It’s Time for Radical Knowledge Management
Back in 2011, after more than 10 years working in knowledge management (KM), I recognized a missing piece of the KM puzzle and its importance to creating new knowledge.
The seed of that idea — Radical Knowledge Management — was planted in a leadership workshop when I noticed a shift in my perspective. I had been told I could not do something — make a focal point in an abstract painting I had created — but then did it anyway. I did do it differently than everyone else did, but I achieved the goal: a focal point.
The next ah-ha moment came in a strategy workshop I was conducting. I had decided to try having participants create scribble drawings as a quick icebreaker to start the session off. I was curious to see what would happen and how people would react — and my curiosity was rewarded. People were more engaged and energized and I got better answers to my workshop questions, which resulted in a better strategy for the organization. When I repeated the scribble drawings at the end of the session, people were energized to go back to their desks to face the emails that had piled up while they were with me in the workshop.
From that moment on, I knew there was a link between these activities and knowledge creation, and it spurred me on. I experimented and researched, developing the idea one step at a time. Initially I called it Creative KM, but shifted to Radical KM in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, after doing more research and experimentation. So, why the change? Why Radical KM?
Play and Creativity
Historically, “radical” has meant going back to the roots of something. Since KM is about learning, it seemed to make sense to go back to the roots of how people learn: playfully and creatively.
Unfortunately, being playful and creative in our learning have often been educated out of us in the name of efficiency, effectiveness, analysis, logic and rationality. We have frequently been told they are frivolous and a waste of time, and for many of us the world has killed our inner artist and our creativity. Yet these traits are critical to helping us learn and create new knowledge. Knowledge work and knowledge management demand continuous learning in the world that we live in. Answers change, context changes, the world changes: It is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) and gets more so every day. We need to keep learning and adjusting. We cannot do things the way we have always done them. We can’t even do things the way we did them a year ago.
Stores of previously recorded knowledge are not going to save us. Radical KM is about reintroducing creativity and arts-based interventions (ABIs) into our organizations to enable continuous learning, to enable resilience and curiosity, to build better teams, to be more innovative and to build knowledge sharing cultures — cultures where people trust and respect each other, where they collaborate willingly and happily, where their activities are more sustainable and where they understand the interactions between parts and see the whole.
Radical KM asks us to see our humanity — to understand that knowledge workers are humans and not machines. First and foremost, we are asked to consider what we need to do our jobs better in the world we live in and in the world we want to live in.
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There are so many benefits to bringing ABIs into our organizations. They make space for reflection, developing curiosity, critical thinking and continuous learning. They help us to make space for seeing things differently, to understand the complexity of the world we live in and to make better, more sustainable decisions. Using ABIs in our organizations can be transformational and in a world that is on fire, literally and figuratively, we have some serious work to do transforming the way we live and work — making things sustainable now and for future generations.
Arts-based interventions can help us innovate, creating solutions to problems that have been unsolvable. They can help us break down barriers to collaboration and communication by putting us in a room sharing experiences and materials, so that we learn (again) how to talk and share with each other.
Finally, although it may seem counterintuitive, making space for ABIs can help us be more efficient and effective because doing so gives us the time that knowledge work requires. To do good knowledge work requires time for contemplation and reflection, asking questions and iterating to find a solution. This is how the human brain works; it is not a computer. Knowledge workers need time to think, to reflect, to research, to find right answers. Adding ABIs and space for creativity helps us to build more human organizations.
Do creativity and ABIs sound like a magic bullet? Perhaps. However, when you consider that we have been operating for hundreds of years using only half of our capabilities because we have focused on the logical and analytical, perhaps the act of being more artistic and creative should be expected to have this kind of “magical” effect.
Knowledge is human, and recognizing our humanity in our knowledge processes only makes sense. That’s what Radical Knowledge Management does.
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About the Author
Stephanie has over 30 years successful, experience in knowledge management and accounting in the high tech, Healthcare and public accounting sectors. She is also an accomplished artist having had exhibitions in Toronto and Berlin. Connect with Stephanie A. Barnes: