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Experiential Knowledge Management

1 January 2010
writing on glass

The contribution of Knowledge Management activities and solutions to organizations and to attaining their business objectives has been discussed and shown time and again. However, another question remains unanswered: does the experiential realm have anything to add to this activity? In short, can there be 'Experiential Knowledge Management'?

I will hereby show that indeed, experiential is a work tool with unique added value to Knowledge Management activities in organizations.

But beforehand, we must ask: what is an experience? Some would say it is a meaningful event, a feeling or impression. If so, what could experiences have to do with Knowledge Management?

To show the link, I wish to first refer to Kolb's theoretical basis which links between learning and experience. According to this model, we learn in two complementary sequences:

  1. A sequence that describes the way we perceive and receive new information

    a.Through concrete experience- sensing the environment

    b.Through concrete conceptualization- planning the route in advance

  2. A sequence that describes the way in which we process and internalize the knowledge:

    1. Through action

    2. Through reflective contemplation

If, for example, tomorrow morning I wish to learn how to ride a bike, I can learn in one or more fashion:

  1. Learn through personal experience (with a helmet and kneepads)

  2. Understand the theory on which riding a bike is based and the concept of bike riding

  1. Receive practical advice and technique from an expert on bike riding

  2. Watch another person ride a bike (vividly imagining the need to balance oneself)

After "experiencing" the importance of an actual experience in the process of learning new/existing knowledge, let's take this one step further and review the importance of the experiential aspect regarding a Knowledge Management solution in organizational settings: setting up a knowledge community.

One of our clients needed to set up a knowledge community for individuals that share knowledge and an area of interest: branch managers.

We defined the objectives accordingly:

  • Making new and existing knowledge in the field of branch managing an accessible and updated organizational asset

  • Sharing knowledge among branch managers

  • A means of communication between branch managers

The first step in founding a knowledge community in an organization "from scratch" is generating trust and creating an infrastructure for working as a group. In the present case, branch managers work in the same organization yet the connection between them, either professional or social, was either minimal or (most probably) non-existent.

We got to work and assembled an experiential workshop to create the initial anchor for working in a community. We used various experiential tools, such as humor, which is an available and usable experiential tool that generates a comfortable and friendly atmosphere; videos (can be found in endless quantities on the internet) that emphasize the importance of the unique terminology among community members that contributes to creating collective identity and loyalty.

Gamification can serve us as an experiential tool to harness knowledge. In our case, a good example is playing with a ball of yarn. The instructor wraps an end of a wool thread and says something (really anything, such as a hobby of theirs), then thrown the ball of yarn at random to another group member that also stands and wraps the end of the thread around their finger, tells the group something about themselves, then thrown the ball to another group member. Thus, a yarn web connecting all group members and their hobbies is gradually formed; this web symbolizes the initial acquaintance among the community's knowledge holders. Now all that's left is to finish the fame and untangle the web from its end to its beginning- only now, instead of asking about their hobbies each community member must ask another community member a question in the realm of their professional content till the ball of yarn (now disassembled) reaches the instructor.

Another alternative is while forming the web which visually illustrates the community's social network prepare tacks on a wall in the workshop room. Thus, the network is tacked to the wall which now displays the map of connections with the names of all community members (a tack for each community member's finger). In order to advance further in the activity, it is recommended to hand out sticky notes in two different colors. On notes of one color each community member writes "what can I contribute to the community?" while on the notes of the other color each member writes "what can the community contribute to me?" beside their respective tack (distributed throughout the connection map, now tacked to the wall).

Next to each tack, is now a "mapping" of the community's knowledge holders. This allows us to find common denominators among sub-groups and form thinking groups by subjects, identify knowledge centers in the community, etc.

If you haven't experienced this sort of activity in an organizational context- it is highly recommended since it leaves a substantial impression; evidently, the connections woven with a simple wool thread do not remain merely virtual…

Obviously, there are many more games in which the experience contributes to attaining professional objectives as part of the organization's Knowledge Management activities. If we return to the goals we set when we began setting up the community, with a single experiential activity we achieved knowledge sharing among the community's knowledge holders.

In conclusion, integrating experiential activities into professional Knowledge Management activities in the organization is far from trivial; however, if we conduct such an activity we can:

  • Enhance readiness to share knowledge and cooperate

  • Promote the learning of new knowledge

  • Enable professional depth

  • Arouse thoughts and ideas

  • Provide the organization's KM activities a unique twist

I wish you luck!

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