Ponder collective consciousness just for a bit. Celebrated French sociologist Emile Durkheim certainly did. He developed collective consciousness as an overarching concept representing a set of ideas, shared beliefs, daily habits, revered rituals, and cultural artifacts swirling together to create a unifying force for a given group of people. Durkheim even considered a group’s collective consciousness to have a life of its own, above and beyond the social set of individuals contributing to and perpetuating the phenomenon.
And it prevails today. Well, that’s what I propose for your consideration. Collective consciousness graces our modern organizational structure as company culture, team behaviors, useful processes & procedures, and, crucially, in the interesting technology tying all these elemental building blocks together. An organization’s collective consciousness is embodied in the litany of project artifacts, applied tools, digital content, reports, product schematics, and lessons learned a given organization uses in its daily toil for existence. Creating an orderly collective consciousness and holding an organization’s unique network together is the challenge at hand for knowledge management (KM) and applied knowledge management systems (KMS).
A relatively recent discipline with growing functional capabilities within aspirational organizations, KM has become increasingly important against the backdrop of fluctuating organizational structures, mercurial customer demand, and employer-employee relationships shorter than most Ingmar Bergman films. A well-developed KMS is the friend that always remembers, is willing to share, holds team performance in the highest regard, and is not afraid of getting a little prescriptive when guidance is sought.
A well-developed KMS is the friend that always remembers, is willing to share, holds team performance in the highest regard, and is not afraid of getting a little prescriptive when guidance is sought.
In the hands of an inspired organization, a KMS enables a myriad of value-creating actions, like speeding up research & development for new products, reinforcing company values as the firm grows, and sharing years of lessons learned with enthusiastic new team members. Lessons from the past can be reworked, employed, or serve as a looming reminder of what ideas worked well and what clunkers should be consigned to the digital equivalent of a dusty basement. Providing a well-organized library of digital assets along with search indexes allows your team to start from more than a blank slate. In fact, the team can take some of the old slates from the past, break them up, and repurpose for today’s markets and business needs. KM encourages bricolage – another intriguing French concept of taking bits and pieces of materials at hand to make something new in a do-it-yourself manner. All those digitized pearls of wisdom can inspire the team - today and, perhaps, 5 years from now. Lessons learned become risk mitigation frameworks, or new research and development foundations, or powerful engines for proliferating an organization’s culture of continuous learning.
KM helps provide the means to take care of customers and clients. Think about professional services organizations for instance. In this industry comprised of experts such as consultants, media specialists, lawyers, designers, and accountants, the client is ultimately paying for the collective experience of the firm and the depth of its past – not just for a particular person’s expertise. Looking a little closer at the consultant scenario, it is unbelievably valuable to quickly learn from past projects (challenges faced, tool sets deployed, change management techniques afoot, and the solutions implemented) that can be brought to bear on current client problems. A Managing Partner’s laptop filled with the most brilliant notes does not help the rest of the organization unless they are shared. Imagine the ocean of knowledge evaporating when you have hundreds of experts with decades of experience storing hard-won lessons somewhat tenuously on laptops. If there’s not some efficient way to store, access, and share this knowledge, the organization is beholden to knowledge transference as each employee sees fit – most likely in an informal, case-by-case manner and only when prompted. A lost opportunity. When the firm gets too big to share knowledge over team lunches and off-site retreats, KM can help.
Imagine the ocean of knowledge evaporating when you have hundreds of experts with decades of experience storing hard-won lessons somewhat tenuously on laptops.
In a sense, the very investment (time, money, creative development) in a powerful KMS speaks volumes about the essential tenets an organization holds dear. A KMS presence - in and of itself - signals sought-after, talent-attracting qualities including proving the firm is indeed a learning organization, supporting a culture of sharing, granting permission to learn from mistakes, focusing on setting an employee up for success, and inculcating efficiency and effectiveness. A KMS curates an inimitable body of group knowledge, provides secure access to the right people at the right time, helps enforce version control, curtails much-maligned wheel reinvention, and keeps good ideas from getting lost in the ether.
Organizational learning becomes digital content for marketing to deploy in campaigns, models for engineering to build upon, standard operating procedures for operations to stabilize a process, and all the reporting and trend analysis baselines finance can handle. All very practical applications. Digital assets in a KMS become components for internal training programs or onboarding for new hires. Even the way the KMS is utilized by the team creates lessons in the form of network behavior patterns – supporting a deeper understanding of what the team needs to be successful. Perhaps, an organization can continuously refine their collective consciousness by analyzing data derived from the KMS such as the most downloaded sales files, most utilized templates & models, and popular search terms as indicators of new market opportunities. Even understanding the preferred media employees select for training & communication modules could be helpful in making more informed, benevolent decisions. Very pragmatic indeed.
When it’s all said and done, an organization’s collective consciousness is inextricably linked to every sliver of competitive advantage a team possesses. Most firms need a dynamic way of harnessing their own unique blend of intelligence, experience, and talents of the current organization as well as legendary past teams already faded into the sunset. KM is the ever-present, always-ready guardian of collective consciousness. Great news: bottled-up ghosts of the past are more than welcome, too!