Relational Knowledge – perhaps the toughest to transfer


It can take a long time to build the kind of business relationship that insures a sale, or cements a collaboration, or even gets you to the right person to solve the right problem. You can’t codify this kind of knowledge, so how do you transfer relational knowledge?

Although the roots of the term “intellectual capital” reach back to 1969 and John Kenneth Galbraith. The context in which we live…those of us who are trying to keep our companies and organizations solid while standing on shifting sands…was defined in 1991 by Tom Stewart in his article, Brain Power: How Intellectual Capital is Becoming America’s Most Valuable Asset. In the article, Stewart defined Intellectual Capital asThe sum of everything that everyone in your organization knows that gives you the competitive edge.” We sat on that lovely bunch of coconuts for just over a decade, certain that the brilliance that shone through every one of our fingers and toes, would continue to do so forever.

But things were changing. The first major industry hit by knowledge loss was the oil industry. There Knowledge Capture first took the form of data bases. which spawned the data analytics field. There are many examples of how and where this can work.

But all knowledge is not equal. In 2004 a team of organizational and industrial psychologists published an article in the Journal of Intellectual Capital (already a magazine!) defining the three types of knowledge in any organization as:

  • Institutional – EX: how to operate this machine, where to take bank deposits, etc.
  • Intellectual – residing in the brain of individuals and subject to knowledge loss when that person leaves.
  • Relational – knowledge based on relationships with customers, clients, supply chain individuals and related to anything that requires government approval, or critical assessment, and countless other elements of every organization.

Deep in the scholarly journals one can find models for all of the above. And, up in the cloud there exists a company which has – quite literally – packaged brain-drain supplies. You can buy those packages for $500 each, if you can decide for yourself what you want. You can order them on line, from a telephone sales person who will trade you the code to use them for your credit card number and who, almost certainly, has no personal experience with either knowledge gaining or knowledge loss.

It is relational knowledge loss that keeps Mateo Scoggins up at night. A career-long member of the Austin Watershed Protection division, Mateo is confident that daily practices protect both institutional and intellectual knowledge. Science sort of has all of that down. Relational knowledge – not so much. Together we decided that, for now, he should extend the training time for new-hires, to allow for more mentoring in this area. Mentoring is likely to be the best solution to relational loss. But there still must be steps that can be taken in advance to facilitate a more complete result.

And, because I promised to get more answers for him, I’m heading on an excursion back into the deepest, darkest database jungles. Anybody seen my pith helmet?




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