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Nadhan’s Top 5 Tips for Adapting Tribal Knowledge at an Enterprise Level



By E.G. Nadhan, Distinguished Technologist, HP


Enterprise knowledge is primarily resident across its human resources who use multiple media to exchange information.  Such knowledge is seeded within the individual and grown across groups of individuals with like-minded interests -- or, tribes.  Over time, multiple tribes are formed.  One fine morning, the Enterprise is suddenly looking at countless tribes splattered across the landscape. 


Sound familiar? Welcome to reality.  Knowledge has always been and will continue to grow in tribes.  So, how do Enterprises deal with this?


Here are five C-tips to leverage tribal knowledge at an Enterprise Level.


Context.  First, we must establish the global context for the information within the enterprise,  like having cabinetry with designated shelves for various types of items to be stored.  It provides a clear perspective on how the information should be organized.


Consistency.  Establish consistency in the representation of information.  Notwithstanding the existence of tribes, we should prescribe guidelines for how this information is represented.  Consistency in the overall user experience when retrieving this information is key to its adoption across the enterprise. 


Cognizance.  Knowledge must exist for it to be shared!  Enterprises must train, nurture and provide the right experience across its employee base.  Cognizance has two distinct flavors:  a) knowing what you know and b) knowing where to house what you know.  Employees must also be aware of how and where their knowledge can be shared for global consumption. 


Collaboration.  The human brain tends to take off in all different directions reacting to external stimuli. Once we have an environment to define and represent knowledge in a structured environment with context, the next step is to motivate and facilitate the healthy exchange of information across tribes.   Individuals who want to share knowledge are usually more effective at this than those who have to be told to do so.


Continuity.  This is not one of those corporate initiatives funded with the expectation of a 200% return within 90 days.  It takes years for such behavior to be institutionalized across the global community of practitioners.  Therefore, continuity is key.  Such behavior must become part of the blood stream of the daily life of the practitioner. 


I considered adding another C-tip -- C-level support -- but decided not to.  C-level support could be misinterpreted as corporate sponsorship with dedicated resources to formalize such behavior.  Such initiatives are good catalysts but tend to be temporal at best.  They come and go, as leadership changes.  Continuous growth of knowledge within the enterprise should be a good practice that does not require a formal corporate initiative.  Can we afford to cease such behavior, if this initiative is suspended for any reason?  Absolutely not.


There are multiple ways of harnessing this knowledge while employing these tips.  One approach could be to involve a select grouping of these tribes to implement a veneer across a multitude of repositories.  Have other approaches worked for you?  Do you have other tips?  Please let me know.  After all, every Enterprise is one huge tribe in the corporate world we live in.


Recently, HP helped Paul McCartney compile and organize the McCartney Digital Library. By assimilating audio, photographic, film and video content generated over the last fifty years, Sir Paul and HP created a synthetic taxonomy of assets that are easily accessible and readily retrievable on demand. This creates the basis for an instant-on enterprise, and the foundation for the Library’s “culture” into the future.


Check it out @ Paul Mcartney digital library



Sue Kurtz(anon) | ‎02-16-2012 05:31 PM

Nadhan, from your perspective, which of the 5 Cs is the most difficult to put in place?

stu.cartwright | ‎02-16-2012 07:44 PM


Very good post.


Thought of 3 more.  :smileyhappy:


Culture – this actually could take the place of your C-Level support thought.  You must establish a culture that encourages and cherishes the exchange of knowledge.


Now for the next two, one could possibly see them as extensions of Collaboration, but I tend to favor calling them out on their own.  These would be:

Consumption – people must feel that it is ok to consume / reuse knowledge

Contribution – need to incent and encourage people to contribute knowledge


Anyway, great article, and I just wanted to toss out these additional thoughts.



Nadhan | ‎02-16-2012 08:30 PM

Cool, Stu.  Creative Connections that I will Certainly Consider when Compiling my next Creation on this topic:smileyhappy:


Seriously, you bring out three very important tips that are vital to the systemic assimilation of tribal knowledge across the enterprise.  Thanks !



Nadhan | ‎02-16-2012 08:40 PM

Sue, you got me thinking.


Let us see.  Establishing Context is easy.  Enforcing Consistency is a tad more difficult because it could involve domain specific nuances and perspectives.  Cognizance can be grown through training and experience.  Collaboration is most effective when it is innately part of the individual mind-set and the cultural blood-stream in the work life. In other words, if we make the collaborative nature an essential pre-requisite for employees' soft skills, we could be reasonably successfully.


Drum Roll ....The most difficult C-tip is Continuity.  To sustain this mode of operation.  Like many other initiatives, there tends to be an initial spurt of enthusiasm (similar to a New Year resolution to lose weight).  The biggest challenge is the ability to sustain this energy especially because new assets keep getting created all the time.  If these assets are not given visibility in time, we land up with a double whammy of the assets in the "Knowledge Repository" getting obsolete and the right assets not getting any timely visibility.

Dattaraj N Joshi(anon) | ‎02-19-2012 08:33 AM

Two cents..


I agree with Stu.  One thing that has got scattered across five C is Culture. 


I would probably call that out separately.  It takes strong will to make something a culture and the entire enterprise has to move in that direction.  Putting systems in place and numerous definitions  will set the platform while it is the culture that will sustain it.

SarahMoorman | ‎02-20-2012 10:38 AM

great tips, i like the idea of a veneer, combined with a good contextual search capability, this will facilitate efficent reuse in terms of time, presentation of relevant material and therefore confidence in its application; thus hopefully encouraging a swarming effect amongst the teams to participate and collaborate in this manner. 

Nadhan | ‎02-22-2012 04:19 PM

Good point, Joshi.  Perhaps, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between Culture and Continuity.  Culture is a key enabler that positively impacts Continuity in the structured adoption of Tribal Knowledge at an Enterprise Level. 



Nadhan | ‎02-22-2012 04:24 PM

Thank you, Sarah.  Great minds think alike.  I can be reached at: @NadhanAtHP on Twitter so we can continue to evolve our thoughts and ideas in this space.. 

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