The relevance of Mission – Critical Knowledge in the age of Big Data

A couple of months back, I was attending a social function where I was asked the ‘inevitable question’, so what do you do? I didn’t want to repeat the cliché ‘I facilitate knowledge sharing in an organisation’ and thought of saying something different and at that time thought ‘clever’. I said, I help my organisation to identify and map mission critical knowledge in an attempt to convert them into strategic enablers. Instead of the blank look that I have become accustomed to, the person who I didn’t realise was a technology expert responded “Ooh…so you are into big data and analytics. That is so exciting, isn’t it….translating chunks of unstructured data into useful nuggets of knowledge. You do have a bright future ahead.” I was stumped in the proverbial sense and all I could do was to nod in the classical Indian way i.e. a gesture which could be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ and is left to the interpretation of the audience.

But that conversation set me thinking and prompted me to read more about the synergy between the terms ‘big data’ and ‘mission-critical knowledge’. I formed some opinions but was looking for that ‘wow’ article that would force me to nod more firmly and say Yes, Yes and Yes.

I found that article in the January 2015 issue of HBR under the title ‘Managing Your Mission-Critical Knowledge’. The article by Martin Ihrig and Ian MacMilan reiterates the need to manage the strategic knowledge assets efficiently: core competencies, areas of expertise, intellectual property and deep pools of talent at a time when we are able to churn out an extraordinary amount of data about anything that we want. And at a time when there is a growing thought that if these megabytes which are churned out effortlessly aided by technology could be unleashed effectively i.e. by making them available to the experts and aiding them with the tools, the process of strategic insights appearing on the horizon would be seamless. The prospect of this seamless process does send a cold shiver down my spine as this effectively translates in me becoming redundant as a Knowledge Sharing professional. But buoyed by this article and the principles it disseminates, I was reassured that I would live to survive another day!

Here are some of the principles which I absolutely loved and which motivates me every morning and go and do something which I am passionate about. These principles have been taken directly from the article.

  • The true value of big data is unlikely to materialise without a deep understanding of one’s own knowledge assets
  • Discussions around the mapped knowledge assets involving the senior team could unearth critical insights and ideas for value creation
  • The proprietary knowledge assets placed on the map constitute the key differentiators i.e. the most important knowledge of the company – the deep-seated source of future strategic advantage
  • Structuring tacit knowledge more often than not translates into an exercise of capturing the insights from the experts and then sharing them with a wider audience within the organisation
  • Not all tacit knowledge could not be codified but much of it could be shared (example being apprenticeship programmes)
  • Some companies give away knowledge and still make a big profit (case in point DuPont, Adobe Systems and Tesla Motors)
  • Prior to application in a new setting, codified knowledge need to be contextualised keeping in mind the target audience
  • The most challenging and opportunities with tremendous potential often come from the ability to spot connections between disparate areas of expertise (could be within and outside the company)
  • The future success of an organisation depends on developing a new / unique kind of expertise – the ability to make the most out of the proprietary knowledge and establishing a bridge between it and knowledge that on the surface seems unrelated and knowledge that is yet to developed

To read the full article, please click here.

Featured image: Photo by Lukas from Pexels 


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