Infotopia, Tom Davenport’s publications, KM in the organization structure

25-Oct-06 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Books

Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge by Cass R. Sunstein

The rise of the “information society” offers not only considerable peril but also great promise. Beset from all sides by a never-ending barrage of media, how can we ensure that the most accurate information emerges and is heeded? In this book, Cass R. Sunstein develops a deeply optimistic understanding of the human potential to pool information, and to use that knowledge to improve our lives.

In an age of information overload, it is easy to fall back on our own prejudices and insulate ourselves with comforting opinions that reaffirm our core beliefs. Crowds quickly become mobs. The justification for the Iraq war, the collapse of Enron, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia — all of these resulted from decisions made by leaders and groups trapped in “information cocoons,” shielded from information at odds with their preconceptions. How can leaders and ordinary people challenge insular decision making and gain access to the sum of human knowledge?

Stunning new ways to share and aggregate information, many Internet-based, are helping companies, schools, governments, and individuals not only to acquire, but also to create, ever-growing bodies of accurate knowledge. Through a ceaseless flurry of self-correcting exchanges, wikis, covering everything from politics and business plans to sports and science fiction subcultures, amass-and refine-information. Open-source software enables large numbers of people to participate in technological development.

Prediction markets aggregate information in a way that allows companies, ranging from computer manufacturers to Hollywood studios, to make better decisions about product launches and office openings. Sunstein shows how people can assimilate aggregated information without succumbing to the dangers of the herd mentality — and when and why the new aggregation techniques are so astoundingly accurate. In a world where opinion and anecdote increasingly compete on equal footing with hard evidence, the on-line effort of many minds coming together might well provide the best path to infotopia.

KM Links

Thought Leader Showcase: Thomas H. Davenport

Tom Davenport is a world-renowned thought leader and author, is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, a Fellow of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and an independent senior advisor to Deloitte Analytics. An author and co-author of 15 books and more than 100 articles, he helps organizations to revitalize their management practices in areas such as analytics, information and knowledge management, process management, and enterprise systems.

Older Published Work

  • Strategies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis
  • Analyze This
  • Why Office Design Matters
  • Rethinking The Mobile Workforce
  • Automated Decision Making Comes of Age
  • The Coming Commoditization of Processes
  • Competing on Analytics
  • Decision Evolution
  • Why Don’t We Know More About Knowledge?
  • Decoding Information-Worker Productivity
  • The Social Side of Performance
  • Turning Mind Into Matter
  • Toward an Innovation Sourcing Strategy
  • Withering Heights
  • A Measurable Proposal
  • Conversation with Tom Davenport
  • Innovation Sourcing Strategy Matters
  • Innovation: A Little Help From Their Friends
  • What’s the Big Idea?
  • Data to Knowledge to Results: Building an Analytic Capability
  • Who’s Bringing You Hot Ideas (and How Are You Responding)?
  • The Mysterious Art and Science of Knowledge-Worker Performance
  • Just-in-Time Delivery Comes to Knowledge Management
  • The Art of Work: Facilitating the Effectiveness of High-End Knowledge Workers
  • A ‘Bifocal’ Approach to Enterprise Solutions
  • AttentionScape
  • How Do They Know Their Customers So Well?
  • The Attention Economy
  • The New, New IT Strategy
  • Cut Us Some Slack
  • Attention Must Be Paid!
  • Nets Upon Nets
  • Working Knowledge
  • Thinking for a Living

KM Questions

Q: After working in the KM arena for many years now, one thought has started puzzling me — the relationship of the KM function with other functions in an organization and the consequences of these relationships — in terms of the KM viewpoint, outlook, success, etc.

I have observed many different Indian IT organizations [I presume it must be similar in other countries also], that each organization has its own structure for KM within the organization. For example in one organization, KM reports into quality and is part of the quality function. In another organization KM reports in Education, Training & Research. In another it is heavily distributed and some parts report into Marketing & Sales, some into HR, etc. In only one [my organization] do we have a separate KM function that reports directly to the COO.

I have observed the KM initiatives in all these above organizations from close quarters, through various interactions that we have within the KM community in Bangalore, and in all of these cases, the results of KM and the roadmap, the view of KM, what KM is, is all different and very heavily influenced by the function/person KM reports into. I feel that most times, when we KM practitioners and experts, preach KM, write about KM, practice KM, we somehow seem to miss the reality of organizational dynamics and the cross-functional relationships.

The challenge also stems from the following:

  • KM is a truly cross-functional discipline [unlike quality, HR, etc.].
  • Since KM is a new and emerging discipline among organizations, the leaders of the organization do not know how best to fit it within the organization [from a structural viewpoint].
  • The leaders of the organization may understand that there is HUGE value in KM and the benefits of it, but the leaders don’t have any clue to the fact that KM is truly cross-functional discipline and hence good thought process is required within the organization on the structure of how the KM function should exist.
  • All other functions [quality, HR, admin etc.] have existed for ages and they are not ready to give up ground to a new function called KM.
  • There is so much excellent literature about academic vs. practical KM, tacit knowledge, social networks, learning organizations, control vs. freedom, communities, etc., BUT hardly any about KM and organizational structures.
  • Because KM is a cross-functional discipline, it is similar to an elephant being felt by blindfolded persons, with each person [function] having its own view/perception of the elephant [KM] depending on what part of the elephant they are feeling.

A: When KM reached its peak in the late 90s, there were quite a few Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) who reported to the CEO along with other CxOs (COO, CFO, CIO, CTO, et al.). This was the best reporting structure, but it didn’t last. Most KM programs were moved back into one of the other functions. I think that it is unlikely that CKOs will return in significant numbers.

I believe that a KM program can be most effective if it is either its own independent function, or in a neutral department such as operations. I have seen KM under the CIO, CTO, CFO, HR, and business operations. It can be made to work in any of these, but when under the CIO or CTO, the technology elements may be over-emphasized relative to the people and process elements.

A separate CKO, if properly empowered, works best. But given that KM is most frequently under HR (along with Learning) or IT, KM leaders will have to make the best of their situation and act is if they are independent. They should take advantage of whatever organization they are in, and reach out to create strong ties to other organizations.

Written by

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

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