Proximal knowledge management
A major component of effective knowledge work is same-time concept validation. Ideally, this requires an environment of effortless, almost unconscious sharing and collaboration. This is not the case today. In reality, it is a strained, difficult activity. Think of the time you spend just finding people. Most often, it exacts an unacceptable level of effort and energy. Far too many great ideas and constructive notions are underdeveloped because of this serious barrier.
E-mail, voice mail and other "datagram" methods are significant contributors to this problem. Asynchronous communication interferes with productive knowledge creation and validation. Only same time interaction really captures attention and enhances imagination. The knowledge productivity of same-time interaction is greater than all "store and forward" mechanisms combined.
Proximal knowledge management means taking deliberate actions to expand and enhance the same-time human interaction intervals available to workers. It strives to ease barriers to workers' real-time, interactive zone of collaboration, attention and learning.
The key scarcity in today's knowledge-based work environment is not information.
It is same-time availability of the knowledge worker. Temporal collaboration is the most valuable asset of all business. Proximal knowledge management improves the productivity of knowledge workers by expanding opportunities for simultaneous intellectual effort.
Over the years, most efforts to address this barrier have been anecdotal. However, some proximal knowledge management methods have been very successful. "Next-bench" models for engineers and collocating teams in large "war-rooms" for complex software implementations, are two excellent examples.
Indeed, there are many signals that businesses are getting more serious about this major opportunity.
Deliberate proximity management is found in most new releases of groupware. Simple directories map where the knowledge workers are. It also determines if they are available for collaboration. Conventional message boards now feature instant messaging for users logged on at the moment. Pioneering personal assistant automata offer services to hunt down the live knowledge worker. Some workspace video applications are helping to facilitate proximity management and same-time communications of the knowledge worker. Broad institutional use of the Web for same-time collaboration, conferencing and interactive learning is on the near horizon.
Workspace design is critical to effective proximal knowledge management. Non-hierarchical, high-touch, open workspaces ease proximate barriers and improve knowledge worker collaboration. Vast cubical farms are being replaced with non-territorial docking stations. Small, shared exchange areas are proliferating. These areas enhance immediate, impromptu collaboration. The conventional, board-type meeting rooms are being retired. In their place, high-bandwidth conferencing nodes are being deployed. Building of synergistic, knowledge-centered workspaces is critical to improving competitiveness.
Business must exploit all opportunities for proximal knowledge work. One major one is noontime. Unlike the United States, some G-8 countries have workplace requirements that prohibit eating at your desk or workspace. This is a good business. Dining with colleagues, in a shared, trustful environment, can be a profound learning experience. The lunch time-out is a major opportunity for proximal knowledge management. It is already in place. Meals and breaks need serious attention by knowledge managers. The close-in, social dimension of learning can't be overemphasized.
Proximal knowledge management promises significant gains in productivity and productivity growth (innovation). Same-time, person-to-person collaboration is the scarcest, most precious resource of business. New software, automata and workspaces are emerging with deliberate features to maximize same-time knowledge work. Business needs to embrace proximal knowledge management as a cardinal plank in the knowledge platform