13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Personal KM Q&A
Mathemagenic
on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...
        

Personal KM Q&A

These are some of my answers to questions about personal KM from Sandra Higgison for Personal knowledge management article in KM Magazine. It's some thinking in progress, but hope it makes my thinking about the topic a bit more clear.

How do you define personal knowledge management (PKM)?

For me PKM is a mix of activities contributing to personal effectiveness in a knowledge-intensive environment. It's not only about creating, sharing, acquiring and applying knowledge, but about supportive activities as well. Effective knowledge development is enabled by trust and shared understanding between people involved. For an individual this means a need to establish and maintain personal network, to keep track of contacts and conversations, and to make choices which communities to join. However, developing knowledge also requires filtering vast amounts of information, making sense of it, connecting different bits and pieces to come up with new ideas. In this process physical and digital artefacts play an important role, so knowledge workers are faced with a need for personal information management to organise their paper and digital archives, e-mails or bookmark collections.

What distinguishes PKM from traditional KM initiatives?

In traditional KM one thinks from an organisational perspective, focusing on creating an environment where knowledge is created, shared and used, and on specific interventions that support these processes. Personal KM is about taking an individual perspective and trying to understand how different activities of a knowledge worker contribute to his performance. This personal side if often neglected: KM initiatives are designed without thinking if they would fit existing individual practices and daily routines. As a result new KM activities are perceived as an overload instead of making work easier. I also think that traditional KM and PKM should not be contrasted, they are two sides of the same coin: to make it work both, organisational and individual perspectives are needed.

What are the main objectives/drivers for PKM?

Improving productivity of knowledge workers, speeding up innovation.

How and why has it evolved over the years?

I don't think there is a single root of personal KM. It had started from thinking about skills and tools for personal information management, but then became broader, incorporating insights about personal networking, career management, time management…

What are the main benefits of PKM to the individual?

First, it's about personal effectiveness, doing more with less resources, so there is time left for important things. It's also about awareness of one's competencies, strengths and weaknesses, working style and habits, so there is an opportunity to select (or shape) working environment that would fit personal preferences. At the end it may be about less stress and more fun at work…

What are the main benefits for the organisation?

Better results delivered by more effective employees. Ability to incorporate individual preferences and work styles into corporate KM, blending KM with work instead of adding it on the top of existing activities.

What tools can be used for enabling personal knowledge management? How can behavioural/personality issues and the work environment to be taken into account?

To a great degree it's not about tools, but about practices of using them. Many tools that could be used for personal KM are already here: for example, concept mapping tools to organise and connect ideas, smart search and visualisation tools to make sense of one's information and communication. The problem is that often we do not know which tools to select and what is a good way to use them. Another problem is integration: using separate tools may make life more complicated instead of making it easier.

I believe that personal awareness of PKM value is important, as well as developing knowledge and skills to manage one's networks, communication and information. It's also important to select tools and to develop practices that fit personal working, thinking and learning styles as a well as the type of work.

What are the challenges to ensuring PKM initiatives are a success?

To a great extend PKM is about shifting responsibility for learning and knowledge sharing from a company to individuals and this is the greatest challenge for both sides. Companies should recognise that their employees are not "human resources", but investors who bring their expertise into a company. As any investors they want to participate in decision-making and can easily withdraw if their "return on investment" is not compelling. Creativity, learning or desire to help others cannot be controlled, so knowledge workers need to be intrinsically motivated to deliver quality results. In this case "command and control" management methods are not likely to work.

Taking responsibility for own work and learning is a challenge for knowledge workers as well. Taking these responsibilities requires attitude shift and initiative, as well as developing personal KM knowledge and skills. In a sense personal KM is very entrepreneurial, there are more rewards and more risks in taking responsibility for developing and investing own expertise.

How can these challenges be overcome?

From an individual perspective, I would start small, reflecting on existing personal practices and looking for opportunities to improve, probably focusing on personal information and relation management as a first step.

Being a company I would try to support grass-root approaches to KM, finding ways to ensure business results while allowing individual freedom and flexibility. From this perspective, approaches of distributed KM (for example, use of weblogs and wikis) look promising.

How do you see PKM developing in the future?

I believe at this moment we are at "raising awareness" stage, trying to understand why personal perspective in KM is important. I think we should expect development of better tools and efforts to integrate existing ones. I guess personal KM coaching and training will be an interesting development. It may not have this name, but a believe that it will be a growing demand for developing awareness of one's expertise and marketing it, personal networking and personal information management skills and may be also skills of crafting one's workplace to fit personal preferences.

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