11 Deadliest Sins Of KM Revisited, Tailoring content in Web 2.0, Architectures for Conversation, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages

25-Sep-07 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Question of the Week

In “The Eleven Deadliest Sins Of Knowledge Management” (California Management Review Vol. 40, №3, 1998, pages 265–275) Liam Fahey and Laurence Prusak list 11 errors made in the practice of KM:

  1. Not developing a working definition of knowledge
  2. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow
  3. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside of the heads of individuals
  4. Not understanding that a fundamental intermediate purpose of managing knowledge is to create shared context
  5. Paying little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge
  6. Disentangling knowledge from its uses
  7. Downplaying thinking and reasoning
  8. Focusing on the past and the present and not the future
  9. Failing to recognize the importance of experimentation
  10. Substituting technological contact for human interface
  11. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge

This article was revisited by the following bloggers:

Q — (to Larry Prusak): What are your current thoughts about your article “The Eleven Deadliest Sins of KM?”

A — (from Larry Prusak): I re-read the article in question (first time in 5 years) and find it holds up well. I’d rather not comment on the commentators but here is my take on the article’s premises.

Error 1: This is still one big error. Everywhere I speak people conflate information and knowledge — and this situation is greatly abetted by IT vendors and consultants for obviously commercial reasons. I would estimate that tens of billions of dollars have been wasted by organizations trying to work with knowledge by buying IT tools. Since none of this is taught in Business schools or perhaps ANY schools it isn’t too surprising that most people can’t define knowledge as distinct from information.

Error 2: This is also still an issue, though we have made much progress in it. There can’t be too many organizations these days who still feel that large collections of documents is the best way to work with knowledge, at least not in the US or Europe.

Error 3: I would write this one a bit differently today. While knowledge is still produced and absorbed by people the distinctions between where the knowledge actually resides isn’t always worth fighting over.

Error 4: This is as true as ever, even more so with virtuality and all its discontents gaining adherents. Context is a good synonym for knowledge itself, and is best (perhaps only) created through live give and take, etc. It can’t be done well, if at all, through email and other e-exchanges.

Error 5: I think too much has been made about the distinctions between tacit and explicit knowledge, all those models for moving one to another, etc. All knowledge is always both tacit AND explicit.

Error 6: This one is also still true. KM in general follows pragmatism as a philosophy in not believing in distinctions between knowing and action. Isolating knowledge as a thing apart is mostly pointless in business, as contrasted with academics.

Error 7: Well, anyone who thinks that anti-intellectualism isn’t a very strong force in American and UK culture is just out to lunch. If anything it’s gotten stronger with the continuous use of varied media like IM, Google, etc. to replace real reflection and serious reading. I travel all the time and in contrast to years ago, I almost never see people reading anything substantial while flying. I’m told by friends who teach MBAs at the “top” schools that they can’t get their students to read anything not online.

Error 8: This is also part of a bigger discussion that many management theorists and practitioners are having about how to escape the iron cage of short-termism. Many of us think that every executive needs to be more mindful of all those Black Swans out there waiting to strike. I haven’t any idea how to change this but change it must!

Error 9: Rewarding failure is never easy; it is never going to be too popular. But we must do it to have a culture of knowledge growth. How else can any organization learn if it is afraid to do and think things? So this sin is still valid.

Error 10: This one has waned in commission. While technophiles still abound, they have less salience in KM discussions where they once dominated. No one thinks anymore that technology doesn’t have a real role in any KM work, but no one I know still thinks that KM is mainly a problem needing a technological fix to cure (well, maybe a few deluded souls at some technology companies).

Error 11: Once again, I think this battle is won. There is some great research being done on what actually can be measured in regards to knowledge activities, and more will be done in the future. But no one anymore tries to measure knowledge, per se. This is one we managed to kill.

All in all I think the article was pretty good for its time and I know it helped some organizations change their wrong-headed approaches to working with knowledge. How many research articles ever accomplish even that much?

KM Blog of the Week

Plain Speaking: Communication, media, and knowledge management — by Brad Hinton

On tailoring content in the world of Web 2.0

Some considerations on Web 2.0 for management will include:

  • mission or purpose (why are we doing this? or what is the problem? or how do we fix this?)
  • context (organizational, physical, and individual and group work processes)
  • organizational culture (work with existing culture if possible, supported with appropriate tools and processes, rather than enforcing revolutionary change)
  • select the most appropriate applications for the culture, context, and purpose

And what about the actual content — “it’s not always about you…or is it?”

  • Why are you writing?
  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are you writing?
  • Does the writing style fit the context?
  • Does the writing make sense?
  • Get to the point…

The challenge in the world of Web 2.0 is now that we have many more people writing content, many more vehicles for content delivery and exchange, and even less time for content review.

KM Link of the Week

Slideshow — Architectures for Conversation (ii): What Communities of Practice can mean for Information Architecture — by Andrew Hinton

How can Information Architecture address the increasing demand for collaborative work, meaningful conversation and social connection? We’ll explore how “Community of Practice” is more than just a 90s knowledge-management buzz-phrase. It’s an important model for understanding group behavior — and one that’s becoming crucial to designing in the age of Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube.

Understanding communities of practice as a phenomenon can lend a great deal of clarity to designing frameworks for participation: creating the right conditions for particular kinds of collective effort.

We’ll gain an essential understanding of “communities of practice,” looking at “IA” as a handy example. We’ll then examine how the concept helps us design for a variety of collaborative environments — from intranets and medical forums to multiplayer games.

KM Book of the Week

Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages by Alex Wright

PDF Version

What do primordial bacteria, medieval alchemists, and the World Wide Web have to do with each other? This fascinating exploration of how information systems emerge takes readers on a provocative journey through the history of the information age.

Today’s “information explosion” may seem like an acutely modern phenomenon, but we are not the first generation nor even the first species to wrestle with the problem of information overload. Long before the advent of computers, human beings were collecting, storing, and organizing information: from Ice Age taxonomies to Sumerian archives, Greek libraries to Dark Age monasteries.

Today, we stand at a precipice, as our old systems struggle to cope with what designer Richard Saul Wurman called a “tsunami of data.” With some historical perspective, however, we can begin to understand our predicament not just as the result of technological change, but as the latest chapter in an ancient story that we are only beginning to understand.

Spanning disciplines from evolutionary theory and cultural anthropology to the history of books, libraries, and computer science, writer and information architect Alex Wright weaves an intriguing narrative that connects such seemingly far-flung topics as insect colonies, Stone Age jewelry, medieval monasteries, Renaissance encyclopedias, early computer networks, and the World Wide Web. Finally, he pulls these threads together to reach a surprising conclusion, suggesting that the future of the information age may lie deep in our cultural past.

Interview by Powell’s Books

Review by Bob Goodman

Table of Contents

  1. Networks and Hierarchies 5
  2. Family Trees and the Tree of Life 22
  3. The Ice Age Information Explosion 39
  4. The Age of Alphabets 48
  5. Illuminating the Dark Age 78
  6. A Steam Engine of the Mind 99
  7. The Astral Power Station 122
  8. The Encyclopedic Revolution 143
  9. The Moose That Roared 152
  10. The Industrial Library 165
  11. The Web That Wasn’t 183
  12. Memories of the Future 230


  • John Wilkins’s Universal Categories 239
  • Thomas Jefferson’s 1783 Catalog of Books 242
  • The Dewey Decimal System 245
  • S. R. Ranganathan’s Colon Classification 247

Excerpt: The Encyclopedic Revolution

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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