Decision Making and Knowledge Management

In an article on The Decision Making Process, Dave Pollard states, “One of the value propositions for Knowledge Management is to improve decision-making.” Personally I believe that the ultimate value, for an organization, of well implemented knowledge management is to take away the need to “consciously” make decisions at all (the rational and moral / aesthetic / emotional decisions that Dave mentions).

Just as an athlete trains their body to properly react to the environment without conscious thought, and just as a sports team trains as a whole so that each member of the team knows how to react to the environment and the other team members, so any organization can use knowledge management techniques and principles as a way to “train” the organization to operate effectively independent of any “conscious” decision making. Obviously, this doesn’t ‘just happen’ if you start sharing information so everyone can see it.

As with an individual or team, an organization must be trained. The organization’s leader must take on this responsibility. In fact, I would say that the true role of an organizational leader is to train the organization, to give it guidance on what should be accomplished, feedback on what is actually accomplished, and more guidance to apply this feedback.

Think of it in terms of anything you have ever tried to get better at. You set personal goals. You test yourself. You see how you did. Then you apply your lessons learned and try again. You get to the point where what you are doing is second nature. Have you ever been doing something and found yourself “in the zone?” It just feels right. Then you start thinking about it and everything goes to hell? If you have to make a decision, you’re already behind.

Of course, all this implies that the organization wants to be or can be trained. This, unfortunately, is not necessarily a valid assumption to make. As we all know, after a certain point many (most?) organizations get entrenched in the way they do things and have no interest in changing. (This can happen even when people in the organization want to change. In many ways an organization controls its own destiny, separate from the desires of those that make up the organization.)

An analogy back in to the world of individuals is the question, “Can adults learn?”

“Rat’s head and ox’s neck” (or: don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees)

To help keep my 11 year old from getting bored this summer, I am going to teach him how to play chess. He is very interested (and good at) turn-based, strategy games based on trading cards (Yugi-oh, Magic the Gathering) and I think the transition to chess is a natural one.

To get myself back up to speed in chess, lest I find myself too often embarrassed, I’ve been re-reading Samurai Chess by Michael Gelb and Raymond Keene. As the title of the book suggests, the book presents an Eastern warrior’s approach to chess. (In fact, both author’s are active, relatively high ranking students of Aikido.) A much quoted resource in the book is Miyamoto Musashi‘s classic guide to strategy, The Book of Five Rings.

A recent post over at Knowledge Jolt with Jack discussed the importance of keeping your eye on the big picture and not becoming consumed with any particular task. This is a lesson that can be learned from chess as well, and was described in The Book of Five Rings many, many years ago (as quoted in Samurai Chess:

“Rat’s head and ox’s neck” means that, when we are fighting with the enemy and both he and we have become occupied with small points in an entangled spirit, we must always think of the Way of strategy as being both a rat’s head and an ox’s neck. Whenever we have become preoccupied with small details, we must suddenly change into a large spirit, interchanging large with small.

Yes, it is important to pay attention to details, but it does no good to win the battle if you ultimately lose the war.