is accumulated from similar past events. Thus, the organization's business objectives are promoted, and (equally important) the worker feels more protected and safe. This feeling contributes to the worker's positive work experience.
Internal and external voices
As the play unfolds, the heroes understand the voices activating them and learn to obtain from them their own inner voices on their way to fulfill their dreams. The play deals with the need and difficulty to define an identity when facing external influencing 'voices'.
Sharing the knowledge leads to the creation of trust between workers and with trust we can even feel better with ourselves and the organization-maybe even hear our inner voices more clearly and succeed personally and organizationally.
Nevertheless, we must remember that not everyone will join this process enthusiastically. It is important to hear and contain the critical, skeptic voices without allowing them dominance. They can be productive, as their doubts can highlight a relevant point of view which can lead (if dealt with correctly) to insights and in turn to improvement.
In conclusion, Knowledge Management can be presented through the metaphor of voices infiltrating into a long-closed room. A complex, multisystem process with potential to empower the organization and its members requires creativity, innovation and revision. The real reward and change it enfolds is both individual and organizational.