Random reflections – Feb. 3, 2022

Topic 1: Questions that frame courses

One course that I co-teach (and have taught for 15+ years) – MSLOC 430 Creating and Sharing Knowledge – really focuses on exploring two big questions: What do we mean by “knowledge” (in various organizational settings) and what is the role of technology in creating and sharing knowledge?

The course draws largely from the disciplines of knowledge management and organizational learning in exploring those questions.

I’m thinking about both questions differently, now, after having just attended an MSLOC webinar run by my amazing colleague Keeley Sorokti. There’s a third, larger question as well. Each gets at tying the work in this knowledge/learning space to equity and justice in organizations.

My new questions (draft form):

  • How do we respect different forms of knowledge and different ways of knowing (to meet our organization’s goals)? This takes us beyond the “explicit and tacit” distinctions to explore more broadly (see “Learning is always cultural” in this post). “To meet our organization’s goals” is meant as more than the token add-on. It is meant in the sense of truly believing that respecting different forms of knowledge and different ways of knowing is required to be successful as an enterprise.
  • What role does technology play in shaping the forms of knowledge, the ways “we know,” and who participates? This is about access, but also about affordances, disaffordances and the norms of how we operate within online spaces.
  • How do economics and power shape our knowledge creating and sharing environment? I am thinking here about economics within the organization, and economics might not be exactly the right framing. It is more than just recognizing explicit rewards and incentives, but in seeing certain policies or structures creating an economy that rewards certain behaviors (billable time, for example). Power is another big one, which clearly goes beyond just the knowledge/learning focus and takes us into the very nature of the way our organizations are structured and how they operate.

There is a lot in all of those questions. I may need to do some more work on them; in part, I am really sensitive to avoiding the creation of leading questions. It may be that some of these more specific elements (i.e., respecting different forms/ways of knowing) become sub-questions to the larger ones (“what do we mean by knowledge in organizations?”)

Topic 2: Employee experience and organizational trauma

I wanted to make a note of an interesting read: The Corporate Playbooks Used to Combat Organizational Trauma (And Why They’re Not Enough). h/t to the Design Justice Network newsletter for the reference to this research.

I am intrigued by this piece because it was written by people who are designers and design researchers and seems to carry with it the sensibilities of that profession. The fact that is is ABOUT design professionals and their own experience of organizational trauma is secondary, I think, to the larger themes this piece.

Theme 1: The voices of real people matter, and should be front and center.

I am not sure exactly the method used to conduct the interviews in this research. And I am sure there can be some debate about those methods. But what strikes me is how real the quotes are, and the impact on you (me) when reading this piece. Even the authors nod to the emotional toll it has, for readers.

I always read something like this as a point on a long journey to understand some complex topic. It is not the answer; it is another peek inside a larger problem. Yet, these quotes seems to capture something important in a way which says “we need to continue down this path.” And for me, it’s the voices of the interview participants who bring me to that point.

Theme 2: Playbooks as pattern detectors

This is kinda a slippery slope. The use of organizational playbooks (the researcher’s summary of how organizations tend to respond to the trauma caused by COVID) could be taken to ridiculous (but not uncommon) extremes. I could see someone crafting a “10 questions to determine if you are a DIY-er organization!”

But I actually found something valuable in the variety of playbooks and the patterns of organizational practices they exposed. And again – they were real. I saw several organizations I know represented by one or more of these playbooks.

The value, I think, is in pattern recognition. Am I falling into any one of these traps, and the harms created (as outlined in each section)? That is again another good starting point. If I were working on these issues within an organization, I could see using this work as a way to frame my own continuing research and discovery into how we are dealing the the trauma cause by COVID.