The theory of knowledge management first emerged in the early 1990s and inspired a whole generation of business leaders to adopt new methods for helping their companies grow and succeed. Though the key principles of knowledge management endure, business practices have evolved rapidly and profoundly since then. Do you remember what a corporate office looked like in 1991? Physical inboxes and outboxes, papers stacked waist high, the slamming of analog credit card processors, and the ruffling of carbon copy transfer paper?
The world today is dramatically different, so it follows that theories of knowledge management should evolve as well. In this age of connectivity, the best way to view an organization through the lens of a knowledge management strategy is as a digital workplace ecosystem. Merriam Webster defines an ecosystem as, “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.” Unfortunately, you won’t have the great nature documentary narrator, Richard Attenborough, to read the rest of this article for you, but it’s a fitting analogy nonetheless!
Building such an ecosystem is not easy, but by taking a holistic approach, it’s an achievable goal that will increase productivity and morale.
The elements of a thriving digital workplace ecosystem can be broken down into four main categories:
- Community & Collaboration- how people connect, learn and work better together.
- Content Management- how meaningful content is produced, discovered and used.
- Data & Information Management- how data are transformed into useful, accessible information.
- Strategy- where you’re trying to go and a roadmap for how to get there.
Paying attention to all four elements when planning any organizational change focused on knowledge exchange and learning is critical. Success cannot be achieved through piecemeal, one-off efforts that do not serve the ecosystem. Sure, it’s tempting to take a band-aid approach to solving knowledge-related challenges. It’s simpler, cheaper and faster. And yet, thinking about an ecosystem, we know that the system is intricately connected. When it works well, it generates a value far beyond the sum of its parts. Just like an ecologist repairing a fragile forest, we should not seek out deceptively simple, magic bullet technology solutions. With this new “ecosystem” approach, who knows what kind of spontaneous, symbiotic relationships might emerge as co-workers begin to collaborate in ways that were previously not imagined?