Giant Hairball; Cognitive Edge; Key Elements of KM

10-May-06 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Books

At a recent meeting at Babson College of the Working Knowledge Research Center, I met Harry Tobin, Knowledge Domain Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Harry highly recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie. I found a related article, How Is Your Company Like a Giant Hairball?

Creativity is crucial to business success. But too often, even the most innovative organization quickly becomes a “giant hairball” — a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, traditions, and systems, all based on what worked in the past — that exercises an inexorable pull into mediocrity. Gordon McKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for thirty years, many of which he spent inspiring his colleagues to slip the bonds of Corporate Normalcy and rise to orbit — to a mode of dreaming, daring and doing above and beyond the rubber-stamp confines of the administrative mind-set. In his deeply funny book, exuberantly illustrated in full color, he shares the story of his own professional evolution, together with lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius.

Originally self-published and already a business “cult classic”, this personally empowering and entertaining look at the intersection between human creativity and the bottom line is now widely available to bookstores. It will be a must-read for any manager looking for new ways to invigorate employees, and any professional who wants to achieve his or her best, most self-expressive, most creative and fulfilling work.


  1. Chapter One: Where Have All The Geniuses Gone?
  2. Chapter Two: The Giant Hairball
  3. Chapter Three: Pink Buddha
  4. Chapter Four: Preparing For Lift-Off
  5. Chapter Five: A Chicken’s Fate
  6. Chapter Six: Thou Shalt Not Have It Easy
  7. Chapter Seven: What You Don’t See Is What You Get
  8. Chapter Eight: No Access
  9. Chapter Nine: First There’s Grope, Then There’s Rote
  10. Chapter Ten: Containers Contain
  11. Chapter Eleven: Cage Dwellers
  12. Chapter Twelve: Introducing…Your Brain
  13. Chapter Thirteen: About Teasing
  14. Chapter Fourteen: High-Tech Peaches
  15. Chapter Fifteen: Milk Cans Are Not Allowed
  16. Chapter Sixteen: The Power Of Paradox
  17. Chapter Seventeen: Death Masks
  18. Chapter Eighteen: The Pyramid & The Plum Tree
  19. Chapter Nineteen: Orville Wright
  20. Chapter Twenty: Beyond Measure
  21. Chapter Twenty-One: A Conference Of Angels
  22. Chapter Twenty-Two: Dynamic Following
  23. Chapter Twenty-Three: Pool-Hall Dog
  24. Chapter Twenty-Four: Paint Me A Masterpiece

KM Links

Cognitive Edge is replacing The Cynefin Centre, which includes the work of Dave Snowden. Here is information about Cognitive Edge.

Headquartered in Singapore, Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd was created in 2006 to take on the work originally initiated in IBM as the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity. Cognitive Edge has three main focus areas:

  1. The creation of an open source approach to the development of consultancy methods. All methods created by Cognitive Edge can be downloaded for free, subject to agreement to a creative commons license. An international Cognitive Edge Network of accredited practitioners is being created through training and practice in collaboration with a variety of organisations.
  2. The development of an approach to research based on participation and discovery rather than normative methods. Programs are created in which issues and problems in the real world of organisations are brought together in accelerated co-evolutionary processes with academic concepts to create new knowledge and understanding. This includes a conscious effort to bring insight and understand form the physical sciences into social systems.
  3. The invention of software products (branded as the SenseMaker Suite) that leverage themes of narrative, complexity and networks for impact. The software provides a broad range of tools that enable the ideas to be made operation to practical effect in organisations. They also provide support to the open source Cognitive Edge Network and provide a funding mechanism for the overall objectives of Cognitive Edge.

KM Questions

This week, I am the one asking the questions, and Steve Denning provides the answers.

Q: The following key elements of a KM program are attributed to you from your work at the World Bank in Tom Stewart’s book, The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization, chapter 5, pages 85–87:

  1. communities of practice
  2. place (online presence for the communities)
  3. help desk
  4. Yellow Pages (who-knows-what directory)
  5. primer (FAQ)
  6. knowledge artifacts (records of previous projects, emphasizing best practices and lessons learned)
  7. bulletin board
  8. doorway (a provision for outside access)

Do you still agree with this list, or are there any changes you would make to it?

A: (from Steve Denning)

Gosh! I feel as though I’ve been pulled over by the traffic police and asked whether I was speeding in 1998! Guilty as charged!

In one sense, yes, that is a list that made sense, given what we were thinking about in terms of KM, way back then.

What’s more apparent now, however, is that all those elements are about enhancing the supply of knowledge, when it’s now more obvious that enhancing the demand for knowledge is a much more serious problem than we realized at the time, and perhaps even more serious than the supply issue anyway. Narrative is a key tool for enhancing demand for knowledge.

It’s also clearer now that transformational innovation, which is key to organizational survival, is as much dependent on imagination as it is on knowledge, which tends to be “yesterday’s news”.

It also seems to me that risk management is an important way of getting a focus on the both negative knowledge, which is difficult to discuss, and negative risks, about which we know little, but which may have a determining role in our futures. Risk management may also be able to contribute to the demand problem of KM.

It’s also more apparent that there won’t be many benefits if the values of the organization are not conducive to the sharing of knowledge.

So those would be the big additions that I would make to the list — demand, imagination, risk management, values — in addition to more recent high tech gadgets, like blogs, RSS feeds, wikis and the rest.

Q: Why aren’t knowledge-based organizations a reality?

A: (from Steve Denning)

I think that the main reason is the prevalence of seventeen myths surrounding knowledge and knowledge management. These myths not only prevent knowledge-based organizations from becoming the reality that was promised, but they also tend to get in the way of effective discussion of the issues. (I use “myth” here in the sense of “a fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology.”) Here’s my paper on Seventeen Myths of Knowledge Management.

I’d be interested in other views about this interesting issue.

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store