A minor investigation on an old shoulder injury today necessitated an afternoon at the hospital: “and it’s your left shoulder?” was the soundtrack. Each time a new person interacted with me, they asked the same question. They also asked me my name a lot. And when i had an injection, the nurse clearly read out to the doctor what she was putting into the syringe.
This codification of practice into habit is great for avoiding errors: nobody x rayed the wrong shoulder or accidentally injected me in the leg. There were multiple opportunities to just be sure that i was the person they were supposed to be treating, not just someone who sat in the wrong chair, or happened to share the same first name.
Codifying certain things into habit like this can be a great way to play it safe. It takes assumption and risk out of the equation, or at least tries to mitigate against it.
The trick is realising when safe is static: when we need to create space for error.
Too much codified knowledge makes the organisation lethargic, unable to respond, adapt or change. Too little leaves it blowing in the wind, subject to constant uncertainty and unable to effectively learn. So knowing how safe to play it is important.
A certain amount of codified knowledge is good, capturing best practice and ensuring conformity and compliance, but too much stultifies us. It’s a balance, but better done consciously than left to chance.
Under a Social Learning approach, we try to balance the codified knowledge held by the organisation with the tacit, tribal and dynamic knowledge held in the everyday. Constantly adapting and evolving. Tapping into both these sources, the tacit and the formal, leaves us more able to change.