Dispatch — Jul 14, 2021

The Knowledge Stack

Austin Maynard Architects, A Home and Studio For Mental Health

In the hope of being more “flowing” in what I write in these Dispatches, I’m giving myself the option to write shorter pieces, sometimes less polished but hopefully as useful. This one is such a test, written quickly and not “search reviewed.” Perhaps influenced by Matt Webb’s 15 rules for blogging, even though this is not technically a blog. Hit reply for any feedback, and especially if you think this shorter format works for a Dispatch. Also, this is not a pitch, although it starts with my looking for one.

I’m constantly trying new ways of explaining what I do professionally. Generally, it’s not clear enough, especially for people would would benefit from my help. I jotted this “pitch” a few days ago, trying to bridge that gap:

Your vision and mission inform your strategy, which in turn informs your team’s work day to day and week to week. But what’s your situational awareness beyond that? What’s in store further ahead? What’s happening at the edges of your vision and in your blind spots?

The Sentiers consultancy services of course being the answer. Independent of the pitch, I started thinking that you could go more granular, and consider tasks, sprints, agile, kanban, different kinds or timespan for strategy, etc. I started wondering where business intelligence might go in there. Could this be framed as a “time stack”? Different parts or definitions of the organization being on different time horizons. But that doesn’t work with the reports I write because they don’t just apply forwards and backwards in time, but also in great part side to side and diagonally across disciplines.

So then perhaps a knowledge stack? Going from the certainty (one would hope) of what you have to do day to day and week to week, to the uncertainty of where your vision will lead the organization, to what you don’t know. Which positions my signals, but also more generally strategy consultants, and foresight and futures, as the explorers or solvers of known-unknown and unknown-unknowns around an organization. Perhaps it’s a curving line in the known-unknown quadrants, à la zenko mapping?

Then I started thinking about knowledge management, working out loud, onboarding, documentation, tacit knowledge, etc. Individuals, but also organizations, especially as they grow, need to address all of those things in one way or another. You could also add learning, as individual or organizational practices, how do people and teams scale their knowledge as needed? How do you keep them evolving and interested?

So I’m wondering, is there already a discipline or a framework that attaches all of these things together? If so, where? If not, should there be? We talk a lot about knowledge workers, a knowledge economy, “everything” turning into information. Is there a unified way of looking at an organization and attaching all those knowledge forms and needs together in a way that makes sense, can be analyzed, tweaked, advanced?

What would a group of people covering foresight, knowledge management, learning, and perhaps some version of business intelligence look like? Is it just a slightly different way of looking at agencies that already exist? Off the top of my head I think it makes sense, but maybe it doesn’t? Or it’s already common and I somehow missed it? (I’d be surprised, but who knows.)

At the very least, I think it’s a potentially useful lens to look through when considering how an organization works: the inputs and flows of information that inform and enable their work.