Social sciences are concerned with understanding and representation of what is going on and what has happened.
Earlier, social scientists took great leaders, cultures and social structures as the topics to be explained. The contextual nature of those topics was a less interesting concern. More recent approaches to social phenomena can be summarized as trying to understand temporality and the process of becoming, a live movement in time that either gives rise to viability or makes us slowly, or rapidly, obsolete. How does this happen? How does continuity happen? How does change happen? What creates agility and vitality? The lifestream of individuals and corporations is the new focus area. Lifestreams are also called activity streams. These are voices against the corporate rhetoric stressing the need for continuous reinvention, without any need to respect the past or even know where you come from. Continuity is seen as just the dead form of the past and memories belonging to the private world of old sweethearts and childhood summers.
Memories do matter. Memories are representations of the past that are manifested in the present, sometimes unconsciously, and carried forward into the future. Accordingly, what is happening as we live on, is forgetting. There are many things and lessons learned that we should not forget. Taking an extreme example: There have been many instances in political history where powerful people have tried to erase the memory of what has happened. This was the case with the Nazis and the case with Stalin re-writing history. In both cases it led to a determined attempt to remember, as a protest, and as means to ensure that such things could never happen again.
In business and management studies, the questions of becoming, remembering and forgetting are not only new concerns. They are the essence of modern knowledge management.
Corporations are outsourcing their activities and downsizing at the same time as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement. The growing concern is what is lost as a consequence? The statement arousing fear was: “People are walking out of the door and taking their knowledge with them.” The solution to this problem then was: “Let’s extract knowledge from the people and put it in databases. This way the individual knowledge is transformed into corporate knowledge.” This never really worked. It was the doomed dream of the IT-school of knowledge management.
Lifestream is the visualization of progress
There is fear about memory loss in business, but there is also the opposite fear that memory produces practices in the present that should best be forgotten. Anthropologists claim that reproduction of the past is easier than change. This often leads us into situations where the past is no longer an adequate guide in the present, leading to a situation where the knowledge asset turns into a liability.
The location of these assets in the corporate world has been databases and the process of knowledge management has been the production, maintenance and retrieval of written documents. These documents and databases then are the main resources for reflection and re-use. However, “remembering” does not happen until the documents are actually worked with. Files are assets only when used. A book is just a pile of paper before it is opened. Knowledge related practices should therefore be much more in the focus than the form and location of data storage.
Knowledge intensive work takes place in communication. The process of knowing is the process of communication. The most important knowledge management challenge is to understand what takes place in that interaction: what is being discussed? What is not discussed, what is silenced? Who is included in the conversation, who is excluded? The most important measurements are how the common narrative develops, how fast, and where to? An organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a lifestream, a continuing story without beginnings. Everything we do is built on what has happened before.
New people join this narrative and people leave. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops towards the future. Without understanding where we come from, our history, it is impossible to know whether we move at all, whether the flurry of daily activities is actually keeping us stuck in repetitive patterns without any progress. The same people having the same conversation again and again, as seems to be the case in politics today.
Lifestream is the means for pattern recognition to help create the future we truly desire.
Thanks @chrismessina for your thoughts.