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Dave Snowden's 7 rules for Knowledge Management

1 May 109
Tomer Keidar, NRC KM unit
A light bulb and a head drawn on a chalkboard

Knowledge can be donated, not recruited

You can never force someone to share their knowledge since you would never know whether they indeed did so. You can review whether the information was transferred or if a process was complete. Nevertheless, you will never know if the worker indeed gave over some of their experience (Drucker).


We know what know, we just need to know it

Human knowledge is based on links and requires incentives in order to be received. Unlike computers, we are not equipped with a list of operation possibilities. Little gestures, either verbal or of other nature, are those that might suddenly arouse memories in the context the action requires. When we "sleep on it", we are involved in a complex, organic activity of retrieval and creation.


When facing a real need, few people will refrain from sharing their knowledge

A true plea for help will usually not be met with a blunt refusal, unless time is short, or trust hasn't been established. On the other hand, we will usually encounter refusal when requesting to document knowledge without raising question in the appropriate context (things aren't always possible). Connecting and linking people is more important than storing the facts they hold.


In real life, everything is fragmented

Over the years, we've learned to cope with raw information nuggets, not clearly comprehensible documents. People will spend hours on the internet or idly speaking with no incentive or pressure. On the other hand, creating comprehensible documents require considerably more time and effort. Our brain has developed thought patterns for working with fragments rather than structured information.


A patiently received failure will teach more than success

When a child burns their finger by touching the forbidden matches, they learn of the hazards of fire far more than all his parents' "cold" warnings could ever achieve. All human cultures have developed ways to tell of failure without converting it to shame or blame. Avoiding failure has a greater evolutionary advantage than copying success. Furthermore, the attempt to enforce an insight system is starkly opposed to our ancient evolutionary tradition that views this negatively.


The way we know isn't the way we tell

An ever-increasing body of research shows that regarding knowledge, people tend to use heuristics, templates and estimates merged with ideas and the attempt to make decisions, all in a split second. However, when asked to describe their decision-making process, the same people will tend to present a process that is obviously more structured than what actually took place. This insight has several implications regarding Knowledge Management.


We will always know more than we will be able to say; we will always say more than we will ever be able to write

This insight is extremely important: things move from our heads and then to our hands; a vast amount of content and context is lost on the way. Documentation will always be missing something only reality can bear.

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