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  • February 5, 2019
  • By Marydee Ojala Editor in Chief, KMWorld, Conference Program Director, Information Today, Inc.
  • Article

Sharing Knowledge, Intelligence, and Food

Our local Chinese restaurant closed down this summer. It had been there for a very long time and the owners decided to retire. A very distinctive building, with red pillars on either side of the front door and a lion by each pillar, it was definitely designed to be a Chinese restaurant. I’m told that the lions, which looked as if they were guarding the building, were symbols of safety and good luck. My hope was that someone else would recognize the restaurant’s excellent location and distinctive façade to take the initiative to open a new Chinese restaurant. Alas, no. Last week bulldozers showed up and leveled the building, including the two lions. I guess their luck had run out.

We tried out a new, nearby Asian fusion restaurant to see if it could replace our now-demolished favorite. The food was good but something was missing. As I thought about it, I realized it was the sharing aspect of the meal. Each dish came fully plated. You ordered, say, beef with broccoli, and that’s what you got. One plate, with rice and your beef and broccoli. Not individual serving dishes for the rice, the beef, and whatever other dishes your companions had ordered. It didn’t encourage sharing food as had our other Chinese restaurant.

What is it about sharing food, I wondered? Some foods seem meant to be shared, and not only Chinese cuisine. Pizza, for example. A bowl of popcorn. It isn’t just junk food, either. Holidays are frequently celebrated at a family member’s house with an assortment of parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and friends gathered around a table passing serving dishes filled with delicious food. My father delighted in carving our Thanksgiving turkey and I like to carry on that tradition.

“Family style” dining isn’t restricted to holidays. In my house, I’ve always tried to serve dinner to the entire family every night. I didn’t always succeed, given people’s divergent schedules, but I tried. I’ve also been served “family style” in settings as diverse as a Norwegian ski lodge (boiled potatoes every night) and a small family-owned restaurant in Seoul (the owner insisted I eat the kimchi).

Eating Up Knowledge

Gathering around a table and sharing food isn’t merely about eating. It’s a cultural

phenomenon, and knowledge is shared as well. Just think about family dinners where someone exclaims over the taste of something and asks for the recipe. That’s knowledge sharing. My first experience at an Indian restaurant with some fellow conference goers years ago provided me the knowledge that I liked palak paneer but didn’t care for vindaloo. Certainly, dining with colleagues encourages work- and profession-related conversations. It’s the ideal setting to learn.

Sharing a meal isn’t always the optimal method to gain or to impart knowledge, however. Within organizations, knowledge management, and its corollary of knowledge and intelligence sharing, needs to be systematized to be successful. As Brad Bannwart, Lead Knowledge Management Consultant, Verint, points out, KM programs that concentrate on measurement, tracking, and value optimization are the ones that enjoy success. He provides a KM Value Framework to give us a handle on how to holistically evaluate the effectiveness of a KM program.

A Balanced Meal

Bannwart suggests that value can be divided into four discrete categories, which he describes as customer experience, quality of work, operational efficiency, and employee engagement. They need to be balanced; you shouldn’t overemphasize one at the expense of the others.

For each category, KM system activities can be matched with analytics that relate to actual outcomes. Metrics for customer service could include the number of searches or views of content that happened before the correct information was located. Quality of work can be judged via feedback and ratings. As an indicator of productivity, operational efficiency is reflected by the time users need to find and use information. Other measures are workflow throughput and speed to market. With employee engagement, look at how well people are using the system, providing feedback, rating the system, and contributing back to the knowledge base.

Analytics, however, should go beyond simply counting the number of times feedback occurred. Once content was found, was it understood? Was the found content actually the most current? Was it the best information an employee could have used? Just because someone ordered a particular dish at a restaurant doesn’t mean they ended up eating all of it—or even that they liked it. Only if they send it back to the kitchen do you know it wasn’t the best choice. But that’s not a very efficient use of shared intelligence.

Newer technologies that can be used to create KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for each of the four categories include speech and text analytics. These offer insights into the effectiveness of KM in supporting each category. Surveys are another way of measuring employee engagement. A shared intelligence model, says Bannwart, is essential to enhancing the value of a KM program.

As you structure your KM program to maximize your ability to share knowledge and intelligence, think about the metaphor of sharing food at mealtimes or for snacks. Pull up a chair, sit down at the table, and enjoy a shared meal with a side dish of knowledge. Here, have some beef and broccoli. Or would you prefer to go out for pizza?
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