6.10 Snowden's KM Model

6.10 Snowden’s KM Model

          David Snowden has developed an approach to implementing Knowledge Management programs in a series of articles that rest, in general terms, on a foundation of cognitive science, semiotics and epistemological pragmatics. In these works (Willmott & Snowden,1997; Snowden, 1997; Snowden, 1998; Snowden, 2002)  Snowden elaborates an action-oriented knowledge system that embraces four major elements:

  • Explicit / Tacit knowledge
  • Knowledge assets
  • Trust
  • The certainty / uncertainty of decisions relative to
    • objectives and
    • causal relations

           These elements are developed, together with their interactions, in a system of thought that is focused on action. This is woven together with a fabric that recognizes trust as a fundamental arbiter of knowledge dynamics, humans as the vessels of tacit knowledge, and external systems and structures as the holders of explicated knowledge. The approach to knowledge in organizational contexts is from a decision-making perspective, particularly with regard to the level of certainty pertaining to means, ends and causal relations.

          He concludes that knowledge is an organic rather than mechanistic model, and can only truly be achieved through the creation of trust, a vital pre-requisite of knowledge exchange. He further argues that Knowledge management has the potential to be a quantum shift in thinking, from mechanistic to organic models of the organization and society. It embraces the reality of uncertainty and enables the deployment of Intellectual Assets - in particular tacit, community-based skills - to manage that uncertainty for innovation and competitive edge. For this he suggests   to develop new modes of consultancy practice and a change in corporate culture to enable the creation of trust - the most vital prerequisite of knowledge exchange.

          Snowden argues that the first step is to map the stock of tacit and explicit knowledge in an organizational unit. Explicit knowledge thus identified and considered valuable is channeled into artifact-creating systems and structures (e.g., a knowledgebase). Tacit knowledge assets pose the conundrum of being more valuable but also more problematic, leading to the explication of tacit assets that can be readily articulated, and the creation of competence management systems for those that cannot.

          A decision matrix provides a starting point for the judgment as to whether tacit knowledge assets should be explicated. This decision matrix and the model suggest that organizations will manage four types of transitional activities:

  • Sharing explicit knowledge by distributing processes and procedures and association database access either directly or via a catalogue to related information;
  • Sharing tacit knowledge through institution of apprentice schemes, community spaces etc.;
  • Making tacit knowledge explicit through process re-engineering, documentation and data mining;
  • Creating a sufficient level of trust within the organization to permit the move of some decision making from an explicit basis to a tacit basis (most often required in conditions of change, innovation, complexity and uncertainty).

          The balanced and adapted management of explicit and tacit knowledge is said to lead to Knowledge Management ecology within an organization.

Snowden argues that the seeds of success or destruction are set in the early stages of a knowledge program. In his scholarly work, he introduces a matrix based on two classifications of sin:  mortal or venial; omission or commission.  In this matrix mortal sins are those that necessarily lead to damnation, whereas venial sins require a prolonged period in purgatory - recovery is possible if painful. Sins of commission are those that are deliberate acts, whereas sins of omission imply some failure to act - going with the flow.

          He further establishes following guide lines for creating a sustainable and balanced knowledge program:

  • Creating a pilot project(s), not a program. Knowledge Management is the collection of methods, tools and techniques by which we enable the effective utilization of Intellectual Capital. In creating a knowledge management project (particularly the first) we are seeking to understand the potential use of Intellectual Capital. In investing in financial assets, in particular stocks we always try to achieve a balanced portfolio. Investors are discouraged from putting all their eggs in one basket. The same is true of Intellectual Capital. A single project is a dangerous start; a portfolio spreads the risk. However, creating a portfolio requires:
  • Establishing a distinct language and structure to enable the community to articulate the nature of knowledge management activity that a particular project is intended to achieve.
  • Using the distinct language and structures thus created to ensure a balanced portfolio of projects/pilots that cover in various combinations the four transitional activities explained above.
  • Reviewing other projects and activities that may have an impact on a firm’s understanding of knowledge.
  • Act knowledgeably in the program. We must remember Intellectual Assets appreciate in use and depreciate if they are unused. ‘Rationing’ effectively stifles creativity and innovation. If we are to change to a trusting environment it will require the creation of measures based on the concept of appreciation rather than depreciation, and the permeation of management training with these measures. Like most of the fundamentals of knowledge management this requires a shift to thinking about the ecology of an organization, working from organic rather than mechanistic models of measurement, goal setting and intervention. Furthermore, in the era of Intellectual Capital, value cannot be achieved without values. The creation of values and consequent levels of trust is easily destroyed but difficult to build. Therefore, creating a team of people to create and sustain the knowledge program is key to successful implementation. One way to achieve this is to allow the knowledge team to evolve. After all, we are working from organic models: evolution builds a more sustainable - and self-renewing - environment than mechanistic construction.  Building the initial knowledge map (or sketch plan) of an organization is one of the best ways of allowing a team to evolve.
  • Integrating the knowledge map to the organization as a whole. For a successful knowledge program we need to integrate the mapping of knowledge into the fabric of the organization. For this we need to identify the available knowledge. Once we have identified the knowledge then we have to do two things, one quick (but clean) and the other more comprehensive and lasting.
  • Link the knowledge assets to core processes
  • Create a classification structure for knowledge assets

           He emphasizes that we must realize that knowledge assets are not necessarily correspond with departments, they will cut through organizational, divisional and geographical boundaries. They will cross cultural barriers, ingrained practices and attitudes. He further emphasizes that by moving from thinking about projects to a program that creates, maintains and generates a product will give a greater sense of ownership to the organization as a whole. He argues that the major advantage of this ‘product’ approach is that the issue of valuation, pricing and promotion can now be applied building on existing concepts and understanding with the organization and its partners. In the event of a merger or acquisition we now have an ability to focus on Intellectual Capital, as well as carrying out due diligence on financial assets. With our partners we can create complementary products and services.