Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 3 - Knowledge Incubation


Perhaps because we were raised on encyclopedias and textbooks, we tend to think of knowledge in two primary forms:
  1. Steam - The thoughts, ideas and concepts that rattle around in our heads.
  2. Ice - Books and polished documents that we reference from time to time.
In the context of knowledge work, this oversimplification fosters miscommunication and information management bureaucracy. A far better metaphor is to see knowledge as a dynamic, continuously flowing stream, with resulting artifacts passing through various stages of a knowledge lifecycle.

How Knowledge Grows

You don't require too much imagination to visualize how knowledge transitions from simple ideas through further crystallization, eventually forming reusable artifacts and polished publications. All knowledge workers have participated in this process. Many of the steps occur informally or are managed in isolated environments on personal computers.

Content Management Systems (CMS) or Document Management Systems have helped us organize the mature stages of the knowledge lifecycle. However, much of the critical knowledge growth remains hidden in people's heads, e-mail threads, and in personal files. Lack of access to emerging knowledge critically stunts corporate innovation.

A Powerful Knowledge Incubator

The first step in growing knowledge is to make it explicit. Searchable e-mail and forums are great mechanisms to capture conversation and interaction. Next, Agency is required to move knowledge to the next level of maturity. This is where a Wiki shines, providing an excellent shared incubator for rapidly capturing content and incrementally polishing it.

A Wiki facilitates "any time" knowledge improvement by allowing everyone to quickly find and easily edit information in a highly associative environment. When you effectively deploy a Wiki, it generates a dramatic acceleration of the knowledge lifecycle process. The practical outcome is improved knowledge sharing and increased innovation.

Incubating Together

The additional effect of optimized collaboration should not be underestimated. Making early-stage knowledge visible while allowing everyone to easily improve it creates incredible synergy as the size of the community increases. A Wiki, combined with an emphasis on the people in the community, constitutes a powerful platform for moving knowledge quickly from ideas into highly valued, reusable artifacts.

If you haven't already done so, consider adding a Wiki to your knowledge management environment. By paying attention to effective adoption patterns, you'll be surprised how quickly this investment can produce value and improve teamwork in your organization.

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