Knowledge Management#1: What business can offer education in the year of the Platypus

When it comes to knowledge and knowledge production, the education sector outguns Big Data and all traditional industries, combined. Here is a call for us to take ownership of that fact. Enter Knowledge Management.

This week, I attended the ARK Group’s annual Knowledge Management Summit in London, eagerly attended by some of the largest corporations in the world. This evolving think-piece connects David Gurteen’s concluding remarks on conversational leadership (and my confabulations with delegates and speakers) to the rich discussions we are having in the education sector around the new Ofsted framework. It is as complex as it sounds. And exhilarating.

Billedresultat for david gurteen
David Gurteen on conversational leadership. “A one-man global authority“ as one awed delegate whispered to me.

As I listened to the various speakers, I was struck by just how nimbly business is embracing and actively exploiting the power of social construction as a fact of life, while in education, we are still fighting over whether it’s even a theory, let alone a pedagogical strategy.* The reader should not let any prejudices get the better of him: While some of the delegates at the KM Summit came dressed for a role in Suits, many are every bit as innovative, creative and courageous as Fabian de Fabiani of Curriculum through the Hero’s Journey (recently voted the trendiest teacher at the recent Tunbridge Wells BrewEd).

One case study that especially impressed me was presented by Heather Hooper, who has not only respectfully facilitated much-needed updates to ethos, power structures and communication in the Salvation Army, but is now translating that into the physical design of their new UK headquarters at Denmark Hill. The successful mediation of needs and wants from the multitude of disparate stakeholders in that hallowed organisation is a testimony to the power of Knowledge Management. (One wonders if the Education Fellowship Trust would be thriving today if they’d spent just a fraction of that missing £210,000 on Heather).

This teacher gets schooled

To recap: The previous Saturday, in the august setting of historic Lichfield Cathedral, I had been presented with some of the most revolutionary thinking in education prompted by the liminal space opened by the transition to the new Ofsted framework. It was therefore a sobering, unsettling and exhilarating experience to sit less than one hundred hours later, in the philistine ambience of London’s Hard Rock Hotel, and discover we may not be as innovative as we think.

“We don’t hire grades. We hire humans.”

– Executive from the nuclear power industry in the final plenary, in agitated response to my question: “What do business and industry want from education?”

On a daily basis, Knowledge Managers apply Clare Sealy’s ideas about building schemata to organisations which cover 140 countries and they facilitate Martin Robinson‘s fluid negotiation of the “best that has been thought and said” within companies founded as far back as 1765. And, while Jude Hunton presented us with a template to structure a department in a single secondary school, these people have been doing just that effectively with 10,000 stakeholders across three continents for decades. They are also instrumental in the directly implementation of Jo Owen‘s ethical leadership and of the British values that were the topic of Calvin Robinson‘s presentation, especially democracy and respect for diversity. And, in spite of operating in hyper-complex organisations that dwarf the biggest Multi Academy Trust, they are pretty effective.

The main difference between education and business is that top decision makers in the business community recognise the essential contribution of Knowledge Management to financial success, ethical leadership, employee empowerment, transparency, corporate cohesion and professional development. So, if such are among the priorities of corporations in the 21st century, why insist that turning education into business means top-down, technocratic monetisation of schools with zero involvement of parents, teachers and pupils? How has a nominally democratic society, with our history, free press (and all our new technical tools for public debate) allowed such a dysfunctional narrative to dictate policies?

David Gurteen hinted at the answer when he re-presented the case for the lost art of conversation – with all its humble listening, accommodation, curiosity, trust and respect. And, dare I add, one based on broad and deep knowledge and in daring quest for truth and beauty. (If you are a teacher, you can probably see where I am going with this). Without this fundamental skill, no tech and no freedom will get us off the treadmill.

“The first responsibility of Knowledge Managers is to get their organisation to just stop reinventing the wheel.”

Heather Hooper, Knowledge management specialist, Salvation Army, KM Summit, 5 June 2019

Up next: Engaging chaos with conversation

“For those not familiar with David Gurteen’s work, he is to conversational leadership what Thucydides is to history, or, depending on your leanings, what Iggy Pop is to punk rock …” On the purpose of education, what the oil industry thinks of filling the pail with plane fuel, how to light the fire without getting burned, who survives in a VUCA world – and about why it may not be about finding a solution at all. Get notifications on Twitter and the COGS mailing list.

Readers who have been following the previous article streams on the Participatory Budgeting workshop in Birmingham and the recent Curriculum conference in Lichfield will hopefully have recognised key themes. In fact, my experiences in these two events are essential to everything that will follow.

The final word on the Platypus

Gives milk. Sports beak. Is venomous. Lays eggs. Has fur. Now, dead on display.
In renegotiating the role of curriculum
as in politics and everywhere else we need to curb our historical enthusiasm for "cut and dry" classifications.

Read the Full Knowledge Management Series

“People don’t resist change.

They resist being changed.”

Victoria ward, presenter at KM SUmmit 2019
victoria ward ltd

Some further reading

* * * is the business end of

* Please refer to the subsection “Hole-in-the-Wall” – A Traditional-Progressive Case Study featuring Professor Donald Clarke & Professor Sugata Mitra in Participatory Budgeting in Schools? #1; The Stakes and the Stakeholders

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