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The Role of Experience in Enhancing Knowledge Management Practices

1 January 2011
Anat Kosiyak
A group of people playing a game

The contribution of knowledge management activities and solutions to an organization's achievement of its business goals has been widely discussed. However, the question arises whether experience has a place in this activity. Is there a concept called experiential knowledge management? Below, I will demonstrate that experiential knowledge management is a valuable working tool with unique added value for knowledge management activities in an organization. First, let's ask what is an experience. A dictionary definition of experience is "a significant event, impression, feeling..." If so, what is the connection between knowledge management and experience? I will first use Kolb's theoretical basis, linking experience and learning to show the context. According to the model, we learn in two complementary continua:

  1. A continuum describing how we perceive and absorb new knowledge

    1. Through concrete experience - sensing the environment

    2. Through abstract conceptualization - planning the way in advance

  2. A continuum explaining how we process and internalize knowledge

    1. Through active experimentation

    2. Through reflective observation

If, for example, I want to learn about bicycles tomorrow morning, I can remember in one or more of the following styles: 1a. Ride a bicycle in a self-discovery way (with a helmet and knee pads...) 1b. Understand the theory behind riding a bicycle and what the concept of bicycle riding is. 2a. Get practical tips and techniques from a bicycle riding expert. 2b. Watch someone else ride a bicycle (with guided imagination for balance...)

After we "experienced" the importance of experience in the learning processes of new and existing knowledge, let's take another step and examine the importance of experience in incorporating a knowledge management solution in an organization: establishing a community of practice. Among one of our clients, there was a need to develop a community of practice for those with a common area of interest and knowledge in the organization: branch managers. Accordingly, we defined the goals:

  • Making existing and new knowledge in the field of branch management an accessible and up-to-date organizational asset

  • Knowledge sharing among branch managers

  • A means of communication between branch managers

The first step in building a community of practice "from scratch" in an organization is building trust and creating an infrastructure for group work. In our case, the branch managers work in the same organization, but their professional and social connections are minimal, if at all.

We approached the work and built an experiential workshop to create an initial anchor for working in the community. For this purpose, we used various experiential tools, such as humor, which is readily available and usable and contributes to a comfortable and friendly atmosphere, and videos (there are many on the Internet), emphasizing the importance of the unique terminology between community members contributing to the creation of group identity and loyalty.

Cartoon of a cartoon of a person standing on a beach with several bottles of beer

This is an example of a caricature symbolizing the importance of the connection between community members in aspects of social and professional support.

Another readily available experiential tool is games (like the ones we played in our youth movements in the past...). In our case, a good example is the yarn ball game. Find a ball of yarn (a real one for knitting from the past); the facilitator wraps an end of the yarn thread around his finger and says something about himself, for example, a hobby. After finishing, he throws the ball of yarn randomly to another member of the group, who stands up, and in turn, he also wraps the yarn thread around his finger, contributes his contribution with another statement, and throws it onto another member of the community.

In this way, a network of yarn threads is slowly formed, including the community members and their hobbies, symbolizing the initial acquaintance between the knowledge holders in the community. Now, you can choose to end the game and unravel the yarn thread network from the end to the beginning, where instead of a hobby, a question in the professional content area is asked by each community member and answered by the previous member in the network, and so on back to the facilitator.

Another alternative is, in parallel to weaving the yarn thread network that visually illustrates a social network in the community, to prepare to push pins on a wall in the workshop room. In this way, the network is transferred onto the wall, and a connection map is created with the names of the community members (a push pin for each "finger" of a community member). To progress to another step in the activity, taking sticky notes (notes) in two colors is recommended.

On the yellow notes (for example), each community member writes "what I can contribute to the community," and on the pink notes (for example), each community member writes "what I expect the community to contribute to me." In this way, on the connection map on the wall (next to each push pin), a "mapping" of the knowledge holders in the community is created. Thus, transparently, it is possible to find a common denominator between sub-groups for creating think groups according to topics, identifying knowledge centers within the community, and more.

For those who have not experienced this type of activity in an organizational context - it is highly recommended as the "experience" that remains from this activity has a great impression, and it turns out that the connections woven with the yarn thread do not remain virtual... Of course, there are many more games (as far as imagination and creativity go) in which experience contributes to achieving professional goals within the framework of knowledge management activities in the organization. Let's go back to the goals we set at the beginning of the activity of establishing the community. We have already achieved knowledge sharing between the knowledge holders in the community through one experiential activity.

In conclusion, incorporating experience into an organization's professional knowledge management activity is not trivial (lacking the business image...). However, if we do conduct such an activity:

  • We will increase readiness for knowledge sharing and collaboration

  • We will promote learning of new knowledge

  • We will enable professional depth

  • We will provoke thoughts and ideas

  • We will give a unique color to knowledge management activities in the organization

Good luck!

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