The APQC Blog

What Can Baseball Teach Knowledge Management

Do you have a child or grandchild who plays competitive sports? If so, then you may be familiar with my weekend world of tournament baseball. For those of you not familiar, tournament baseball is for boys aged 8+. It is the more rabid and expensive alternative to Little League. People pay lots of good money for their sons to go to hours of practice during the week with professional coaches, followed by 2 games that could start as early as 7 am on Saturdays, and if you win on Saturday you could be treated to up to five sequential games starting as early as at 7 am on Sundays. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is considered “fun.”

I have come to learn over the years that this world comes replete with its own lingo. For competitive baseball newbies, here is some of the jargon and its significance explained:

* “Hacks”/”Rips”−A hack is another word for a hit. And sometimes this word is used interchangeably with “rips.” An example sentence might be something like (from the kids in the dugout to a teammate batting): “Get a riiiiiiiip!”

* “Sticks”−Another word for bats. When used in a sentence, it might sound something like (from the coach in his after-game debrief): “We gotta work to keep the sticks hot.”

* “Three up three down”−This means three batters that, through superior fielding or pitching, are eliminated as outs in quick succession.

* “Turn two”−This is an expression usually vehemently and with expressive hand motions yelled by coaches and parents when you have a runner at bat and one or more runners on base and the batter hits the ball directly to a base. The desire by the coach is for the baseman to step on the base to get the out, then quickly throw the ball for a 2nd out.

In my weekday world I am a senior KM research analyst. I have found in my role that the world of KM has its own interesting lingo that I am internalizing. Let’s start basic for the novices and then we will rapidly move to the more advanced terminology:

* “Knowledge management”−APQC defines knowledge management as “systematic approaches to enable information and knowledge to grow, flow, and create value.” KM comprises the tools, techniques, and approaches that allow knowledge to “flow” across the lifecycle (from create to use).

* Explicit knowledge vs. tacit knowledge−Explicit knowledge is codified knowledge, or knowledge that is already captured and/or written down (e.g., processes, templates, business rules, and/or standard operating procedures). Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that resides in people’s heads based on their skills and experience.

* Metadata−Metadata is structured information about an information resource that makes it easier to find, use, and manage. A related concept is a “taxonomy,” which is a kind of metadata that functions as a common langue, and often represented as a hierarchy of categories used to classify content by moving from broad categories to narrow ones.

Now, for some more advanced popular KM jargon:

* “Cognitive computing”−For those of you who are around my age, do you remember the movie War Games where the computer learned how to learn? Well, that is an example of cognitive computing, where computers and technology are mimicking the workings of the human brain.

* “Digital native”−This refers to people who have always grown up with technology. My child typically has his I-phone 7+ glued to his hands. Imagine what the implications are for the world of work for these future employees?

* “Gamification”−This refers to the use of game mechanics and psychology to drive a specific set of desired behaviors within a target audience, and typically involves competitive elements like scores and prizes and operates on the assumption that people will be motivated to advance or “win” in the context of the game.

* “Microblogging”−A microblog is a platform that allows people to post short, text-based messages and updates (such as via Twitter or Yammer).

* “Social”−This it is a pretty broad concept in KM that means tools and technologies organizations are leveraging to facilitate social interactions and collaboration which are usually similar to the consumer applications like Facebook and Linked In. A related concept is “social computing,” which means the interaction of human social behavior (such as sharing) and computational systems.

* Social network analysis−This is a fancy technique that leverages network theory to analyze and visualize the connections among individuals and groups in social networks. In KM, social net-work analysis may be applied to identify employees who serve as hubs for knowledge distribution as well as areas where poor network connections may limit the effective flow of knowledge.

The KM lingo list above represents just a subset of overall KM jargon: APQC has created an entire Knowledge Management Glossary in order to educate the reader on key KM terminology.

I have also picked up some interesting lessons and expressions from the world of competitive baseball that I think are applicable to KM:

* The importance of “battling” at the plate−Battling is a lesson quickly learned by our hitters that you don’t give up at the plate; rather than striking out, you go for it. Similarly, in the world of KM, we may sometimes find that we have tried and failed over the years to implement different applications and approaches to facilitate lessons sharing, best practice transfer, and knowledge sharing and transfer. But persistence matters: Generally, with the help of proper scoping, planning, and some good change management, KM activities will catch on and become part of the integrated work flow at your organization. When APQC most often sees organizations fail with KM is when they forget to think about change management, communication, and measurement.

* Don’t forget to have “quick hands”−Quick hands is a favorite expression of our baseball coach. I will be sitting on the sidelines for the hours of weekend games, and inevitably when our batters are up I will hear him from third base hollering to the batter: “Quick hands! Quick hands!” Quick hands means, for a batter, that you need to be agile and quick. Likewise, in the world of KM, one of the primarily goals is to accelerate the rate of learning of employees. Always be on the lookout for new tools, technologies, and approaches that enable dexterity within the organization and allow employees to benefit from the collective learning more quickly. This is where benchmarking and attending industry conferences, such as APQC’s 2017 KM Conference, to learn new tools, techniques, and approaches can come in handy.

* See the ball, hit the ball−There is one particular parent in my world of competitive baseball who likes to frequently shout out “See the ball, hit the ball!” to our batters. If the batter can simply focus on the pitcher’s timing and arm speed from the pitch release to the bat, he will more likely than not hit the ball. In the world of KM, we too need to minimize the many distractions and keep our eyes on the ball by delivering the KM approach and intervention that ultimately help employees have the knowledge that they need to do their jobs. APQC has created a number of tools and templates to help organizations determine the “right” KM approach for their organization, such as our recently published editable template: Matrix to Compare Prospective KM Approaches.

* You always want to finish stronger than you started−At the end of every competitive baseball game, we have a short post-game chat with the coach where he reviews what we did well, and what we need to work on in preparation for the next game. Even if we make mistakes early on in the game, he is happiest when we end strong. Likewise, in KM, APQC recommends that the KM core team periodically assess its program against external benchmarks, by leveraging a tool like APQC’s KM Capability Assessment tool (KM CAT) to ensure that the organization is continuously learning and constantly evolving its level of maturity over time from localized, to standardized, to optimized.

* Focus on what’s important−At the end of the day, why do we do what we do, in our personal lives, and in our work lives? Hopefully, how we spend our time reflects what is important to us. My perspective on competitive baseball weekend is what is shown pictured: a focus on supporting my son and being there for him, despite the sacrifice of time and sleep. Similarly, in the business world, KM exists to serve the business. KM approaches done right result in better safety outcomes, less wasted time, lower costs, faster answers, and more productive employees. That is why those engaging in KM do what they do: to help people have the knowledge and tools to do their jobs better.