Knowledge Power and Responsibility: A Conversation with Nancy Dixon

I had the privilege of a wonderful conversation with Nancy Dixon on the sidelines of KM Asia at the end of November (thanks to Ark Group for facilitating this).

We started off by picking up on one of Nancy’s final points in her keynote the day before, that KM has done a lot of work in figuring out how to facilitate lateral knowledge sharing, but that the issue of knowledge movement up and down hierarchies had been sorely neglected. This evolved into an extremely rich dialogue (for me anyway) on the relationship between knowledge, power and responsibility, and some strategies for overcoming some of the barriers to knowledge transfer presented by power and hierarchy. It’s 50 minutes or so, and I’ve done a rough transcript below. Nancy, by the way has started a blog – well worth following!

To download the original video file (mp4 format) try rightclicking here. The original video page is here. To subscribe to my KM videos in iTunes here’s the feed link. And the RSS feed is here.

TRANSCRIPT (timings approximate)

00:00 Nancy talks about how her interest in dialogue and conversation in KM has been influenced by her personal history

05:25 How hierarchy and power prevent knowledge exchange

06:22 Importance of listening skills for good decision making

07:15 Confirmation bias – how managers tend to readily accept information that confirms their judgment, but place a heavy burden of proof on information that disconfirms their judgment.

08:49 Discussion of the Challenger launch decision

10:30 The temptation to simply hand over responsibility for information and knowledge transfer to decision-makers – the need to be able to challenge our superiors skillfully

16:00 Getting through to managers when there is attention poverty

18:10 The need to drive sensemaking downwards in the organisation

20:30 The task of the leader is not to make all the decisions but to convene the conversation to do sensemaking together

23:30 Working top down and bottom up to examine conversation-blocking behaviours

24:30 The dangers of tentative language between subordinates and superiors

27:40 The importance of checking assumptions about what the other person thinks

28:45 Designing the way we organise and use physical space for sharing

33:39 The challenges of getting adoption for these new practices

35:44 The role of the KM professional is to create opportunities for change through skills, design and process

36:24 Patrick and Nancy disagree as to whether the bad habit of inhibiting knowledge flows vertically is a “natural” human thing

39:35 Nancy believes in the human ability to improve and make change in improving knowledge flows vertically, cites the airline industry as an example

40:40 We have the knowledge and skills to make our organisations better at sharing – do we have the will?

42:50 Use of power to convene the sensemaking conversation rather than simply deciding for people

45:15 The temptation to hand over decision making power in a crisis

47:30 We need to have meaningful conversations about responsibility

47:46 Nancy talks about her new book – current working title “Learning in the Moment”

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