Originally published on March 19, 2018

This is the 14th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Kaye Vivian is professional genealogist performing forensic and private searches for heirs and ancestors for more than 30 years. She has deep knowledge of eastern Cherokee people and southern U.S. history. Kaye is also a writer, gamer, music lover, technophile, inquiring mind, accredited business communicator, inventor with U.S. patents, and a published author. Her personal web site featuring content on knowledge management, communities, and gaming is no longer accessible online. But I retrieved it through The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive and made it available here.

1. LinkedIn Profile

2. Facebook Profile

3. Posts about Kaye Vivian by Jack Vinson

4. Presentation at KMWorld 2005 — Session A104: Grass-Roots KM: Learnings — For nearly 3 years a small, dedicated team has attempted to focus a Fortune 100 financial services company on the need for KM and the value KM offers. Our strategy, the team, our presentations and the benefits promised were widely acclaimed. We applied the concepts of KM’s top thought leaders — yet failed to get funded. Can a grass-roots KM approach succeed? This session revisits KM’s success factors and value proposition, and challenges the common wisdom of starting small.

5. Discussion: KM, Knowledge Transfer and Outsourcing — Discussion thread from ActKM community — May, 2006

  • “One KM trend I have been seeing relates to outsourcing and the need for “knowledge transfer” in both directions. A company that is outsourcing work needs to provide a database of information for the offshore company to use, and the offshore company needs to update it or create a new database that can be passed back to the outsourcing company in the event they later choose to bring the processes back under their own roof, so to speak. While this overall process might rightly be considered “information management”, the processes that go into collecting and capturing what is put into the database(s) on both sides of the ocean are KM processes — communities, technology, processes, capturing stories/anecdotes, taxonomy, search/find, expertise location, strategy, rewards and recognition, content management, ROI, etc.”
  • “Good comments on the outsourcing issue. I wonder if people have different points of view on knowledge management and outsourcing by geography. Do Europeans or Asians see the issues differently from North Americans or Australians, or have unique concerns related to knowledge transfer? How do outsourcing vendors view and use the so-called “knowledge” they receive from their customers? Is it worthless? Is anyone doing a good job of knowledge transfer related to outsourcing? Has anyone done any presentations or research that they can share?”
  • “Are there any unusual or effective techniques you know about that outsourcing companies are using to gather knowledge?

One company I know spent months interviewing several large Indian outsourcers, and in the end, what appealed to them most was the technique of “shadowing” workers to capture the daily steps and procedures of the workers (in this case, COBOL mainframe programmers, most of whom were near retirement). They proposed to send a team of Indian workers in to follow a predetermined slate of programmers through their days over about three weeks. As the worker did his/her job, the Indian outsourcer would make notes and ask questions, and basically write up a procedures guide for each person’s role. All these writeups were to be put into the outsourcer’s proprietary database system, and referenced when questions came up.

What appealed to the employer about shadowing employees was:

  1. Many of the programmers had been doing the same job on the same system for more than 20 years, and had lost initiative to improve what they did every day
  2. All of the programmers complained they were too busy to document their work (there was an element of job protection there, too…if it wasn’t written down, no one else could do it)
  3. These important systems would finally be documented. Too often repairs, quick fixes and shortcuts made were permanent, and the only person who knew why it had been done that way and what it affected was “Bob, who retired last November”.
  4. They thought it liberated them from the tyranny of key employees who made a career path of retiring as soon as possible and returning at about double their salary as a consultant to do the same job (though this point was only mentioned unofficially in small meetings)

In the end, the cost was so prohibitive that the employer decided not to spend the money for shadowing, and to start by having the workers write down how they do their jobs and who they call for what. I don’t have to tell you how effective and complete that was. As Dave said, why would workers tell everything they know so they can be replaced? There were also some concerns about who would own the “knowledge” gained from the shadowing process if it were only available from the vendor’s system.”

6. Book — Winning Proposals: A Step-By-Step Guide to the Proposal Process

7. KM Bloggers

8. Blogroll

9. Comments on Communities

10. Blog: Dove Lane

June 19th, 2008

KM Quotes Page

I just uploaded a long page of KM quotes that I had been accumulating on a community site I manage. I thought it might be helpful for anyone who’s putting together a presentation or doing a cost benefit analysis — or simply wants some inspiration!

Good KM Quotes

Need a good QUOTE about knowledge management? Try some of these! I’m always adding some new ones. If you find a good one somewhere else, don’t forget to share it. The are not organized…just listed as they were found. Maybe one day I will undertake to group them. Enjoy!

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“In contrast to the traditional factors of production that were governed by diminishing returns, every additional unit of knowledge used effectively results in a marginal increase in performance.”

– Yogesh Malhotra in “Knowledge Assets in the Global Economy: Assessment of National Intellectual Capital”, Journal of Global Information Management

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“The technologies that will be most successful will resonate with human behaviour instead of working against it. In fact, to solve the problems of delivering and assimilating new technology into the workplace, we must look to the way humans act and react…. In the last 20 years, US industry has invested more than $1 trillion in technology, but has realised little improvement in the efficiency of its knowledge workers ­ and virtually none in their effectiveness. If we could solve the problems of the assimilation of new technology, the potential would be enormous. ”

– John Seely-Brown, in “The Human Factor”, Information Strategy, Dec 96-Jan 97.

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“Knowledge Management is expensive — but so is stupidity!”

–Thomas Davenport

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“An immense and ever-increasing wealth of knowledge is scattered about the world today; knowledge that would probably suffice to solve all the mighty difficulties of our age, but it is dispersed and unorganized. We need a sort of mental clearing house for the mind: a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.”

– H.G. Wells in ‘The Brain: Organization of the Modern World’,1940

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“Knowledge is power, which is why people who had it in the past often tried to make a secret of it. In post-capitalism, power comes from transmitting information to make it productive, not from hiding it.”

– Peter F. Drucker in “The Post-Capitalist Executive,” Managing in a Time of Great Change, Penguin, NY (1995).

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“Information wants to be free.”

– Stewart Brand

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“Knowledge is a social process not merely a matter of transferring a chunk of information from one place to another. To really achieve Knowledge Management (KM) companies need to implement a process of motivating and inciting people to share information.”

–Ahmet Aykac, Director, Theseus International Management Institute.

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“Most enterprises organize their internal (intranet) content by the owning business unit. They forget that if people don’t know which business unit owns the information they need, automating that process doesn’t help. Taxonomies must focus on use of knowledge rather than ownership of knowledge.”

–Kathy Harris, Gartner Group, 2003.

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“The computer is merely a tool in the process…To put it in editorial terms, knowing how a typewriter works does not make you a writer. Now that knowledge is taking the place of capital as the driving force in organizations worldwide, it is all too easy to confuse data with knowledge and information technology with information.”

– Peter F. Drucker in “The Post-Capitalist Executive,” Managing in a Time of Great Change, Penguin, NY (1995).

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“Knowledge accidents happen when people run into each other at places like this or at the water cooler, exchange information, and realize an opportunity for collaboration and a synergy between the projects they’re working on. We need to make knowledge accidents happen on purpose, regularly and, most importantly, with intent.”

–Al Zollar, GovTech conference, June, 2002

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“Knowledge management is something many companies are sure they need, if only they knew what it was.”

–Mary Lisbeth D’Amico — IDG News Service, 10/29/99

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“Knowledge is not a dead pile of facts, but on the contrary, the outcome of a dynamic interaction with the world at large, and most importantly, with the other people in it.”

–Stowe Boyd, CKO, Knowledge Capital Group

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“If you can’t maximize the power of the individual, you haven’t done anything. If you expand the ability of individual members of the organization, you expand the ability of the organization.”

–Bob Buckman, CEO and Chairman of Buckman Laboratories

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“Why is knowledge management key to strategic renewal? Because the best way to adapt to a fast-changing business environment is by linking the islands of knowledge that exist throughout the organization. This ability to adapt is what strategic renewal is all about, and it is an outcome of collaborative wisdom. Incorporating all the knowledge and perspectives within your organization helps you create the future.”

–Edna Pasher

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“Knowledge has become the key economic resource and the dominant–and perhaps even the only–source of competitive advantage.”

–Peter Drucker

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“Knowledge management is a higher-order agenda. It starts with the CEO saying, ‘How do I make my organization more productive? How do I make my organization more effective? How do I capture the organizational knowledge to solve a specific problem?’ ”

–John M. Thompson, IBM

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“Knowledge is information that changes something or somebody — either by becoming grounds for actions, or by making an individual (or an institution) capable of different or more effective action”

-–Peter Drucker

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“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.”

–Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

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“One of the paradoxes is that informal communities are the real dynamos of knowledge. If you build strong boundaries between formal and informal communities, you get increased knowledge flow. But if you try to break the boundaries down, the informal knowledge goes offsite because people don’t feel secure. ”

–David Snowden, destinationKM, September 11, 2000

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“As more members of the community discover the rewards of the learning journey, they contribute to expanding and nurturing their shared intelligence and the infrastructure that supports it. The stronger the infrastructure, the more support it provides to each individual’s learning journey.”

–George Por

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“Knowledge is both a thing and a capability. The trouble is that most people look for things, so that’s what they find. Capabilities are more dynamic and more useful. You don’t manage capabilities like machines because they constantly evolve. You manage capabilities as an ecology.”

–David Snowden, destinationKM, September 11, 2000

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“Intranets have been so hyped as a platform for enterprise collaboration that IT and business managers may just assume they’re being used to full potential–a big mistake. Peel back the layers, and you’ll find few examples of intranets fueling enterprise-scale collaboration. Despite the proliferation of intranets, many organizations have yet to transform how they share knowledge companywide.”

–Jeffrey Schwartz, Internet Week, October 25, 1999

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“Focusing on document collection, management and indexing but providing little expert connection, many KM systems fail to provide stakeholders a means to locate and connect with the experts in their milieu. They fail to properly motivate those experts to share what they know and to capture this sharing in the process. Noncompliance is the greatest barrier to any KM systems’ success yet current KM solutions fail to motivate or measure employee contributions.”

–Knexa Knowledge Exchange brochure

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“Perpetual learning and knowledge management will be the key to organizational effectiveness.”

–Jeff Papows, IBM

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“The problem with documents being the cornerstone of knowledge management is that documents are stored everywhere within an organization.”

–Brad Bokoski, operations support manager, BP Amoco

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“Knowledge management is not a shrink-wrapped thing in a box, it’s a discipline.”

–Scott Elliot, Lotus Knowledge Management

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“Too often, people think of knowledge management as a noun. They’re mistaken: KM is a verb, a way of getting work done. You can’t get it done without a lot of nouns, such as “people,” “processes,” “procedures” or “products.” But the essence of KM isn’t something you buy, it’s something you make happen.”

–Jeff Angus, KM Magazine

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“The focus of knowledge management is on ‘doing the right thing’ instead of ‘doing things right.’ It provides a framework within which the organization views all its processes as knowledge processes and all business processes involve creation, dissemination, renewal, and application of knowledge toward organizational sustenance and survival.”

– Yogesh Malhotra in Knowledge Management, Knowledge Organizations & Knowledge Workers: A View from the Front Lines

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“Successful knowledge transfer involves neither computers nor documents but rather interactions between people.”

– Thomas H. Davenport, “Think Tank: The Future of Knowledge Management,” CIO Magazine, December 15, 1995.

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“Why is communication key to knowledge management? Because knowledge becomes productive when it flows. What Peter Drucker calls “high productivity of knowledge” is achieved when people share knowledge. Conversations have become the most value-adding activity in the organization — within teams, among teams, and even beyond the borders of the organization.”

–Edna Pasher

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“I think “knowledge management” is a bullshit issue. Let me tell you why. I can give you perfect information, I can give you perfect knowledge and it won’t change your behavior one iota. People choose not to change their behavior because the culture and the imperatives of the organization make it too difficult to act upon the knowledge. Knowledge is not the power. Power is power. The ability to act on knowledge is power. Most people in most organizations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess. End of story.”

–Michael Schrage, Teamwork Consultant

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“Putting in place protocols and procedures for the creation and management of virtual teams and communities can channel online collaboration and increase productivity.”

– Gartner

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“Knowledge is the new capital, but it’s worthless unless it’s accessible, communicated, and enhanced.”

— Hamilton Beazley, Strategic Leadership Group

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“An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action is the ultimate competitive business advantage”

–Jack Welch

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“The idea is not to create an encyclopaedia of everything that everybody knows, but to keep track of people who ‘know the recipe’, and nurture the technology and culture that will get them talking”.

–Arian Ward, Hughes Space & Communications

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“…the politics accompanying hierarchies hampers the free exchange of knowledge. People are much more open with their peers. They are much more willing to share and to listen.”

–Sir John Browne

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“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and to interact regularly to learn how to do it better.”

–Etienne Wenger

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“Communities of practice weave the organization around competencies without reverting to functional structures. In seven more years, they will be as integral to our concept of organizational structure as business units and teams have become.”

–William M. Snyder

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“Data becomes information when it’s organized; information becomes knowledge when it is placed in actionable context. Without context, there is little value.”

–Kent Greenes, CKO, SAIC Consulting

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“KM is keeping track of those who know the recipe, and nurturing the culture and technology that will get them talking.”

–Adrian Ward, Work Frontiers International

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“Knowledge management is not a playful buzzword but a dynamic initiative companies need to take more seriously if they want to harness their most valuable corporate asset: knowledge.”

–Helen Han, ComputerWorld

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“Any technology solution will fail if it doesn’t recognize the importance of human connections…. Our strategy is to connect people and help them leverage their know-how.”

–John Old, ChevronTexaco

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“Putting in place protocols and procedures for the creation and management of virtual teams and communities can channel online collaboration and increase productivity.”

–Gartner Group

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“An investment in knowledge pays the best return”

–Benjamin Franklin

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“Knowledge applied is productivity.”

–Peter Drucker

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“Relationships are the main activity of business and work.”

–Theodore Zeldin, Work futurist

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“You give me an idea, and I give you an idea, we both have two ideas. You give me a dollar, I giveyou a dollar, we still each have one dollar.”

–Siemens (note: said to convey that there is more than ROI in dollars that gives KM value)

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“KM is an important improvement in the way we do work together.”

–A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble

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“63% of employees complain of the difficulty in accessing undocumented knowledge as a major problem.”

–KPMG survey

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“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.”

–Kahlil Gibran

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“The learned ones say that the path to true knowledge is as narrow and difficult as a razor’s edge.”

–Bhagavad Gita

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“Less than 50% of enterprises have successful knowledge workplace initiatives.”

–Gartner Group

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“The focus we put on work processes and knowledge management underpins all of our project execution excellence.”

–Alan Boeckmann, Chairman, Fluor Corporation

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“If we think of a large, multithreaded organization of thousands of loosely linked, independent management consultants not as a unified and predictably coherent machine but as a complex, living, adaptive system, the ways in which we identify and describe its collective knowledge might be verydifferent.”

–Brooke Manville

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“Don’t just embark on one route without thinking about it. That’s the worst thing to do. You have to start by changing mindset. You need to see your organization as if it consists of nothing but knowledge strategies and knowledge flows.”

–Karl Erik Sveiby

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“Convergence of synchronous and asynchronous technology is a major trend. The combination of the two is the Holy Grail of collaboration.”

–Lewis Ward, Collaborative Strategies

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“we need to recognise that we are operating in a complex systems environment….an environment of exploding knowledge with a great deal more emphasis on intellectual capital….you start by recognising knowledge as a strategic asset; it requires culture change; it requires the reward structure to be tilted towards knowledge management. And it requires database management to be focused in this area. Knowledge Management becomes very important and the culture of it must be embedded in an organisation. The faster you know things, the faster you will know how to respond.”

–Catherine Livingstone, Chair, Australian Business Foundation, CSIRO and Director of Macquarie Bank

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“Companies will succeed depending on their capacity to use knowledge, to attract the right people to train people and to reward them on the basis of their knowledge and their use of it.”

–Catherine Livingstone, Chair, Australian Business Foundation, CSIRO and Director of Macquarie Bank

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“Knowledge management is probably 10% technology and 90% people and corporate culture.”

–Glen Kelley, IBM/Lotus

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“Knowledge Management consists of managerial activities that focus on the development and control of knowledge in an organisation to fulfll organisational objectives.”

–Rob van der Spek

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“KM is the art of creating value from intangible assets.”

–Karl-Erik Sveiby (“value” being both financial and non-financial)

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“KM in good times means ‘knowledge management’, in bad times it means ‘kill me’.”

–David Gurteen

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“The main characteristic of a Knowledge Worker is that they get to decide each morning what their job is and how they are going to tackle it.”

–David Gurteen

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” A successful (KM) project ought to be 20 per cent IT, 30 per cent processes and 50 per cent people.”

–Sam Marshall, Unilever

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“Developing a knowledge sharing culture is a consequence of KM, not a prerequisite.”

–Carla O’Dell

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“In 2001, we found out that Communities of Practice were central in all successful KM initiatives.”

–Carla O’Dell

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“Assets make things possible. People make things happen.”

–Carla O’Dell

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“The key to measuring the value of KM initiatives : link them very tightly with business objectives and business processes. Don’t measure at the corporate level but at the process level.”

–Carla O’Dell

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“Always address the measurement issue from the beginning. This is how KM project teams start focusing on the right questions.”

–Carla O’Dell

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“KM is not about technology. Indeed, we believe that the creation and management of a knowledge worker infrastructure (e.g., portals, search, content, collaboration and learning — see WCS Delta 1185) represents only 20% of the KM challenge. The stubborn 80% of the challenge (and value) lies in planning, organizational change management (politics, culture, behaviors), governance, and clearly defining what KM means to strategic objectives (in terms of markets, products, and services), specific processes, associated process outcomes, cross-functional benefits (e.g., best practices, communities), extension of KM (to embrace customers, partners, and suppliers), and finally, the implications of KM to the workforce (e.g., “What’s in it for me, my team, and my co-workers?”).

–META Group, 2003

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“Organizations failing to invest in their workforce and next generation workplace environment will face erosion of products and services (e.g., throughput, R&D, defect rates, market share), as well as diminished capacity to compete globally, as a result of growing employee malaise.”

–Mike Gotta, META Group, 2003

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“Increasing organizational productivity of knowledge workers requires integration of human capital management and knowledge management disciplines in conjunction with business process management efforts to improve performance and innovation levels within business processes.”

–META Group, 2003

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“Process automation itself is insufficient to deliver complete business agility. Enterprises must also increase organizational productivity by making workers more effective in activities dependent on human interpretation, judgment, decision making, and team collaboration.”

–META Group, 2003

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” Almost 90% of business people say there is no common approach or common criteria for making decisions where they work.”

– Anna Muoio

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” Over half of the federal workforce is eligible for retirement in 2005.”

–Beazley, Boenisch, Harden, Continuity Management

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“The average project takes 222% longer than planned to complete and exceeds its budget by 189%.”

–Projects are risky business, 2001

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“By 2005, innovation-focused knowledge workers will represent 30 to 35 percent of the employed workforce in developed nations.”

–Gartner Group

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“In the digital age, knowledge is our lifeblood. And documents are the DNA of knowledge.”

-–Rick Thoman, CEO, Xerox

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“Through 2007, three-quarters of enterprise productivity gains will be attributed to KM and other knowledge-work enhancements.”

–Gartner Group, 2003

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“By 2005, companies that want to be #1 or #2 in their market will spend 1–5% of revenues on knowledge management.”

–Gartner Group, 2004

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“Knowledge-sharing is an unnatural act in most organizations. Changing employee behavior is 90% of the challenge.”

–Andrew L. Michuda Jr., CEO, Teltech Resource Network

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“Success for people, organisations and communities will come from the way they gather and share information, knowledge, wisdom; from their rate of learning, adaptation, innovation; from the quality of their culture, values, relationships; and from design, ideas, creativity.”

–Jan Lee Martin

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“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”

–Wilbur and Orville Wright

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“In the world of knowledgeable management, Data is ubiquitous, Information is contextuous, Knowledge is illustrious, Technogy is superfluous ”

–David G. Jones

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“… knowledge management has a very strong ethical dimension, and unless we recognise that fact we are going to develop technology based systems which enhance the power of the knowledge manipulator.”

–Frank Land, Sevasti-Melissa Nolas and Urooj Amjad, Knowledge Management: The darker side of KM

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“Knowledge for its own sake was meaningless, its mere accumulation a waste of time. Knowledge must lead to understanding.”

–M I Finley, Introduction to Thucydides ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’

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“An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.”

–Benjamin Franklin

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“The great end of learning is not knowledge, but action.”

–Peter Honey

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“An investment in knowledge always pays the best return.”

–Benjamin Franklin

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”


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“When you know something, say what you know. When you don’t know something, say that you don’t know. That is knowledge. Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

–Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)

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“Comradeship and trust will emerge naturally when discipline and high standards are enforced.”

–Tao Zhu Gong, the eleventh business principle

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“I was feeling useful, and started to tell him everything I knew…I felt needed, and this is one of the best sensations a human being can experience.”

–Pablo Coelho, Brida

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“A complacent satisfaction with present knowledge is the chief bar to the pursuit of knowledge.”

–B. H. Liddell Hart, The Ghost of Napoleon

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” Teamwork: not permitting others to fail.”

–Steve Kerr, CLO, Goldman Sachs

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“Trust is the bandwidth of communication.”

–Karl-Erik Sveiby

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“Knowledge management fails when people need common information but don’t need each other”

–Andy Boyd, Shell

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“Connection, not collection: That’s the essence of knowledge management.”

–Tom Stewart, The Wealth of Knowledge

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“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

–Harry S Truman

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“If you want to change a culture, you need to change its story, because that’s all a culture is.”

–Thomas King

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“Knowledge management fails when people need common information but don’t need each other.”

–Andy Boyd — Shell

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“Connection, not collection: That’s the essence of knowledge management.”

–Tom Stewart, The Wealth of Knowledge

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“When knowledge gained somewhere doesn’t move elsewhere, that’s not a learning organization; that’s just a bunch of projects.”

–Saratoga Institute

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“Practice provides the rails on which knowledge flows.”

–John Seely Brown

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“Decision-makers keep looking in their rear-mirrors. Governance still needs a steering device!”

–Michel Cartier

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“Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.”

–Kahlil Gibran

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“Knowledge only has true value when it’s shared.”

–Tony Geoghan

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”


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“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”

–Martin H. Fischer

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“Knowledge management is a process that transforms intellect into intellectual capital.”

–Ken Blanchard

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“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain we must add the experience of the soul.”

– Arnold Bennett

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“Value is in the knowledge flow, not in the knowledge store.”

–E. Sandwick

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“Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something, or getting something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.”

–Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline

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“Knowledge is not power; it’s potential power. Knowledge is only powerful through action.”

–Tony Robbins

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“In a knowledge-driven economy, talk is real work.”

–Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak

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“Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation — literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations.”

– David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto

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“Nothing can be effectively controlled, in the long run, from the top of a hierarchy– or from any one perspective. People are basically trustworthy. Only workplaces that give their members the chance to learn and add value through their work will succeed in the long run.”

–Art Kleiner

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“It’s a cross functional world–removing/trashing/obliterating any and all barriers to cross-functional communication is nothing short of our single highest priority. However sophisticated the technology, however grand the vision of integrated solutions and great customer experiences, the business is doomed without real human communication.”

–Tom Peters

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“Knowledge is power, but enthusiasm pulls the switch.”

–Ivern Ball

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“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge.”

–Daniel J. Boorstin

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the MANUAL WORKER in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of KNOWLEDGE WORK and the KNOWLEDGE WORKER.”

–Peter F. Drucker

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“I think “knowledge management” is a bullshit issue. Let me tell you why. I can give you perfect information, I can give you perfect knowledge and it won’t change your behavior one iota. People choose not to change their behavior because the culture and the imperatives of the organization make it too difficult to act upon the knowledge. Knowledge is not the power. Power is power. The ability to act on knowledge is power. Most people in most organizations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess. End of story.”

–Michael Schrage

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.”

–Peter M. Senge

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.”

–Peter F. Drucker

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“Two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change.”

–W. Edwards Deming

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation — literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations.”

–David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

“The ability to act on knowledge is power. Most people in most organizations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess.”

–Michael Schrage

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“There are three things we should practice and not preach–love, faith and knowledge management.”

–Andrea Hurtado-Mejia

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“An organization, per se, is almost an abstract concept. It certainly isn’t a building, a chair or a desk. It’s the people who talk about their work who bring it alive, and when they’re not there, the organization in a sense doesn’t exist. Meetings are the critical site where… problems are solved, decisions are made and people are evaluated.”

–Margaret Byrne, United Learning Group

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“KM is a tool in the Strategic Management toolbox (albeit perhaps the “Swiss Army” knife in the toolbox).”

–Dan Kirsch

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“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”

–Samuel Johnson

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Knowledge management is the strategy and processes to enable the creation and flow of relevant knowledge throughout the business to create organizational, customer and consumer value.”

–David Smith, Unilever

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Knowledge can mean information, awareness, knowing, cognition, sapience, cognizance, science, experience, skill, insight, competence,know-how, practical ability, capability, learning, wisdom, certainty, and so on. The definition depends on the context in which the term is used.”

–Karl-Erik Sveiby, The New Organizational Wealth

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“Knowledge is content in context to produce an actionable understanding.”

–Dr. Robert Bauer, Xerox PARC

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“Knowledge is information that is relevant, actionable, and at least partially based on experience.”

–Dorothy Leonard

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“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information about it.”

–Samuel Johnson, 1775

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“What Western companies need to do is unlearn their existing view of knowledge and pay more attention to tacit knowledge, creating new knowledge, and having everyone in the organization be involved.”

–Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka

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“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

–Benjamin Franklin

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“For knowledge, too, is itself a power…Knowledge and human power are synonymous.”

–Francis Bacon

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“There is a danger in the practice of knowledge management — that managing knowledge will be perceived as an end in itself, creating an internal bureaucracy focused on knowledge creation, acquisition, storage, and retrieval — a set of activities often grouped under the heading the knowledge management process. Such a process set is important and useful only as it enables value to be created through application of knowledge.”

–Rudy Ruggles & Ross Little

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“The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it.”

–Andrew Carnegie

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

“Knowledge is power, which is why people who had it in the past often tried to make a secret of it. In post-capitalism, power comes from transmitting information to make it productive, not from hiding it.”

–Peter Drucker

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“Through zeal, knowledge is gotten, through lack of zeal, knowledge is lost; let a man who knows the double path of gain and loss thus place himself that knowledge may grow.”


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“Just as the largest library, badly arranged, is not so useful as a very moderate one that is well arranged, so the greatest amount of knowledge, if not elaborated by our own thoughts, is worth much less than a far smaller volume that has been abundantly and repeatedly thought over.”

–Arthur Schopenhauer

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“Knowledge management is the art of creating commercial value from intangible assets.”

–Karl-Erik Sveiby

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“A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak.”

–Michael Garrett Marino

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“Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.”

–Kahlil Gibran

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“To be successful in a knowledge economy firms need to create learning organizations.”

–Don Tapscott

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“It is not good to know more unless we do more with what we already know.”

–R. K. Bergethon

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“We can be knowledgeable with the knowledge of another man, but we cannot be wise with the wisdom of another man.”

–Michel de Montaigne

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“I find that a great part of the information I have, was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.”

–Franklin P. Adams

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“Nurturing and expanding existing communities of practice is easier than establishing new ones.”

–Barbara Lawton

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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”

–Margaret Fuller

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“Effective knowledge management can take place when people are effortlessly able to share their individual mental models with multitudes of people.”

–Bipin Junnarkar

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“Science is organized knowledge.”

–Herbert Spencer

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“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

–Albert Einstein

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“A shared point-of-view can lead to collective understanding, and hence the creation of new knowledge or the leverage of existing knowledge.”

–Bipin Junnarkar

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“Unlike information, knowledge is less tangible and depends on human cognition and awareness. There are several types of knowledge — knowing a fact is little different from information, but knowing a skill, or knowing that something might affect market conditions is something, that despite attempts of knowledge engineers to codify such knowledge, has an important human dimension.”

–David Skyrme

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“We are moving from the finite resource to the infinite — and the infinite resource, of course, is knowledge. We understand it as knowledge, back down into these files, back down to what is imbedded in a simple music file. It is a knowledge-based kind of economy.”

–Michael Nesmith

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“Successful companies develop knowledge velocity, which helps them overcome knowledge sluggishness, to apply what they learn to critical processes at a faster rate than their competitor.”

–Amrit Tiwana

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“If we would have new knowledge, we must get a whole world of new questions.”

–Susanne K. Langer

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“Knowledge is not simply another commodity. On the contrary. Knowledge is never used up. It increases by diffusion and grows by dispersion.”

–Daniel Joseph Boorstin

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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

–Alvin Toffler

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“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”

–Peter Drucker

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“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not the ignorance of knowledge but the illusion of it.”

–Stephen Hawking

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“Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.”

–Albert Einstein

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“Knowledge management is a framework for designing organizational goals, structures, and processes so that the organization can use what it knows to learn and to create value for its customers and community.”

–Chun Wei Choo

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“The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.”

–Samuel Johnson

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“The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.”

–Daniel J. Boorstin

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“Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something, or getting something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.”

–Peter Senge

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“A man is never astonished that he does not know what another does, but he is surprised at the gross ignorance of the other in not knowing what he does.”


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“No organization, no manager in her or his right mind cares about abstract, theoretical knowledge, unless it supports more effective action.”

–Peter Senge

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“There are four kinds of people, three of which are to be avoided and the fourth cultivated — those who do not know that they do not know; those who know that they do not know; those who do not know that they know; and those who know that they know.”


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“He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool, shun him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child, teach him. He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep, wake him. And he who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise, follow him.”

–Sufi saying

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“Knowledge always demands increase — it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but will afterwards always propagate itself.”

–Samuel Johnson

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“As yet there is no software that can transfer knowledge in a way that makes use of the human ability to learn with all senses.”

–Karl-Erik Sveiby

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“The ability to perceive or think differently is more important than the knowledge gained.”

–David Bohm

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“An executive sponsor is a Critical Success Factor for a KM Program.”

–Melissie Clemmons Rumizen

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“Despite ever increasing functionally in collaborative technologies, organizations frequently do not get the benefits they anticipate from collaborative technologies. They fail to give due attention to people and organizational processes–the elements of soft infrastructure.”

–David J Skyrme

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“Communities of practice are a natural part of organizational life. They will develop on their own and many will flourish, whether or not the organization recognizes them. Their health depends primarily on the voluntary engagement of their members and on the emergence of internal leadership.”

–Etienne Wenger

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“Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.”

–Abu Bakr

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“The basic economic resource–the means of production–is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge.”

–Peter Drucker

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“Knowledge resides in the user and not in the collection [of information]. It is how the user reacts to a collection of information that matters.”

–C.W. Churchman

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“Knowledge is our most powerful engine of production.”

–Alfred Marshall

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“Knowledge is a sacred cow, and my problem will be how we can milk her while keeping clear of her horns.”

–Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

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“People are five times more likely to ask a colleague for information than to consult any online resource.”

— 2005 MIT research findings

May 19th, 2008

KM Standards Should Be Aimed at…What?

There have been some very interesting and erudite discussions recently in the ActKM group which I have, unfortunately, been too busy to participate in. This comment by Neil Olonoff caught my fancy, though, so I decided to blog it. He has written a position paper noting that many recent US government mis-steps have been “knowledge failures,” and he is now searching for a way to establish KM standards to drive success and consistency in the Federal government. He said:

“Tim’s (Kannegieter) analogy to the fire code is a very good starting point. Fire codes are aimed at avoiding having buildings burn down. KM standards should be aimed at … what? Here are a few suggested functional standard areas …

- knowledge sharing across boundaries under certain circumstances to be defined locally

- adherence to good knowledge storage and retrieval practices, to be defined locally

- meeting an acceptable level of learning and skills in knowledge work competencies (according to a common benchmark, like TPFL or similar)

- formulation, vetting, and publishing of best practices

- expertise and personnel location capability

- knowledge retention and sustainment capabilities to ensure transfer of knowledge to successors.”

There are troublesome words in these suggestions that frequently have different meanings to different people (in bold above), not to mention that the term “knowledge” is used when he actually means “information”. I know his suggestions are only ideas at this point, and a lot of wordsmithing would be needed. But just like every other attempted definition of KM I have ever read, these ideas are full of assumptions of a certain point of view…which may or may not be true and/or complete for all organizations or industries.

To me this begs the question of whether there should be KM standards, or actually, whether there ever can be “KM standards.” There is still widespread disagreement about what KM actually is, even though most people now acknowledge it to be a distinctive management discipline. You can only have standards when you can measure. You can only measure when you have a scale against which to measure. At this stage of the evolution of KM as a discipline, establishing standards could actually limit the the creative impetus to explore the breadth of possibilities KM can offer.

Like I have said many times in the past, KM is still like the elephant in the old fable of the blind men and the elephant. Depending upon what an organization’s need is, and upon the skill and understanding of the person leading the KM charge, that elephant can look more like document management or technology or expertise location or a portal or communities of practice. Perhaps standards for each major component of KM are possible, but I don’t think we are at a point where “KM standards” in a universal sense make any sense at all. Let’s not put it into a box before we know how big that box should be.

May 2nd, 2008

Some Practical Business Applications for Virtual Worlds

It’s exciting to be living through the early stages of the development of realistic, interactive virtual worlds and their intersections with real life (what some people call the “meat space”). At this point in time, anything is possible, anyone can participate, and any group or technology can become the dominant force in our virtual future. Things are moving very fast now — too fast for anyone to keep up with everything that is happening and the ideas that are springing up like mushrooms after a rain. That is especially difficult for corporations, governments and other large organizations to deal with, so here is a list of some practical applications that these groups can set their focus on. I’ve distilled it from a number of leading sources that have weight and credibility in the field.

· Building Automation (sensors, security and other relevant data — temperature, humidity, setting of devices, errors that come from devices etc) A virtual agent would handle communication between devices, monitor status, and instruct each device about what to do. Each building or home could be thought of as a box defined by rules, and the avatars of different people with different interests or permissions, such as financial or technical, could access and obtain pertinent data from the virtual agent. The German company Wago is a leader in building automation.)

· Energy Monitoring (collecting data on energy consumption and availability (e.g. electricity, gas, oil, water), as well as projected cost savings, tracking the interaction and integration of different systems, e.g., heating, cooling and fuel consumption, to reveal energy leaks. Energy monitoring can drastically reduce the carbon footprint of houses and large facilities. By tracking the interaction and integration of heating, cooling and fuel consumption systems, energy leaks not understood from a single data stream can be identified and resolved.)

· Conditional Monitoring and Alert Management (monitoring the state of various systems and transactions that can result in a work order being issued. HVAC, lights, heating, refrigeration, access control, elevators, gates, switches, motion detectors and all kinds of sensors can report data to a central control that monitors and analyzes input and initiates specific visual displays. IBM recently announced a vNOC (virtual network operations center) it created for Implenia, a Swiss construction and facilities management firm.

· Preventive maintenance (field level sensor readings, part numbers, staff scheduling, customer requirements can all be tracked and reported using a combination of real life data feeds that create instant visual effects.)

· Distribution channel automation (this also applies to military convoy automation. From point of sale or point of manufacture through the shipping area and onto trucks, trains or planes, 3D images can be used to represent everything from packets of data flowing through a system network to the actual transport vehicles moving items from Point A to Point B in real time on a map. Delivery and condition data, together with recipient signatures, can make their way back to the point of origination instantly. Interruptions, delays or accidents will be obvious.)

· Virtual commerce (connecting a 3D virtual store/inventory with a back-end Real Life system like SAP will open many new possibilities for people to participate actively in the act of shopping, designing their own products, arranging for the delivery of real goods, and even delivering virtual goods to a virtual world. Virtual shopping baskets can fill from a pre-developed shopping list, and advise the status on unavailable items. Scripted boards located strategically in the virtual floor can trigger totals of items in the basket or recommend additional items from a nearby display. An avatar shopper can drop his shopping cart on a cash register, and initiate a real world transaction that will result in payment procedures and delivery of the real world items to a street address. Customers can enter the virtual world and inhabit model homes where they can design their own rooms and furniture, that can then be converted to real world products delivered right to the customer. Scripted chat bots or avatars of real world sales staff can assist customers with purchasing decisions.)

· Banking (simulate high-volume banking environments, link virtual ATMs to real-time authorization from a core banking system, provide virtual credit card accounts and transactions, provide loans in virtual or global currencies to qualified applicants–as avatars. Not as far-fetched as it sounds. See this article in Computer Weekly.)

· Travel There are amazing 3D replicas of modern and historical locations in Second Lifeand Active Worlds, with even more to come from Google Earth. Imagine being able to take a 3D tour of a place before you visit, so you will know what to expect and the layouts of locations. Google is expected to launch a 3D avatar-based version of a world built upon its Street View and Google Maps technologies this summer, which will make it even more realistic to view sites before visiting in person. Imagine if avatars could click on a picture of a virtual location, or click on a real world picture of the same location and enter into a purchase transaction. Imagine going into a travel office or visiting their web site and being given a tour around several cities or cruise ships by a real life travel agent’s avatar. Hotels could offer looks at their rooms and facilities. Armchair travelers and the disabled who cannot travel might be willing to pay a subscription fee for the right to explore the world virtually.

· Training/Education Emergency doctors in the field who need a consultation, or training in a surgical procedure. An effort is underway to create detailed 3D models of the entire human body, with several organs already available for study. There is a walk-in model of a human cell on Genome island in Second Life. Education is a hot topic in virtual worlds, because everyone can see how much vitality and energy results from creating experiential 3D learning environments. Many businesses are already exploring the educational and recruiting potential of virtual worlds.

Other possibilities that come to mind include:

· Data representation and management reports

· Employee background checks

· Call center and Help Desk automation

· Bio-hazard, weather, chemical and nuclear emergency preparedness simulations

· War games and military strategy simulations

If you’d like to suggest others, or tell me about interesting architectures or practical 3D applications you have come across in your own travels, please drop me a note!

February 18th, 2008

The Value of Learning by Doing

In the process of building out my project in Second Life, I needed to learn scripting so an object I created would be animated in a certain way. I’m no programmer, but I’m brave, so I signed up for a scripting class today. It was a short class, and only covered the basics, but it was a great reminder of what it’s like to set out to learn something new and accomplish it.

Adult learning theory says adults need to “do” — they can’t just sit and listen to endless lectures. They want to manipulate the objects, to sit in a circle and put pen to paper, or debate a topic with others. The most lasting and effective learning occurs in these types of situations.

Today my little avatar went to a strange location in Second Life to take a “class” from someone I have never met before and know nothing about. Amazingly, there were other people like me there as well…all of us over 40 (we asked!) and putting our naive selves in the hands of someone who may have been 16 and only one step ahead of us. Nevertheless, it worked out, because the instructor came prepared with some handout support we could keep for reference, and we spent the better part of the class on voice chat, learning by making mistakes or asking the group to help or explain something we just couldn’t get on our own. It was great! Everyone in the small class brought a different perspective, and was learning to script for entirely different reasons, yet we really did help each other. One guy had some simple programming background…enough to inform us that the scripting language was based on C++…which impressed us all even more when we finally accomplished our task. Three said they were teachers in real life, and were trying to learn how to teach their students about learning in virtual worlds.

The instruction was sketchy. Everyone had a lesson note card, and although the instructor tried to set the pace, the class quickly ran away with the session. While one or two lagged behind, stuck on one step or another, two others were running ahead and carrying on their own side conversation about how to solve the next challenge that the instructor had not yet introduced. Amazingly, we all ended up more or less together at the end of the class, cheering like children when we caused the cubes we had created to rise up, twirl suspended in the air, and change colors each time they were clicked on. Not bad for one hour! It is one thing to read or to hear. It’s an entirely different (and richer) learning experience to “do”.

January 7th, 2008

If I were starting a community…

Whether social or business-to-business, the thinking that precedes the launch of a community initiative should be the same. For this article I am focusing on business communities of practice, both internal to the organization and external — engaging business partners and/or customers. If I were starting a new community, these are the things I would get answers to first. Planners and organizers will improve their chances of creating a successful community if they cover these questions before they plan their technology or their launch.

Objectives of the community

· Participants

· Management

Don’t expect them to be the same. Reconcile the differences.

Conditions critical for success:

· Social/cultural

· Technical

· Organizational

In a perfect world, the community is self-governing and establishes its own rules and guidelines. Most corporate communities have some level of expectation on group membership, participation and knowledge capture for their communities. Be sure to communicate all expectations to the group’s members.

Who is the audience?

· Issues

· Experience with communities

· Demographics

· Voluntary participation vs. mandated participation

· What do they have in common (basis for community)

· Where and how does the regular, job-related work of these people intersect

When planning the technology, the launch and all the communications around a new community, it can help to have some specific people in mind. Identify two people who represent the key demographics and put up pictures of them to remind you who the users will be. It will help at planning crossroads and in defining the technology requirements.

Type of community

· Online vs. face-to-face

· Professional vs. work team

· Employees only or include external members (clients, suppliers, customers)

· Applied vs. theoretical

· Open or restricted membership

· Moderated vs. unmoderated

Technology Requirements

· Plain vanilla or fancy features

· What can you accomplish with technologies already part of the IT stack?

· Will you include social media? (which, can you make it secure, guidelines for use, etc.)

· Level of participant experience with communities

Finally, plan ahead for the unthinkable (moderator burnout, seasonal impacts, bad behavior, cliques, lack of funding, huge unexpected volume). Plan special training for community moderators. Plan to train the participants in using the technology. Plan to use management spokespersons to promote using the tools and the value of communities — both professional and for the business.

December 23rd, 2007

Leveraging Virtual Environments to Deliver Corporate Training

The impact of immersive virtual environments is just starting to be felt by corporations, and is likely to have a significant impact on many businesses. The value of learning simulations has been chronicled for more than 10 years, but little has been written about the specific industries or processes that will benefit. The processes will vary by industry, but those that will benefit from virtualization will offer dramatic new opportunities for high impact corporate training. Skills or processes that involve social networking will be obvious starting points — for example, traditional training areas, such as new hire orientations, diversity and inclusion, ethics, sexual harrassment, cultural understanding, and policy changes. Talent management areas, such as critical thinking, leadership, logic, rational decision making, strategic planning, sales effectiveness, and negotiation skills will also benefit. In addition, employee and partner interactions are good candidates for virtual world interactions.

Traditional training is less effective in areas such as the construction of interactive device models, learning by discovery, acquisition and storage of domain expertise, and the automated presentation of instruction in the context of working device models (think airplane pilots or heavy equipment operators). Virtual environments excel at training for these areas. Complex tasks require learning by doing, and learning by doing in a designed virtual experience is much closer to the real thing than standard classroom role plays.

Simulations have limitations other than subject matter. Although the technology for virtual environments is improving rapidly, it is not yet robust enough for most business-critical processes. Users are largely unaccustomed to using avatars and 3D interfaces, so adoption rates can be low at the outset. Trainers themselves may find teaching through an avatar an unnatural skill that requires them to rethink their teaching style. Businesses probably have a window of 18–24 months to develop a virtual training strategy and begin implementing a technology solution.

As I defined it previously, a virtual world is “a persistent simulated space inhabited by multiple concurrent or non-concurrent users who share a sense of physical embodiment that enables them to interact imaginatively with others and experience real world outcomes.” Virtual worlds will not eliminate traditional training, since they are not designed specifically for education, but they will change significantly how learners learn. Research in the field, such as that by the U.S. Army Research Institute, shows a dramatic improvement in learning behaviors and effectiveness in learners using immersive virtual worlds. Unlike traditional page turning self-paced courses, virtual worlds provide a way for multiple users to enter a customized environment, together with the instructor or in teams, and interact with each other in real time using avatars to accomplish designed tasks. Avatars become increasingly relevant, since new employees raised on MTV and video games are accustomed to using them and readily make the leap from virtual world activities to real world learning. Existing teaching aids, like slide shows and video clips, can easily be incorporated.

Types of Virtual Environments

There are two types of virtual environments: gaming and social. Both may be used to achieve different educational objectives. Gaming virtual worlds have an element of competition, with the implication of a prize or reward for completing the game. People may socialize in them. Social virtual worlds are environments where people interact socially or professionally, may compete for rewards in them, and there is no final ending or completion. There are two broad areas of corporate training: process steps or procedures, and interpersonal skill development. Organizations will be able to achieve the fastest return on investment by focusing initially on interpersonal skills development and social interactions, which are multi-user in nature.

Different types of businesses will benefit in different ways from training in virtual environments. Field forces in hazardous roles, such as oil well drilling, chemical plant management, heavy equipment testing, explosives, material management, power plants or nuclear facilities, or even surgery, can learn using precise models of actual equipment they will be using and make mistakes harmlessly. Knowledge-based organizations such as far flung consulting or professional services firms can benefit from the social networking an collaboration inherent in a multi-user virtual environment. Other organizational areas that can benefit include recruiting, global networking, internal communications, and talent management and development. Fictitious environments or real world replicas can set up conditions conducive to good learning experiences. For example, in Second Life the University of California-Davis created a simulation of a schizophrenic/hallucinagenic experience to teach medical students. Caterpillar created simulations of mining sites to train dump truck drivers in operational hazards and vehicle controls. The U.S. Army uses virtual world courses to train soldiers in combat techniques and negotiations with local civil authorities. Virtual worlds provide excellent opportunities to recreate an historical period or travel virtually to places they have never seen, making them come alive to learners.

Some forward thinking companies have already begun to apply virtual worlds to real world processes and problems. Other organizations still have time to develop their learning strategies. Virtual world technologies are in a state of transition from a largely entertainment platform to a stable business platform. Existing issues with most of the include data security, user authentication, hacking, and intellectual property protection, but vendors are working aggressively to ameliorate those risks. The greatest security is still a proprietary system behind the corporate firewall. This can be accomplished using a number of technologies, including retired commercial gaming platforms such as The Sims, Asheron’s Call and Earth & Beyond, or newer virtual world platforms like Second Life, Forterra, There, Active Worlds, Kaneva or Entropia.

Evaluating Effectiveness

J.E. Morrison and C. Hammon of The Institute for Defense Analysis provide seven measures that can help when analyzing training effectiveness, which I paraphrase here:

1. Identify specific measurement issues

2. Create a measurement plan covering both performance measures and research design

3. Use valid and reliable performance measures

4. Impose normal experimental controls on the the research to the extent possible

5. Measure as accurately as possible

6. Use analytic models throughout the development of the simulation

7. Incorporate user feedback and reactions, in addition to performance data and analysis

Manipulating the variables of time and point of view contribute to an immersive feeling in a virtual world, and provide other measures for training success. These are especially relevant for training objectives of improved decision making and collaboration.

In order to retain a learner’s interest after a long period of time, normal online training courses use brief paragraphs of content, wide spaces between different ideas, hiding of unnecessary information with hyperlinks, and the use of color to separate different types of information. Instant access to online help and the ability for users to provide feedback throughout the training further enhance the learning experience. The equivalents in a virtual world include quests or tasks that can be accomplished quickly by an avatar, a back story that provides visual and spatial richness for the learner to experience between tasks, removing information related to tasks that have been completed previously or that the learner is not yet ready to perform, and visual identifiers for tasks that can be done (such as avatars identified by a symbol above their heads or colored lighting to highlight a location where a task can be obtained). Research also shows that virtual world training should focus more on measuring performance against training objectives, and less on the specific aspects of the operating system or user interface.


The high visibility of Second Life and its virtual economy have made virtual worlds a common discussion point in many Board Rooms. Gartner research says that by 2010, most leading corporations will embrace virtual environments for applications such as collaboration, education and communication. Training and development budgets for 2009 should include virtual environment development, including the internal communications and change management components that are vital to adoption rates. Corporations should begin to develop a virtual training and simulation strategy today that includes identifying their key business processes that might be taught effectively in a 3D simulation. If the senior management of the organization have little personal experience with gaming or 3D social environments (and that will apply to most corporations), outside consultants may be needed to ensure that the right decisions are made to make use of the medium. A virtual world is not an exact replica of the real world, and the team who will design the world needs to understand the differences that will make the virtual experience effective. Planning should also identify virtual world platforms with the security and functionalities required by both business users and existing IT systems. Enlist the aid of system architects to select an appropriate technology and understand clearly how learning management systems will or will not integrate with the virtual environment platform.

September 5th, 2007

Why Executives Don’t Buy KM

This week, Frank Guerino, CEO of TraverseIT, posted some informal research results he had when talking recently to 18 high level executives in corporations with 15–75,000 employees. He said, ” While I know this is a small sampling with incomplete information, they are extremely intelligent individuals who all have very large spans of global control in their enterprises, including large global organizations, budgets and very large customer bases (some internal and some external). Most of the enterprises were in different market sectors.”

With regard to KM, he found what he believes to be minor insights into why leaders tend not to buy into formal KM implementations. Some readers will consider the results technology or information management oriented. Others will look beyond the comments to find they acknowledge a KM strategy is needed, that KM is about people and processes as well as technology, and that they are skeptical about KM’s ability to produce results. They do also seem to jump to discussing technology first, but that’s not surprising since they were talking to a technology company. I think these comments are valid user observations related to KM and should be taken into account the same as all voice of the customer research results. If they mistakenly believe that KM is about managing data and content, then it’s our responsibility as KM practitioners to do a better job of educating our employers and customers!

Here’s what the executives said:

Common Beliefs…

1. It’s critical to have a Knowledge Management Strategy.

2. A KM strategy does not require dedicated KM roles in an enterprise as, most commonly, the CEO and/or CIO set this strategy.

3. KM can be improved using a strategy that requires no implementation of formal KM processes. A good KM strategy can be implemented with tools, technologies, and leadership that has appropriate vision.

4. Knowledge is a human thing. It is processed and realized by individual humans working alone and/or with other people. It is not something that can be created, understood or leveraged by machines. It is not something embedded in a culture.

5. Knowledge creation, processing and exploitation is about getting the right data and information to the right people.

6. Knowledge can be codified and stored in the form of content, to be leveraged by systems and people, at a later day.

7. The common understanding of KM, by all of them, was that KM is the process of effectively coordinating and managing your data, information, and/or content in such a way as to allow humans to make sense of it, so that it can be exploited to improve the enterprise in any way, shape or form. Part of that process includes getting things out of people’s heads and codified into general content and business rules so that it can be exploited by other systems and people.

Basic Goals of a General KM Strategy…

1. Improve Communications

2. Improve Capture and Persistence of Content

3. Improve Capture and Persistence of Work

4. Improve Accessibility to Data & Information of all forms

5. Improve the Capture, Recognition and Exploitation of Metrics & Statistics

6. Improve Automation

1. KM Strategy for Improving Communications

Goal: Facilitate and achieve better and more frequent communications between people, between systems, and between systems and people

Purpose: Getting higher quality data and information to appropriate systems and people, faster, will facilitate faster knowledge processing, recognition, awareness and understanding by the people acting as stakeholders.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Phone (Landline/Mobile/VOIP/Etc.)

* Web-Based Communications & Collaboration Tools (Intranet/Wikis/Forums/Blogs/Listservs/Etc.)

* Computer-based Communications & Collaboration Tools (Email/Chat/Skype/Etc.)

* System-to-System Integration Tools (Brokers/ETL/Middleware/etc.)

* System-to-Human Integration Tools (Business Intelligence/Reporting/Visualizations/Etc.)

2. KM Strategy for Improving Capture and Persistence of Content (i.e. Documentation)

Goal: Facilitate and achieve better and more frequent documentation of Processes, Products, Services, Roles, Responsibilities, Work, etc.

Purpose: A key element of KM is the codification of what people “know”. Since enterprises have a high turnover rate, a key issue is to “persist” what people know by codifying it into usable data, content, business rules, etc.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Desktop Productivity Tools (MS Office/PDF Tools/etc.)

* Electronic Libraries

* Document Management tools

* Authoring, Content Management & Collaboration tools (Intranets/Wikis/Blogs/Etc.)

* Scanners

3. KM Strategy for Improving Capture and Persistence of Work

Goal: Facilitate and achieve better and more frequent capture and persistence of work that is expected to be performed, that is being performed, and/or that has been performed by, both, humans and systems

Purpose: The capture of work leads to data, information and content that can be leveraged for decision making to improve an enterprise.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Operations Tools (Project Management/Product Management/ Service Management/ Incident Management/ etc.)

* Workflow Tools

4. KM Strategy for Improving the Capture, Recognition, and Exploitation of Metrics & Statistics

Goal: Facilitate and achieve better and more frequent metrics and statistics that are an outcome of repeatable work performed by humans and systems.

Purpose: Metrics and Statistics drive decision making. The more that are available and made useful, the more options decision makers have to work with.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Metadata Models (Ontologies/Taxonomies/Static Reference Data/Etc.)

* Automation Tools & Technologies

* Repetitive Processes

5. KM Strategy for Improving Accessibility and Visibility of Data

Goal: Facilitate accessibility to the data that people and systems need, when they need it.

Purpose: Accessibility and visibility drive knowledge processing and understanding. The faster data gets to people the faster decisions can be made.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Crawling and Indexing Solutions

* Search Solutions (Index Based/Value Based/Metadata Based/Etc.)

* Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools and Cognitive

* Middleware Solutions (ETL, Brokers, Queuing, etc.)

* Correlation Engines

* Semantic Tools & Technologies

* Interpreters

6. KM Strategy for Improving Automation

Goal: To automate anything and everything that can be automated, according to priority and allowable budget.

Purpose: Automation increases the capacity for repetitive/redundant work processing and generates volumes of metrics and statistics that help free up humans to focus on higher value work (such as focusing on customers) and exploit such metrics and statistics, to make more and better decisions.

Facilitating Tools & Technologies:

* Workflow tools (Process Automation Tools/Business Processing Tools/Etc.)

* Programming Languages & Tools (Scripting/Higher Order/Etc.)

* Machines (Computers/Manufacturing/Tools/Robots/Etc.)

* Synthesis Solutions

Clearly there are “people” methodologies like knowledge transfer and communities of practice that are largely overlooked by these participants. But it’s equally clear that without technology providing a vehicle to process and retrieve knowledge that is stored as information, most of what an organization knows will become lost. To me it’s a clear case of which came first, the chicken or the egg? You need both types of activities for KM to achieve an organization’s desired results.

July 2nd, 2007

KM’s Fast Food Restaurant: Discussion Forums

I was talking with a colleague this morning about communities and collaboration. We were discussing collaboration tools and what makes a community a community. Some organizations view communities to be structured groups that management can “create” and people will just jump in and magically start to regurgitate everything they know on the topic. That’s a naive point of view born out of traditional corporate top-down management, as most of us know. Communities happen because people share a passion for a topic and like to talk about it with like-minded others. I am reminded of Shawn Callahan’s test for community.

We then moved to talking about different tools and the impact they have on communities. One company I know has rolled out blogs, wikis and threaded message discussions to its employees, and they have approached the new collaboration tools in much the same way…they hard coded organizational structures into “communities” and they have suggested to workers that they go post in “their community”. While some people will do that initially to honor the request made by the organization, a few postings don’t make a community, and the blogs or message boards will languish after that little spike that always happens when something new is launched. I don’t know about you, but I bristle a bit when it’s assumed that I want to be a member of a community. It’s stereotyping that has no basis in how I might choose to represent myself or my interests. (Maybe this is a babyboomer view of life!)

That same company has the point of view (and they are communicating it to workers) that blogs are for discussion. People who have opinions on a subject or want to discuss a theory or want to drill down deeply into something should do it on a blog and have discussions via comments on the blog. To me that is simply wrong. First, to create an organizational blog, for example, “Property & Casualty Underwriters Blog” means it’s not personal…it doesn’t really belong to anyone or a core group of thought leaders, and the conversations will always remain formal, reasoned and reserved. There is always the tacit knowledge that “someone” is watching over the community and judging what is posted there. Even to create a set of threaded discussion areas, such as Healthcare Professionals, Communication Theory, Research Technicians, or Soccer Moms assumes that workers who fall into that category by job classification automatically want to be a member of that community. Many will, true, but communities that work let people go where their interests dictate, and don’t predefine where they should go. People want to graze and sample and explore until they find a place and a group they feel enough affinity with to want to keep going there.

Which leads to KM and fast food! Discussion boards are like the fast food drive throughrestaurants of KM. On some days visitors may choose to go into the restaurant to eat, and may spend time with the food. But most days workers are on their way to somewhere else — they drop in for some nourishment, and they stay in their cars. They scan the menu and choose items that appeal to them that day, they take the items they want (prepared by someone else), and they drive away. If they like the food, they will be back! I think the analogy works well.

The analogy for wikis to me is a native tribe in the jungle building a hut. Some members provide the saplings used to define the structure. Some strip vines to anchor the cross-members into place. Some scour the jungle for the right leaves to make a roof. Some use the leaves to put the roof into place. Some weave branches in and out to fill in between the main supports. And at any time, an experienced tribal elder can come in and move a timber, tighten a lashing or provide some caulk to fill a gap. (It takes a village to make a wiki?)

So what is the analogy for Blogs? A brainstorming meeting?

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June 15th, 2007

Perhaps Knowledge Silos Are Useful?

For the past couple of months I have been re-engaging in the business world, in a large organization that prides itself on its knowledge and Knowledge Management expertise. It has given me a new appreciation of knowledge silos, and I want to suggest a different point of view on why they are beneficial and why many organizations have difficulty when they want to break them down. There’s a lot of research out now that shows how workers are buried in information to the point that they spend half their time or more searching for the information they need to keep doing their actual job. This is a huge productivity loss, and it’s fatiguing to workers.

In my new role I have been exposed to a lot of training, numerous white papers and tons of PowerPoint presentations on everything from products and services to directions for how to use our virtual office reservation system. The only way to make sense of the information overload was to categorize the information into broad categories: KM team, required training, New York office, KM CoP, Virtual Reality CoP, etc. The process of creating my own taxonomy of information made me think again about silos, and think about them differently — not as rigid organizational structures, but as a dynamic way to make sense out of chaos. In a prior role, I observed silos to be restrictive and imposed by business structures… verticals where a business line or department was only interested in its own progress and stayed unaware of what the other parts of the business were doing. If I had had to draw a picture of the business, I would have drawn a bunch of silos in a circle, and labeled each one of them with the name of a business line.

Now I’m in a KM savvy organization, and I’m observing silos again…but they are formed by necessity! In this company there is so MUCH information, there are so many communities of practice, there are so many opportunities to collaborate in so many different ways that it’s daunting! I’ve found myself reacting in an unexpected way: I’m putting on blinders! I am reaching out to the people I know share my interests, and just ignoring the rest! Isn’t that a silo? I think so…but it’s one based upon self-protection from drowning in information (and emails), not an organizational structure or imperative. It’s PKM (personal knowledge management).

As KM practitioners, we find it interesting to speculate, “What would I do in an organization where the proprietary knowledge is largely documented, where people automatically contribute new information or experiences to the knowledge base, where anyone can form a community, and most people belong actively to several? Where collaboration tools are routinely used 24/7 to accommodate a truly global workforce, where the portal is a place you go when you want to discover something new or interesting.” I’ve landed on that planet, and I freely admit I’m drowning in access to more knowledge and information than I could ever have dreamed one organization would create. That drowning is starting to get in the way of my ability to think or do productive work, though, so I’m simply shutting most of it out.

I do feel siloed, but it’s a self-protective silo that maintains my ability to have meaningful interactions with the people I want or need to share with, while still giving me time to work on the projects that pay the bills. And that is one reason silos will always exist. In my observation, people erect barriers around themselves to keep the background noise to a low hum and preserve their own sanity. They deliberately create “islands of information” as Joe Firestone calls them. It’s not forced upon them, and it’s not a problem on a very practical level. KM will not break those kinds of silos down. One might say KM creates them! Maybe they are just more organizationally healthy silos. I think I’ve been giving silos a bad rap.

May 4th, 2007

My Search for a KM Job

Last December I decided to put a serious effort into finding a corporate KM role. I’ve had the last 18 months to think about what I want to do, and spent a good bit of time participating in various KM community discussions, as well starting two KM books that have been whirling in my head. This seems to be the way I learn. First, I read everything I can get my hands on, then I spend time getting to know experts in the field and discuss all my questions with them. Next, I put it into practice–a pilot, a job, solving situational problems. Then I write a book about it, and move on. I’m in book mode at the moment, but having had a breakthrough last fall about what KM is and how all the components work together, I decided it’s time to put it to the test. So I started looking for a “real” job.

Step one was to surf the job boards on the Internet, to see what is out there, and find out the terms that are being used to describe what I think it is I do. I spent a good bit of time doing that It’s hard to look for a position that is not well understood, and that is seen to be different things in different organizations. In most places it is grouped under IT, and in others under HR, under Learning, under Organizational Change and even under Communities.

Step two was to reply to some ads, sending out some generic resumes to see what might happen. A few nibbles from recruiters, but nothing came of it.

Step three was to reach out to others I know in the field and ask for leads to a KM recruiter — I went back to what the learned say, “Use your network!” Maybe it’s odd, but I don’t think of my KM colleagues as a network. They are my community and, in some cases, friends. I didn’t know whom to ask, and whether they would consider my request for job leads odd. After all, in this virtual age, I’ve not actually met or worked with many of them face to face. It felt awkward to define my “network” when so many of them are virtual. Well, they themselves aren’t, but I think you know what I mean.

So I changed my approach. I contacted two dozen specific very busy professional colleagues to ask only for the name of a KM recruiter. To my amazement, every single person eventually answered, and most provided thoughtful advice and/or actual leads for jobs. What I discovered is that there don’t appear to be any specialized KM recruiters. Why? This was an interesting question, because it ties back to other articles I have written about the importance of KM definitions. The reason there are no recruiters is (drum roll) “key word devils”.

If you are a person who works in the data management aspect of KM, or the (currently hot) social networking analysis aspect of KM, or content/portals aspect of KM, certain words are standardly used, and help to define one’s experience with KM. A generalist or strategic thinker has much more trouble, though, because what we know and can do is broad. There are never items on the drop down list that fit exactly, and it’s hard to second guess the minds of the people who created the categories on the drop down menu. (Hence “key word devils”) You may have had the same experience. Sure, you can list key words related to data management, content management, call centers, collaboration, or online communities, but they are only a part of the story. KM has not been adequately defined, so companies write job descriptions that are off base for what they really want to hire, making the HR people’s lives complicated.

Looking back, I think the problem lies mostly in the online submission process. Many web sites use CGI forms, which means the applicants just cut up their resumes to fit it into little boxes of predetermined size, and and lose all formatting. After spending days fine tuning the wording and layout of the resume, it’s quite daunting to squeeze 20 plus years into a couple of 400 word boxes that will be displayed as a grey river of text.

The bottom line is that none of these efforts paid off for me. I had some excellent conversations with people in my network, and with people they referred me to, including several recruiters, but none of them amounted to a serious job interview. What did work was to browse the job openings on several job boards online myself. As a result of sending out about 45–50 resumes, I got down to two KM positions–one a corporate role and one a consulting role.

I have now been in my consulting position in the Knowledge Management practice for Accenture about a month. So far it seems like a good match. In fact, it may turn out to be the most interesting and personally rewarding position I’ve had in my life. That’s saying a lot! Accenture is definitely a thought leader in KM and has amazing KM resources and expertise. It’s just been interesting to note that, despite the efforts of many capable, thoughtful and talented people, for me finding a job came down to finding an open posting. Go figure.

April 19th, 2007

Returning to Definitions

I was asked again recently to define knowledge management. It’s a simple request — one anyone might make when they are trying to understand what I do — but there is not yet a simple answer. KM professionals and scholars are still trying to define it. If you read my blog, then you know that I’ve been grappling with definitions for some time now (see here, here and here), and so have most of the best minds in the business. For the benefit of my mother, who would sincerely like to know what I do, this is how I describe it:

Knowledge management is a discipline that uses a variety of methodologies to connect people to people and people to information to improve decision making.

In nature, the systems and organisms that survive are simple and elegant. I believe that is true with definitions as well. If we can’t write it on the back of a business card, then we don’t yet understand what we are working with well enough. Theoreticians may split hairs over the terms I use, and KM managers may disagree based upon the specific tool set they are asserting to be KM in their own organizations, and learning or information management professionals may consider KM a subset of their own disciplines, but I think this definition is one that can contain all the others. I keep returning to relating KM to the story of the blind men and the elephant. I believe this definition describes the KM elephant. Have I missed anything?

February 25th, 2007

A Few Thoughts on Wikipedia

In the strange way that things happen in popular culture, Wikipedia is increasingly being cited as a source for defining terms and resolving disputes. I’ve referred to it myself — but always in connection with several other more traditional sources. As a KM practitioner and communicator I am interested in how people communicate to share ideas and information, so the concepts of blogging and wikis make sense on both practical and human behavioral levels. I even see respected people in KM communities I frequent jumping on the bandwagon and cheering for them as great breakthroughs in information sharing/distribution in organizations.

I’m afraid on the subject of widespread wiki use I am in the skeptics’ camp. I don’t believe it’s possible to get a reliable and universally accepted definition of any complex concept by having a lot of people spend five minutes wordsmithing and then move on to their next agenda item. Definitions require someone to lead and adjudicate the group’s efforts — someone knows and cares about the information, and can challenge its accuracy. To me this means that wiki entries are likely to be more accurate (and reputable) by people in scientific, scholarly or mathematical fields for whom precision is critical, and having a shared definition is key to advancing knowledge in their fields. Wikis are less valuable in softer disciplines or for softer subjects. The peer review process is already widely accepted and part of being a scholar or scientist. That is not the case in most organizations where people are rewarded and advance on the basis of their unique knowledge and expertise. Wiki entries are always works in progress — so you may be looking at the 50% or the 75% or the 99% complete version, but there are no criteria against which to measure how reliable an entry may be. I find this problematic. Here are two terms from Wikipedia as examples. Notice the difference in the substance of the descriptions.

1. Prime number (a mathematical term)

2. Content (information or images used to populate documents and web sites)

*Conceptually* the idea of a source that can be freely edited by anyone able to access it is powerful, however, the execution of that idea to-date is deeply flawed. Wikipedia is moments of excellence swimming in a sea of mediocrity. Unfortunately, when you look at any entry, you don’t know which type it is a flash of brilliance or a straw man. Lack of quality control is what makes me doubt that wikis will ever be the reliable, single source reference tool that so many hope it will be. Going back to Wikipedia for a moment, since it is the mostly widely used and referenced wiki tool, Timothy Noah wrote in Slate of a personal experience demonstrating that Wikipedia has criteria for both content and contributors. For all the folk wisdom about anyone being able to contribute and the “community” resolving any disputes, it’s not a free-for-all knowledge capture tool as many might think. Wikipedia has volunteer gatekeepers who enforce its “notability guideline”, but as Noah says, “Wikipedia’s notability policy resembles U.S. immigration policy before 9/11: stringent rules, spotty enforcement.” I don’t know any organization that can afford to rely on such an unreliable resource for its business.

The success of any wiki-type initiative comes down to the caliber of the people participating and their motivation to ensure accuracy. Sure, there are many people who are able to organize their thoughts and advance arguments in a clear and literate way, and who know how to define terms so there is no way to debate the definition. Most people don’t fall into that category, however. They use pronouns with unclear antecedents, they rely on terms that are themselves not clearly defined, they structure a definition in a convoluted way that only a scholar can follow, they only have a partial understanding of the topic, they are under pressure to “get something down quickly”, or they rely on jargon or slang that not everyone understands in the same way.

There are other variables that come into play, too — cultural differences, for example. Speaking of the United States, let alone the world, we see that geographically there are differences in how people explain things and interact with one another. A smile and a nod may to some mean agreement and acceptance of an idea, while to others it may mean “I don’t agree, but I am too polite to disagree with you openly.” To some, it is rude to correct another person publicly. To some, every word put on the page with their name attached to it is deliberate and well researched and they resent tampering. To some, the 80/20 rule works — capturing a general idea is sufficient without the need to labor over details. To some who are shy, entering a confrontational arena is frightening, so they may not participate at all. To some, a loud and dominating voice is equal to authority and respect, even if the voice is wrong. For some, English is not their first (or even second) language. And the people best qualified to contribute may have no time to do it.

Wikis are good for developing new content quickly, gaining a consensus about what a term means, or identifying who in an organization cares enough about a particular topic to spend time discussing it (whether they are skilled or learning). Wikis are not the sole answer, as some software providers suggest, to issues of competitive intelligence, strategic planning, generating sales leads, knowledge management, the retirement of the “baby boomers”, or even online communities. I think wikis are destined always to be a niche technology, one of many possible communication/collaboration tools that may be applied in specific situations with a specific set of participants. And for the foreseeable future, I will continue to judge people who cite Wikipedia as their main source when arguing a point to be lazy researchers and not to be taken seriously. Maybe like the Oxford English Dictionary or Encyclopedia Britannica wikis need to be around a few hundred years to become reliable and acquire credibility.

November 14th, 2006

Definitions of KM

Here I go again. Back to definitions. The fact that so many capable people cannot seem to define, and agree on the definition of, knowledge management bothers me. How can we debate or understand problems if we can’t even define what’s in scope or out of scope? Why do we continue to spin our wheels with this? Here are some examples of KM definitions to show you what I mean. KM is…

“…information combined with experience, context, interpretation and reflection.” …Thomas Davenport

“…information in action that people can make use of, along with the rules and context of its use.” …Carla O’Dell

“Knowledge is the ability to turn information and data into effective action…managing knowledge means delivering the information and data people need to be effective in their jobs.”…Wayne Applehans, Alden Globe, and Greg Laugero

“…a business process that creates organizational capacity.” …unattributed

“…the dynamic process of turning an unreflective practice into a reflective one by elucidating the rules guiding the activities of the practice, by helping give a particular shape to collective understandings, and by facilitating the emergence of heuristic knowledge.” H. Tsoukas and E. Vladimirou

“…processes, technology and behaviors that deliver the right content to the right people at the right time and in the right context so that they can make the best decisions quickly to solve problems, exploit business opportunities, accelerate competency and innovation.”…unattributed

“…the art of creating value from an organisation’s Intangible Assets.”…Karl-Erik Sveiby

“…an effort to retain, analyze and organize employee expertise to make it available to the organization.” …Stuart

“…achieving organizational goals through strategy-driven motivation and facilitation of (knowledge-) workers to develop, enhance their capability to interpret data and information, experience, skills, culture, character, personality, feelings etc.) through the process of giving meaning to these data and information.”… Roelof P. ult Beijerse

“…the creation, evolution, exchange and application of new ideas into marketable goods and services for the success of an enterprise, for the vitality of a nation’s economy, for the advancement of a society.”…Debra Amidon

“…a collaborative and integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of an enterprise’s intellectual assets.” …Grey

“…is about connecting people to people and people to information to create competitive advantage.”…Hoyt Consulting

“KM refers to a range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness and learning across the organization.”…Wikipedia

This is just a sampling. Go into any presentation session at any of the big KM conferences or pick up any KM book off the shelf, and the first thing the speaker does is define KM…in his/her own unique way. Sometimes I get ridiculed for saying repeatedly “defining KM today is like the fable of the blind men and the elephant.” You know the story…six blind men walk up and touch an elephant and they each touch a different part, so they each think “an elephant” is exactly like the part they discovered since they can’t see the entire elephant. That’s how definitions of KM seem to me (and proprietary KM approaches as well, but that’s another rant!). Kimiz Dalkir performed an informal survey that identified over 100 published definitions of KM, 3/4 of which could be considered good!

It all depends upon which viewpoint you bring to the field. Someone in business may see KM as a strategy related to intellectual assets. Someone with a technology/process background may see it as a systematic approach to help information flow readily to people who need it. Someone with a cognitive science background may see it more as individual expertise that enables someone to function intelligently in an environment.

A number of nay-sayers believe the reason KM can’t be defined is because there is no such thing as KM…we are trying to invent something that is already covered by other fields. Personally I believe it’s because we haven’t defined the field yet, so we can’t nail down all the component parts and their interrelationships. KM is a highly multidisciplinary field as we understand it today, and is in a state of “pre-science”, as Hazlett, McAdam and Gallagher put it. (subscription required) Personally, I hold out hope for a “unified theory of KM” that will bring all these components into focus and, ultimately, let us get to agreed-to definitions so we can get on with doing whatever aspect of the KM work it is that we each enjoy doing.

November 13th, 2006

KM and the Mysticism of Three

A few months ago a writer named Esteban posted a message to the KM-Best-Practices forum on the subject of KM–Vision or Illusion. While I disagree with some of his commentary, this phrase started me thinking:

“I see that the physical arrangement (world 1) and the conceptual one (world 3) are united by a being that is part physical, part conceptual (thus we have a being (spirit) in a body (physical arrangement ) with a mind (conceptual) )…”

For a while now, I have observed the ways in which KM practitioners and consultants conceptualize KM, its components and their relationships. The most popular ways to represent KM are “four-blockers” and Venn diagrams with three interlocking circles. The labeling varies widely, depending upon the particular bent or interest of the author, but the concepts of three and four elements predominate. I have been wondering why. Ideation happens only in a context that includes existing knowledge, environmental factors and personal bravery (another “three”!). It is probably human nature to distill complex concepts into lists and pictures so they can be communicated more effectively, but I’m unfamiliar with the research in this area, so I can’t say that with confidence. Nevertheless, something seems inherently “right” in the consistency of KM leaders to think in terms of threes and fours.

Yesterday I was listening to a broadcast from American Public Radio, where V.V. Raman, noted physicist and Hindu scholar, was discussing mystical connotations of numbers. The program brought some things into focus for me. He pointed to the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses as representations of selected aspects of the source of creation (God, the One, Sat, the Infinite…however one chooses to name the ultimate power behind the universe) that people feel a personal affinity for. From his childhood, he felt a kinship with the spirit of Saraswathi, the goddess representing (or responsible for) music, letters and numbers. He discussed the universal language of numbers and the symbolic importance of them throughout history. For Christians, for example, the number three has powerful significance (three wise men, Father-son-holy spirit). For Muslims, it’s five (Five pillars of Islam, five daily prayers). For Pythagorean mathematicians it is six. For many religions it is 12. Kabbalists assign a numerical value to each Hebrew letter to reveal secret meanings in texts. Naturalists observe four elements — earth, air, fire and water. He provides many such examples.

What is it about “three” that makes it so powerful in describing knowledge management? Is it that the human brain is predisposed to order itself in triads? Some of the “threes” we can easily recognize from popular media and recent KM literature are:

· Mind, body, spirit

· Physical, conceptual, emotional

· Feelings, thoughts, actions

· People, process, technology

· Define, build, launch

· Information need, information seeking, information use

· Sense making, knowledge creation, decision making

· Data, information, knowledge

· Content acquisition, Content retention, Content enhancement

· People, places, things

· Strategy, capabilities, performance

· Knowledge gap, decision gap, knowing-doing gap

· Human capital, organizational capital, customer capital

· Inputs, processes, outcomes

· Tacit knowledge, Explicit knowledge, Implicit knowledge

· Knowledge acquisition, Knowledge capture, Knowledge sharing

· Identification, conceptualization, codification

· Culture, infrastructure, knowledge architecture

· Individual, community, organization

· Learn before, Learn during, Learn after

· Core knowledge, Advanced knowledge, Innovative knowledge

· Public knowledge, Shared knowledge, Personal knowledge

· Communities, repositories, content

· Strategic knowledge, Tactical knowledge, Operational knowledge

Historically, however, we know that a three-legged stool is not as stable as a four-legged one. Perhaps there is an unconscious attempt to “ground” KM by using 2×2 matrices of four quadrants. Maybe “three” lends itself to describing a process or flow and “four” is more suited to being a container for constructs. Some widely-used matrices and four-step processes include these:


Synchronous, Asynchronous, Virtual, Face-to-Face

Knowledge work:

Routine transaction, Expert interpretation, Individual actions, Collaboration

Delivery networks:

Low formality, High formality, Intangible value, Measurable value

Drivers of KM Success:

Strategic alignment, Culture, Economic incentives/rewards, Technology

Customer KM:

High interactivity, Low interactivity, Low customer-specific, High customer-specific

Knowledge-Oriented Business Processes:

Low process complexity, High process complexity, Low knowledge intensity, High knowledge intensity

Decision Making:

Choices, Actions, Individual, Organization

Organizational Decision Making:

Low information use, High information use, Low information seeking, High information seeking

Knowledge Creating Activities:

Experimenting, Importing, Shared problem solving, Introducing new tools

Types of Information Needs:

Sense making, Cognitive, Affective responses, Situational

Organizational Culture:

Perspective, Integration, Differentiation, Fragmentation

Knowledge Creation Model:

Internalization, Externalization, Socialization, Combination

The Knowing Organization:

Information interpretation, Information conversion, Information processing, organizational action

Components of the KM Cycle:

KM team, KM strategy, KM metrics, KM technologies

Best Practice Knowledge Sharing:

Good idea, Good practice, Local best practice, Industry best practice

Known-Unknown Matrix:

User unaware, User aware, Information known, Information unknown

Modes of Knowledge Conversion:

Tacit to tacit, Tacit to explicit, Explicit to explicit, Explicit to tacit

KM Cycle Activities:

Build knowledge, Hold knowledge, Pool knowledge, Apply knowledge

If you are familiar with the KM field, then you recognize these approaches to be from Wiig, McElroy, Choo, Tirana, Davenport, Stewart, Saint-Onge, Wenger, Dixon, Nonaka and Takeuchi, Sveiby, Dalkir, Collison and Purcell, Zack, Denning, McDermott and others — a pretty stellar group. Assuming that these authors invest a lot of time, thought, planning and energy into trying to define the entity that is “KM”, I find it fascinating that they invariably resort to a structure of three or structure of four. Perhaps our human experience drills a preference for three or four into us, but perhaps there is a numerical truth behind it and the models we create will eventually let us understand KM because we will understand its numerology. If there is a universal language of numbers, maybe KM will be explained through our numbered models, once we get the math right.

October 30th, 2006

KM Books and Text Books I Recommend

Everyone in the KM field has different favorite texts that they use or cite as sources. Perhaps not surprisingly, people involved in various KM-related activities in organizations have one set of favorites, and academics have a slightly different set. Here are the ones I value for various reasons and have recommended to others. You can also check out Shawn Callahan’s, Nick Bontis’, and Tim Allison’s favorite KM books in their personal lists on Amazon.com.

My Favorites

There are a lot of good books listed here, and there are even more that are popular or more tactical. It can be overwhelming to think about starting to read this many, let alone everything available. Maybe this will help someone just starting out — if I had to limit myself to only six of them to guide me in building an enterprise wide KM program, these are the six I would have on my shelf (today!).

  1. Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice by Kimiz Dalkir
  2. Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know by Nancy M. Dixon
  3. The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks by Verna Allee
  4. Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities by Amy Jo Ki
  5. Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusa
  6. The Knowing Organization: How Organizations Use Information to Construct Meaning, Create Knowledge, and Make Decisions by Chun Wei Choo

Here is a longer list of others that are all very good, and I’m sure I’ve missed some! I’d recommend any of these according to the specific circumstances of a person who asked. I have not distinguished between books with a social/organizational behavior slant and those that are more technology-based.

Business Practical KM Books

Knowledge Management Handbook by Jay Liebowitz (Editor)

Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations by Chris Collison

Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company’s True Value by Finding Its Hidden Brainpower by Leif Edvinsson

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management by Melissie Clemmons Rumizen

Working Knowledge by Thomas H. Davenport

Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances and Results from Knowledge Workers by Thomas H. Davenport

The Knowledge Management Fieldbook by Wendi Bukowitz and Ruth L. Williams

Knowledge Management by American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC)

Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know by Nancy M. Dixon

The New Knowledge Management: Complexity, Learning, and Sustainable Innovation by Mark W. McElroy

Creating the Knowledge-Based Business: Key Lessons from an International Study of Best Practice by David Skyrme and Business Intelligence

Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company’s True Value by Finding Its Hidden Brainpower by Leif Edvinsson

Knowledge Management: Classic and Contemporary Works by Daryl Morey (Editor), Mark Maybury (Editor), Bhavani Thuraisingham (Editor)

Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce by David W. DeLong

Scholarly KM Texts and Text Books

Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice by Kimiz Dalkir

The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter M. Senge

An Introduction to Knowledge Management: KM in Business by Todd R. Groff and Thomas P. Jones (Note: request the online Instructor’s Guide with power point slides, case studies, exercises and review questions)

Knowledge Management in Organizations: A Critical Introduction by Donald Hislop

Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak

The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation by Ikujiro Nonaka

Knowledge Management by Elias M Awad and H.M. Ghaziri

Knowledge Management: An Integral Approach by Ashok Jashapara

Applying Knowledge Management: Techniques for Building Corporate Memories(The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Artificial Intelligence) by Ian Watson

The Knowing Organization: How Organizations Use Information to Construct Meaning, Create Knowledge, and Make Decisions by Chun Wei Choo

The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge by Chun Wei Choo

The New Organizational Wealth: Managing & Measuring Knowledge-Based Assets by Karl Erik Sveiby

Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company’s True Value by Finding Its Hidden Brainpower by Leif Edvinsson

Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management by Peter Ferdinand Drucker

Creating the Discipline of Knowledge Management: The Latest in University Research by Michael Stankosky

Knowledge Management: The Central Focus for Intelligent-Acting Organizations by Karl M. Wiig

Understanding the Knowledgeable Organization: Nurturing Knowledge Competence by Jane McKenzie and Christine van Winkelen

Knowledge Management: Clarifying the Key Issues by Scott I. Tannenbaum

Measuring the Value of Knowledge: Metrics for the Knowledge-Based Business by David Skyrme and Business Intelligence

Outstanding Books on Specific Components of KM

The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks by Verna Allee

In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work by Don Cohen and Laurence Prusak

Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage by Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace

Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity by Etienne Wenger

Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder

Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities by Amy Jo Kim

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas A. Stewart

The Innovation SuperHighway: Harnessing Intellectual Capital for Collaborative Advantage by Debra M Amidon

The Organizational Learning Cycle: How We Can Learn Collectively by Nancy M. Dixon

The Knowledge Management Toolkit: Orchestrating IT, Strategy, and Knowledge Platforms by Amrit Tiwana

Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know by Nancy M. Dixon

Infrastructure for Knowledge Management by Randy J. Frid

Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation by Georg von Krogh

The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizationsby Stephen Denning

Not Specifically KM, but Helpful to KM Thinking

The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

Finally, the KM Standard that was finalized in 2005 by Standards Australia is a good reference document or starting point. It’s a guide for practicing knowledge management within organizations produced by a committee of KM practitioners for KM practitioners.

October 26th, 2006

Naming a KM Initiative

Here’s a scenario I have been working with recently. Your suggestions would be welcome!

I have had some conversations with a friend who is trying to find a good name for a KM initiative in his company. It’s a mid-sized company (under 6,000 employees) in financial services. The environment is conservative, although pockets of people are interested in trying to do things in a new way. Most of the employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and about 60% of them are 45 years old and up. Many have college degrees.

We are currently creating a KM strategy, and need to name the overall initiative and the go-to place on the company’s Intranet portal. Here are the biases we have so far:

* We should avoid using KM in the project or software application

name at all, because there are so many misconceptions and

prejudices about the term. Using “knowledge” would be okay, just

not “knowledge management”.

* We should avoid “cute” or “silly” sounding names that would

trivialize what it’s about. Serious and formal people need to be

able to say it without feeling embarrassed.

* It should be catchy, but be simple to use/remember–not contrived.

* If new employees see it on the portal, they should immediately

recognize what it is.

* It should sound powerful/important, but approachable and connected

to the business or ways of improving work.

* Avoid an acronym unless it’s really outstanding and nuanced

Something like Knowledge Cafe or Knowledge Garden won’t work in this environment, and something like Knowledge Source or KnowItAll sound pompous. It’s a tricky problem! What are some good names you have seen or heard?

Here are a few I’ve researched or brainstormed with others. I’ll update the list as I get more suggestions.

Knowledge Network

Knowledge Notes

Knowledge Collector

Knowledge Exchange

Knowledge Resource

Knowledge Depot

Knowledge Discovery Tool

Knowledge Campus

Knowledge Map

Knowledge Store

Knowledge Navigator

The Knowledge Office

Common Knowledge

Ask Me!

Find it!

Show and Tell

The Source

I Know, I Know!

Nexus (or Knexus) (as in “connects us”)


Who Knows?

The Vault

Know it, Share it

Star Office

In the Know





October 17th, 2006

KM and the Myth of ROI

I have lived in a corporate world driven by ROIs, and agree that in that world, proving the value of KM to the organization is essential for funding and support. At the same time, given the current parameters for proving “value” in organizations, it’s impossible to do.

Douglas Weidner, Chairman of the International KM Institute recently said succinctly, “if KM can’t prove its worth, it’s worthless.” I disagree. It is intuitively worthwhile or so many capable, intelligent people wouldn’t be grappling with what KM is and how to apply it for good. It may simply be worthless in a given environment, with a given set of actors, at a given point in time. Just because one can’t prove the worth of something doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It can also mean one is trying to prove the wrong thing or attempting to solve the wrong problem.

There is a fallacy in all discussions of ROI for KM. As long as accounting systems (and financial managers) reject the so-called “soft” or intangible values of KM and treat KM like they treat software or a new piece of equipment, the true ROI of KM will never be shown or appreciated. How can you value or assess the worth of KM without talking about improved morale, reduced employee turnover, employee satisfaction, better information flow throughout the organization, personal pride, more knowledgeable employees (who give better customer service), stronger affinity networks, brand enhancement, cultural change, improved communication, team building? Until there’s a way to get those kinds of things counted toward financial value, ROI is a meaningless discussion in relation to KM.

KM is not a manufacturing process with people substituted for widget inventories in a financial spreadsheet. It is certainly possible to attach traditional metrics to each intangible identified, and they can even be shown to increase revenues or reduce costs — though some of the metrics would be a stretch, rather like Cinderella’s ugly step sisters squeezing into the glass slipper. It’s simply wrong. Organizations are not good at recognizing or valuing intangible benefits. Even if it were possible to break down all the components of KM and attach traditional (i.e. “accepted”) measures to them, the result would still not reflect the true value of KM, because KM is more than the sum of benefits from existing processes.

As John Maloney, a seasoned KM practitioner, points out, “ROI is a trailing accountingindicator. Return on Investment (ROI) is the ratio of money gained or lost on an investment to the amount of money invested…(a better way to measure) is value network analysis.” I agree. And even though it’s an uphill battle, we shouldn’t stop trying to prove its value.

1 Comment »

September 8th, 2006

Watson Research Assistant

I don’t normally discuss individual software products, but a few days ago in a private post (and here) Jack Vinson mentioned Intellext’s personal search bot called Watson, which I had not seen. It does look very interesting, especially since I do a lot of research in a lot of different sources, as he does. As Jack described it, “It watches what you are writing (in Microsoft Office applications and some web browsers) and constantly searches sources for related materials. The sources can be your traditional Google searches, Amazon products, or they can be internal company repositories.” After reading the site’s marketing materials, it does look like a very beneficial tool for anyone who is interested in a wide range of subjects simultaneously, or is working on research papers. I can’t wait to try it out! Unfortunately, I can’t do it right now. The tool is (currently) free to download, however, it requires Windows XP running Office 2003 and Internet Explorer 6+, and I’m using Office 2000, so it clanks on the installation. The free version is not configurable, but it seems to cover a wide array of freely-available search sources. Maybe this will be the impetus I need to upgrade my software! Have you tried it?

Update September 24: I have now installed Office 2003 and tested Watson. It’s a very interesting tool with a lot of promise, I’m glad to say. The concept is right…let the user set as many custom locations as they want for a context relevant search, and then serve up any matches in clusters. The main complaints I have are UI issues. The display of matches is clustered in a tab-like format that is awkward to use, and the excerpts that show for each “found” reference are frequently unintelligible since they are so truncated. However, the concept is right on! The UI will get better. What may not get better is my other complaint. It’s subscription software. You can download and install the free (limited) version, however, to get the full featured, customizable Watson, you have to pay $9.95 per month. I don’t like endless subscriptions to anything (sounds like the discount buyer’s clubs that telemarketers are always trying to sell), and most certainly not for a research tool I could come to count on. Once they change the pricing model, it’s definitely a tool for KM professionals (and researchers) to consider!

August 31st, 2006

Community Content Ownership

I was reminded this week of an annoying thing that happened to me about two years ago in an online community I had been a member of for a couple of years (call it Group A). It was what I’d call a moderator-centric community, meaning the moderator approved/rejected every post and tended to take an active role in all the discussions. While it was annoying at times, the group was good and the conversations were often substantive, so I tended to overlook the moderator’s style.

Group A

I left Group A about two years ago because of a content ownership issue. The group members had created a nice discussion archive over the years, with many solid contributions. Over the course of the years I was in that group, the moderator became blatant about making a name for him/herself by using the group as a sounding board for issues, and then using the group’s discussion to write an article under his/her own name and publish it–without reference to the group or the contributors who had provided the points the author was making in the article. It was free research or consulting that went unacknowledged and unpaid. I got annoyed with this the first time I saw my own words from within the community reprinted in an article under the author’s by-line. I was not in that community to enhance one person’s reputation, and I felt taken advantage of. I became more annoyed each time I saw this person featured at KM conferences presenting information discussed and debated by the community as his/her own.

In private discussions with the author, I challenged his/her right to repackage other people’s contributions as his/her own, without getting permission to reprint first. Over years of participating in and leading communities, I have come to believe that the authors of the postings, not the “community”, own the postings, although I believe the community has the right to retain for its private archives all the discussions that transpire in the community space. This moderator’s blatant attempts to profit from the knowledge, goodwill and conversations of others was ethically wrong to me. Furthermore, when I submitted postings that questioned this practice, asking what others thought, my messages were blocked. When it became clear that the author was not going to admit to or change his/her practices, and would continue to profit from the free ideas, suggestions, and consulting of the group, I resigned from the community.

Group C

I’m in another group now (call it Group B) and there has been some lively discussion this week about content ownership in another light. One of the members cites a situation in a different community (call it Group C) where she has observed the moderators deliberately removing discussion threads and archived posts because they want to erase the contributions of people who have disagreed with the moderators and become opponents rather than collaborators. As a result, the community’s archives are now incomplete. There are holes in discussion topics that many people contributed to over time, and valued. In addition, the moderators are refusing to publish posts that debate their policies or by people who are speaking against them for deleting the postings.

Facing such organizational issues, group C will no doubt collapse, but that is not my point here. The point is that the moderators of Groups A and C consider that they own the content, and they have a right to delete whatever they choose. Do they have such a right (both legally and as members of a community)? Who does own the individual messages posted to a community discussion board? Are ownership rules different if it is a discussion forum established by an individual on Yahoo Groups or if it is a forum established on a corporation’s public web site or if it is a non-profit organization or a government entity? Are there standard practices that apply to anyone for reprinting of information first posted in a private community?

Here’s a related situation as exemplified in Group C–when a member is drummed out of the community, or the moderators ban a person for what they or the community deem to be “cause.” When someone is banned from a forum or just resigns voluntarily, what is the correct action for moderators to take if they are requested to delete the former member’s past posts in the forum? Who owns those postings, the community or the former member? Does the “delete” request apply to excerpts from those postings that are reprinted in other members’ replies?

What Others Have Said

In Group B this week, a variety of people contributed some good insights to this complex problem, and I’m quoting some of them here without referencing the authors. (If any authors recognize their words here and don’t object to being cited, I will happily edit accordingly!)

· “…Generally, authors own their works of authorship, and have sole authority to decide how they are used. If your forum had some kind of affirmative contributor agreement whereby posters agreed that the forum owner had a non-terminable right to distribute the posts, you would have grounds to retain the posts — but otherwise, I think the author wins…Note that once you start thinking in legal terms, you’ve pretty much lost all trust on both sides…”

· “…cutting a post off changes the whole perspective on the archives.. a newbie that would want to browse wouldn’t just find gaps, but couldn’t possibly assist to the *creation* and transmission of implicit knowledge. Losing posts is like losing one’s story: you lose your memory, you lose yourself.”

· “It’s all too common that people join in online conversation without regard to policies about ‘word ownership.’ It’s hard to conceive that some of these situations…could ever happen. Or that there could be a question about one’s rights to delete one’s words from established online conversations. If there’s going to be such a strong interest on the part of the founder/sponsor of the forum that moderators will be so empowered to control the conversations, then people should be warned loudly at registration about the conditions under which they will be participating.”

· “*Unless* there is an affirmative contributor agreement, authors haven’t given up any rights. “

· “The concept of ‘intellectual property’ and ownership thereof is sort of an artifact of old-time publishing models, and needs to change to be more flexible and community-oriented.”

· “To my mind, a forum is a public space (even if bounded by the community), and when you speak into a public space, you give up the private ownership of your words, unless you explicitly license your words prior to publication (as in a book). The fact that the words exist in text form on a community archive makes them technically removable from that location, but even if deleted from there, of course the messages you send reside in multiple copies on everyone’s computers who ever opened and read those messages. So ‘deletability’ is virtually impossible to enforce. “

· “Interesting ideas, but (as far as I know) this is a legal issue, and so the decision has likely been made — those involved just need to discover it. My understanding is that in the USA and likely most countries the words would be owned by the writer, not by the forum, unless there were some other explicit agreement in place.”

· “The question which occupies my mind, is what are the contributory factors which guided the the moderators to start acting in a way that broke the community?…The bulletinboard software, like so much social software these days, comes preconfigured for a hierarchical group of all powerful moderators. The role of the administrator as appointer of moderators with the power to censor comes built in, and is therefore often taken to be the normal way to behave. When under stress, the temptation to actually use these powerful tools which are positioned right under the nose, may be difficult to resist.”

· “Electronically mediated discourse is simply this, in the end, DIS-course…all words therein are co-owned and co-produced, no matter WHAT the Disneys or Microsofts think or do w/their $$$US.”

· “…has anyone brought up the ramifications of deleting posts that quoted other posters or deleting other posts that quoted the deleted posts? I suspect that the flow of IP becomes too interconnected to just delete posts that are from a single individual and expect that all their IP contributions are removed.”

· “I have to say that although the reading has been interesting I do NOT at all

understand the concern. Who “owns postings”?? OK who owns a face to face

conversation? or a phone conversation?? So you and I are talking about supervisory skills and you make a very good point.. next time I am teaching that topic I mention your thought (Maybe I make reference it was from you maybe not.. depend on my memory which is not always as good as desired). One of my students goes back to his office and gives a brief summary of my outstanding (of course grin) course. That student quotes my quote of you. Who “owns it?” Same in on line postings, blogs, emails etc. They are conversations and as far as I can tell not copywritable (is that a word?? it is now).”

Read the Terms of Use Statements!

Community members should take care to read the terms of use statements before they start posting! In related discussions, the following organizations present varying claims of ownership.

A bulletin board software company said their copyright covers only the software (coding, templates, vbbcodes, etc.) that are delivered to the buyer. They do not “own ‘the threads’, ‘postings’, ‘avatars’, ‘attachments’ , ‘images’ or anything that YOU add to it. Whatever YOU add to it or modify is basically yours.” Then, adding a new dimension to this discussion, they comment, “Actually, YOU should be more worried about the copyright policies of your WEBHOST and ISP since they virtually OWN your space and files that you upload and CAN do whatever they please with it [sic].”

The Canon Digital Photography forum states in their Forum Rules of Use, “By posting messages to the Canon Digital Photography Forums you give forum owner and maintainers permission to permanently store all message content, present it for public viewing, backup it to any location and media, present it in other form, modify *, delete, or make any use whatsoever in the Forums…All images posted are copyrighted to their respective owners.”

The Artist Corner forums Terms of Service state, “Artist Corner does not own the forum posts (Content) you submit, unless we specifically tell you otherwise before you submit it. You license the Content to Artist Corner as set forth below for the purpose of displaying and distributing such Content on our network of properties and for the promotion and marketing of our services. By submitting Content to any Artist Corner property, you automatically grant, or warrant that the owner of such Content has expressly granted, Artist Corner the royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed. You acknowledge that Artist Corner does not pre-screen Content, but that Artist Corner shall have the right (but not the obligation) in their sole discretion to refuse, edit, move or remove any Content that is publicly available via the Service. ”

Finally, the Sarcoma Alliance forums has an especially detailed legal statement regarding content ownership in its forums:

“All Content (defined below) used and displayed on the Website or available through Sarcoma Alliance’s services are the property of Sarcoma Alliance or its licensors and are protected by United States and international copyright, trademark, and other laws. “Content” means any information, mode of expression, or other materials or services found on the Website including, without limitation, discussion forums, software, writings, graphics, and any and all other features found on the Website. In addition to the Sarcoma Alliance’s and its licensor’s or supplier’s rights in individual elements of the content within the Website, Sarcoma Alliance owns a copyright in the selection, coordination, arrangement and enhancement of such content.

“Subject to the privacy policy described below, by posting Your Information on or through the Website you automatically grant Sarcoma Alliance a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, modify, transmit, translate, distribute, perform and display Your Information alone or as part of other works in any form, media, or technology whether now known or hereafter developed, and to sublicense such rights to others. You acknowledge that no compensation will be paid with respect to the use of your posting.

“Unless Sarcoma Alliance has entered into a separate written agreement with you that explicitly states to the contrary, you agree that any information, feedback, questions, comments or the like that you provide to Sarcoma Alliance in connection with this Website or Sarcoma Alliance’s services (”Submissions”) will be deemed to be provided to Sarcoma Alliance on a non-confidential and non-proprietary basis and will become and remain the property of Sarcoma Alliance. Sarcoma Alliance shall have no obligations of any kind with respect to any Submissions and shall be free to reproduce, use, disclose and/or distribute any Submissions for any purpose whatsoever, without limitation. You also agree that Sarcoma Alliance shall be free to use any ideas, concepts or techniques embodied in the Submissions for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, developing, manufacturing, and marketing products or services incorporating such ideas, concepts, or techniques.”

What do you think? I’d welcome links to authoritative sources who may have resolved these questions, and will update this article with them.

July 7th, 2006

“Plug-and-Play” Workers and Knowledge Transfer

Recently I was talking with a friend about knowledge transfer, and he made the comment that in his organization, the management team seems to be trying to create “plug and play” people. It struck me as the way an organization that thinks knowledge can be stored electronically in databases would think about people, i.e., they are functional components to be stored and retrieved on demand. Of course, this is terribly dehumanizing.

We had a long talk about the usual KM topics — the role of individual expertise in knowledge management, what is knowledge vs. what is information, how technology supports or impedes knowledge flows, how to motivate people to share what they know, etc. In his organization, it appears that in certain areas, such as IT and customer service, management assumes that defining/documenting the steps in a process and then training people how to execute those steps is all they need to do to have an efficient and well-run business. Their goal is to be able to move people from one job to another seamlessly, assuming that somehow employees will be able to adapt to any new roles because there is documentation. It sounded like a sort of faceless corporate chess game — any pawn is a pawn is a pawn and any knight is a knight.

While I can understand management’s goal to bring efficiency to the organization and create a more agile work model, this approach is counter-productive and demoralizing. Maybe one Cobol or Linux developer can step in for another, but are business analysts or communications professionals really interchangeable? The plug-and-play concept certainly doesn’t take into account that people in IT or customer service or clerical roles (or other similar positions) have dreams and personal goals and interests that transcend their current job. Maybe a secretary is a secretary today, but maybe he really wants to be a musician or a writer. Maybe a developer aspires to be a platform architect or game producer. Maybe a customer service representative is quietly going to school to be a lawyer. Not to mention that any individual has built up a network of contacts inside and outside the organization based on personal interactions and shared associations. It’s impossible to replicate the networks a person has built over years, and to understand the value of knowing the right person to call at the right moment in a hurry to get the answer one needs.

There is a kind of corporate smugness in assuming that people are their roles. Human Resources professionals for many years have been orchestrating career paths for all levels of employees because they understand that people need to feel valued for the work they do and that they must believe they have an opportunity to advance in their careers in exchange for company loyalty. This concept of “plug and play” employees, that can be moved at will or inserted into a new role and expected to perform well without missing a beat, is sadly lacking in an understanding of people and their motivations, however “efficient” it looks on paper. A developer is not a developer. A clerk is not a clerk.

Another troubling note in the conversation was a complementary notion that when experienced workers retire or leave, having spent their years acquiring deep knowledge about their area of specialty, the company should be able to expect a new replacement to read the documentation and start with the same knowledge, a kind of knowledge parity. Of course, they don’t! The exiting employee has gained personal knowledge from their experiences over years, and built their social networks for various types of information. David Weinberger said in The Cluetrain Manifesto, “Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation — literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations.” We all know that most of what people know about their work is never written down, so new employees simply do not have access to the full knowledge of experienced employees, because they haven’t been part of the conversations.

Even if exiting employees attempt to write everything they know about their jobs and processes, research and conventional wisdom say that they will probably capture only 3/4 of it. Intuitively we all know that it’s impossible to capture everything that a person knows on any subject. Even when employees are motivated to contribute, much of what they know has come from years of experience in their roles and has become so intuitive or instinctive that even they aren’t aware of it as critical knowledge for their role. That tacit knowledge is difficult to capture, and it is exactly the information that someone with a lower proficiency level needs in order to perform up to the same level as the exiting person. Organizations ought to consider this a potential flaw in their succession planning, and KM practitioners ought to consider this a challenge!

· Is it possible to document every aspect of an employee’s job so that a newcomer can just take over without any loss of expertise or knowledge gaps?

· When business process flows are well-defined and have predictable results, how do you capture the “intuitive” knowledge from the “old timers” that differentiates what they know from what a newcomer knows?

· Are there categories of knowledge workers for whom “plug and play” makes sense?

· When a change occurs in a system or process, and any part of the change is not documented, what does the organization do when the former employee is unavailable?

· Does the concept of “plug and play” employees impede innovation?

According to Malcolm Ryder, “The motivation to reach ‘knowledge parity’ is more than sufficient to drive adoption of a KM goal and capability, but it often confuses the issue of what to know and how to know. Worse, the issue of ‘how to know’ is even further confused with how to get what is ‘known’…” . He further says, “Because of that difference between the knowledge and the instructions, it is more obvious that ‘knowledge management’ per sehas to do with the way knowledge users leverage their knowledge reserves and resources — not about how familiar they become with the definition and implementation of practices, rules and skills.” And that is what I think is relevant to this discussion. A newcomer in any role can’t leverage “knowledge reserves and resources” they don’t yet have. To quote a wise man, he who has ears, let him hear.

July 4th, 2006

Why Data is not Information is not Knowledge

After two very heady weeks of discussions about information, knowledge, data, reality, applied knowledge, personal knowledge management, tacit/explicit knowledge, and a wide range of other related topics, I came away with new insights about KM and what it is. It’s really a privilege to exchange ideas with wise and thoughtful people. I think everyone involved in the discussion broadened and deepened our knowledge as a result of our exchanges. Community is a magical thing when it is properly engaged.

Definitions is where the discussion started, but it then branched off into discussions of examples and possibilities, then it encompassed some very philosophical and theoretical thinking before coming back around again to definitions. It’s definitions I want to talk about here, because I have been on a soapbox about the need for them, and my understanding about the relationship of data to information has changed. Thanks especially to Joe Firestone for his philosophical insights.

Until recently, I believed strongly that data exists independently from information and knowledge. I perceived that we are swimming in a sea of data, some of which we know and some of which we are incapable of knowing by virtue of the structure of our sensing organs. I believed data to be the building blocks of information and knowledge, and that for data to have value or make sense, it must be perceived by a “knower” (for lack of a better term). This was partly due to definitions of data (”facts and statistics used for reference or analysis”) and information (”facts or knowledge provided or learned, or, what is conveyed or represented by a particular sequence of symbols, impulses, etc.”). To me this meant that data is a precursor to information. I was wrong. Data is actually one type of information. Here’s what I now understand (with some simple examples below).

Previously, I thought (as many do) that this is the way knowledge evolves from information:

Data –> Information –> Knowledge –> Wisdom

We’ve seen that string in many publications. I now understand it to be something like this (with the bracketed items being components of the word that precedes them):

Actually, I’m not convinced that “wisdom” is the ultimate end state as the traditional model implies. Perhaps “understanding” is. Since that’s a separate conversation, however, I’ve just left it in as a matter of convention.

I like thinking of information as “what is conveyed.” Information is the generic container of three types of components: data, derivations and speculations. Data are measurable outputs from a reality that can be observed — whether it is actually measured or not — so they are statistical in nature. Examples of data might be “12 centimeters” or “73 degrees” or “number of chimpanzees in the forest.” Derivations are inferences that result from data. For example, “The pencil is 12 centimeters long. It is shorter than a pencil that is 15 centimeters long.” Derivations involve a processing activity–observation, comparison, evaluation, etc. Speculations are information that does not rely on reality, observation, or deduction. Fantasy and theories fall into this category. For example, George Lucas’ Star Wars or pure algebra. All of the constructs in Star Wars are fictional–the people, the planets, the transportation, the creatures, the dialogues, the government, the economy. Yet most of us have enough awareness of the Star Wars constructs to be able to discuss them as if they were real. All of the theorems in pure or Lie algebra are based upon imaginary axioms, yet they exist as information and can be used to proove other theorems. So “information” is of three types: data, derivations and speculations.

Information must be communicated to a “knower” in order for knowledge creation to occur. Communication occurs through various shorthand mechanisms we have evolved over millennia, including alphabets, number symbols, languages, gestures and special vocabularies. Some examples of communication efficiency are “North” and “September”. They exist in every language, and are a shorthand for the objects, times, and relationships of objects in our reality. The terms mean something by convention, but contain no informational content. Information is, therefore, what is conveyed.

A knower must be present for “knowledge” to occur. We are continuously receiving and processing information. Through learning and/or experience, the knower uses information selectively to generate knowledge. Knowledge is the product of learning and experience within a brain. It can be tacit or explicit, as described by Polanyi, Nonaka and Takeuchi. Creation of knowledge is both conscious and unconscious. We don’t consciously know how to breathe, but we know how to make ourselves hold our breath if thrown into the water, or breathe deeper, or breathe with control to produce music from a flute. Knowledge is created by the knower.

For me this clarifies everything, and it puts “knowledge management” into perspective. It means that the only valid use of the term “knowledge management” is for personal knowledge management, because we can manage only our own knowledge (or to put it another way, no one can manage anyone else’s knowledge). KM practitioners can provide tools, methods, and education to help others to manage their own knowledge, but we can’t manage their knowledge for them. What we can and do manage is information, and the processes by which individuals share what they know.

I’ll be writing more on this. Check back. :)

1 Comment »

June 2nd, 2006

Knowledge vs. Information: more discussion

A few weeks ago I challenged Polanyi’s concept of “explicit” knowledge (and Nonaka and Takeuchi’s subsequent use of the term). He/they were definitely on to a correct concept (that there is an output from knowledge that can be manipulated/managed and it’s a different thing from implicit knowledge, which is learned), but the use of the term explicit *knowledge* was incorrect. In those early days, they were articulating something new. They didn’t have the benefit of the many debates and discussions about terms that we have had in subsequent years, so they used the convenient term “knowledge” to define the two aspects of their concept. If they were building those concepts today, perhaps they might adopt different terms, like tacit knowledge and explicit information, instead. (Does anyone know Dr. Nonaka well enough to ask his thoughts on this question?) At the time they put a stake in the ground, there was no one to take issue with the terms in the informed way we can today. I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong, but I haven’t yet been persuaded that “explicit knowledge” is not explicit information. The term “knowledge” can only apply to what is in someone’s head. I’m sorry if I’m belaboring the point, and I welcome correction.

Let’s see how they are defined. The word “tacit” means:

1. Not spoken (American Heritage Dictionary), or

2. Understood or implied without being stated (Oxford English Dictionary)

The word “explicit” means:

1. Fully and clearly expressed; leaving nothing implied (AHD), or

2. Clear and detailed, with no room for confusion or doubt. (OED)

Information is defined as “facts or knowledge provided or learned.” (OED) . AHDdefines it as:

1. Knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction.

2. Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication; intelligence or news.

3. A collection of facts or data

4. The act of informing or the condition of being informed; communication of knowledge

5. Computer Science. Processed, stored, or transmitted data.

Knowledge is defined by OED as:

1. information and skills acquired through experience or education

2. the sum of what is known

3. awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation

and AHD defines knowledge as

1. The state or fact of knowing.

2. Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.

3. The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.

4. Learning; erudition

5. Specific information about something

If I understand all these terms, to me it comes down to “all knowledge is information, but all information is not knowledge.” Maybe it used to be knowledge, or maybe it continues to be knowledge in the heads of the people who know the information, but explicit knowledge itself is just a type of information. Knowledge transferred to another person can be called education. Knowledge that is transferred to a database can be called data. Maybe we need to create a new term for expressed or explicit knowledge if it’s not one of these two things.

What are some examples of “explicit knowledge”? I’m curious how others think they would be different from “information”.

May 27th, 2006

KM Definitions — Another Point of View

There have been a number of interesting conversations occurring in Act-KM discussion group lately, and one of them started with a challenge to define KM in one sentence. Having been through a similar exercise nearly four years ago with my KM colleagues Jeffrey Romayko and Jeff McCartney, I am interested to see what the forum comes up with. Here’s what we came up with three years ago (in a business context):

Knowledge management is a business process that connects people to people and people to information for competitive advantage and better decision making.

While it’s clear and short, it has the same problem that most KM professionals and definitions have — it mixes what KM is with what it does and with the outcomes of doing it. They are different things. Trying to mix them together in a single definition fails. An outcome is not a definition. That’s where almost all attempts at defining KM fail, actually.

KM thought leader Joe Firestone responded to the challenge with this thoughtful message that highlights why creating a definition is so difficult (reprinted with permission):

“One can, of course, say what Knowledge Management is about in one sentence, but I’m afraid that one can’t be successful in explicating its meaning by doing this. ‘Knowledge Management’ is not a term that refers to an ‘essence.’ Instead it’s a term that can be used legitimately in many different ways depending on the context in which one uses it.

“In this respect, ‘Knowledge Management’ is not very different from many other terms we use every day. For example, ’science’ is another such term. Does it refer to a series of processes, a method, a body of knowledge, a set of institutions, a type of culture? Take the word ‘culture’ itself. In 1952, the famous Anthropologists A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, identified 150 different definitions of ‘culture’ used in the literature. No essence there either; nevertheless there is a field of Anthropology whose central organizing slogan (?) is ‘culture.’ I could go on. Sociologists don’t agree on the definition of ’sociology.’ Political Scientists differ on how to define ‘political science.’ And even with an ISO 9000 standard available, there’s still no universal agreement on the term ‘Quality Management.’

“So given all this, how does one approach the matter of definition? I think the first thing to do is to realize that the meaning of any term or phrase is not given by a definition, but is a dynamic thing that language users create and recreate as they use it. At any point in time, its meaning is given by its relationships in use with other terms and phrases, and since we have no access to the entire web of its relationships in use, we can only conjecture theories about its meaning, and recognize that since meanings are changing, even these theories about its meaning can’t be true for more than a brief time.

“Second, with this as context, I think one should recognize that to get at the meaning of an abstraction like KM, one needs to do quite a bit of conceptual specification, and that there’s no possibility of this sort of specification boiling down to a single sentence or even a paragraph that will successfully explicate the meaning of KM?

“So third, does this mean we should avoid offering definitions of KM? I don’t think so; but I do think we should give up the idea of finding the essence of KM, and realize that the purpose of defining KM in a sentence or brief paragraph is to give ‘an elevator speech’ about what we will mean by ‘KM’ in the context of some speaking or writing we’re doing that uses the term. We can’t expect the ‘elevator speech’ to completely convey what we mean by ‘KM’ to others, but we can start by giving the elevator speech, follow with a much more detailed specification, and then if there’s still need, interest, or purpose, write the book specifying all the things we can think of that consitute the mosaic of KM.

“Having waxed philosophical for most of this post, I’d like to end this by giving my elevator speech about what KM is (see http://www.kmci.org/the_new_knowledgement.html ):

KM is, first, a branch of management, which makes it a social science discipline. Moreover, it is a branch of management that seeks to improve performance in business by enhancing an organization’s capacity to learn, innovate, and solve problems. The purpose of KM, then, is to enhance organizational knowledge processing, and Knowledge Management as an inter-related set of activities may be defined as those activities whose purpose is to enhance knowledge processing.

“Now that’s two sentences providing two different senses of ‘KM’: one, the idea of KM as a scientific discipline with a purpose, and two, KM as an interrelated set of activities performed by people with a purpose. But this paragraph still doesn’t touch on KM:

– as a practice,

– as a body of knowledge,

– as a set of methods,

– as a set of institutions,

– as a community,

– as a culture,

– as a process or set of processes,

– as a value network,

– as an emergent social system,

– etc.

“Closing this now, I guess I don’t think my elevator speech about what KM is very illuminating. I know if I were starting out in KM, I’d sure want to know what I meant by ‘learning’, ‘problem solving’, ‘innovating’ and ‘knowledge processing,’ and wouldn’t even begin to understand the elevator speech until I’d gotten into that.”

I would add to his list a few other terms one would need to know, including knowledge, information, information management, data, and process. Joe and Mark McElroy’s award winning paper Doing Knowledge Management is a good starting point for other KM related definitions.

Dave Snowden replied pointedly to the challenge. He said, “Anyone who can answer that question in one sentence is not qualified to answer it.” I guess I’d say that’s true unless the person actually does happen to get it right. Someone will, some day. More of my own thoughts about the need for KM definitions can be found here, here, and here.


May 17th, 2006

Visualizing the Future of Knowledge Exchange (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a speculative view of knowledge management and learning 10 years from now, and how they may be enhanced using 3D gaming/simulation technologies. Read Part I here to get a sense of the overall work environment. This article focuses on the simulation environment itself.

An Immersive Portal Environment

Inside the portal space, my computer and view of my work are completely customized, with a unique appearance and functionalities that reflect my job type, work resources and information needs. In addition, I have a unique personal collection of 3D agents and other interactive objects that perform tasks for me, even when I’m offline. I plug in my headset to prepare for the training session, and since no one is sitting close by, I decide to direct the system by voice rather than by typing.

I wake up Ricardo, another of my animated agents, whose job it is to document information I want to remember, create libraries of reference materials I use in my daily work, and fetch information when I need it. Ricardo is my personal knowledge manager, and I have trained him to recognize and respond to my voice commands. When I need him to find or save information for me, I can order it without leaving my other work, or typing instructions. Since he uses built-in artificial intelligence, Ricardo is able to learn over time what my specific requests mean, and he has become expert enough to volunteer additional information or resources that I didn’t know about, from both internal and external sources. He is constantly monitoring and researching information I need in the background, and will sometimes pop up in the middle of something I’m working on to suggest a new resource he’s just discovered. He’s a great resource. Right now I want him to sit silently and observe what I’m doing and be ready to save anything I may want to save from my training session for later reference.

Now the fun begins! I click on the traditional looking corporate education icon on my desktop, and suddenly I find myself transported into a three-dimensional world on my screen. I’m looking at a world designed to look like a modern, but somewhat mysterious looking city, with a mixture of building architectures and landscaping features, and other visual elements I can interact with. I’ve seen other learning worlds at other companies that look like interplanetary space worlds or medieval landscapes, and we’ve been told that in a few years we will be able to choose from among several environments. For now, though, we have only the land of “Metropolis” and its capital city of “Arthursburg”, named playfully for our CEO. The designers had fun creating Arthursburg. It’s full of little inside jokes, plays on words and visual cues that long-time employees recognize instantly, like a statue on the main street of a man leaning on a golf club, with a rabbit pushing a golf ball with his rear leg, and a pub named “The Out Sourceror”. The designers keep it fresh, too. Within hours of a big customer win, media story, annual meeting or fiasco, references have been worked into the Metropolis landscape. The fun factor keeps people coming back to see what’s new, and we occasionally find their our own names gracing a computer generated character!

When I first joined the company two years ago and set up my account in Metropolis, I was taken to a character creation screen, similar to those in many popular video games. I had to choose an avatar, an animated icon, to represent me as I interact with the Metropolis environment. It’s possible to customize the avatar down to details such as skin tone, body type, overall size, hair style and color, facial hair, eyeglasses, earrings, scars, tattoos, clothing items and colors, etc. Some of the color options, such as pure white or pure black, are not available. In Metropolis, players have an opportunity to “purchase” the rare colors as a privilege once they have achieved certain status and objectives.

The system includes three different races — a very short race called Moris, an average size race called Humanos, and a large race called Talbos. Each race has special inherent abilities that give it certain advantages in interacting with the “world” and solving the puzzles and challenges there. I chose a female Humanos character of medium build, and had fun spending an hour trying on different looks and views until I found the one I wanted to keep. I then got to select three from among twelve other character variables that would enhance certain of my character’s abilities as they performed tasks in the world. I chose night vision (to find information in dimly lit areas), charisma (to enhance leadership and obtain more help from computer generated characters in the world), and strength (to absorb harmful effects without becoming fatigued as fast as others). I named my avatar Kaye. We are required to use our real names for our characters, since this is a business environment and we will be interacting with co-workers. Research has shown that it makes people act just a little more responsibly toward others.

The New Face of Corporate U

My character was then transported into the world, where I was met by a greeter avatar operated by the computer system. Ginny Greeter is standing in a large plaza surrounded by familiar looking buildings that have been designed to mimic our corporate headquarters complex and several of our regional locations down to the carpet designs and artwork. There are also official government-looking buildings, like a Courthouse and City Hall. Just around the corner is an inviting green park area, with a few small shops visible, and in front of the park is a library. Some of the shops are connected with real administrative services. There is a post office, for example, and a printing shop where we can order signs, brochures, name tags, and flyers for business events. Other shops are related to items available for purchase and use within the simulation environment.

Although Ginny is a “bot”, a computer-generated character (CGC) that operates using artificial intelligence and scripts, you would swear there is a human speaking! She can initiate dialogues with new arrivals, as well as respond to conversation, answer questions, and provide helpful hints and tips about the next thing to do when a person or group gets stuck on some activity. Group activities are what make this learning system special. Where most game-like simulations are designed for a single person to interact with the environment, solve puzzles, or discover information in a structured way, a multi-user simulation allows a group of people, each connected remotely to the system from their own computers, to experience the system simultaneously, and team up in real time on activities in the simulation world. This teaming opportunity creates dynamics that more closely approximate a real world scenario, and create an immersive learning experience with substantially higher information retention rates than traditional training. Either randomly or as part of a scheduled activity, real world workers log in to Metropolis and use their avatars as extensions of themselves, singly or in groups, to accomplish a variety of learning tasks called “quests”.

Our system currently has about 250 different learning quests to-date, each of which has multiple steps and a reward for completing it. Users can follow a prepared sequence as advised by their HR counselor or wander around in the simulated world and look for computer generated avatars that will give them a quest to do. The system recognizes you when you log in, and knows which quests you are eligible to do. For example, on my first visit, Ginny gave me my first quest to walk over to the library and read a book on avatar actions. It was tricky learning to use the arrow keys to navigate my avatar down the street to the library, enter the door, talk to the virtual librarian, and locate the book I needed. Once I had read the book (which actually appeared as printed pages in a window my screen), I returned to Ginny and she gave me a key to the university complex on the other side of Metropolis. After giving me a few instructions about transportation, she told me to board a realistic moving tram for the university, and I was on my way!

It’s interesting that it doesn’t take long for a person to become absorbed in their avatar’s experiences. I found myself quickly referring to “I”, when I meant my avatar, and that is what most of my co-workers experience, too. The environment of Metropolis is designed in such an immersive way that when, for example “I” boarded the tram, I experienced the speed and lurch of the tram, the slowing for intersections, the sounds of the wheels and creaks and bells and whistles, and the visual sensation of sitting by a window and watching the landscape speed by. When I exited the tram at my stop, I saw not only the University complex, but also the avatars of other employee participants. I knew I wanted to go back and explore the city and the library a little more later, but the first step was to enter the University, find the administration building and sign up for the courses I wanted in the registrar’s office.

You may think I’m giving too much detail here, but it’s necessary. When I tell you I am logging in to Metropolis to take a training class, maybe now you can get a feeling for what I am experiencing. The “I” I’m logging in is my avatar, the classroom is virtual, and the other participants in my class are located all over the country…perhaps in their offices, but perhaps at home in their pajamas with a baby on their knee! All we see is what each avatar does, and all we “hear” is what the avatar says in type, although it’s possible to hear the actual voice of the person behind the avatar if the group is using voice over IP telephony to speak with each other as they navigate through the tasks in Metropolis. Today we are all just typing. All the people whose avatars are gathered together in Metropolis see the same things on their screens, but from their own avatar’s location and point of view. The instructor avatar “James” standing by the gate may be a live, human instructor operating an avatar, or it might be a CGC preprogrammed with the information needed to teach the group how to accomplish the components of the learning module/quest. We interact with him the same way either way.

As we stand there waiting for the last two group members to arrive, several people start to experiment with the different actions their avatars can perform. One doubles over in convulsive laughter, another begins to jump in place, another kneels on one knee and pleads, another salutes, another curtseys, another nods vigorously, another cheers, another walks like Charlie Chaplin. The animations make it possible for people to be as expressive as they like, and soon all ten of us are practicing our cheering or jumping or clapping or bowing until James informs us that it’s time to begin by saying, “Okay everyone, that’s enough fooling around, shall we get started?”

The Learning Experience

Today’s training session is on diversity, a company-wide annual requirement, so James briefs the group on what they have to do next. The overall task is to build a new multicultural housing complex to accommodate the needs and traditions of a wide variety of families, and walk a team of inspectors through it to evaluate the results when we are finished. The anticipated time to complete the course is three hours. There are a number of milestone tasks along the way before construction can begin. Accepting the “quest” creates a log entry for each participant. The group uses the chat capabilities built into Metropolis to strategize about how to accomplish the first task and retrieve the item they each must return to James to complete it. Several of the group members volunteer to split off to strategize about the architecture of the proposed structure, which the entire group will actually construct together from building objects existing in Metropolis. Instant messaging is built into the system, and I see a private message to me pop up from Kim, who will be in my 12:00 meeting, asking if I think we will finish the training in time.

The interaction of players expressed through their avatars reveals personal traits, abilities and preferences more clearly than live face-to-face interactions. There is a safety people feel as they type anonymously behind their keyboards, and qualities emerge that are sometimes unexpected. Some people prefer to challenge the problem boldly, some to do more reading and research first; some prefer to work collaboratively and discuss a problem to reach a consensus about next steps before moving ahead, while others prefer a more singular approach, and will charge out on their own without much notice or discussion; some want to take their time and be thorough, while others want to race ahead and get it over with quickly and move on. Some people use their avatars in amusing ways to entertain other participants as they work through the problems.

Group leaders emerge naturally as they use their expertise, problem-solving skills, and leadership abilities to ensure that the group succeeds in the quest objective. Sometimes younger members will step naturally into the lead. Over time, it’s possible to recognize good group leaders and support their approaches. Some participants show themselves to be noisy or disruptive group members, some are quiet and never contribute, and some are regularly away from their keyboard doing other activities on the side while the rest of the group works to solve the quest problems. This is one of the dynamics that makes multi-user interactive simulations so fascinating and compelling for participants. Human beings are interesting, and you simply can’t predict their interactions in groups.

As the group works together, the environment provides a wide range of learning objects to support the purpose of the training. There might be:

· Advertisements, such as billboards posted in strategic spots that present charts and graphs or new company products

· Kiosks where notes can be pinned up and tips exchanged

· Pictures on the wall in a building that, when clicked, run informational videos (participants can be instructed to view the videos as a step in their quest)

· A museum exhibit displaying real historical photos or paintings

· A product showroom where models of real world products can be tested virtually and include pop-up help

· Interactive simulated computers that show screen shots of software applications

· Objects that, when clicked, will fire up a web browser connected to a real world web site with information pertinent to the course content

· Teleports that enable a participant to move instantly between two points anywhere in the environment

· Objects that the participants’ avatars can pick up and use — for example, a hammer or a pencil or a TV remote control or a pitchfork.

As participants become familiar with the others in their group, they naturally step into roles, just as they might in a traditional classroom. Some will be subject matter experts, some will research the unknown factors, someone will write the notes, someone will facilitate the discussion, and someone will present the results. In Metropolis, some will plan the building, some will research or select the building materials/elements, some will decorate the space, some will work on writing a presentation or marketing brochure on the features of the new multicultural center, and some could even make the presentation to other groups of co-workers at a scheduled time. The system enables a work team to initiate an invitation and email it to prospective audience members, in the same way normal office meetings are scheduled. All company software applications are fully integrated.

The final step of each quest in Metropolis is a test to ensure that all participants learned what they were there to learn. The test is presented as a dialogue with James, the CGC quest giver. He can read the participant’s log and determine if the avatar completed all the required steps, or conduct a Q&A session. If a participant answers incorrectly, context sensitive help pops up a mini-review that enables the person to see what they should have learned, so they can complete the dialogue chain successfully.

In completing my test this morning, I missed an answer that used some terms I didn’t remember. I woke up my reference bot Ricardo and told him to fetch some definitions for the terms I needed, and to display them right away, as well as file them in my “just learned” folder. I also had him enter a reminder into my calendar to review the terms in a week to refresh my learning.

Once the quest/learning objective is completed successfully, each participant receives both verbal and virtual pats on the back from instructor James. He gives the participant a reward, and issues a report to their human resources file, indicating that they completed the mandatory diversity training module. The “reward” is something the participant can use in Metropolis — for example, virtual coins they can accumulate from completing quests and use to purchase items from a virtual Metropolis merchant (who may sell real world items, like electronics, exercise or outdoor equipment, holiday items or vacations from a catalogue). Rewards are sometimes visual badges of accomplishment in Metropolis, like a clothing upgrade or new clothing item, access to a hard-to-obtain hair or item color, perhaps a “title” by their name (for example, instead of just Kaye, it might say “Magistrate Kaye” or “Sergeant Kaye” or “Guru Kaye”), or maybe a color coding of their name to indicate level of experience and knowledge gained over time. Our system awards titles based on experience, actions in the simulation, and time spent assisting others. Research shows that introducing prestige rewards reflecting a participant’s expertise, knowledge and seniority are highly motivating to workers.

A few minutes ago I completed my own diversity training course, and was given 25 virtual coins as a reward. My avatar now has 75 coins and as soon as she collects 100, she will head over to the tailoring shop in Metropolis and have her blue jumpsuit dyed jet black! My next goal for my avatar will be to earn a title. I think Imperator sounds about right for me (evil grin). It will take another two years, since it requires a user to complete so many learning quests, but there are only two Imperators in the company so far — and I plan to put in some personal hours to earn the right to become #3! Besides, it’s not really like work; it’s like playing a game. The company regularly verifies that the value received from the simulation system is substantial, but I still can’t believe I’m paid to do this!

Documenting Team Meetings

Reluctantly, I leave Metropolis and return to the real world, where it’s time for my weekly project team meeting. Today is President’s Day, and though our company doesn’t celebrate, an administrative support person who is revered for her pie-making prowess has baked six cherry pies. She and two of the young male staffers, dressed as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, are pushing a hovercart from desk to desk, and serving everyone in the office today. Pie in hand, I click another icon to start my team meeting. Each of our computers has a built-in minicam, and soon the live pictures of all six team members line up across my screen and we begin talking using voice over IP through our wireless headsets. One of the team has slides she has been drafting, and she presents them on the screen for our comments, updating them as we speak. Another member has found an interesting web site and wants to show us a couple of the features that he thinks we can incorporate into our project. He team surfs us to the site using his browser, and demonstrates the features as we watch and comment orally.

A discussion-logging feature in the meeting software has been turned on, so the entire conversation was captured. After the meeting, I run the audiotape through transcribing software, give the results a quick check for accuracy, and then pass it through a parser, which pulls out the relevant commentary based upon my keyword criteria and discards the personal comments and asides. I review the summary, make a few corrections, and have the minutes from the meeting posted in our online team room web site within an hour. The parser automatically generates a copy of the final approved document, tags it by type, title, keyword frequency, date and participant names, and posts it into the company’s content management system. After an approval step, it will be placed into the knowledge repository, where it will eventually receive evaluation ratings by readers. Within six hours, the meeting notes are available for search retrieval by anyone in the organization (with permission to access these types of documents, of course).

Building the Knowledge Base

The “knowledge base” in which all company information is stored is huge, and requires powerful content management, search, and expertise location tools. Profiles drive everything. Each new employee is required to submit a personal profile to the knowledge system describing their expertise, interests and areas of specialization. As workers complete projects, they are prompted to update their profiles to indicate any new knowledge or experience gained. Profiles are used to determine who subject matter experts are and define the types of information each individual should have access to.

Because so many workers come from other countries and English is not their first language, the system can also perform translations in 56 languages, and link to other internal and external content sources worldwide. This helps everyone to evaluate proprietary content against a high standard. With language barriers minimized, it’s easier to ensure distribution of information to the people who need it most.

One fantastic development is that the world is now the resource for knowledge. No single laboratory or company has all the knowledge it needs for business development or sustained innovation. Open source software and access to information have improved information access across barriers dramatically. This has also led to better ’surveillance systems’ that monitor technical and market developments, as well as where the talent is. Evaluating new content is everyone’s obligation, and user rankings help to bubble up the most important documents and items in the archives so they are easy to find and use.

In general, the convergence of voice, data and television signals in IPTV has finally delivered the quality and speed improvement in communications that were touted at the turn of the century. The smart devices we use in daily interactions with our homes and offices, like my PDA and notebook computer, as well as my own TV remote control at home, provide dramatic speed and quality improvements, as well as direct interactions with various knowledge bases. The fact that any device can be a telephone, a television, and a digital video recorder has changed how people communicate. Broadcast programs and training modules can be downloaded and recorded at the same time that a virtual Internet meeting using voice and video exchanges is occurring on the same device.

Meetings and conversations are routinely transcribed electronically, and emailed to participants for review and revision before entering them in the knowledge exchange system. People are not tied to their desks or a geographic location in order to have instant access to the best minds in the field, the best education, the best conferences, or the best resources of the organization. Stored text files now may contain embedded video clips or animated graphics or humor that will make the stored information a more complete and dynamic transcription of a person’s knowledge and experience. This has opened entirely new career paths for graphic designers, technical writers, and videographers, since society has become increasingly visual in its information needs and preferences.

Now I’m shifting back to 2006. Think this scenario is too far out to be believed? Maybe you should ask some colleagues to read it and ask the same question. The reality is that every one of these technologies is being developed or is in use today. As usual, what will lag behind is the cultural flexibility that allows people to adapt and change their processes quickly. Organizations that get the dynamics right first, however, will create competitive advantages that other organizations will be rushing to copy. How do you think KM will be different 10 years from now? Will there even be a thing called knowledge management 10 years from now?

May 17th, 2006

Visualizing the Future of Knowledge Exchange (Part 1)

Looking ahead is always fun, wrong, amazing and ridiculous, but I’m going to give it a try anyway. Here’s my own vision of a wild and wondrous place to work 10 years from now…assuming there are still such things as corporations (which some futurists doubt) and we don’t all work from home! If you’ve been wondering what an immersive learning/knowledge management system might look like, read this and Part 2, which describes the knowledge system in detail.

Getting to the Office

My commute to the office was uneventful as usual. The magnetic sensor lane of the highway moved my driverless bus quickly to my stop and I had a chance to catch the morning news headlines on the small overhead TV monitors. All the big cities are now completely wired with fiber optics, and wireless Internet access is pervasive, making the broadband convergence we heard about in the 1990s a reality at last and universally available. Light-guide Optical Element technology even enables personal, screenless displays by projecting images and data from computers, DVD players, or VCRs into the viewer’s eye, displaying them in the visual field of the viewer. They beam signals right into the eyeball without any need for a screen!

I can’t wait to add an LOE micro projector to my next eyeglass purchase. Right now they are only available for training and dangerous or delicate occupations, like the military or demolition or microsurgery. I noticed a guy across from me using one of the new DNA based nano processors to play a multiplayer online game while riding to work. He was using his phone keypad and voice to enter commands. I’m not sure I’d like using those small keys to play a fast-paced game, but he seemed to have mastered it pretty well. He was also using a two-way audio system for communication and voice activation control of the application. Optical imaging technology has enabled a wide range of ultra-compact personal displays for mobile applications that are connected to the Internet 24/7.

With security screening already commonplace for a decade or more, I move quickly through my building’s lobby to the security station that scans my palm print when I swipe my card key on the security scanner, and matches it with my card key RFID identifier chip. ID cards are increasingly sophisticated, and the government and big organizations work hard to ensure they cannot be duplicated fraudulently. An unobtrusive metal detector is mounted in a decorative framework that most high-rises now display in their lobbies. It knows the difference between coins, keys, medical prostheses like knee and hip replacements, nail files, and more sinister items, so we are rarely stopped mistakenly. Three tiny camera lenses hidden in the architecture scan each person.

As I step into the elevator and the doors close, I hear the soft, almost silent whoosh of air as I rise silently to the 32nd floor. The elevator runs on a combination of batteries charged by ethanol generators and magnetic polarity, which makes the doors open and close with a sssssssnick, like the old-fashioned Star Trek bridge doors. As I walk out onto my floor, I’m in a wide, open space without walls. The central admin services are located toward the center of the floor near the elevators, and all around the outer edge the windows provide a tremendous view of the city and river below. The windows are strengthened with microscopic fibers during manufacture, and can resist breaking when an object is hurled at them at 60 miles per hour. This is important, since gale force winds are common here in the late summer months. In addition, they are light sensitive, so they darken when the sun’s light and heat are most intense, and they brighten again toward evening or on cloudy days. A coating of molecular particles that continuously repels dirt was applied to the outside of the windows, so there is no need for window cleaning or the dangerous acrobatics window washers of the 20th century routinely faced.

The Office Environment

What we used to call Generation Y is now in full bloom in the workforce. They work differently, and use technology as naturally as sleeping. In a bid to keep these young stars happy, the central core area also includes a lounge called the “bull pen”. It includes bean bag furniture, a refrigerator, book shelves with motivating and creative books and journals, a DVD player and disk collection anyone can use or borrow, a projection wall for TV or presentations, toy boxes containing touchy toys, throw toys, and all kinds of fidgety things to manipulate, like linked steel puzzles and Rubic’s cubes. In one corner there is a virtual dance machine with color-coded pads on the floor. The computer flashes a sequence of colors and tones, and the player must activate the same sequence using their feet. It’s a good mind clearing activity that gets the blood circulating! There are usually two or three small groups lounging about talking animatedly about some papers they have brought over, or debating theories and hypotheses. We are lucky our management realized early on that the best thinking and innovation can come from impromptu conversations and spontaneous work sessions among people of all ages and work responsibilities. Everyone uses the bullpen.

My first stop is the central filing and locker area, where I pick up my personal work files and notebook computer, which I usually leave in the office. My PDA holds all the software and files I use on my notebook, so when I put it in the cradle at home, it syncs the work partition of my personal computer with my work computer, so I can start right where I left off if I decide to work from home. I prefer this to updating the central server and downloading at home, even though the update speed is about the same, because it lets me use my PDA to work or catch up on email when I’m on the road. Ubiquitous fiber optics have made Internet access and file transfer speeds so fast that working from any location is the norm. The universality of computing was accelerated by the chicken flu pandemic. Millions of people worldwide caused a virtual economic stop and financial panic because they simply refused to venture out into public places or go to work, fearing contamination. If another epidemic hits, it won’t be necessary to leave home!

Now I face the first decision of the day…where shall I sit? The floor is wide open with standard desk configurations everywhere, allowing work teams or friends to group near each other ad hoc and change desks fluidly. White noise piped in over the audio system keeps the noise levels muffled. I choose a spot I like near the window, where I can see workers digging the pit for a new skyscraper across the street. The heavy earth moving equipment below looks like HotWheels toys, but I can still make out the big Trump T on the sides of them. We have been told the new building will be 100% green, and include huge indoor hanging gardens to convert the CO2 exhaled by residents to oxygen.

The fact that any device can be a telephone, a television, and a digital video recorder has changed how people communicate. Broadcast programs and training modules can be downloaded and recorded at the same time that a virtual Internet meeting using voice and video exchanges is occurring on the same device. Conversations can be transcribed electronically and emailed to participants for review and revision before entering them in the knowledge exchange system. People are not tied to their desks or a geographic location, and they still have instant access to the best minds in the field, the best education, the best conferences, or the best resources of the organization. Accessing a stored text file now means the file can contain embedded video clips or animated graphics or humor that will make stored information a more complete transcription of a person’s knowledge and experience. This has opened entirely new career paths for graphic designers and videographers, since society has become increasingly visual in its information needs and preferences.

Back on my floor, about every 30 feet or so, up high on the walls, are large flat panel TV screens. The sound is turned off, but workers can put on their wireless headsets and receive the latest news, sports or weather broadcasts at any time. There are many audio channels available, private channels reserved for confidential conversations and even customizable personal music channels. One entire wall by the water fountain simultaneously projects similar areas in two of our other large offices. We are experimenting with a hallway networking concept, where subject matter experts sign up for half hour time blocks several times each month when they will be available to have a hallway chat with anyone with a question or an idea. Anyone can walk up to the wall, and start a conversation with the other people present in the other offices, just as if they were present in the same room.

Did I mention that half of the desks in the main room are empty? Employers understand for the most part that anyone who doesn’t need to be present to meet customers or project team members can work from home with the proper equipment. Results from the past 10 years have proven that workers who can work flexibly from home on their own schedules are more productive, produce better work products, have lower stress levels, enjoy better quality of life, experience fewer health risks, and feel great loyalty to their employer. Most organizations now routinely offer such options to workers from their first day on the job. The concept of Web 2.0 took hold as organizations began to place trust in their workers, to rely on them to generate and manage the knowledge relevant to the organization’s success, and to enhance the user experience of technology to make it simpler and richer. Even managers feel less of a need to be in the office and manage. They are finally accustomed to working electronically and managing workers remotely.

Claiming My Space

As soon as I lay my combination cell phone and PDA in the charging cradle on the desk phone base, it alerts the switchboard where I am located. Now any incoming calls will be routed to my desk automatically, building security knows my location in case of any emergency, my PDA is automatically synchronized with my computer, and all my equipment is charging. I trade chairs with an empty desk. This chair can be programmed to my seating preferences. There is a scanner under the armrest, and when I swipe my badge over the sensor, the chair adjusts itself to my preprogrammed preferences. I like to sit high and have the chair arms low so my elbows are unsupported when I type, and I watch the chair conform to my specifications. I’m now ready to begin work at “my” desk.

As I snap my laptop into the bay, my 21″ flat screen monitor pops on, and asks me to sign in to our secure corporate network. I run my first finger over the built in sensor in the keyboard, which recognizes my fingerprint, and I’m prompted for my user ID and password. Once I’m logged in, I have access to any information in the company that my individual profile entitles me to access. No more remembering half a dozen user names and passwords, no more multiple log ins — the system knows where I can go and knows how to get me there. Two windows pop up onto my screen…my calendar and my email listing. The calendar immediately triggers an audio alarm to remind me I have a training session beginning in 15 minutes, followed by a conference call at 11. Just enough time to get some coffee.

I look around the screen for the familiar 3D animated image of my “personal butler”, who knows my preferences and resides in both my PDA and computer. I select an icon of a cheerful, turbaned djinn I named Omar, who interacts with me in a friendly voice I find appealing. He appears in a puff of virtual smoke and politely unrolls a scroll with a menu of service options — oil change for my car by the company mechanics, annual auto inspection (mine is about to expire), food items, drink items, single dose over the counter medications, travel reservations, electronic greeting cards, and discounts on tickets to shows, concerts, and theme parks. I click on the button for drinks, and it gives me a customized list of my favorite beverages, including Columbian dark roast coffee espresso with a splash of cream. Bingo! I press the button, Omar fires off the order, and I head to the central services area to pick it up.

The system recognizes that it is making a beverage for me, and prints my name around the base of the cup before brewing the coffee. As I pick it up, my eyes are drawn to a sesame bagel with cream cheese on the nearby bakery table. Another temptation succumbed to, I pull out my ID badge, wave it over the sensor by the bagels, and take one to go. My ID card is linked with my bank account, so the charge for the bagel is sent immediately to the bank, where it is paid from my checking account and credited to the bagel vendor within seconds. There’s not much need to carry around pocket change in the big cities any more. Just about everything can be purchased electronically using a bankcard with a smart chip or a corporate ID badge. My badge also contains a DNA ID marker, which enables me to access secure areas and confidential information to which I need access.

Back at my desk, I open the desktop portal application to load up my virtual training session. All the software I routinely use is there in the portal, and it’s all linked together. Files used or created by any application are accessible by any other application. A single click lets me reopen my desktop at exactly the point in all the applications I had open when I signed off yesterday, because the system lets me save a particular desktop view when I log out. Everything is instantly ready to go the next time I log on. I love this feature, because I no longer have to hunt for the documents I was working on.

Now that I’m actually ready to begin working, I will enter the knowledge portal, from where I access all my reference materials, project work, and learning. More about that in Part 2 of of this article!

May 1st, 2006

KM Metaphors

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling (as I’m sure most everyone else in the field does) to come up with another, better model to describe KM and its components and their relationships. If it were simple, Larry Prusak or David Snowden or Tom Davenport or John Maloney would have come up with “the” model 15 years ago. The fact that we are still struggling with it is a testimony to the complexity of something that seems on the surface to be so simple.

In order to simplify it, since most of us can’t agree on a definition, we use metaphors when describing it to co-workers or customers or funding managers. Personally, I’ve used the blind men and the elephant to describe it with some success several times. People seem to get it when I say, “KM is more than a shared drive with a search engine. KM is like the elephant…some see the tail or the leg and think they understand what an elephant is from what they are touching. Everyone is only partly right.”

With these thoughts floating around in my mind, I came across a series of short articles on Matt Moore’s blog discussing four metaphors for KM. The Library has a reference desk librarian and a collection of content. The Bank refers to intellectual capital and reusing it for added value. The Warehouse is fun, because it builds on the manufacturing analogy that makes KM more accessible for non-practitioners. In the Warehouse model, knowledge workers make and ship knowledge. They need knowledge “parts” to do that, and the inventory depreciates over time. Finally, KM databases as dustbins. (How fresh is your content?)

There are probably more. I’d love to hear some.


April 28th, 2006

Semantic nitpicking? It’s not just in KM

It looks like the knowledge management “profession” is not the only group to have definition problems creating confusion among the rank and file. Danc is a thoughtful and introspective (former) game developer, and he comments about the challenges of cataloguing game development innovations on his blog on April 9:

“Here’s why I think this is important. Language is one of the biggest barriers to discussing game designs in an intelligent fashion amongst educated game designers. Currently, each designer is an island, isolated by and limited to their own design experiences. When they attempt to discuss even basic concepts with other designers, the terminology just doesn’t exist. Conversations devolve into exercises in semantic nitpicking as both parties desperately attempt to invent a common terminology on the spot.”

I’ve found myself reading online community discussions recently where semantic nitpicking made up quite a few of the postings, yet we failed to invent the common KM terminology we need as a basis for meaningful discussion. I know it’s tiresome hearing me say this, but until we have universally accepted definitions for KM and its elements used consistently by practitioners, the wheel spinning and jockeying to promote proprietary (and often narrow) viewpoints will continue to confuse the issues, generate uncertainty, and glorify incomplete views.


April 25th, 2006

Weighing In on Corporate Blogs

I have experienced doubt concerning corporate blogs. As a former communicator, I believe some structure and filtering of communication is called for, even if you ignore the desire to control corporate messages. Otherwise, it is just more noise and will be more of a minus than a plus for the organization. Paolina at Green Chameleon raised the same question…is corporate blogging really the next big thing? Put me in the “No” camp.

Nearly three years ago, I initiated a test of a blogging tool in a Fortune 500 company, but limited the application to competitive intelligence. We invited only the people in the organization who received or used competitive intelligence to participate and to use the commenting features. They supported it vigorously in concept–but it had only limited success. Truthfully, I considered it a failure, and it wasn’t even real blogging. They were merely using a blogging tool to interact with information, and they did not have their own personal blogs.

Releasing personal blogs on the entire organization would have just created a mess. Most of the people were not used to interacting and commenting online, and most felt like they already have too much to read to go exploring a company blogosphere. Some would certainly have found it an excuse to spend time away from what they should actually have been working on. I know a lot of KM practitioners are excited about blogs and wikis and such, but, practically speaking, I just don’t see it working. There are too many organizational issues around them (privacy, control, guidelines and standards, ownership of content, etc.). Most organizations rightly will see them as a lot of extra work for very little, if any, additional value and a lot of potential risk…no matter how inexpensive the software is.

April 25th, 2006

The Value of Big KM Conferences

Patrick Lambe at Green Chameleon told an interesting story about how he has been blacklisted by one of the large KM conference organizations. One of their inexperienced marketing people told him by mistake. It was eye-opening to me, and made me start thinking again about my KM conference experiences. I posted something related last fall.

I’ve been speculating a bit myself recently about why KM conferences aren’t more successful for attendees — namely, why don’t the so-called big name people show up and stay? We pay a lot of money, and would value the opportunity to shake hands with the gurus whose books we read and whose advice we follow. Patrick’s article points to a possibility I had not considered, namely, that conference organizers potentially keep some people out. I have wondered things like, why don’t the speakers that do come remain for the entire conference, not just fly in for their sessions and out the same day? Are they really that busy? Are they worried that people might ask them for free advice or a job? Why, when some people are obviously a hit with the attendees and have something valuable to share, aren’t they back the following year? There are clearly politics of some sort at work.

I’ve wondered if the advisory boards of these conference organizations aren’t a little closed to outside thoughts. Invariably there are recognized names on those boards, but it’s hard to find a single one of them without a vested interest in having their own colleagues as presenters or in pushing their proprietary point of view forward. In principle, I don’t object to that…people do volunteer work for business development and other reasons. I do object to not finding out about the creative things being done in the field at conferences. Each year we seem to get repeat speakers who have financial interest in participating. They are there to push their forthcoming book (orders taken at the table in the back) or new software. They have a new training or certification program for KM (fee only, of course). They bought a big exhibit space. We are not getting the ones who have launched KM on a shoestring using open source software, or ran a novel COP pilot, or created a completely new KM model without input from a big name consulting organization, or wrote a provocative thesis.

People on the business side of KM only seem to get invited if they work for a big corporate name. They are, unfortunately, often the weakest presenters at the event because they are one track ponies and can’t bring context to the learnings that the rest of us would like to take away.

Finally, there is the issue of last minute substitutions. Do conference organizers publish the conference speaker lists too early in the process? Do the speakers disrespect their commitments so much that they will fail to show up after their name has been published? (After all, they’ve had the free publicity, why should they go to the trouble to prepare and show up?) Why would three, five, or ten speaker substitutions announced at the conference be tolerated? There’s a black list that should be created! A few can be understood, but when there are so many that it creates confusion about what session you are sitting in, doesn’t it become the conference version of bait and switch?

There is a schism that threatens KM and it’s the same that appears in most fields where the financial stakes are high for being “right”. Biotech and software development come to mind. Practitioners rush to publish and copyright or trademark their idea or their work, and then spend the rest of their careers defending their one good idea. The way to make the KM field grow and gain meaning and respect is collaboration — building upon what others have contributed. It doesn’t take a Wiki. It takes a willingness. It’s optimistic to hope that the people who rush to create training programs focused on only their own approaches to the problem will have an epiphany and suddenly start to share their knowledge freely, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Right now the planning is on for the big fall conferences. I hope that the organizers for all of them can rise above the competition of proprietary interests, and the demands of financial backers to have sponsors, and put the best people on the podium to talk about the real issues and the creative solutions.


April 12th, 2006

Simple Gauge for Communities of Practice: I am a (blank)

I always enjoy reading the blog of the Anecdote consulting organization in Australia. They are great people and frequently post insightful observations on communities of practice and knowledge management. Recently Shawn Callahan posted about a little test he uses to determine whether a community has a chance to succeed in building an identify and affinity among members. Since community has to start with a sense of belonging in order to succeed, I think this is a useful tool for any KM practitioner to have in their back pocket.

Shawn wrote, “When someone says, ‘I would like to start a community of practice.’ I ask, ‘Can you describe the potential members by completing the following sentence? I am a …’ If they can fill in the blank in a way that people can passionately identify with the descriptor then there is a chance a community might emerge.” In his example, “I am a project manager” had a good chance to succeed, while “I am a technical” did not.

I’ve seen this in my own experience. Groups with a clear sense of what commonality binds them together are more likely to have a viable community. If someone can say “I am an underwriter” or “I am a third grade teacher” or “I am the parent of a brain injured child” or “I am a User Interface designer”, then there will be a clear match in interests with anyone else who answers the same way. In my gaming life, that even includes being a player of a certain game, or a member of a particular guild/clan within a certain game or a certain class of player.

Trying to build communities that are too broad, for example, “I am an XYZ Company employee” or “I am a management consultant” will result in some or all of the following:

· lack of participation/interest

· coalescing of smaller and more narrowly defined sub-groups who share common interests

· ineffective use of the community resource/tools

· failure to achieve desired objectives

Building a community of everyone who can say “I am a developer” will successfully segregate the programmers from the people in business operations, however, it will still be far too broad to make it relevant for participants. Defining subsets of developers into “I am a Cobol programmer” or “I am a web user interface developer” or “I am a team leader” will result in bringing people with greater commonalities together and help them to start the conversations that will add value to their work and to the business.


April 11th, 2006

KM and Learning: Overlapping Strategies and Values

In another posting, I noted some definitions that show how fragmented our understanding of the relationship between KM and learning are. Shirley Hazlett et al. suggest that KM is in a state of pre-science and we lack understanding of the underlying assumptions: “…attempts to develop an optimal KM methodology are misplaced unless the underlying assumptions and paradigms are identified and understood…KM is currently in a state of ‘pre-science,’ wherein proponents of different paradigms have their own beliefs and values and often disagree with others about fundamentals within the field.” I believe this is true. I see it in the discussion groups I’m a member of. For me, the confusion and conflict is what makes KM such an interesting problem to solve. It’s a time when everyone’s voice is equal to everyone else’s, and while we are coming up with applications, approaches, and solutions right and left, the core statements of what KM is and what it does are still very much undefined. There’s a kind of “we know it when we see it” dynamic at work.

To me, there is significant overlap in the processes of knowledge management and learning, but they are distinctly different processes. It is worthwhile for us to understand where they overlap and where they are different in order to help organizations use the benefits each offers effectively. For example, both focus on people and use or create content, but learning creates courses to close knowledge gaps, while KM measures what is already known and creates processes to capture it. Verna Allee said in 2000 “eLearning could be a cornerstone of knowledge management but most elearning companies have failed to master the basic theory and practice of knowledge management. They not only cannot intelligently speak about knowledge management practice from a marketing perspective, they don’t even have a coherent internal understanding of knowledge management or a serious knowledge management strategy of their own.”

G.P. Huber identified four integral elements linked to knowledge in the organizational learning process, and suggested that knowledge is essential for learning. Those learning elements are:

· Knowledge acquisition. Knowledge may be acquired intentionally (searching) or unintentionally (noticing).

· Knowledge/information distribution Information/knowledge from various sources must be shared: the wider the distribution, the greater the ability to learn. Distribution may be through formal processes or through informal contacts and learning by doing.

· Information interpretation. Information is given meaning and shared understandings are developed. This may occur through formal meetings and discussions, or through recursive and informal, intuitive experiences.

· Organizational memory. Knowledge is stored for future use, either formally codified (reports, memos and so on) or institutionalized in cultural values.

With a nod to the first President Bush, I have been known to say “It’s the people, stupid!” in response to business managers who get excited about KM and then lurch into action immediately to create new repositories of content in order to “capture knowledge”. Information is simply the input. Human insight is the output that changes information into knowledge.

Knowledge is critical to organizational success, as noted by Nonaka and Takeuchi, but people are the critical component in KM, not databases. I’m not saying that databases, information management and intellectual capital are not important. They are. I’m saying they are not “knowledge”. Knowledge is always the tacit wisdom contained in the head of someone with experience related to the topic. For that reason, expertise location and knowledge sharing are more important to KM than information/content management, even though both are needed. From the dawn of the species, humans shared knowledge without databases and indices.

There is a strong correlation between the importance of knowledge to organizational success and the need to nurture employees, as evidenced in the early 1990s by Buckman Labs. Nurturing so-called knowledge workers occurs through providing an environment in which they can both develop new knowledge (learning) and share what they know. Steve Barthwrote, “A knowledge worker is an asset that appreciates over time. Knowledge itself is more often a depreciating asset.” There are abundant examples of the importance of nurturing knowledge workers in the extensive internal learning and KM programs of all the large consulting and professional services organizations today, where people are the product they offer.

People are the key to both learning and knowledge management, and cultural readiness is an important component of any KM program. Providing technologies for knowledge sharing, motivating people to share what they know, and improving knowledge sharing processes are the realm of KM–for example, in efforts to “enable the knowledge worker”. Identifying knowledge gaps, and providing curricula for education and to create personal knowledge are the realm of learning.

Learning and KM Alignment — the point of divergence

I posed the question of the relationship between learning and KM to a discussion group recently, and here are some of the comments. Joe Firestone, who has written books that cover this topic said, “KM is not a subset of learning, but is the set of management activities intended to enhance learning processes.” Matt Moore, with IBM’s Business Consulting Services division, said “most of those involved in learning…know that most learning does not occur within classrooms — but rather on the job. Coaching and mentoring programs can help here, but increasingly they are looking to knowledge management for support around ‘just in time’ learning programs.” Some educators see learning as a product that they produce. Euan Semple commented that his organization named their KM program “Informal Learning” and it was difficult for some in the training group (where the KM initiative reported) to accept. “You are right though that some in training found this a challenge. The idea that the best knowledge is out there, current and manifest in conversations, can be challenging to those who have made a career out of dispensing it as a product. ”

Matt Moore further highlighted the strain of differences in a KM or a traditional learning approach: “People tend to fall back on what they know, and if you are a fantastic workshop facilitator or a great instructional designer, then nuturing a community of practice or running ‘lessons learned’ activities can be an alien experience. The tensions between JIT Learning & prescriptive curricula are also becoming apparent.” In another communication that presents a positive relationship between knowledge sharing and learning, Mark Spain said he advised a small business owner to use structured team discussions of unusual occurrences to enhance organizational knowledge and create a learning organization. “If you learn to review critical incidents with respect, openness with each other and a willingness to improve by tackling the difficult or embarrassing aspects of the conversation, you are starting to be what the theory describes as a Learning Organisation. You will know you have the opportunity to learn (or change) if you feel uncomfortable in parts of the process but get support from each other to continue because it adds some value to each other.”

F. J. Miller provides some finetuning for learning, saying that training is explicit (i.e.,information delivery) and learning is tacit (i.e., the making of personal meaning). Experiments conducted by BHP Engineering attempted to understand the meanings people attach to certain key words in the workplace. When the word training was thrown into the ring, surprisingly, it typically evoked negative reactions. Words like teaching, classrooms, schedules, assessment, authority, competency measurement, control, accreditation, dependency, tests, discipline, boredom, and manipulation covered the white board in the room. Learning, on the other hand, generated a quite different and more positive list, evoking such responses as: self-direction, understanding, enthusiasm, self-pacing, independence, open discussion, success, commitment, freedom, ease of access, excitement, maturity, and honesty. Despite these very different perceptions and responses, organizations still continue to use the language of training and learning virtually synonymously.

In Summary…

Knowledge management and learning work in tandem for greatest organizational and individual effect. In a nutshell:

Knowledge exists only in a person’s brain and it is unique to each person. Learning is a building process for creating knowledge. Knowledge is the product of learning. Knowledge in a person’s head becomes information as soon as it is written or transmitted. Information is used to develop learning modules. The learning process passes structured information to brains, where it is selectively converted to knowledge as the information gains personal meaning. Information can be organized and managed; knowledge cannot. Knowledge management is an oxymoron, but using KM techniques to enhance learning initiatives results in a wide range of organizational benefits.

April 11th, 2006

Knowledge and Information: a Discussion

Recently I had some discussions with colleagues and friends about the relationship between learning and knowledge. I captured one of those conversations between me (”A”) and a good friend (”B”), and I’m reprinting it here (with permission, of course):


“What is the relationship between learning and knowledge?”


We know what we’ve learned.


Can you know without learning?


I don’t think so.


Do you know enough German to know the difference between kennen and wissen?


No, I have not that knowledge, for I have not learned German



Okay. Back to knowing without learning.

I think you can know without learning. I think you can “know” how to stop breathing when you are under water or that food is necessary. Things like that. Babies don’t come out learning to eat. They know to eat, and learn HOW to use utensils to eat.


Is that knowledge, or reflex?

After all, the first time you try breathing under water and inhale a mouthful of water, you’ll *LEARN* not to do that.

I’m not sure you’re born with that knowledge.


I’m want to get to a definition of knowledge, not debate reflexes vs. learned behaviors. I’ve been reading a lot of definitions recently, and they are all somewhat wrong. Some are partially right, but terms are not defined in the same way. I’m trying to close in on a working definition I can propose.


Well, there are some things then that you don’t learn…for example, you never “learn” how to make your heart beat… it just does. Is that knowledge?


Right. I was trying to avoid inherent biological functions. Though maybe they are “known”…but I think they are unconscious instincts.


They are definitely not known.


But on some level it is a knowing. Maybe in the midbrain or something there is an unconscious “knowing”.


I don’t *know* anything about digestion, kidney functions, etc


But your medula oblongata does, because it monitors and manages those functions. Your higher brain may not.


It doesn’t “know”, it responds to chemical stimuli.


Don’t get into chemicals…if it comes down to it, everything in the body is chemical stimuli and response.


That may be, but some of those chemical stimuli and responses result in “knowledge”, and an awareness of that knowledge, whereas other stimuli just amount to my stomach digesting the hummus and chips I’m eating.


So, in 1967 Michael Polanyi identified that there is “tacit knowledge” and “explicit knowledge”. I think we are talking around that here. Tacit knowledge exists in the organism/brain and is information that has been filtered through your own personal experiences and reflection to have a personal meaning. Explicit ‘knowledge’ (as he called it) is the stuff that gets written down/codified. I believe, however, that anything that is codified is no longer knowledge. It is information. Information with more or less value to others, but information all the same…a kind of higher data.


He was a physicist. What does he know anyway? :-)


Here’s what I’m proposing for a definition. What do you think? I think it’s stuffy and arcane, but … many are worse!

Knowledge management is a process that uses a variety of social tools and technologies to capture information that an individual has absorbed and modified, using their own personal experiences and personal understandings as a filter, into a modified iteration of information that can be reviewed and used by others.


So is “information” higher or lower than “knowledge”?

That is, is there “information” that is not “knowledge”, or is there “knowledge” that is not “information”?


There’s no higher or lower. Information is used to create knowledge and it can be the product of knowledge. That’s a good question, though. I’ll have to think it through.


Bottom line is, what’s the difference? Because according to your suggested definition, “knowledge management” is about “information”, not “knowledge”.


Bingo! The difference is what can you manage. You can manage information but not knowledge. KM is an oxymoron.


So why not call it “information management”?


Because IT already owns that, and it’s about databases and fields and variables. KM also has a people/expertise component…an evaluation is implied. It’s not just hard, analytical data. It’s also opinions, observations, assessments, plans, etc. Plus, managing knowledge sounds more important than managing data.


So I think that that’s the crux of the difference… to me, information is more facts and knowledge is more interpretation/analysis.

I can say “the temperature outside is 41 degrees”… that is more information than knowledge, though you could say that you now know the temperature in Columbia… but that’s because the verb “to know” is limited.


Well, that’s not exactly correct. Information is facts, but it can be more than facts, because not all information is true. I’m assuming here that facts are true.

Knowledge is information that is passed through one’s personal filters of all kinds and interpreted.


False information is still information


But you said information is facts. Facts are true, therefore, the implication is that information is true. I’m saying not all information is true.


To me, information management is about databases and fields and variables, but lacks the insights gained through analysis, and those insights are knowledge. So maybe in a way, information is barebones and primal, while knowledge has to do with interpreting information and extracting stuff that goes beyond the information. For example, take a profile captured by a radiation detector: it’s a bunch of numbers, representing the number of gamma particles hitting the detector at regular intervals. I can give you such a profile: that is all the information there is, and we put that in a database. However, if you have the knowledge, you can analyze the profile and figure out what material it was that generated those numbers. So, information management has to do with capturing/managing the raw numbers, while knowledge management needs to capture/manage the analysis by which someone determines whether those raw numbers are generated by one radioactive material or another.


Not exactly…KM can’t capture/manage the analysis process, just the results of it. And that is exactly the point! Knowledge takes a brain! Which means people hold knowledge, not databases. You can’t capture knowledge. Once it can be put into a database, it is no longer knowledge, even though someone may still know the information. It is simply information. From a KM standpoint, we are less concerned with what information is captured or how it’s stored. We are more concerned with finding ways to entice people to share information so it can be captured and later retrieved by others for a variety of reasons, learning among them. So KM has to do with creating an environment were information can be shared, while maintaining a record of who knows the details of the shared information to make it possible for a seeker to find the knower and get enhanced information from him/her — with technology or otherwise — and rewarding people for participating.


The reality is that KM practitioners are not going to call themselves information managers, because there are big interpersonal components to the KM practice that go way beyond building databases and input tools. For example, communities and how they create new information through member interaction, social networks and how they affect the flow of information, process workflows, etc. Expertise location capabilities. Rewards and recognition. Valuing of intellectual capital assets. Identifying information needs. All of those are part of KM.


In general, I assume KM is a specialized type of information management — one that is partially the same as conventional information management, yet more. It’s a specialized type of management, because it actually creates the environment in which people can interact in a way that facilitates exchanges of personal knowledge between people…typically via codifying the information and storing it somewhere for reuse by others.


The management comes in the managing of the variables that enable the free flow of information from someone who has it to someone who needs it. We can’t manage knowledge. (And I think that’s why many people think KM is the wrong discipline name for what we do — but we can’t seem to come up with another one!)

You can see that the conversation digressed from KM’s relationship with learning. If you have any thoughts on how knowledge, learning, knowledge management, and information management are related, I’d love to hear them.


March 15th, 2006

KM Value Derives from Business Leaders

In the March, 2006 issue of The Source for KM Professionals, Chris Collison, one of the authors of the famous narrative on the development of KM in British Petroleum called Learning to Fly, discusses the value of metrics in KM. One of his statements really struck me. He was talking about how they had gone back to various participants in the KM program and asked them for stories that would demonstrate the value of KM to executives, and said “Did they have credibility as stories? Absolutely yes — because of who was telling them. Did the stories inspire others and give momentum to what was going on? Definitely.”

To me, this is the only way that KM practitioners can demonstrate the value of KM. KM will always be one of many influencing factors that results in more sales or cost avoidance or expense reduction or better products. What gives KM credibility is having the business leaders who have experienced value from the system stand up and say so. Other business leaders will listen and believe, because of who is telling them. As KM practitioners, we can report the same statistics or make the same claims, but it won’t have as much credibility as having the business person tell the story and give the credit.

I think that may change how I next approach looking for budget approvals or increases. I plan to quote the executives who have a value story to tell about KM, and let them make the sale for me. Think it will work?

March 13th, 2006

E-Learning’s State of the Art

This morning I received a copy of the Ark Group’s most recent study results on e-learning. While it is UK-based and focuses on technology, it shows a shift has occurred from what I observed personally in the U.S. several years ago, and shows some maturation of the field, as well as the beginnings of standardization in tools. In the late 1990s most trainers and corporate educators were largely unfamiliar with using personal computers. They were very experienced with face-to-face interactions with students, developing learning plans, and cutting, pasting and photocopying materials for courses. Learning management systems were new, challenging to learn, and not terribly intuitive for novice users — both instructor and student.

The Ark study indicates that e-learning systems have changed from inhouse developed applications to more mainstream technologies. It also says that e-learning has failed to deliver both satisfaction and ROI, when on the surface, e-learning ought to be an easy sell, to both management and students. E-learning, like knowledge management, talent development programs, and employee communications, simply must be able to demonstrate a justifiable return on investment for management to be able to continue to support it. It’s not enough in today’s business climate for well-intentioned (and intelligent) educators and HR professionals to say that learning/development programs are intuitively worthwhile. Financial people need hard results they can attach dollars/pounds/euros/yen to. Identifying the right metrics to use to measure learning impact may be the trickiest part of implementing and maintaining a learning management system.

Here is a list from the study of metrics that were submitted by an Australian hotel chain:

· Positive audit on compliance

· Improved availability and accuracy of reports with reduction of time in delivery

· Decrease in cost of providing training

· Decrease in time to have an employee workplace ready

· Increase in number of employees who believe they have sufficient opportunity to develop skills/eligibility for other roles or promotion

· Satisfaction increase in access to reports and data for analysis

· Increase in effectiveness of management reports

· Increase of approval for all course applications

I found it interesting that so many high ranking responses to the questions mirrored the pre-Internet way of education, showing that many educators still appear to be looking for a balance between the “old way” and e-learning (and reflect an aging training work force?). For example, on the question “What would you say are the main drawbacks of e-learning?” High ranking responses included “Lack of face-to-face contact” and “Reduced interaction between tutor/pupil”. On the question, “How valuable would you say e-learning tools are to corporate training?”, the top answer was “Useful, but not essential.” The survey was obviously geared to corporate educators, though it’s unclear from the study report how many participants there were. It would be interesting to see if a survey of learners of a variety of ages using e-learning tools would have the same responses.

Get your own copy of the study, called State of the Art: E-Learning 2006, from Inside Knowledge magazine here.

February 22nd, 2006

KM and Learning: A Matter of Definition

The more I read about KM, the more humbled I am by the insights and wisdom of the people who have attempted over the years to bring the field into focus. Every time I think I have had a brilliant insight, I seem to find a paper from 1999 or 2002 by someone who articulated what I just discovered beautifully. Instead of feeling embarrassed or wanting to disprove what they say, I feel joy! First, the fact that I got to an idea that someone else thought important to publish is invigorating and reaffirming, and secondly, I feel awe that the human brain is such an amazing instrument. At times it makes me want to give up writing about the things I’m learning, because I don’t see how I can improve upon what someone else said, yet I also often have the experience of reading a phrase and having it spark new insights for me.

I am intrigued most by the human dynamics of KM. One of the fuzzy areas to me, and I think to many people in the field, is how learning and knowledge management are related. I’ve seen several models representing the dynamics of knowledge and learning, and frankly, I haven’t found them compelling. They feel incomplete. It’s hard to create a complete model when each author starts from scratch and defines terms in their own way. The effort to compare apples to apples becomes daunting. I’m starting to sound like a broken record to myself, but it would be very helpful to have definitions we can all agree to and use consistently! To move KM forward, we need to build upon a base of …knowledge… we all share. I think we will spin in place until we do. This is the first part of a three-part series on the intersection of learning and knowledge management, and it deals with…definitions!

We All Think We Know

Learning and knowledge are things that everyone thinks they know about and understand (we all went to school, after all), but when you probe a little, few people really do. Our understanding is colored by assumptions filtered through our own experiences, rather than by unassailable and commonly accepted definitions of terms that can form the base for understanding and scholarly discourse.

You’ll see what I mean if you try this little experiment the next time you are out with friends or colleagues. It’s guaranteed to liven up the dinner conversation! I asked a small sample of people, “What is the relationship between learning and knowledge?” Most people become somewhat confused by the question, but, with a little pushing, you’ll receive answers that are more or less insightful, depending upon the person. I’m willing to bet, though, that your average response will be something along this line “Well, learning is something you do, and knowledge is…what you know!”

People in learning/teaching/training professions tend to consider knowledge a product of their work and knowledge management to be one of the tools of their profession. People who work in knowledge management typically take a different view, seeing learning as a knowledge creation process and separate from the knowledge management process. This is mainly an academic point, until you happen to be in an organization that wants to develop a knowledge management system or improve its learning delivery approach. Battles can develop quickly over who dominates on the organization chart. Clearly, overlap exists in the terminology, technology, and approaches used in both areas, yet most “corporate U” people and “KM” people don’t themselves understand how it all works together. Instead of collaborating, they can waste a lot of energy and resources on staking out and trying to hold their turf. One only has to review the well-known case studies of organizations like Xerox and British Petroleum to see that there is no mention of learning or the relationship between KM and learning when knowledge management activities and metrics are described.

The organizational struggle between learning and KM reminds me of the organizational factionalism that exists between corporate communications and public relations departments, which have more commonality than difference. It’s short-sighted feudalism, and detracts from getting work done.

Some Working Definitions

In 1998 Nancy Zurbuchen said “The subject is too young for fads, let alone for tried-and-true disciplines; but it is old enough to need a vocabulary.” Lack of widely accepted definitions remains one of the biggest problems with KM today.

Some see KM as a business process, some as information or content management, some as a toolkit, some as a technology. As an example, I have reviewed knowledge management presentations from a number of organizations and individuals, and inevitably in their presentations they offer a slide that defines knowledge management. They are amazingly different! Each definition of KM is skewed toward the skill set or product they want to sell…software, business process improvement consulting, call center efficiency, “knowledge” capture. Inability to define what it is we do and want to do in a common way is limiting. Perhaps we can get closer to a definition by comparing KM and learning.

According to the Wikipedia, learning is:

“…the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values, through study, experience, or teaching, that causes a change of behavior that is persistent, measurable, and specified or allows an individual to formulate a new mental construct or revise a prior mental construct (conceptual knowledge such as attitudes or values). It is a process that depends on experience and leads to long-term changes in (an individual’s) behavior potential.”

To sum this definition up, learning occurs in the brain when new information is gained for an organizational purpose (in the business world) or self-betterment.

Knowledge is defined as both “information of which someone is aware” and “the confident understanding of a subject, potentially with the ability to use it for a specific purpose.” Sadly, I believe this definition misses the target entirely. Serious work is clearly needed on this definition yet (which is a problem with using Wikipedia definitions). Knowledge may a priori require awareness of information, but understanding is not inherent, and potential applications of knowledge are not relevant to defining it. Let’s try another source.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines knowledge as,

· The state or fact of knowing.

· Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.

· The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.

This is pretty good, but hard to turn into a compelling bullet point for a management presentation.

Tom Davenport (1998) offers this definition, “Knowledge is information combined with experience, context, interpretation, and reflection. It is a high-value form of information that is ready to apply to decisions and actions.” The first statement is correct, however, knowledge is a “high-value form” of information only to the knower. Knowledge is completely personal, and is no longer knowledge once it is codified. Knowledge cannot be codified or transferred — it can only exist in a brain, where the personal experience and personal understanding resides. Michael Polanyi defined personal knowledge as tacit knowledge in 1967, saying “we can know more than we can tell.” Ikujiro Nonaka built on that work, saying “tacit knowledge has a personal quality, which makes it hard to formalize and communicate.” I agree that these refer to knowledge. They unwittingly started us all down the path of confusion, though, by defining “explicit knowledge”, which is actually “information” and not knowledge.

Here’s a further example from the same page of the Wikipedia that shows how the confusion between knowledge and information even more specifically:

Knowledge management treats knowledge as a form of information which is impregnated with context based on experience. Information is data which causes a difference to an observer because of its observer-specific relevance.” There are so many things wrong with these two statements that I don’t want to take the space to point them out. This definition doesn’t further the discussion at all. To attempt to clarify, I would revise it to say “Knowledge management is a process that uses a variety of social tools and technologies to capture information that an individual has absorbed and modified, using their own personal experiences and personal understandings as a filter, into a modified iteration of information that can be reviewed and used by others.” Not perfect, but it’s closer.

Only information can be documented/captured. Knowledge exists in the brain. Which begs the obvious question: Can one manage what is inside a brain? Of course, the answer is no. So as aspiring KM practitioners, we have a profession with a name that is an oxymoron (as David Skyrme first noted), we can’t define the boundaries of the playing field, and we can’t articulate how learning and knowledge management are related. Reminds me of that classic print ad of the elderly male executive in a wing backed chair with a list of negatives beside him, saying “And you want to sell me what?” Skyrme offers a pretty good definition for KM: “Knowledge management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated processes of creating, gathering, organizing, diffusion, use and exploitation. It requires turning personal knowledge into corporate knowledge than can be widely shared throughout an organization and appropriately applied.” It shares the problem of the Davenport and Nonaka definitions above, calling “vital knowledge” and “corporate knowledge” knowledge when they are actually information. Personal knowledge is the only knowledge.

I think Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble are closer to understanding what knowledge management is about. “Can knowledge be managed or can we just facilitate the development of a person’s knowledge? Is the knowledge being shared or an environment being created where a person develops their knowledge through interaction with, and guidance by, an old-timer?” The KM process to me is about creating an environment where a person interacts with others and is guided by their experiences — a neutral environment adapted to the unique requirements of each organization and its members.

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and he asked, “Is there ‘information’ that is not ‘knowledge’, or is there ‘knowledge’ that is not ‘information’?” That became an interesting conversation, so it will be the third part of this series. More soon on the overlapping strategies and tactics of KM, collaboration and learning.

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February 16th, 2006

Reflections on Why KM is Failing: the Need for a Grand Unifying Theory

Anyone who is reading this probably already knows something about knowledge management, so I’ll ask you something that’s nagging at me. Why, after nearly 15 years of more or less organized thinking, debate and studying of KM, haven’t we collectively been able to:

· Define what knowledge management is

· Create an unassailable model of how it works

and perhaps more importantly,

· Sell the KM value proposition to organizations that clearly need it?

It seems fundamental to further productive discourse, and yet, we can’t seem to resolve these basic questions. Why? There are many bright, educated, intelligent, capable, interested, articulate, clear-thinking people involved with this work. Some amazing insights and results and benefits have been captured and tested and reported. Why after all this time and effort and energy have we been unable to unify all our experience and insight and results into a singleminded understanding? Why are we still seeing the legs and trunk and tail of the elephant and not the elephant? This profession (if that is what we allow ourselves to be called) is churning. The tires are spinning and the steering wheel is being turned this way and that, but we can’t seem to get the traction that will break our inertia and send us moving down a road. I’m not sure any of my questions below will help to find an answer, but over years I have learned that when I want to understand where a blockage is or why something is stalled, I have to challenge all the basic assumptions about it to be sure they are true. Here is how I am puzzling out possible reasons for the wheel spinning.

Is it because KM is truly a new approach to how people work and this is part of the normal slow startup curve? If that is so, there must be parallels in nature. Nature has a model for everything we do. The human race is working out a new way of interacting. Perhaps this is a pre-Cambrian-like KM explosion period teeming with possibilities, a time of immense creativity and variety that will eventually resolve into a few versions that are viable. Can we borrow a model from nature to accelerate our thinking?

Is KM only a fad, as some have said? We don’t want it to be a fad. We are putting energy and thought into figuring it out, and we believe something is in there, but are we wishing something into existence that doesn’t really exist? Is KM just a tactical step on the path of CRM or collaboration or some other interactive process that we have attempted to elevate to more than it is?

Are we assuming incorrectly that all organizations need KM? Perhaps we should refocus our efforts toward defining and prioritizing who really needs it and will benefit from it, and what value they can expect from it. Most organizations that are interested still consider it a “nice to have” and not a business necessity. We need to focus on the ones that know they need it. Perhaps we could focus on creating a tiered approach, a way of defining organizations on the basis of the types or amount of value KM could bring to them — a Mazlow-like pyramid of organizations with criteria around it.

Are we putting a lot of thought and effort into KM when it is only a subset of a larger concept no one has yet defined? Before Chaos Theory was formulated in physics, scientists dealt with a lot of subsets of “something”, but they couldn’t quite understand what the “something” was that would make it all hang together. The same was true with the discovery of gravity. And the Theory of Relativity. Until then, a lot of observations were made about results, but no one knew how to make all the results make sense in a bigger framework. Maybe we are in a similar situation with KM, and we are churning on the subsets and missing the bigger picture.

Are we preaching to the choir too much, and excluding new or different voices? The maxim goes “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” It’s comfortable to be a big fish in a small pond. It’s easy to become complacent and stop questioning. Some of the leaders of the KM community have been around since the earliest days, and, while they have many good insights and much wisdom to offer, some seem more interested in being acknowledged by their peers than making new contributions to the KM discussion. Perhaps we are all coasting a bit, and poo-pooing the new ideas and contradictory views offered by new and different voices. After all, it’s human nature to resist change. It just doesn’t advance the field.

Is KM a product or a process? There is a lot of debate that goes on in KM circles about what constitutes KM. Some experts talk about it as if it is a product…as the result or outcome of some processes that occur in an organization. Some talk about it as if the processes themselves, a particular collection of steps or actions, comprise KM. It’s interesting to hear the debates, because it’s like the blind men and the elephant. Both views are correct, and neither is the whole picture. We can’t get our hands around KM because none of the prevailing theories can encompass both points of view, and the correct understanding of KM must include both concepts.

Is the concept of KM being hijacked by a small group of consultants? Each person or group with an idea (trademarked, of course) throws it out to the world as KM and tries to advance it against the others. Some of these are untested hypotheses, and some are tactical methodologies. It’s a kind of “capture the flag” game, where one consultant raises a flag and then another one steals it away and carries it to their home base, only to have it snatched away a few months later by someone else. Even the software vendors get into this game. They have gone so far as to hijack the term “knowledge management” and equate it so successfully with technology, that we may need an entirely new name for what we really do (which is only supported by technology). KM is either universal or it’s a subset of something that is. We have no governing body that represents what KM is or should be, how it works, and who is qualified to consult on it.

Is the factionalization of competing KM theories and methodologies confusing both customers and ourselves? We have vertical silos in KM, like portals or repositories or just in time learning or creating capabilities or intellectual capital or knowledge markets. And we have horizontal approaches, like communities of practice, social networking, collaboration or organizational storytelling to cut across silos. They are floating in a fuzzy sea of “improving decision making” and “empowering the knowledge worker”, cultural change, knowledge transfer, “the new KM” and the KM of complexity. They can’t all be right, yet they are partially right. How can we assess which are true? It’s confusing, and it sets off interesting and heated debates, most of which occur among the very people who stand to profit from having their own approach accepted as the authoritative one! KM is confusing to KM scholars and practitioners, and it’s even more confusing to business people…who don’t have time to make heads or tails of it. They just table the conversation!

Do our non-scientific or non-financial backgrounds make it difficult to produce results that can be accepted critically? At this point in time, KM is largely learned by doing. If we are lucky, we have a customer and a budget and learn under optimum conditions. KM is still new enough that only a few academic programs offer a KM curriculum track (and even fewer organizations want to hire them!). This means that most of us came to KM from other careers, and most of us were trained in the “soft skills,” not in hard analytical skills like math and science. The scientific evidence to support the claims of KM simply isn’t there yet because so few of us know how to apply scientific rigor to our work. Unfortunately, the people we need to convince tend to be analytical people, and that is what they want to see.

Each of these topics is worth separate discussion and debate, and because I haven’t read everything published, perhaps some good work I have missed has already been done. Speaking for myself, I’m bored with so-called KM conferences on content management and search capabilities and taxonomies and portals, and I’m even getting bored with seminars defining communities and valuing intellectual property and identifying incentives to share knowledge and hype cycles and KM infrastructure and causal maps and social networks and knowledge transfer. Where is the big picture? We need to pull ourselves up out of the weeds and find the grand unifying theory of KM.


February 15th, 2006

The 11 Axioms of Knowledge Management

Following up on my previous post about Fahey and Prusak’s 11 Deadliest Sins of KM, I decided to offer another view and a new idea. First, an example of the 11 Deadliest Sinsbeing cited in a research paper. Elisabeth Davenport and Blaise Cronin used the “sins” to offer examples related to their concept of the evolution of KM. Their approach says KM1 = information management, which evolved to KM2 = processes and ontologies, which evolved to KM3 = knowledge as capability, where people are put back into KM and where we are today.

Deadly Sins of KM (After Fahey and Prusak, 1998)

1. Not developing a working definition of knowledge — KM1

2. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow — KM1

3. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside the heads of individuals — KM1 KM2

4. Not understanding that a fundamental intermediate purpose of managing knowledge is to create shared context — KM1 KM2

5. Paying little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge — KM1 KM2

6. Disentangling knowledge from its uses — KM1

7. Downplaying thinking and reasoning — (none given)

8. Focusing on the past and the present and not on the future — KM1

9. Failing to recognise the importance of experimentation — KM1 KM2

10. Substituting technological contact for human interface — KM1 KM2

11. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge — KM1 KM2

Personally, I’d prefer to see a new approach to the original list altogether. Here’s my suggestion for “Axioms (and Corollaries) of Knowledge Management”. There happen to be 11, since I started where I did, but maybe there are more. Any thoughts?

Axioms (and Corollaries) of Knowledge Management

1. Knowledge can be defined.

Corollary: We have not yet defined knowledge.

Corollary: We have not yet defined knowledge management.

2. Knowledge management is a process dependent upon people and what they know.

Corollary: Knowledge management generates information artifacts.

Corollary: Information artifacts are used to generate new knowledge.

Corollary: Knowledge cannot be codified.

3. Knowledge cannot exist outside the heads of individuals.

Corollary: Information can.

4. Knowledge exchange requires a shared context between individuals.

Corollary: Knowledge can be exchanged or created within a shared context.

5. Tacit knowledge is the true knowledge and cannot be managed.

Corollary: To capture tacit knowledge is to make it explicit and convert it to information.

6. Applications of knowledge are not the same as knowledge.

Corollary: Using knowledge is not knowledge management.

Corollary: Knowledge is separate from its uses.

7. Thinking and reasoning are the engine of the KM process.

Corollary: Thinking and reasoning result in knowledge.

Corollary: Communicating the results of thinking and reasoning creates information artifacts.

8. Documenting the past has value when no changes are anticipated.

Corollary: The future can be influenced by today’s thinking and reasoning.

Corollary: Documenting the past is content management.

9. Experimentation is crucial to improvement.

Corollary: Experimentation will occasionally result in failure.

Corollary: Experimentation can result in big successes.

10. Human interactions cannot be replaced by technology.

Corollary: Knowledge development and exchange occurs in people’s brains.

Corollary: Technology provides a means to capture discussions and convert them to information artifacts.

Corollary: Knowledge management is not technology.

11. Knowledge cannot be measured directly.

Corollary: Knowledge has value to an organization.

Corollary: Conventional balance sheet metrics do not adequately measure knowledge.

Corollary: Information resulting from knowledge management can be measured.

February 14th, 2006

The 11 Deadliest Sins of KM (revisited)

A few months ago, John Maloney reprinted this list for reconsideration. Larry Prusak studied some 100 knowledge projects during the 1990s, and the list represents his and L Fahey’s joint understanding of the problems facing knowledge management in 1998. It’s been quoted often. In researching the list, I found more than 30 applications of it in all kinds of research papers.

The main issue I have with the original list is that it’s a mixed bag of admonitions. I get the sales hook of using “deadliest sins” in the title, but the list is confusingly written. The audience is not clear either. Is it KM professionals? Business people? Newcomers to the field? Some points seem to play to some but not to all. Of course, it was written in 1998, and that was fairly early in KM’s evolution, so this list may have been Fahey and Prusak’s straw man — a first attempt to provide some guidance to a new field — that was never intended to be the rosetta stone for KM eight years later (even though we still face many of the same issues). To make their list easier for myself to understand, I revised it, taking into account the common knowledge of today, and decided to share it:

The 11 Deadliest Sins (Fahey and Prusak, 1998)

1. Not developing a working definition of knowledge

Comment: We’ve had a lot of working definitions of knowledge since 1998, and KM experts are still in strong disagreement about what it is. We’ll get there, but for now the problem is failure to define it.

Suggested change: Failing to define knowledge.

2. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow.

Comment: These terms have been somewhat superceded and create confusion. Knowledge stock refers to information — objects or artifacts that can be put into a database and retrieved using a search engine. Knowledge flow refers to the process of creating and reusing knowledge.

Suggested change: Emphasizing content artifacts instead of knowledge flow.

3. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside the heads of individuals.

Comment: Many people believe erroneously that knowledge refers to documents and other information artifacts. Knowledge is not equal to information. Knowledge is only found and created in brains. The rest is information.

Suggested change: Believing knowledge can exist outside the heads of individuals.

4. Not understanding that a fundamental intermediate purpose of managing knowledge is to create shared context.

Comment: Knowledge can be shared when the person having it and the person needing it have the same understanding of the parameters. Creating an environment where contexts are shared is vital to effective knowledge exchange. KM has to do more than provide and catalogue artifacts. It has to help people to talk about circumstances.

Suggested change: Believing that creating shared context is not an important milestone in the process of managing knowledge.

5. Paying little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge.

Comment: Tacit knowledge is, by definition, unspoken. If anyone thinks that information captured in a database is the whole story, they are wrong. That point of view neglects the “people” dimension of KM. The knowledge that matters most is often situation-specific variables that are known but not documented.

Suggested change: Failing to understand the role and significance of tacit knowledge.

6. Disentangling knowledge from its uses.

Comment: Knowledge isn’t tangled in its uses, since knowledge only exists in the brain of the knower. Knowledge is de facto separate from its uses, but knowledge can be applied to new situations.

Suggested change: Confusing information creation with applying knowledge to new situations.

7. Downplaying thinking and reasoning.

Comment: Thinking and reasoning are human traits, and are critical to the knowledge creation process. Think about it. Would you rather look up a report in a database, or talk to someone who has experience with the issues? The human component in KM is currently undervalued.

Suggested change: Overlooking the importance of thinking and reasoning to the KM process.

8. Focusing on the past and the present and not on the future.

Comment: The process of documentation is always backward-facing. What’s important is the future — better decisionmaking, improved time to market, faster processes, greater competitiveness, smarter workers. It’s useful to know where we’ve been, but not at the expense of building a road to the future.

Suggested change: Documenting the past and present, and ignoring the future.

9. Failing to recognize the importance of experimentation.

Comment: KM is a new field. All innovation creates change. The KM process is new and requires experimentation to get it right. Experimentation sometimes results in failure. Many businesses have low tolerance for failure. Knowledge results from both success and failure.

Suggested change: Failing to acknowledge the importance of experimentation and failure.

10. Substituting technological contact for human interface

Comment: Posted message boards, email, and online collaborations of various sorts will never fully replace human interaction. Capturing and documenting information can’t replace a live, nuanced conversation that establishes context and facilitates a transfer of knowledge from one person to another.

Suggested change: Substituting technological contact for face-to-face interactions.

11. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge.

Comment: “Direct measures” appears to mean quantifiable measures, such as might be used for accounting and valuation purposes. There are many viable measures of knowledge management success today, depending upon which aspect of KM one wants to measure. Some experts have suggested ways to account for the value of KM’s “soft” benefits, and over time these are likely to be more commonly accepted as society keeps moving toward a service economy. Bearing in mind that “knowledge” is not the same as “information”, information can definitely be measured and valued using current balance sheet metrics. Knowledge has to be assessed differently, perhaps as a component of the value of an individual to an organization.

Suggested change: Attempting to measure knowledge using the metrics of balance sheets.

Of course, this is my own interpretation. Did I mistate anything or lose the original intent? Comments and criticisms are welcome, as always…

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February 2nd, 2006

Barriers to KM

In addition to understanding the risks executives see in KM, the KM team will need to assess organizational barriers and create strategies for overcoming them. I’ve listed below some you may encounter. Before you begin a KM program, it’s helpful first to understand the context of the KM challenge you are attempting to master, to be sure you apply the right solutions to the problems.

KM Context: Content, Collaboration or Process

Large consulting organizations approach KM in different ways, depending upon their own inhouse expertise and intellectual property. That’s why if you collect their presentations, proposals and published materials you find differences that can sometimes be confusing to someone just starting to understand knowledge management and what it can bring to an organization. This variety of approaches can make it difficult for a KM leader to reconcile viewpoints about the right KM options to apply to a specific problem. You may have experienced this if you have spoken with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, KPMG, McKinsey or IBM. Each has excellent expertise in knowledge management, and each makes recommendations that necessarily reflect the strengths or viewpoint of their individual organizations.

This can be confusing for managers tasked with finding a KM solution for a complex business problem. Before you launch a KM initiative, whether you use outside consultants or do it yourself, it’s helpful to understand the three broad categories into which KM projects/programs typically fall, so you can apply the right KM tools. Each has its own challenges and barriers to overcome. One way to classify them is Collaboration, Process, or Content (which are similar to what we used to call people, process and technology). If you can assess the broad type of problem you are trying to solve with KM, you have a better chance of getting to the right solutions.

In the collaboration or personal interaction scenario, executives want people to work together differently/better. First determine what information is needed to support decision making. Next, identify and establish virtual communities. Provide incentives and make it easy for people to collaborate and share information on current and past projects. Identify experts, make them visible, and reward them for sharing what they know. Acclaim by peers is a heady elixir. Measure community activity and employee satisfaction.

In the process scenario, executives are focused on improving how a type of work gets done. First determine what information is needed to support decision making. Next, identify and document key business processes. Within those processes, define the steps where knowledge is created, needed, captured and used. Create plans for how to improve those knowledge points. Redefine the business processes and publish/communicate the changes. Measure sales increases, cost savings, customer satisfaction, and improved speed to market.

In the content scenario, executives think that capturing and organizing information better is the need. They think information is the same as knowledge and believe knowledge transfer is the answer. Very often, this type of project occurs in a technology-related area. Determine first what information is needed to support decision making. (A red “risk” flag should go up for the KM practitioner if an IT group is trying to solve a business need rather than their own documentation needs.) Next, identify existing content sources and create a taxonomy. Define key roles in the content creation and approval processes. Identify the technologies that will be used. Use KM techniques to capture information and transfer it to knowledge bases and other workers. Establish update and maintenance accountabilities. Measure increased intellectual capital/assets, information reuse, and efficiencies gained.

Whichever applies initially, the KM team will have some educating to do. All three scenarios plus education are legs of one table, and the table will not be strong and stable without four legs. Build a training/education component into your final recommendations and plan.

Some Universal Barriers for KM

Your own organization will have its specific barriers and challenges; however, some barriers are universal. I’ve based these on a presentation by Joe Katzman. If you are like me, right away your brain starts spinning with potential solutions:


· Lack of an executive level champion who can and will knock down the barriers

· Making KM a priority with managers

· Culture that rewards the status quo.

· Don’t know what we don’t know

· Competition with the corporate education/training group.


· Knowledge hoarding by subject matter experts

· Credibility of the source. How do “experts” acquire credibility in this group?

· Inadequate search skills, difficulty of finding something relevant

· Junk accumulation and need for quality control

· Keeping users (and experts) up-to-date related to both KM and their professional expertise

· Access to and easy use of technology tools

· Users don’t trust information that’s there/lack of positive experiences

· Want to work it out by themselves — enjoy the challenge

· Teenager syndrome (this has never happened to anyone else but me, so why bother to look elsewhere for answers?)

For the KM practitioner, success is about planning; for the knowledge worker, however, success is about publishing. Don’t let your broader KM objectives become a barrier for participants. Workers aren’t interested in your plans and ideas and Phase II of the grand scheme for KM. They have work to do and need to understand what the payoff will be for them if they take time to participate now. Focus on how to keep workers engaged with the KM process…as a subject matter expert, as a facilitator of a community, as a contributor of written comments, as a behind-the-scenes adviser. For workers, success should be tied to writing and profiling what they know so others can find them when more specific information is needed.

Be judicious in the KM tools you use. The KM system is a technology tool to support the interpersonal interactions of KM. This is an important distinction. Other KM tools, like social network analysis or business process mapping or content mapping or email parsing, can be valuable in specific situations or to achieve specific objectives. The wrong tool in the wrong culture/environment, or no tool at all when one is needed, can cause friction and disengage the participants. Guard against letting technology tools dominate the KM conversation. KM is a people problem with a data component, and technology is only one possible solution.

Related to the previous thought, failing to choose the right technology based on the KM program’s objectives can be a barrier to success. You have to match the technology platform to the style and skills of the group/company/culture you are working in. Don’t rely on what the software vendor says…get some users to test drive the tools and talk to other companies who have used the tools before making any long term commitments. Make the vendors prove their claims about KM. And hold your IT department to the same level of proof when they tell you they already have systems inhouse that will do what you need. Do they really? Have you given them written requirements that spell out what the KM system needs to be able to do?

February 1st, 2006

Knowledge Hoarding (is it real?)

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about a problem he was having in his department with subject matter experts who jealously guarded their knowledge. The company is in the middle of a technology outsourcing project, and members of the offshore organization were inhouse interviewing subject matter experts about what they do and how they do it, so they could document processes and sources for their own use. So-called “knowledge transfer” is underway in many companies which outsource software development, customer service, and order fulfillment, and I’m always surprised that they are surprised because workers are hoarding their knowledge and not telling the new service provider everything they know. In this case, unwillingness to tell all is actually a symptom of a deeper underlying issue — job insecurity.

I believe the concept of knowledge hoarding is largely a myth. We’ve all heard stories about how some go-to people in organizations refuse (overtly or covertly) to write down what they know in order to make themselves indispensible to the organization. In at least one large company I know, being the sole source of a particular knowledge set was an unofficial post-retirement career path. For example, if you are the only person who knows a particular backend processing system, or who understands a critical process start to finish, then you could retire with your pension, and be hired back immediately as a consultant at double your former salary to do the same work. It happened at least four times in two years that I’m aware of in one department. This story is exceptional, though, (I hope!) and it’s not really about “knowledge hoarding”, which we typically attribute to an individual. It’s about bad management practices that fail to enforce quality assurance practices and/or build in redundancy.

As a KM practitioner, it’s important to be alert to so-called knowledge hoarders, because they are strong indicators of other organizational issues that need to be resolved for KM to be successful. We need to understand the root cause of any hoarding and how widespread it really is in order to elevate the problem to the organizational level where it can be addressed. Here are some things to consider if you think hoarding is a problem for your KM initiative.

· In some organizations, the reward system is simply wrong for KM. People are given financial incentives to maintain the status quo and be an expert in high demand. There is value to being the only one who knows something, and experts with critical knowledge are praised and exhibited to others. Many organizations have a disincentive to share and reuse knowledge, especially in middle management where bonuses and promotions are based on short term deliverables and thinking. It’s job security.

· Keeping experts on top of their subject matter is vital. One reason some experts withhold information is that they lack confidence in their own knowledge. Many companies fail to invest in helping a subject matter expert maintain current expertise. Professional people need to attend conferences, subscribe to trade publications, and meet with peers in other organizations — and be given the time to do these things — in order to keep their knowledge fresh. Some knowledge is subjective and may not be fully quantifiable. Experts who hoard may fear that their knowledge is outdated, and if challenged they could be embarrassed.

· There are a few individuals who like to control people and situations through withholding knowledge, and use this as a way to demonstrate power, but they are the exception. Often these people present what they know as mysterious or too arcane for most people to understand, and they reveal little, even when pressured. Fortunately, most organizations find a way to shift such people out of mission critical roles. If you find someone like this blocking a knowledge flow important to your KM initiative, you have three choices: find a way to give that person a role in the KM initiative so they want to help it succeed, have a serious conversation with HR and the KM champion, or start dusting off your resume.

· Establish non-threatening ways to encourage knowledge-sharing. People tend to share what they know when it is valued by someone else. They will usually share one-on-one when asked by someone who needs the information (though that may not apply equally to someone simply conducting a “knowledge transfer” interview for documentation purposes). People share when they are rewarded for sharing (and the rewards don’t necessarily have to be monetary). Rewards can be ego stroking, pride in having the answer, a sense of belonging, satisfaction that they could do something no one else could do, or even leaving a legacy. Gartner Group says people who hoard knowledge are not really experts. They don’t have the ability to create new information, and are afraid of losing what they perceive to be a personal advantage, so they try to hang on to what they do have by becoming a gatekeeper to the information. Real experts share knowledge, because they know they can always make more.

Update 1/10/06: As so often happens, I found a nice article related to this topic today, so I decided to reference it. Carol Goman says the five reasons people don’t share what they know are:

1. People believe that knowledge is power

“If I know something you don’t know, I have something over you.”

2. People are insecure about the value of their knowledge

“I feel that people tend to underestimate life experience, that intellect has been so over praised, and for some people without a formal education, that it is hard for them to believe that they can add value in a very different way.”

3. People don’t trust each other

“I didn’t know the other members of the team personally, so I didn’t trust them.”

4. Employees are afraid of negative consequences

“I was afraid that my idea would be ridiculed if it were slightly ‘over the top,’ rather than looked at as a useful brainstorming point.”

5. People work for other people who don’t tell what they know

“Personally, I have had more problems with managers and decision makers withholding information than I have had with colleagues or team members.”

The quotes are from managers in her study. You can read the article here.–KV

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January 31st, 2006

Growing Knowledge by Messing Around

This morning I came across an article by Don Moyer I first read nearly two years ago called “In Favor of Messing Around.” My friend Jeff sent it to me, and I found it very comforting to discover that some of the “time wasting” things I do, have done, want to do, or would have done are valuable!

Of course, high achievers that we all are, messing around can’t be time wasting. “Wasting”. Something our Depression Era parents taught us never to do. Very broadly speaking, Moyer’s messing around is goal oriented. His messing around means working with freedom. Playing with a purpose. Exploring a topic with no rigid goals, no particular agenda, no clients, no deadlines, and no specific deliverables in mind. But it is actively working. It sounds like what I do every day when I’m thinking about the things that matter to me — letting the mind range free in whatever direction it’s called, adding to my own mental knowledgebase, and then trying to make sense out of it.

Here’s an example from yesterday. I had a reason to do some research on Mad Cow disease. I started with Google, tabbing the most interesting-looking potential sites, and just flipped through them, reading and making notes at a relaxed pace. University of Illinois-Champagne Urbana, FDA, Prionics, Abbott Diagnostics, Wikipedia, VegSource.com (interesting counter culture view of the big “cover up” the author suggests is occurring in the US, from a site that also says Homeland Security is spying on vegans), and the USDA. As I was drafting a summary of that reading, I was also drafting simultaneously a new KM article for my blog on “Barriers to KM”, following a nice and unrelated exchange of messages with Jack Vinson at Knowledge Jolt.

I had to make some appointments with various people related to a new health program I’ve started, so in between calls I did a little research on walking, on diet programs, on some possible vacation locations. I then went back to some old Groove data I have and did more research dabbling related to the KM article, and discovered that there were two other topics I wanted to start for future articles, so I created new drafts. By then it was nearly 4 pm and I was restless, so I went into the living room and turned on the TV and watched Oprah talk with the bank robber father who was turned in by his sons. Not a subject I’m interested in really, but it started me thinking about morality and society. What is morality? How does a moral person make difficult choices? Is American morality somehow different from the morality of Eastern European or Mexican immigrants or Islamic fundamentalists or Hamas? Have we lost our morality? How can a family deal with such a blow and grieve for the loss of the parent/husband they used to know? What would life be like for them in the future, and would they be able to forgive one another for turning their father in and changing their lives? Is there such a thing as truth or morality or reality? I didn’t have answers, but I had been stretched in a new direction.

After a day of purposeful reading and thinking and writing, I wanted to do something different and spontaneous. What I really wanted to do was jump into World of Warcraftand play my little horde shaman I recently started, but it was still “business hours”, and something in my Puritan work ethic struggles with that when I have unfinished work I could be attending to. So I compromised. I went to my favorite news site, and caught up on the world and the weather forecast, and then I started doing more research — but this time, on a quest I’m working on in the game. I read a couple of web sites, and got some ideas about strategies I could try when I did get in and play next.

This is a superficial chronicle of about seven hours of my day, and there was another seven of similar but unrelated activities, followed by three hours of game play. I don’t want to bore you with minutiae when I’ve made my point. On the surface, only a few of the things I did seem productive. Yet, as has so often been proved in my own life, things that we find ourselves learning for no apparent reason can one day, completely unexpectedly, become the pivotal piece of information in making sense out of previously unrelated things — what some educators call an “ah-HA!” moment. It becomes our own knowledge, and we own it. Some days you are stuffing unrelated items into the old food processor brain, and other days you miraculously realize you know how to solve a problem that has been baffling you for years.

I think that was the point of Don Moyer’s article: make time for free-ranging and unstructured rambles to stretch what we know. Create a personal “broad playground of self-initiated projects and inspired play” to become smarter and more productive. It can only make each of us become a more interesting person—and someone who smiles more. Here are some questions to think about. What are you inquisitive about? If time and money were not an issue, what would you be studying? What are you waiting for? Well?

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January 30th, 2006

Managers Look at the Risks of KM

One of the most difficult challenges I faced in trying to establish a new KM initiative was the lack of understanding among the managers and executives I worked with. As I’ve said elsewhere, they were an older group (on the whole) who had worked most or all of their careers in the same conservative company, and, at least in the first few years I was there, many didn’t even have personal computers at home. They equated computers with work and with e-mail, which was seen as a necessary evil and an intrusion on getting “real work” done. The traditional way of doing constructive business was on the golf course or meeting with customers face to face.

Over the course of about 18 months, I and my team members met with about 70 business leaders, from executive vice presidents down through Associate Vice Presidents and Directors. Some we met with multiple times. Our approach was to educate them individually about why KM is useful, what it is, and how others are benefitting from it. Our goal was to identify several business areas where some aspect of KM (communities, knowledge base, expertise location, etc.) would be viable and to identify every key executive who might play a role in the decision process for choosing KM. We created dozens of customized presentations, tailored to what we thought the interests, level of understanding and needs of each individual were. We wanted to educate them…to give them facts and evidence to support that KM is a good thing…so that when we came back later with a concrete proposal for a KM initiative they would view it favorably and support funding it.

During the course of these meetings, we made extensive notes on their comments, reservations, concerns, interest and ultimately, their understanding of what we were suggesting. Many interesting things emerged, including what they perceived the risks of KM to be. They were both business related and personal.

· Disruption of work flows. Their workers were already working at peak capacity, and most managers felt somewhat under staffed. With accountability for the financial results of their areas, they didn’t want to take their workers’ eyes off the ball and distract them with something that could potentially keep them from performing up to “plan”.

· Taking resources away from other important projects. Without a formally-recognized (and funded) initiative, money to support a KM initiative could only come from cutting corners in other approved projects — projects with deliverables that were built into corporate financial projections. They can’t afford to take money or work hours away from important, approved initiatives to gamble on KM.

· KM solution cost could be high. The organization had an unusual financial structure. There was no “corporate” budget and few enterprise-wide initiatives. Each business line funded its own projects and initiatives separately, even areas such as HR and IT and customer service, and there was little attention to “shared resources”. Project budgets were exceeded frequently, and a KM initiative might potentially result in mistakes, delays, high costs, overtime, or downtime. Any group or department that wanted to initiate KM would have to bear the full cost of developing the technology, hiring any staff, and promoting it to the rest of the business. The risk was that no one else would want to play. No one group wanted to take on a daunting financial obligation like KM alone.

· Uncertain legal considerations. Without a lot of experience in web-based technologies, managers and lawyers expressed concern about various types of potential liabilities, getting processes in place to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, and privacy considerations. How could they trust in the data captured? Who owned the copyrights to posted materials? What happened when someone left the company? Was it really advisable for employees to get to know so much about areas of the business they weren’t responsible for? Who would manage the updating process? What if leaks of confidential information occurred? Without legal’s approval, nothing would be done. With no resources to address such big issues head on, KM was pushed aside a “nice to have” for consideration later.

· Not a part of the company’s long-term strategic plans. Since the project was not included in the current budget, it was unapproved and no funding was officially available. The company’s history showed a preference to continue down an established path rather than change in midstream to take advantage of a new or better solution. Managers who wanted to take a chance on KM were afraid to commit to something new and innovative that would take time to develop because they needed to produce results now. Ongoing support for projects like KM with no immediate (quantifiable) payback would not be available. They were afraid of spending money to start KM only to find out that the company had decided to go in a different direction or that the KM team couldn’t deliver it, leaving them to eat all the incurred costs with nothing to show for it.

· Diluting scarce technical resources might jeopardize other technology priorities related to serving customers. All technology investments were validated on the basis of how they improved the ability to serve (or strengthen relationships with) customers. Certain big ticket IT investments been made previously, and they were lumbering along, mired in problems, so no one was willing to entertain other options that might siphon off resources from the big investments. In addition, KM technology products are not yet mature, so there was no off-the-shelf answer. Customization would be required, and that required resources.

· Lack of credible metrics. Managers want to see quantifiable value attached to the results of a KM initiative. Benefits offered by KM practitioners are often “soft” intangibles…like confidence in the reliability of information or employee satisfaction. Financial executives don’t give much credence to intangibles, even talking about increased intellectual capital. They need benefits in terms of sales increases or cost reductions or doing more work with fewer people that an be attributed directly to KM, yet the nature of KM makes such metrics difficult to define and measure. As one manager said to me, “I need some tangible benefits to put into the CBA, even though everyone agrees intuitively that there’s something valuable in KM, or it’s not going to fly.”

· Their own ignorance. This was the underlying and unspoken risk that most of them shared. They didn’t understand KM or communities, didn’t see how it would help what they did “now”, they didn’t have time to spend on learning something new, and they had a perception from their children or young friends that talking online with others is purely social and a waste of time. They were afraid to fail. In some companies, managers are expected to know and be expert in everything their people work with. The concept of working online asynchronously and expecting to get value from it can be completely foreign and threatening to them personally. I suspect this is common in most old-line companies where babyboomers run the company and have not yet retired.

A survey of Fortune 500 CEO’s by the Baldridge Foundation shows that knowledge management is the second most important challenge facing companies, behind globalization. As KM practitioners, we need to figure out better ways to address these risks and present the KM value proposition effectively.


January 29th, 2006

Reality, Perception and Knowledge

Can you talk about knowledge without talking about reality and perception? I was inspired this morning by David Weinberger’s article called Four Former Truths About Knowledge. I like that he attempted to bring the discussion way up into the stratosphere, where it’s possible to see very broad patterns and a longer view of history. The need to understand patterns is something instinctive to me, and it’s probably why I became a generalist and not a specialist. By understanding the patterns, we know what to expect next and we know how to thread our ways safely through potential minefields in life (at least, theoretically).

People who need to understand patterns find it easy to categorize things — four former truths, 10 reason why something fails, three critical reasons, eight views of speciation, six principles of archeological excavation, four types of business outcomes. They can look at lists of information and reports, or seemingly random sets of letters and numbers, or chaotic behaviors, and make sense of them by asking questions like, where does all this seem to be headed? what’s the underlying tension that’s causing these results? what are the elements of this process, and is it like any other processes in life? what are the principles upon which this series of outcomes is based? What differentiates pattern finders from other people is that often they find answers, or at least plausible theories, for questions others can’t answer. These people are natural model builders. They see life as components and elements that are moving and interacting with each other in endless, fascinating ways that produce a myriad of results. They have an instinctive ability to organize information.

This brings me back to reality and perception. Is there such a thing as reality, or do we simply have a shared perception that we all tacitly or explicitly agree to accept as a principle? If one person has an experience, it becomes real to them. They have a sensory interaction…they see it, hear it, feel it, perhaps taste or smell it. They feel emotions related to it, and the emotions give weight to the importance of the experience. They record the experience in their brains and have that experience available to draw upon for the rest of their lives. (This recording is learning, by the way, but that’s another article.) That recorded experience becomes a reality to the person who had it and combines with other experiences (both personal and vicarious, through stories or observation) to become that person’s body of knowledge. Each person builds reality — a highly personalized view of reality — upon their personal knowlege.

Everyone’s view of reality is, of course, a perception. It may be possible to comprehend the vast complexities of life’s potentialities, but then again, it may not be. Our brain receives and stores input from our environment by sorting and sifting through all the data and emotions and history it has available, and then it applies the new information to previously stored information. This is the process of understanding. Any new information we learn at any point is filtered against all of our understandings. But our understandings are based on perceptions only.

In laboratory science there is a process called precipitation, where different chemicals or components are mixed together in a test tube so that certain ones can combine and settle to the bottom of the test tube to form a substance called precipitate. Learning is like the precipitation process: we put in a lot of pieces of new and old information, stir/shake them together in our brains, and then wait to see what precipitate settles out of it. To take the analogy one step further, what we call “knowledge” is that precipitate.

Knowledge is a product of sensory input, emotional filtering, prior knowledge, and a mixing process similar to scientific precipitation. Knowledge always incorporates personal experience. It’s no wonder KM initiatives fail. We can never understand another person’s context, so trying to “capture knowledge” is futile! All we are left with after a “knowledge capture” process are facts and opinions that we (or others) weigh and sift against our own experiences in an attempt to gain personal knowledge of the subject from the data markers that were provided to us. In the end, I believe the best (and maybe only) knowledge management system will be the one that lets people find other people with expertise on a certain topic, and facilitates discussion among them. Unfortunately, most people today would then capture those discussions, call it “knowledge”, slap it into a database and feel like they are doing KM. That’s reality. One reality.

January 24th, 2006

Branding a KM Initiative

A while back I participated in a “branding” exercise to help define the purpose, describe value, and create an approach for a new KM initiative in a large company. The exercise involved three brainstorming steps. Each step had a focus, and the outcomes of the three steps were to be woven into a mission statement that would govern subsequent actions. These are my notes and the results of the session. Perhaps it will be helpful to someone else who is just starting out!

Before starting the exercise, it’s good to have a clear understanding of the potential “clients” for your knowledge management initiative. (See below for some discussion about the audience.) For brainstorming on branding, it’s not necessary to understand any technology the organization has in place or plans. The purpose is to be as objective as possible about what you want the initiative to accomplish, how it fits into important organizational goals, and to find the best way to present it to others so they will buy in and participate.

Brainstorm 1 — Value.

Ask: What should our clients value about us/the KM initiative?

Our winner: Value = Added Capacity

Other ideas: Community, collaboration, united, unifies, sharing, experience identified, expertise located, defragment, efficiency, assets, involvement, buy-in, centralization of information, enterprise-driven, powerful resource, themselves, collective, one company, growth, efficiency, being a team player.

Brainstorm 2 — Think.

Ask: How do you want clients to think about KM?

Our winner: Think = Innovative

Other ideas: efficient use of time, savings, valuable, mandatory, finally– the answer, time has come, it’s a commitment/useful/informative/innovative, “my property”, legacy for those who come after.

Brainstorm 3 — Feel.

Ask: How do you want clients to feel about KM?

Our winner: Feel = Vested

Other ideas: Satisfied, energized, accepting, welcoming, empowered, happy, winner, proud, ah-ha, relieved, like it’s easy, important, invaluable, it’s integrated with everything they need to do, vested.

Know the Audience/Clients

For this brainstorm, the clients/audience = three groups: Leaders of the organization (executives), Line managers, and Employees. Note that not all employees are “knowledge workers”. You may want to do a separate brainstorming step to define which groups of employees are knowledge workers, because initially you will be most interested in the true knowledge workers. It will help to focus your efforts effectively.

What does our “Value” winner (”added capacity”) mean for each audience?

· For executives: It’s balance sheet driven. You have to have hard, quantifiable benefits, like head count reductions or reduced product time to market, for it to count. Innovation and more time to do more things are good, but it has value only if the time freed up is applied toward the core business activities.

· For line managers: Whatever happens, make them look good (or like a hero or like an innovator). They are on the firing line to deliver the organization’s financial goals for the year. Help them to do that, which means attach your KM priorities to the most important business objectives and start there. Added capacity means getting more done with the same number of people.

· For employees: The ability to do more/different things. Give them more time, reduce the amount of information they have to wade through daily, make it possible to do more with existing resources, find a creative solution to a routine problem, help them get more education, eliminate redundancies, improve quality of interactions with customers.

An important distinction came out of our brainstorm. As KM professionals we need to Sell to the executives, but we need to Market to the line managers. Getting the line managers to play the KM game will take education, persuasion, and a focus on the WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

To sell to executives, use effective sales techniques to identify a pain point, describe the problem, the solution, and the probable outcomes (and a rough order of magnitude of the value to be obtained). Drop names. Talk about how other similar organizations have used KM and the kinds of value they have achieved. Executives have the buying power and the ability to secure agreement/cooperation across multiple business lines. They can influence one department or division or business line to compromise for the good of the whole.

To market to line managers effectively, remember that they have day to day responsibilities for profitability, for employee satisfaction, for customer satisfaction, for surfacing new ideas, for holding down costs, for increasing sales. Line managers have the power to give/deny the KM team access to employees. They don’t normally have broad buying authority, and will follow the lead (and the subtle hints) of the executives. They are primarily concerned with the success of the area they are accountable for, not for the entire company, and they need to be shown how KM will help them to succeed personally and look good. Help them to see how diverting activities of busy workers with an already heavy work load is going to give a bigger payback.

Employees are not all knowledge workers. Probably only half are in most businesses, and they should be the first focus of efforts.

January 23rd, 2006

Capturing Lessons Learned in KM

In a knowledge management initiative where communities of practice are used to create and validate best practices, it’s possible to use a lifecycle approach to formalize the creation process, using something along the lines of peer reviews used in science. Formalizing what is typically a more casual approach can ensure the best organizational benefit/learning from the results of an activity or event. The process might be something like this, adapted to the type of information to be reviewed and the working style of the community:

- capture

- disperse

- review

- consolidate

Capture. Depending upon the norms of the community, write a description of the scenario, the environment and parameters of the problem/situation, the objective of the actions, the participants, the action steps, and the results. Include information about what caused the situation to be normal or abnormal, and the names of participants, as well as the contact information for the person designated to be the primary correspondent related to the proposed “best practice”. Describe enough of the problem to help any later readers understand its scope and complexity.

Disperse. Once the story is written, distribute the draft to key reviewers. At a minimum that should be people in the community designated (usually who volunteered) to review and comment on best practice drafts. Don’t forget to include people who actually participated in the situation being described, since they may have other relevant details or different points of view about what occurred and how the process unfolded.

Review. Create a standard operating procedure for reviews. For example, if you distribute the draft in Microsoft Word format, ask reviewers to use “tracking” so all their changes can be seen and considered (or rejected). If the draft is a Powerpoint presentation, then making comments in the bottom section of the screen viewed in “Notes” format can work. You may want to consider setting up a standard for commenting, for example, a designation for a comment that indicates how strongly the reviewer believes his/her change should be made. Be sure to indicate in every draft distributed when and to whom the comments should be submitted.

Consolidate. Designate one person to consolidate all the remarks/comments on the draft into a final, official version. Post the final version to the entire community, as well as to any reviewers who may be outside the community.

Blogging and/or wikis can also be useful in the distribution and review steps since these tools facilitate group editing and commenting; however, the person assigned to consolidate all comments on the best practice needs to have the final say over what the end product contains.

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January 19th, 2006

Is There Value in Group Problem Solving?

My colleague Peter Miller recently posed this question: Is there any research that proves there are benefits to problem solving in a group, rather than individually or in pairs? We were talking about communities of practice and their value. We were also discussing whether there is an optimum size for communities, specifically, communities in a business environment, where the community typically forms around a business issue or service, as opposed to a personal hobby or interest.

Clearly the normal kinds of personal interest communities, where any number of people come together voluntarily based upon a shared interest, have a high tolerance for large numbers of participants and varying levels of involvement. After all, most members never actually participate/contribute, or they contribute occasionally on only limited, highly specialized topics. Business communities are often smaller, more specialized subsets of a broader group that break out so people with like interests can find each other quickly and solve common problems more efficiently. Participants in these groups have a strong motivation to participate in problem-solving and contribute — it helps them do their work better. Research I’ve read over the years indicates that about 250 members is as large as a community can get before becoming ineffective (maybe that depends upon how you define the group’s purpose, e.g. casual or purposeful). There does seem to be an upper limit or point of diminishing returns, although I haven’t seen a definition of what that may be.

From my experience, in most discussion groups, no matter how lively the topic or how interested the community is in the subject matter, usually no more than 6–10 members carry the discussion on that topic actively, with others occasionally chiming in. If you imagine the inside of an active volcano (or the Lakkari Tar Pits in Un’goro Crater, if you happen to be a gamer playing World of Warcraft), where bubbles slowly rise and burst at irregular locations throughout the crater, you have a good sense of community dynamics. Some topics rise slowly and are large. Some are smaller and faster. They rise up and subside. You don’t know where the next one will appear, and the ripples and splashes created by each is unique. Community discussions are like that.

A person with a question to answer (and a deadline approaching) will find some sort of answer on his/her own, through reading, through hunches based upon experience or through asking others. What especially intrigues me, though, is the actual value we can ascribe to having additional people help answer the question, and the parameters around getting the optimum answer from a group. How do we quantify or assess the value of having additional people engaged in solving a problem or making a decision? What’s the right number of people to involve in the discussion?

If you have three people working on the question, does the 80/20 rule apply? It’s obviously faster and less expensive than getting a team of 20 involved. Will you get enough of an answer that you can move forward with reasonable confidence? If you have six people, can you get to the optimum answer/solution 99% of the time? Perhaps a group that size can reach a reasonably ironclad conclusion. If you have 12, is the resulting incremental information gained of sufficiently high value to justify the time/expense of having those additional people involved? Or do you hit a point where the incremental value of new thoughts is so low that it becomes too costly to add more voices? What is that point? And let’s not forget that other people who don’t participate in the discussion still read and learn from it. There’s value that should be applied to that.

Moving out of communities into a real world situation, the ability to know the optimum size for problem-solving groups could streamline all kinds of organizational meetings, saving time and speeding processes. It’s easy to imagine a Six Sigma project to define types of meetings and optimum configurations for them. If we knew how to assess the value of group decision making, then collaboration and knowledge management professionals would have a basis upon which to establish high-performance work groups, teams and communities designed for action. But we need some data to prove that better decisions result from problem solving in a group. This may be challenging since results-oriented subgroups are not a traditional dynamic of communities. Communities don’t typically have accountability for the discussions they enable, they aren’t obliged to ensure full and complete analysis, and topics are often free-flowing and have no closure — but that’s a digression from this topic.

Even in the volcanic bubbling of a community, there are some good indicators that group decision making and problem solving have value. Research suggests that learning is largely a social activity, learning in groups generally improves participants’ learning, successful group work can improve higher-order thinking, and having a facilitator/moderator can improve group collaboration. (Facilitation is another component or dynamic in communities that can improve or impede collaborative performance on a problem-solving task.) One strong predictor of problem-solving success is whether members of the group share a mental model, i.e., they are working with similar conceptions of the problem and its states. A good conceptual model of the problem, together with the strategic knowledge to generate appropriate solutions and procedural knowledge to carry them out, results in more successful solutions — but it still doesn’t tell us what the value of having more than one person involved in the process is.

How to improve problem solving and decision making in organizations has been discussed widely in recent years, and we seem collectively to understand more about how to make the decision making process better. But has anyone quantified the value of having more than one person participate in the decision-making process? It’s an interesting topic. If you know of any research in this direction, I’d love to know about it. Drop me a note or post a comment here!

January 18th, 2006

The “Social” Science of KM

A while back Christie Mason, from a discussion group I participate in, drew an interesting analogy between knowledge management and party planning. Her point was that KM is not a “new” social science, and, perhaps also, that social science is not “science” at all (something the scientists I know declare regularly!).

“I have difficulty conceptualizing “social” and “science” together. So far I haven’t seen any social science in KM that hasn’t already been discovered and applied by successful party planners.

“KM is social the same as giving a party is social. The right mix of environment and participants is crucial to the success of KM, or a good party.

“You can have wonderful people show up at your party, but if the environment is like a dark swamp with mosquitoes and moldy food the social gathering will not be a success. KM environments must also be attractive and nourishing.

“Successful party environments happen in a space built with tools. KM happens in a space built with tools.

“You can have a wonderful party environment but it’s not a successful party without participants who are there because they choose to be there. People choose to attend a party based on their perceptions of the other people planning to attend, the reputation of the hosts, or the environment. People to choose to stay at a party when it meets their expectations and needs. KM participants triage their participation using very similar criteria.

“Successful parties require constant vigilance by the hosts to make sure everyone who attends is included and involved. KM mentors must maintain the same vigilance.”

There’s a lot of truth to these observations! I would add, KM is like a covered dish supper, where everyone who comes brings their favorite dish, and those who want to try it serve themselves exactly as much as they want. This is tongue in cheek, but can we take it to the next level and say that “learning” is like a wedding (i.e., two people unite in their understanding of a shared piece of information)? And if wedding planning is different from party planning, maybe there’s a way to find a simple analogy to discuss the relationship between knowledge and learning that no one can quite get their hands around…

January 18th, 2006

The KM Debate: Purpose vs. Outcomes

I was reading Joe Firestone’s blog this morning. I really like his insights on things KM. He has a series of articles featuring debates he had with Dave Pollard about whether KM “has been done” (meaning not that it’s over, but questioning whether anyone has really actually managed to “do” it yet). Joe says it hasn’t been done — if we don’t know what ‘knowledge work’ is, then how can we know if we are successful at it? Dave, who takes a somewhat more pragmatic view says “if the knowledge worker’s boss says they are doing a great job, it doesn’t matter whether it qualifies as ‘knowledge work’ at all.” That, in a nutshell, is the status of KM in the business world. One camp who think the KM field/process/practice is still new and not yet fully/adequately defined, and one camp who think KM is/can be defined by the practical results (or lack of) gained from it.

Here is an excerpt from Joe’s article:

“…Has KM Been Done? This is a trick question. Of course, KM has been done. KM is a natural function in human organizations, and it is being done all of the time in an informal distributed way by everyone undertaking activity in order to enhance knowledge production and integration activity. But whether formal interventions claiming the label “KM” are instances of KM practice is another question entirely. To answer that question, we need to have clear, non-contradictory ideas about the nature of knowledge, knowledge processing, and Knowledge Management. And to have those, we need to get beyond the notion that we can do KM by just doing anything that may have a positive impact on worker effectiveness while calling that thing “KM”.

“Instead we need to recognize that the immediate purpose of KM is not to improve either worker effectiveness (though it may well do that) or an organization’s bottom line. Its purpose is to enhance knowledge processing that solves problems and to enhance the diffusion of these solutions, in the expectation that such enhancements will produce better quality solutions, which, in turn, may, ceteris paribus, improve worker effectiveness and the bottom line. (emph. added) And when we undertake KM projects, we must evaluate the contributions of our interventions to the quality of knowledge processing and knowledge outcomes. That means tough, precise thinking about knowledge processing, knowledge, and the impact on these that our interventions are likely to have.

“The question I am asking here is whether KM practitioners are, in fact, providing this tough, precise thinking as a basis for KM practice, or whether, instead, they are “practicing KM” by helping fields or techniques such as Information Technology, Content Management, CRM, Social Network Analysis, Story-telling, Communities of Practice, and “Knowledge” Cafés to “colonize” it? …”

Interesting stuff…to me, at least! What he’s saying is improving worker effectiveness and the bottom line are not the purpose of KM, they are potential outcomes of KM. That’s a very important distinction! I’ll be looking for what others have had to say on this subject.

January 17th, 2006

Estimates on Savings Generated by KM

Here are some citations for how much KM can save an organization. I like to keep track of claims like these, because they are valuable when talking to financial people in an organization.

— — — — — — — — — —

According to estimates based on research from IDC and Delphi Group, enterprises are losing around $5,000 per employee per year because of lack of information, training, or requisite skills — adding up to losses of about $20 per employee per day. Therefore, the overall money wasted by the average KM-deficient enterprise is about $25 million per year.


Knowledge Management Factbook, IDC Bulletin #20065, September 1999

“Taxonomy and Content Classification: Market Milestone Report,” Delphi Group, April 12, 2002

— — — — — — — — — —

“The intellectual assets of most companies are probably worth at least three or four times the company’s tangible book value, yet no CEO I know could honestly claim to be actually utilizing more than 20 per cent of his or her firm’s intellectual capital base. Can you imagine the fate of any CEO who could only manage a 20 per cent utilization rate in his or her production capacity, inventory efficiency, or any other traditional index of performance? It doesn’t even bear thinking about. Yet in this, the most important wealth creating area of all, a 20 per cent efficiency rate is considered normal, inevitable, and acceptable. Well, it isn’t.” — Matthew J. Kiernan, The 11 Commandments of 21st Century Knowledge

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

“At one consumer credit firm, managers estimate the cost of failure to share knowledge at over $56 million from five instances alone, including failure to apply a customer retention innovation across different segments and failure to share U.S. learning on loss avoidance with Canada. Senior executives in a recent KPMG survey estimate that, on average, 6% of revenue is being missed from failing to exploit knowledge effectively.” — Stimulating Knowledge Sharing: Strengthening Your Organization’s Internal Knowledge Market. McKinsey, 2003.

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“Since 1993, Bain and Company have been tracking the use of various management tools and according to their latest survey covering the year 2000, only about 35% of their world-wide sample of 451 companies was using ‘knowledge management’, reporting a satisfaction rating of about 3.5 on a five-point scale. The usage figure puts ‘knowledge management’ in 19th position, out of 25 management tools. This compares with about 70% using benchmarking, and almost 80% using strategic planning. It suggests that the flood may be more of a trickle.” — Bain and Company case study, August 2003

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“Knowledge management is still expensive. Intelligent search apps like Verity Inc.’s K2 cost more than $100,000, expertise software like Kamoon Inc.’s runs $175 a user or more, and instant-messaging and collaboration tools from IBM Lotus Software add as much as $38 per user. Add in consulting fees and labor costs, and it’s not uncommon for large companies to invest millions setting up knowledge-management environments, says Delphi Group analyst Hadley Reynolds. But companies are buying: Research firm IDC forecasts that knowledge-management software sales will reach nearly $6.4 billion by 2006, up from $2.2 billion in 2001.” — Information Week, August 18, 2003

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Recent survey by the Brookings Institute–intangible assets like knowledge made up 69 per cent of a company’s market value in 1999 compared with 17 per cent in 1978.

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“By 2003, the average cost of redundant effort in Fortune 500 companies will reach $64 Million per year.” — KPMG

— — — — — — — — — — –

“Companies are generating more than 20 million web pages of content per day, and because around 85% of the data on the web is unstructured it estimates that, among the Fortune 1000 alone, difficulties accessing information will waste $7.5 billion this year (2002).” — IDC Research study

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Workers typically spend 2.5 hours a day looking for information, but find what they are looking for only 40% of the time.” — IDC Research study

— — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Benefits gained by a financial services company from knowledge continuity management:

* 1000+ users were able to find the information they needed quickly and efficiently

* New hires could now learn about the company, the divisions and the system they were working on, without expensive, specialized training

* Existing employees could cross-train in new areas

* Once employees retired or were laid off, the critical knowledge they used to perform their jobs was now available for the people who replaced them

* Subject Matter Experts would not be barraged with questions about what they knew — this information was now stored in a centralized location and always updated

* The time spent by employees looking for information was reduced from 4 hours per week to 1 hour per week[1000 people x 3 hours per week = 3000 hours saved each week]

— — — — — — — — — — — — — -

“Traditional financial statements would not show the loss of IC, and the subsequent impact to the company, if 1,000 employees would suddenly leave the company (Roos & Roos, 1998). However, KPMG’s research indicates that, after losing key employees, 43 percent of organizations experienced damage to a main customer relationship, 50 percent had lost knowledge of best practice information and 10 percent had lost significant income (Warren, 1999). “

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Research by Buckman Labs estimates that companies spend 3.5 percent of its revenues on KM (Davenport, 1996). McKinsey & Company has an objective of spending 10 percent of revenues on developing and managing knowledge (Davenport, 1996).”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

“Companies who currently use KM techniques are quick to note that, although difficult to quantify, they are experiencing some cost reductions. Ken Derr, Chevron’s CEO, states “We learned that we could use knowledge…to drive improvement in our company by emphasizing the shopping for knowledge outside organizations rather than trying to invent everything ourselves.” (Ash, 1997) Derr believes KM techniques are saving the company over $250 million annually. Beyond the cost savings due to reduced cycle times and higher product quality, more attention should focus on the intangible savings indirectly related to managing knowledge.

Community focused organizations experience increased employee interaction and communication, as seen at Xerox (Hill & Storck, 2000). The more knowledge intensive and cohesive an organization becomes, the higher the threshold becomes for employees to leave the company because fewer outside organizations can offer similar levels of knowledge. This reduction in turnover implies large cost savings for companies. Ellis and Tissen (1999) estimate that companies spend 2.5 percent of their salary expense on training newly hired employees. Subsequently, with reduced turnover, the organization is able to increase entrance criterion for new positions, enabling an organization to recruit people with higher, specialized knowledge.

It could also be argued that employees with high organizational knowledge have a better grasp of their jobs and require less management supervision. Quicker, higher quality decisions could be made from lower levels of the organization. For employees who interact with customers, these intangible benefits could translate into better customer service with faster reaction times to customer questions. This better customer interaction provides an organization with an intangible competitive advantage. Any combination of these examples would provide a company with significant, albeit difficult to quantify, cost reduction opportunities. “

January 11th, 2006

Online Course Design Tips

Instructional design plays an important part in developing effective online adult education. Not surprisingly, critical elements in the success of an online learning experience are the roles of the instructor and the instructional designer. Incorporate the learning materials into an easy to use online environment. Busy adults have a high degree of motivation and interest in the subjects they sign up for, so the need to target and organize an intuitive online learning environment is even more critical.

Here are some instructional design tips for developing an engaging and instructionally sound online course.

To Begin

Start with the same type of information generally included in a course syllabus:

· An overview and/or an orientation of the entire course

· A clear explanation about how the course materials are organized

· A list of priorities, deadlines, and responsibilities

Providing this extra organizational information for online courses can prevent participants from feeling lost or overwhelmed by the materials. Learners prefer clearly defined learning outcomes, or tasks, and recommended sequencing, so design courses with simple descriptions and cues about goals.

Just like traditional classroom courses, online course content should contain:

1. Clearly defined prerequisites & objectives.

2. Presentation of specific and relevant content.

3. Active learner participation using exercises, personal assessments and/or game simulations.

4. Highlight, clarify or reinforce critical points.

5. Follow-up and feedback capabilities.

Encourage Active Participation and Learning by Doing

Presented with an engaging, quality learning experience, students make their own bridges between concepts and obtain greater comprehension. Include tools like exercises, calculators with personal worksheets, or online simulations to encourage participation in the learning activities. Present real-world and case-based scenarios that require participants to think and apply the example content to their personal interests. Encourage practice and application of concepts by having assignments with interactive self-assessments or quizzes. Multiplayer games and simulations are also highly effective for this purpose. For adults, participation is critical.

· Organize the learning sequence and materials from the perspective of the learner.

· Provide cues and transitions between learning components.

· Look for opportunities to practice or learn by doing.

· Encourage active participation with ample opportunities for feedback.

· Provide methods for personal self-assessment.

· Each presentation or exercise needs to clarify, highlight or reinforce a critical point or it may distract the learner.

· Use proven instructional design techniques for self-paced or instructor-led learning environments.

· Limit the group size for synchronous learning courses. 30:1 seems to be an effective ratio, even though theoretically it would be possible to have an unlimited number of participants.

Create a Sense of Community

Online courses are not solo experiences, even though students may participate asynchronously. Participant communication is almost as important to the role of an instructor in online learning. Different people read and participate in the world differently. When participants share information by performing group activities and posting assignments, learning is facilitated in two ways. First, the participant is independently rehearsing and restructuring their knowledge while they develop opinions and create post messages. Secondly, the student gains exposure to other participants’ thinking and experience, thus broadening their own. Develop a sense of community online through collaboration, discussion and negotiation by offering places or times where participants can “meet” online. It can be something as simple as a free posted message forum software, or as elaborate as a fully integrated learning management system behind your organization’s firewall. The important thing is to make it both easy and necessary for students to interact with each other as part of the online learning experience.

Provide Ample Opportunities for Self-Assessment and/or Feedback

For adults, self-assessments are also important. Learners need to check their conceptual understanding and evaluate their progress by completing assessment opportunities based on their interests. They help the student to identify ways to make the learning applicable in the real world. Assessments reveal whether the pace sequence, assignments and content material are satisfactory or need revision. Here again, game simulations can provide particularly engaging ways for students to assess their own progress that instructors can observe and record.

Expert or instructor feedback is important to insure participants feel their contributions are an important priority and contribute to the overall learning experience. If necessary, provide guidance and suggestions to the group or to individual participants to keep them on track. Instructors should coach, observe participants, offer hints and reminders, provide feedback, scaffolding and fading, and model.

When providing online self-assessments or calculator tools, remember to:

· Provide clear directions on how to complete the assessment and/or how to submit the assessment for additional review.

· Set clear expectations for what information the self-assessment or calculator provides.

· Provide specific recommendations when a personal assessment is to be evaluated asynchronously by a subject matter expert.

· Provide participants with access to “help” information if they need to consult with a subject matter expert or technical support person during or after the assessment.

· Make sure activities are structured simply and appropriately to help participants understand the outcome.

· Provide participants with a timeframe about receiving any feedback or mentoring.

Check the Results Before Launching

After content is developed, review the materials and exercises in a controlled pilot environment online before you invite participants to use it. These guidelines might be a useful review checklist for your piloted courses:

1. Does the course establish enough and appropriate motivation to insure participant attention to the material and assignments?

2. Is the necessary content provided for all course components?

3. Is the presentation sequence of the content accurate and clearly indicated so as to guide participants through the material? Is it easy for them to back up and review a unit?

4. Is all the required information easily available to the participant in some format?

5. Are there enough practice exercises for participants to achieve adequate rehearsal, processing, and understanding of the content?

6. Are there adequate opportunities for instructor and/or classmate feedback included in the materials?

7. Are appropriate activities and evaluation tools provided?

8. Are sufficient follow-through activities provided to maintain learning and motivation over time?

9. Is the participant presented with clear paths, navigational guidance, and transition cues to direct them through the course material and components?

10. Are supplemental materials, such as outlines, glossary or checklists available to the participant to facilitate transfer of learning provided?

11. Have you arranged for the course material to remain online and accessible for a period of time following the course? Are the guidelines for that understood by the IT department and students?

Of course, there are a lot of other variables when building an online course, for example, size of each learning unit, assumptions about how long students will be online at each sitting, speed of network connections (which governs how graphically complex the materials can be), availability of all required software on student machines, complexity of the subject matter, experience level of students with the Internet, security around information access, and protection of personal information, to name a few. Some other good resources for reference are Florida Gulf Coast University’s Principles of Online Design, WebCT’s pointers on designing for disabilities, and CSU-Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction.

January 5th, 2006

Grassroots Knowledge Management

For some people, knowledge management means capturing and storing information. For some people it means finding an expert who knows the answers to your questions when you need them answered. For some it is cultural change and for some it is technology. All these are partially right. The lack of an accepted boundary around what KM is makes it difficult for many business leaders to understand — and to understand the value it can bring.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, KM is happening in your organization. One department is operating a portal, one group is testing message boards, one is piloting a collaboration tool, one is building a new repository, one is working on a taxonomy for a shared drive, one is trying to get just-in-time information to call center representatives. According to research by Michelle Delio, only 8% of knowledge initiatives are driven from the top. A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the KMWorld conference in San Jose called Grassroots KM: Learnings from the Front Line. For the 92% of people who are participating in or leading a grassroots or bottom-up KM initiative, here are some pointers I covered in that presentation:

Where do you start?

· First! Develop a strategic vision. Write it down. It drives everything.

· Have a champion.

· Start where you can win.

· Define the business needs explicitly before deciding upon the technology.

· Don’t let the IT group or technology drive the train.

· Make a detailed communication plan.

· Don’t start with customers, learn on your own employees.

· Use before and after metrics .

· Realize that KM has no “completion” date.

Some personal learnings:

· Scale down your grand ambitions and get specific. Don’t try to boil the ocean.

· Tie your proposals to business issues; help to ease pain points in critical processes.

· Find the like-minded people in your organization and create an ad-hoc KM team. Create a Knowledge Panel or support group of believers and make them your advocates.

· Identify possible champions; court them openly. Active executive leadership involvement is critical!

· Determine your biggest barriers and create plans to get around them.

· Formalize the KM team/project as an organizational initiative (even if you don’t have a formal budget).

· Cultural change is the biggest nut to crack. Everyone is too busy to change what they do right now unless they are forced to.

· People want to share when they think it’s valued.

· KM is not a technology, but technology can cause it to fail.

· It’s happening, even if it’s not called KM. Gather all the tests, prototypes, pilots and one-off projects under your umbrella. (Hint: you’ll be able to show big organizational savings just from eliminating redundancies!)

The truth about hording

You may hear or read in publications that people horde knowledge. If you find that to be true in your organization, dig a little deeper. People actually like to share their knowledge, to feel like they are having a positive impact, to help others, to contribute to an effort that is bigger than themselves. If they are overworked, get no recognition for their contributions, and/or other people take credit for their work, they are not likely to share. People will almost always share one-on-one. If you ask them a question, they will give you as complete an answer as they know to give. The secret is they need to feel that their knowledge and the time it takes to share that knowledge is valued. Figure out how to recognize and value contributions, and you will not have a hording problem.

The need for communities

The real knowledge work of an organization happens in the networks of people who share a common interest. Community is about people and how they work, not technology. Communities have to be a major element of your knowledge strategy, and can be especially valuable to a grassroots KM initiative. If your organization sees KM as another database (knowledge base) or wants to work on documents and content, it’s important to change the discussion and get people and how they interact into the mix. Knowledge is embedded in people, information is stored. It’s perfectly legitimate for an organization to want to have an information or data storage strategy, but that’s not KM. Communities feel ownership of the information that is important to them, and they will keep it up to date, create a network of experts related to their information, and create valuable organizational intellectual assets. Identify some existing networks that would benefit from better information sharing, and bring them on board first. Even a simple technology can be a good starting point and show good results.

Have a communication plan

Once you have a pilot or project underway, remind people of how it was before KM. Contrast for employees the difference between now and the way they used to work. Don’t take for granted that everyone understands what you are trying to build or accomplish OR what you have accomplished so far. A good internal communication plan is critical! Just like the advertising approach says, tell’em what you are going to tell’em, tell’em, and tell’em what you told’em. Be sure that all your key audiences are kept up-to-date for all phases of your initiative, and that you give them a way to value the success you achieve. Give participants information about goals and reports on their success.

It’s obviously easier to bring KM into an organization if you can be part of a top-down program, but if your only way is to do it from the ground up, it’s still possible to succeed. The critical factor is to choose your battles, and be armed to fight them! If you are involved in a grassroots KM project and want more information, or just to toss around some ideas, drop me a note.

January 4th, 2006

Thoughts on Communities in KM

While it’s hard to imagine an organization that would not be better off with communities of interest, an amazing number still don’t have them. One reason is because of legal concerns, especially in the financial services and consulting businesses. They worry that a member or visitor will get bad advice from the community and act on it — then hold the organization responsible for any losses that result. Another reason is that business managers may not have much personal experience in a community, and are uncertain how to be effective at managing one, so they ignore them. Another reason is that communities are self-governing and discuss topics freely. Most organizations still believe in top-down, carefully crafted messages from executives. Executives fear loss of control over information (which, as we all are taught, is power).

In the 25 or so years that I have participated in and managed online communities, I’ve learned a few things that I believe to be true. Here are my Principles of Community:

· Communities are voluntary associations of individuals who share interest in a common topic. A business community can be formed around a professional discipline, a skill or a topic. Other communities can be formed around any topic or interest.

· A community can be a small, active core with a narrow focus or a larger group with diverse voices, opinions, learnings and experiences.

· Communities have value when they are focused around data, not organizational structures.

· Workers participate in two dimensions –vertical business heirarchies and horizontal roles that cross the business. Role-based communities provide an important context for work improvements, value creation, learning and efficiencies across the enterprise.

· Communities require moderation. Moderators should be members from within the community, and moderators must be coached and supported.

· Unless managers give workers time and encouragement to participate, communities will fail.

· Key thought leaders must be involved in the community for it to succeed.

· Communities play an important role in content creation and management.

· Communities are the “asset generators” of a knowledge management system. Knowledge is shared between people, and capturing that exchange has value.

· Members of communities develop trust and a strong camaderie that results in candid questions/answers and effective problem solving. Community dynamics are important motivators for subject matter experts and can help in SME retention.

Management guru Tom Peters said, “It’s a cross functional world — removing/trashing/obliterating any and all barriers to cross-functional communication is nothing short of our single highest priority. However sophisticated the technology, however grand the vision of integrated solutions and great customer experiences, the business is doomed without real human communication.“ Communities fill that need, and all organizations have informal communities or networks, even if they are not supported by technology. Communities develop intellectual capital that can add to the market value of organizations. Giving communities the tools to function more effectively and create information archives is a priority for any knowledge management strategy and any smart business.

January 4th, 2006

Truths of Knowledge Management

For the last few months I’ve had an opportunity to step back and reflect on KM after having been heavily involved in trying to get a grassroots initiative off the ground in my former company for more than three years. Here are a few of the things I believe to be true.

· KM is a business discipline powered by exchanges of information between people. It is a business process that creates value and enables learning transfers.

· KM is a business process enabled by technology. It is not a technology.

· Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is the personal experience, associations and information that exist in each person’s head. Knowledge is a fluid mix of personal experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provide a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information.

· Knowledge is the product of human activity. When it is documented, it becomes information. Information becomes knowledge again when other people learn it themselves. KM is the process of capturing and making available information for reuse and learning.

· KM is a duality. The “social side” includes collaboration, conversation, community, meetings, discussions, lectures, classes, and live help. The “static side” includes repositories of documents, images, video, sound files, directories, web pages, records and help files. Both aspects are necessary and important.

· People are wealth and capability generators who can profoundly affect market appeal, reputation and performance. Value and reward subject matter experts.

· These environmental factors are needed for KM to succeed: Strong and committed leadership (without it, don’t start), Well-defined strategy integrated with business objectives, Measurable goals, Rewards and recognition for participants, Mindset/culture of knowledge sharing, and Right technologies.

· Capturing knowledge and making the information available to replacement workers can greatly reduce the negative impact caused by loss of key employees, enable new workers to become effective more quickly, and help to build the intellectual capital assets of the business.

· A knowledge strategy has two aspects: Cost control/avoidance and revenue/value generation. Different areas of a business will benefit from one aspect or the other, and both are equally important.

· Knowledge management requires a long-term commitment from the organization to change processes and culture, as well as the tools to facilitate data capture.

December 30th, 2005

10 Resolutions

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, especially mundane ones. But as I was writing a note to my sister the other day, I suggested these resolutions for us in 2006. Maybe they will be an inspiration for you, too.

In 2006 I resolve that:

· I won’t give up

· I won’t back down from what is right

· I will fight for what matters

· I will find joy in life as it is

· I will do what I have to do to provide for my family

· I will be a giver of hope

· I will be grateful for what I have and accept what I don’t have

· I will try to accept change gracefully

· I will look for beauty

· I will continue to believe in happy endings

What would you add? May your 2006 be filled with only things that bring you happiness and contentment.

December 28th, 2005

KM Paradigms

Some of the best and most interesting work in KM is being done outside of America, something which I find fascinating, given that we Americans are predisposed to think that we are the first and best at what we do. Maybe it’s because some of the early and leading practitioners of KM like Karl Erik Sveiby and David Snowden are Europeans, or because, as in Canada, the government made the Internet widely available early on and researchers like Verna Allee, Hubert St. Onge and Nick Bontis were able to get involved with the topic more readily. Or because outside America businesses and academic institutions are more willing to pursue new ideas that offer possible competitive advantages. There’s obviously no pat answer for why. But it’s clear that Europeans and Canadians and Australians and Asians are doing some of the most interesting work being done today in KM. (I don’t mean to bash the excellent work done by Ikujiro Nonaka, Tom Davenport, Joe Firestone, Richard McDermott, Carla O’Dell, Debra Amidon, David Weinberger, Larry Prusak, and many others.)

I was reminded of non-American contributions to KM today when I read a very nice paper called Theory Building in Knowledge Management by Irish authors Shirley-Ann Hazlett, Rodney McAdam, and Seamus Gallagher. (Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 14 №1, March 2005). The paper spells out clearly the current state of the KM debate (is it a tool or is it a process or is it a theory). The authors suggest that KM involves a number of implicit and explicit assumptions that guide theory and practice, and they analyze the major schools of thought within KM. They categorize KM as being in a “pre-science” state, where proponents in the field have different beliefs and values and even disagree about fundamentals. I was recently involved in a discussion in the act-km community where we were debating about whether KM is a profession or a process, and whether we have even agreed on the core components that constitute KM yet. It is clear that the field of knowledge management is still in its infancy and evolving, and that some of the best minds in the field are grappling with the parameters of it. This paper supports that attempts to develop an optimal KM methodology are misplaced unless the underlying assumptions and paradigms are identified and understood. Nicely said.

December 15th, 2005

Valuing the Communications Profession

This is going to sound like a rant, and maybe it is. I just cannot understand why “people” (who are close relatives of “they”) don’t realize that communication is an art. It probably has its basis in the fact that we all grow up learning a language and communicating more or less effectively with the people around us. Communication is common, its natural, and it doesn’t require a lot of thought to open the mouth, or pick up the pen or keyboard, and “speak”. Everybody does it, so everyone thinks they can communicate. Would it were true!

/rant on

Professional communicators have developed expertise, insights and wisdom about their craft that are just as significant to the practice of their craft as the expertise of any other skilled craftsman is. Anyone who pursues one type of work for 5, 10 or 20 years accumulates expertise that others not working in that field simply don’t have. They understand nuances, plan for the unexpected, know the shortcuts, innovate and solve problems that others not experienced in their craft can’t even anticipate. So why is it that in hard times communication budgets are among the first to be cut, and communication professionals are among the first to be dismissed? There is something troubling about how quickly communication budgets are cut in hard times, and how easy it is to dismiss communicators from the strategic planning table. They simply aren’t perceived to be mission-critical in most organizations or to be strategic in what they do. This bothers me. I don’t understand the logic of it.

If you ever watch the West Wing television show, you see how deeply integrated Toby is with all aspects of White House affairs, and how painstakingly he works to craft the messages precisely to reflect the nuances needed to advance the administration’s agenda. You see how CJ advises the President and others on how to focus on the message they need to convey, and delivers bad news to the media with the finesse of a prima ballerina. While this is not real life, I have known plenty of professional communicators in my life who do their work in much the same way as the TV show represents. So why aren’t communicators valued more?

Here are some points to consider:

· Communications professionals typically work with the CEO, Managing Director, Executive VPs, leading local news reporters, investment analysts and brokers, the organization’s board of directors, and key individuals throughout the organization. They know the key people, hear the off-the-record comments, and know the most damaging secrets.

· They sit in on the most strategic and hush-hush meetings on Executive Row. They often contribute equally, but are rarely acknowledged as full members of the strategic team. They are usually considered adjunct to, not part of, the inner circle.

· They spend long, often unpaid, hours in the trenches with top business leaders learning the nuances of key business issues in order to be able to craft a news release or sales pitch or speech for someone else to deliver.

· Communication involves more than public relations hype, writing promotional flyers, and planning splashy events.

· The only CEO of a major corporation who came out of the communications field was Lee Iacocca (former Chairman of Chrysler Motors).

· Communicators are usually well-networked throughout the organization, because that is how they get the information they need to meet tight deadlines and maintain awareness of the organization’s mood and issues.

Communicators are tremendous reservoirs of organizational knowledge! Why aren’t they in the executive suite as members instead of as visitors? Communicators typically have at least one college degree and according to the International Association of Business Communicators, more than half of them have graduate or post-graduate degrees. These are smart, capable and trusted people, who contribute solutions to the thorniest problems, help to avoid business crippling crises, and deliver positive, forceful messages. They are as knowledgeable and qualified in their field of expertise as underwriters, sales executives, strategic planners, financial executives, infrastructure architects, legal counsel, marketing and business development professionals, and others who affect the bottom line success of an organization are in theirs.

So why aren’t they in the executive suite as members instead of as visitors?

How they come to their career path is partly to blame. Many are liberal arts majors or English majors or social psychologists or other fields executives traditionally see as “soft”. Also, many of them start out in a junior level position — secretary, freelance writer, events planner, marketing researcher — and even after several promotions are never seen by senior executives as anything but the junior person they once were. There’s truth to “you can’t be a prophet in your own country.” In fact, many successful communicators have had to leave their company for another job, and then return to the original job a year or two later in order to advance and/or be perceived differently.

Personal working styles are partly to blame. Everyone has seen the Jungian-based four-quadrant approaches to assessing people’s working (and other) styles, like the famous Myers-Briggs test. Certainly, you can find people in the communications profession from all quadrants. The particular job requirements determine whether a person needs to be more tactical and detail oriented or more strategic and expressive. As a generality, however, most communicators tend to fall into the relationship/social/collaborative/expressive quadrants. They enjoy observing and contributing to some or all aspects of the dynamics of human interaction and behavior. Their collegiality and sociability can be a barrier, because they are thought to be “touchy-feely” or interested in initiatives or programs that produce only intangible benefits. And as we know, intangibles are not valued when it comes time for the financial team to put dollars on a spreadsheet or calculate ROI.

Ultimately, individual communicators and the communications profession are to blame for their lack of success. While there are clear exceptions, communicators are not good at promoting themselves! At the risk of sounding sexist, I think I should say women especially are not good at promoting themselves, and the profession is still mostly women. Women tend to like to work more collaboratively, to be contributing members to a team, to pitch in, to share the risks and the rewards. This working style has colored how the communications role is viewed by others. I know many communicators of both sexes who are reluctant to stand up and voice an opinion that’s different from their management’s opinion, take risks, or to demand extra resources for the work they do. Their collaborative working style makes it difficult for them to single themselves out or promote their own agendas above that of the group.

I don’t have a solution. This is a debate I’ve participated in periodically over the last 25 years, and I’m not sure it has a solution per se. It’s just unfortunate that so many communicators feel forced to leave the profession in order to advance professionally. They are bright, capable people. I wonder if there is a way to change the perception of the profession, or whether the way it is today is simply inherent in the work.

/rant off

December 6th, 2005

Cognitive Edge: Making Sense of Complexity — Session Notes

The closing keynote presentation by Dave Snowden of the Cynefin Centre was thought provoking. Whether you agree with his point of view or methodologies or not, he is always an interesting presenter who challenges the status quo. A humanist and realist, he has made his mark in KM in the areas of narrative and sense making. Here are my notes and thoughts on his presentation.

KM has a huge future, but not by that name. It’s about sensemaking, and moving from knowledge to sensemaking to actions. We should just forget the term KM — it belongs to the IT world now — and move on. The emphasis of the session was on the importance of moving the practice of KM away from knowledge/research and toward action. As he said, more of the same “knowledge management” (databases, analysis, intellectual capital) doesn’t cut it any more. We need to manage knowledge to improve decision making in organizations. He presented a 2 x 2 matrix called the Landscape of Management, with the axes being Complexity of Output and Complexity of Input. (Dave’s slides can be found here.) This creates four quadrants he calls Computational Complexity, Process Engineering, Systems Dynamics, and Sensemaking. Sensemaking is required when there is both complex input and complex output, and is the area where an organization can gain a cognitive processing and capability edge.

In nature, stability and resilience are opposed. You have to build in a tolerance for error and exception, i.e. inefficiency, so the system can become efficient. Our normal response to complexity is to simplify the input or the output, when we really need to be able to make sense from it. There are three types of sensemaking — three ways humans make sense of the world — and these schools are not absolute:

· Ontology — the way things are

· Phenomenology — the way we perceive

· Epistemology — the way we know

Complex systems cannot be managed by planning outcomes.

He offered three key insights:

· Identities form around attractors — within barriers

· Humans evolved as pattern processing organisms, not data repositories

· We always know more than we can say, we always say more than we can write down

It’s challenging to understand the processes by which subject matter experts make their decisions, because they have patterns stored in their long term memory, and process new informatoin by comparing current observations against known patterns until one fits. Pattern matching is impossible to replicate. It’s unique to each person’s experience and knowledge.

Such processing is always based on past experience. Failure creates patterns faster than success. Storytelling also teaches patterns, which is important to understand in KM. We need organizational stories in order to have valid filters so pattern matching can occur.

Why does it take time to learn how to make decisions well? We need time to learn the patterns. Scientifically, it takes about two years for the neurons of the brain to “get it”. Humans learn from fragments/anecdotes that they synthesize in new ways.

For this reason it’s important to map the ecology of the organization *before* purchasing a system to facilitate knowledge management.

December 6th, 2005

KM, Complexity and Human Systems Dynamics

Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) is a whole field devoted to the complex, adaptive nature of human systems that was derived from complexity theory. It’s also called the science of networks and nonlinear dynamics in human interactions. The field applies complexity science and chaos theory from math and physics to the interpersonal challenges that plague individuals, institutions, and communities today in an attempt to make them more coherent and facilitate organizational change. By understanding the broader dynamics that drive emergent patterns of behavior, we can make sense of patterns, enabling organizations to increase the power and effectiveness of their interventions to change patterns of interaction and mimic effective networks.

Like KM, human dynamics is a relatively new field. As practitioners worked to understand and define the field, a myriad of approaches and tools were developed, and now the number and diversity of those tools can be confusing. Glenda Eoyang of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute suggests a matrixed taxonomy to categorize different HSD called The Practice Landscape. I can easily imagine something similar being developed in the near future for KM.

(Ed. Note: Thanks to Rosanna Tarsiero for this pointer!)

December 2nd, 2005

KM: Looking for a Name

I have a few closing thoughts on this year’s KM World conference and my takeaways from the sessions I attended.

Looking for a Name

To me it seems that this year’s theme among the keynote speakers at KMWorld was, “KM is dead, long live KM.” Nearly everyone said something like, KM has a huge future, but not by that name. As a person who has struggled to bring KM into a large business, I have to say, this is not news — except perhaps to academics and people who haven’t had much personal experience talking with business leaders.

The term “knowledge management” rubbed me wrong the first time I heard it, and it always gets a negative or incredulous reaction from business leaders the first time they hear it. There’s something inherently self-important in the term. Most people find it laughable that anyone could possibly try to “manage” another person’s “knowledge,” and it’s too abstract. We are a profession crying out for a name change!

We also have a credibility issue. Most of us have come to KM from some other career — education, communications, librarianship, marketing, computer science, administration. And many of the people who are carrying the KM torch and looking to develop KM for their business have had mid-level roles in their organizations. There is truth in the adage “you can’t be a prophet in your own country.” Most of us simply will not be considered experts in KM, no matter how expert we become. It’s incredulous for most managers to think that the person who used to be drafting press releases can now advise about “knowledge management.”

What we call KM is finally congealing into a discipline or practice or profession or process, and we have some rudimentary agreement around what it is and what it isn’t. There’s no way any aggrandizing, esoteric or arcane name will do. And anything contrived or ridiculous would embarrass the serious among us so much we would never call it by that name. Maybe someone needs to conduct a naming contest.

Maybe an advertising agency will volunteer to create a made-up name (like Exxon or Altria or Experian) that we can all feel good about. Until we have a name we can all be proud of, one that won’t make organizational leaders roll their eyes when they hear it, we will all continue to struggle to define what it is and what it should be called.

Methodologies and Masters

As the field matures, certain voices have emerged as the thought leaders on various aspects of KM. We had most of them presenting at this conference, which is a kudo to Jane Dysart and KMWorld. Something that jumped out at me was that a significant number of the presenters now use what we called in GE “four blockers” to describe their knowledge or segment some component of KM. It became humorous to me, because it illustrates the evolution of our group understanding. A few years ago presenters were drawing variations of three overlapping circles to explain KM (people, process, technology). Then we had mountain graphs, where various aspects of KM were represented along an ascending or descending line (a la Gartner Group’s hype cycle). Then we had the phase of correcting our understanding of KM with definitions (data–> information –> knowledge –> wisdom). The newest approach (which isn’t new) is the traditional consulting tool, the 2 x 2 matrix.

Personally, I like seeing everyone trying to define KM and its components in an understandable way. All of these visual techniques have had value and helped us to understand the complexity a little better. The problem I’m having now is that none of the axes or quadrants or views are related! No one seems to be taking the global view. KM leaders offer their comments pretty much in a vacuum. They don’t consult with each other as they develop their presentations, they don’t attend much of the conference except for the few hours around their own presentations, they don’t look at the same criteria or research, and as a result, they each present their point of view proudly as the truth (and point us to their book) without putting their ideas into the context of other leaders’ ideas. Other speakers have alternate solutions, of course, and the audience is left fumbling to find the thread of truth or consistency to take away and put into practice, if they can! We are like the blind men and the elephant. Is there no one who sees the elephant yet?

I’d like to see the KM visionaries and thought leaders assume the role of teachers, and help us all to unify behind one understanding of what KM is and how it works, and what we need to show business leaders to make them understand its value. But then, I’m a dreamer.

Two Roads Diverged…

Dave Snowden opened with the comment, “I want to start off with some bad news. I see this conference has many of the same faces, many of the same issues and many of the same organizations looking for answers. (I’m not sure this is a direct quote.) His opening implied that the people who “get it” are protecting what they know because they have gained a competitive advantage, and no longer participate and share at these types of conferences. Those who attend either don’t get it yet or cannot influence their management to act and are looking for help.

Professionally we are at a point of critical mass, at the maturity divide where the field splits into the “thinkers” and the “doers,” and each has different content and practical needs. Each has value and purpose, but their visions of the KM problem are different. For the conference to continue to be important to KM professionals, the thinkers need to be reaching even further ahead, and the doers need to be more specific and relevant about what they have learned. They all need to provide more context and assume a general level of understanding in the audience. We don’t really need sessions with definitions any more.

Where are the New Voices?

All of the leaders in the field today are consultants. That seems to be the progression. Come out of a think tank or off the KM front lines in business once you achieve a certain level of expertise, and hang out your shingle as a consultant (and write a book). While they are all strategic thinkers and have laid the groundwork for where we are today, there is the real world pull of having to make a living. As a result, the experts can become perilously narrow in their work, because they have to sell the ideas that got them where they are. The problem for the rest of us is we’ve heard them all before! Instead of quantum leaps in thinking, for the most part, they are making incremental steps in deepening what we already know.

The profession is maturing, as are the leading experts. We all dutifully go to hear Hubert Saint-Onge talk about creating organizational capabilities, or Dave Snowden talk about making sense out of organizational complexity, or Verna Allee talk about social/value networks, or Tom Davenport talk about knowledge workers, or Richard McDermott talk about communities. Clearly they are all strategic thinkers and have valuable things to say. Unfortunately, they are vested in their own proprietary theories/approaches to the detriment of a broader understanding.

There must be some other outstanding and capable people on the KM front lines today and waiting in the wings to challenge our thinking and take their places, but I haven’t seen many. Where is our next generation of KM leaders? Who are they?

I’m talking about the new young minds who want to Podcast sales meetings to external distribution partners, or create a knowledge based organization from the ground up using biological principles, or create an online 3-D insurance agency with avatar agents to sell policies, or restructure entire organizations into flattened peer-to-peer structures, or develop a KM system that is so pervasive in their organization that it is the primary platform everyone uses to get to any work done, or use nanotechnology to distribute information in some innovative way. These are the stories and concepts I want to hear about! As KM professionals, we need to be stretched, to see possibilities, to be shown a light a little further down the road than where we currently are. I just don’t see much that’s truly new happening in the field. Or maybe those new voices are just not being reported.

We heard a lot from the doers and vendors at this conference, and we see a lot of tactical information in print. That’s the stuff that is easier to put into a conference report back home and justify the corporate expenditure. But I’m hungry for new minds to question why we think and do what we do in our field, and point us toward obvious and not-so-obvious insights and advances. Maybe the really new ideas can only be found in future-thinking academics who research the field independently, without a product to sell or a methodology to defend. Wherever they are, we need to find them and draw them into the discussion.

It’s probably wrong to expect eagle’s eye views from experts who are putting food on the table with their personal methodologies. They do have an important role to play in the field and have done good work. But surely there are some new thinkers out there, some risk takers, some people who are trying new things, and cobbling new thoughts together for the next evolution of KM. Who are they? Where are they? I’d love to know who has an innovative or interesting spin on things KM. I’d love to hear from someone who is doing it and can talk about it, not just theorize about it in four-blockers. Maybe next year.

November 30th, 2005

Pieces of the KM Puzzle — Session Notes

Verna Allee’s keynote presentation “Pieces of the KM Puzzle” was excellent. The session covered how the many pieces that make up the “knowledge management” discipline fit together, and how they can be used selectively at every level of the organization in an understandable and interesting way to achieve results. Managers want to benefit from the value of KM, but don’t know what to pay attention to in order to be successful. It’s the KM professional’s job to help answer that question. Here are my notes and thoughts on the session.

Allee’s comments come from her work with value networks and living systems theory (see a video overview here). She says, “Today’s business relationships encompass much more than the tangible flows of products, services, and revenue that we have focused on in the past. As we come to depend more and more on exchanges of knowledge and other intangibles with our customers and business partners, success depends on building a rich web of value creating relationships. New approaches and methods are needed to understand the reality of value creation.”

First point: Integrate knowledge into the business language. (Ed. note: I was happy to hear Tom Davenport say that knowledge has at last achieved a permanent place in the organization.) All networks are not alike. Informal/social networks have no shared purpose. Purposeful networks, such as knowledge networks and value-creating networks, are assessed by organizational analysis. To get value from knowledge networks we need to integrate knowledge into the business language. There is no widely trusted theory of the “knowledge economy.” We are in a free space right now. No one has figured out how to understand an economy where the resources multiply instead of get used up! Wow. What a great insight!

Where will the new theory come from? We don’t know. We only know that we need to incorporate the web of our life and social networks into our work.

One of the challenges we face is transparency in organizations. Transparency is not optional. All interested parties in organizations — shareholders, managers, employees, business partners, distributors, customers, regulators — want information regarding matters that affect their interests to be accessible. In today’s world, your only real asset is your reputation (which is not the same as “brand”). We are moving to 360 degree transparency and accountability, which requires cross-boundary collaboration, collaborative interactions and knowledge sharing technologies. It’s distributed capitalism.

Making information widely available creates all kinds of new possibilities. The network is becoming the business model. The organization is becoming the network or more network like. Workers have access to a flood of information. As KM professionals the question we have to answer is the only question that matters for managers today: With all the information available today, what do we need to pay attention to in order to be successful? How can we realize the value from these networks of information?

Another point: There is a high cost attached to not finding information. Citing Susan Feldman’s research at IDC, 50% of all web searches are abandoned. This means people are finding what they need less than 50% of the time. That translates into 50% fewer online sales, 50% more frustrated customers trying to solve a problem or get information, and 50% more phone calls that must be handled by a person rather than by automatic systems. At an average cost of $5 per phone call as opposed to less than $1 per automated call or mere pennies for finding an answer online, that is expensive. A tremendous amount of time is spent reworking or recreating information that was not located.

Another point: Communities of practice are good ways to centralize information. The first step is to do nothing–just realize that you already have them! Work with the communities that already exist in the organization and listen to them. These are the people already doing the work and interested in the subject matter. If you want to make them better or more successful, then you need to ask an important question: Are people in the organization rewarded for tasks or for knowledge sharing?

Another point: We are not teaching people the behaviors and skills needed for this new type of interaction. There are three levels of innovation: Business analytics, Social interaction, and Technology/infrastructure. Business analytics are challenged to move toward dynamic, complex whole-system analysis. Social interactions are challenged to move beyond project teams to knowledge networks. Technology is challenged to organize and integrate the networks on an enterprise level.

Most knowledge management programs miss the mark today. Why?

· Asking the wrong business questions

· Trying to make everything explicit (e.g., get everything written down and put into a database)

· Not investing in social innovation and related technologies (knowledge sharing and learning are both social activities)

· Disconnect between language and action

Conversations are *the* most basic knowledge process. As conversations happen, people begin to organize purposefully.

Thought –> Conversation –> Concept –> Plans –> Drawings and specifications

Introduce different ways of initiating conversations within your organization. Let the internal organizations occur, and then use technology to facilitate the conversations and knowledge sharing.

KM is complex. We start with the basic element, data, which becomes information. Then knowledge, which is functional. Then meaning, which is used for decisions. Then philosophy, which creates systems. Then wisdom, which brings renewal. And finally, futurizing. As you move up in complexity, the more you have to support the lower level networks in order to sustain viability.

Communities are the way innovations emerge in an organization and can be tested. Roles are shifting. When people have multiple roles, where is their “identity”? It’s no longer the “department”. Make their core identity their community.

There is an emerging Value model — three overlapping circles of Business Relationships, Human Competence, and Internal Structure in a background of Social Citizenship. Value is in the networks and exchanges of tangible and intangible assets. Intangibles are real assets that accumulate. They are real negotiables and deliverables as well as intangible exchanges (like knowledge or benefits/favors).

Some value network principles are:

· You can’t administrate a network, you can only serve it (you can’t set up rules)

· Be crystal clear about the role you play (in both formal and intangible exchanges)

· Quality of the intangible exchanges

· Value exchanges, flows and value conversion mechanisms

· Intangibles build relationships and networks

· Trust is the condition that supports the success of the network

November 29th, 2005

Thinking for a Living — Session Notes

Tom Davenport delivered a fine opening keynote presentation at KM World on his current pet topic “Thinking for a Living: Keys to Knowledge Worker Productivity.” (His new book with a similar title will hit bookstores any day now.) Tom has done a lot to improve business executives’ view of KM as a useful tool for management by linking KM to business issues and strategies. Here are my notes and thoughts on his presentation.

Knowledge has achieved a permanent status in the organization. (Ed. note: It was a personal relief to me to hear him make this statement!) Now we have to think about our customers. They don’t care about the distinctions we make internally in our departments or organizations — they want to work, without reference to where the stuff they need to work with comes from. Knowledge workers have a high degree of education or expertise, and their *principle* objective is the creation, application or distribution of knowledge. Think professions — doctor or lawyer or librarian or engineer — but obviously any field has specialists who are knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers are at the core of our economic competitiveness. They are at the core of value creation and top-line growth. They drive the future. Human resources talent managers have typically treated knowledge workers with HSPALTA (”hire smart people and leave them alone”). Knowledge workers typically work unstructured, autonomously, and collaboratively. This becomes a challenge when an organization wants to teach others to be more like their successful knowledge workers.

Technology can make them more productive, but it’s important to make them more productive with tools and measures that help the organization to assign value to what they do. This can be challenging for the knowledge workers, because metrics and forms and other ways to codify what they do is at odds with their natural way of working…unstructured and autonomously. For this reason, Davenport says different types of knowledge workers should be identified and treated differently (i.e., a segmentation scheme is needed).

He demonstrated one possible segmentation scheme — a four-quadrant chart based upon Level of Independence (individual to collaborative) on one axis and Complexity of Work (routine to interpretative/judgmental) on the other. The resulting four models were “integrated”, “transactional,” “expert,” and “collaborative,” with collaborative being the hardest to achieve. Another possible segmentation scheme might use the axes of “Mobility” and “Use of Technology”.

He then listed a number of ways to improve knowledge work:

· Adopt a process orientation. Unfortunately, this assumes you are telling people what to do, and knowledge workers don’t like this. Processes can, however, be implemented with respect for current work practices. Involve knowledge workers in process design for improved cooperation.

· Change the external environment — physical space, team structures, culture, technology, or all of these. Interesting side observation was “Capers Jones’ Odd Finding” that predictors for a software developer’s success are use of a method (RUP, etc.) and size of office.

· Embed knowledge into work (this is where the field of knowledge management is going). Inject it through people, project management or technology.

· Automate decisions when possible. Use systems to narrow decisions (like LendingTree, Deep Green Bank, or Allmerica Insurance) for workers. In the world of finance, this is made possible by online credit, FICO, the Internet and proprietary algorithms.

· Focused KM. Portals and repositories for unstructured/iterative work where you can’t embed knowledge. (traditional KM)

· Personal KM. Address personal capabilities, and make it easier for people to manage their own work and flow of information. Research shows knowledge workers spend 3 hours 14 minutes per day processing work-related information, 1 hour 58 minutes per day to e-mail, and 47 minutes per day on phone/voice mail. We need to make people more informationally adept. Some ways to do this include:

* Use one tool well (Outlook, for example).

* Get instruction in how to search better. Most of us are not good at searching.

* Use only a few devices — stick with 1–2 gadgets.

* Don’t be a missionary about using every new gadget that comes out.

* Invest time weekly in personal KM.

* Use paper. Make lists. It works.

· Reuse existing intellectual assets. Keys to success are leadership, asset visibility, and asset control.

· Put someone in charge of multifactor improvement. Determine which knowledge work domains are mission critical. Design experiments and learn from them.

· Emulate the social networks of high performers. Knowledge work *is* social work.

· Experiment and measure, and use experimental rigor (control group, measures, systematic recording, etc.) and change only one factor at a time.

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November 28th, 2005

Knowledge as a Competitive Asset — Session Notes

It’s always interesting to hear what Richard McDermott has to say about communities. This time he spoke instead on the the latest buzzword in KM — knowledge work — with a presentation called “Improving Knowledge Work: Knowledge as a competitive asset.” In fairness, he is not a latecomer to the subject of knowledge work. He delivered a presentation on the subject in 1992! But I was interested to hear how his thinking is evolving, especially since he emphasized third world competitors in this session and I have been thinking about “gold farmers” in my gaming life who are usually third worlders and have seized the opportunity to use technology for personal advantage. Here are my notes and observations.

Interestingly, Richard opened the session with a discussion about hope. He said, “Hope is the most potent economic driving force in the world.” It’s a powerful force for developing economies, and knowledge represents a fundamental shift in the global marketplace. This is an exciting time for many underdeveloped nations. Technology makes it possible for them to leap past the expense of industrial production and become information and service based economies. The potential is enormous, and as a result, these countries are full of hope for their futures, many for the first time in generations. This creates a competitive advantage that we may be underestimating. Where the average American works a 40 hour work week, and the average European works a 35 hour work week, people in third world countries are working 80 hour work weeks. Hope is a potent motivator. The presentation centered on two slides, which, unfortunately I don’t have a link to. Perhaps KM World or Richard will publish them in a few weeks, and then I can provide a link here. One covered product development. There are four phases it goes through over time — innovation, development of standards, transition and market presence.

The second slide covered knowledge domain maturity and the complexity of ignorance. He asked the question, “How much of your situation is really just the complexity of ignorance?” Knowledge is commoditized over time, and passes through four phases: discovery, understanding, development and commoditization. Initially there is low variety complexity, and then, as patterns emerge, there is high variety complexity. When a lot of confusion or conflicting information is present in a situation, it’s often because the situation is at the stage of identifying patterns to make sense of the situation. Once patterns emerge, then best practices start to be captured, followed by whole system improvement, modularization and finally, commoditization.

Finally, he discussed knowledge as a competitive asset. Standardizing and organizing knowledge is only half of the work. Spreading and deepening the knowledge is the other half. War stories are interesting narrations, but they don’t show the learnings or thinking behind the actions. So how do you communicate expertise? That is a more important concern.

Knowledge management professionals are challenged to help experts identify the *key* moments in their processes, and then get others to see those key or rich moments through the eyes of the expert, and leverage this. Experts solve problems through seeing patterns. This is an important point. They almost instinctively match the current situation to stored situations in their own brains, and can then see options for actions in the current environment. This is why knowledge transfer is so difficult — no other person has the same set of experiences against which to evaluate the current situation and determine appropriate actions. It’s very much an art. It’s more than just teaching a new person some information and steps. As he said, the brain evolved as a tool to enable humans to take action, not to store data. Knowledge management is about providing a framework of information that will inform others so they have the ability to evaluate and take action.

Other comments/observations:

· To see how to transfer and deploy expertise, he suggested learning something complex you haven’t done before. In his case, he took up horse jumping. Knowledge transfer involves finding a way to mimic the experience of an expert. He had to learn how to sit in the saddle to anticipate where the horse would be three paces ahead. How to hold the reins, when to lean right or left or forward, when to pull back, how to fall safely, how to trust the animal. A riding coach provided both the instruction and the example to mimic, enabling a knowledge transfer to occur.

· The “fad” of KM is dying, but the need for KM is growing.

· Innovation is still possible anywhere in the knowledge commoditization cycle.

· To create learning, communities are the best tool. Have communities very focused on the issues of the members. Spend time narrowing the community focus.

November 28th, 2005

Guild Communities in MMOGs

This is a topic for a longer paper, I think. Today I was thinking about the guilds I have participated in over my years of multiplayer gaming, and drawing parallels to communities of practice in business and social settings.

Richard McDermott has been a leading voice on “real world” communities for more than a decade, and here is how he describes the characteristics of healthy, mature communities:

· “Communities of practice are peer relationships. Community leaders and senior members don’t have authority over other members.

· “They focus on sharing and/or developing knowledge, ideas, tips and practices around a topic. Even when they collectively research a topic or develop guidelines or procedures, it’s in the service of developing a body of knowledge.

· “They run on influence, both internally and in their relationship with the organization. Of course, there are distinctions between the members of a community. Some are leading experts in a field, others are specialists in a particular topic, some are newcomers to the field, and many are generalists with different degrees of experience. While some members have greater influence, it is their expertise, creativity and knowledgeability that legitimates their influence.”

Most gaming guilds start off with a generic objective like “to have fun and share adventures together” or something along those lines. But in the end, they share knowledge of their experiences and develop strategies or approaches to be successful in achieving collective milestones or tasks. Today they often have web sites where they write up and discuss the knowledge they have gained for the benefit of other members (and would-be members) of the guild.

As an aside, some of the web sites I have seen are impressive by any standard of measurement. In addition to their message forums, they may have movies captured from actual play experiences, elegant graphics, quizzes, polls, fictional stories about members, profiles and backstories, technology help sections, new member help sections, downloads of add-ons that help make the gaming interface easier or more meaningful, VoIP connectivity, instant messaging, pictures and dramatic narratives of victories over major “bosses” in the game, strategies for key events, membership lists, crafting and skills spreadsheets, and even advertising! There is no question they are building a body of shared knowledge.

Since most of the players most of the time don’t know one another in real life, leadership and influence evolve purely on the basis of exerting one’s voice at moments of need and having people willing to listen. Unless you are a known guru on the community’s subject material, you will need to have gained member respect largely on the basis of what you type, in game hunts as well as in the forums. This is scary to people who are not natural (written) communicators!

But luckily for people who struggle to type, personal charisma plays a significant role in addition to raw knowledge — something I think is often overlooked by scholars who debate community roles and functions. A member who knows the subject matter the community is interested in (for example, how to defeat the snow yeti), and also has a playful or humorous way of presenting information or defusing tensions between members (there are always disagreements), is sure to be one of the respected leaders of the community. Charisma is especially imporant in guilds in MMOGs, because how a person chooses to express him/herself is all the other members will see or be able to judge them on. Most guild leaders are either so expert that no one knows more, or they are charismatic and affable people everyone enjoys sharing a gaming experience with, win or lose. Either way you look at it, it’s about influence.

November 26th, 2005

Games People Play — Session Notes

Steve Barth, a writer and consultant for KM World magazine and Cynefin Centre for Organizational Complexity, delivered an interesting and engaging presentation on “Games People Play”. It was based on work by Steve and his colleague Celia Pearce, artist and game designer from the UC-Irvine Game Culture & Technology Lab, who was unable to attend.

The question they set out to answer was, “Why do multiplayer game systems get so much energy from participants, where knowledge worker systems don’t?”

Here are my notes and thoughts on the session. You might also want to take a look at Dave Pollard’s observations on it.

In MMOGs players collaborate according to the rules of the game. To play a role-playing game (RPG) is to assume an identity and enter a virtual thematic world. In the game you encounter circumstances and characters that are programmed into the software, *but* there are also thousands of avatars (game characters) that other live players run. Not only do they interact in ways the designers intended, but also in ways the designers never intended! The players can actually change the rules of the game, because the game is not linear; it is a complex social environment. There are “goal-based” games, where you “earn and learn”. The player is rewarded for the accumulation of experience, for which you need both energy and social skills. There are also “social interaction-based” games, where the players must ally themselves with and rely upon others in the game to accomplish goals. An example is the internal commerce of MMOGs. To get rewards (items, reputation, clues, etc.), the player puts in time. Some players have a lot of time, some have little. Players with a lot of time collect valued items in the game and sell/trade them to other players, creating a robust economy. The game economy starts to leak into the non-virtual world. A look at eBay reveals that many players sell virtual items, game currency, pre-developed game characters, and even game real estate for real world money. As in real life, commerce yields greed yields crime. All these dynamics are present in MMOGs. The economic aspect of MMORPGs is fascinating, and social scientist Ted Castronova did some groundbreaking research on Norrath, the land in Everquest. Using exchange rates based on price parity, he found that the GNP of Norrath would make it the 77th largest economy in the real world, when compared to actual countries.

The socialization that occurs in MMOGs demonstrates collaborative learning that results in innovation and action. Players can express alternative selves and build up reputation. There are no rules of leadership or customs designed into the games–they are emergent. People have expectations of the game–a social contract, just like between citizens and a government– and will demand changes if they believe that contract has been broken. An example is a sit-in demonstration that the warriors class in World of Warcraft conducted to demand changes from the game developers for their characters. This is similar to employees and collaborative or knowledge management systems.

Unquestionably, people who play MMORPGs become tremendously involved in the games. They invest both time and emotion in these unreal worlds. Millions of people are playing them, and most express strong passion about them. There is a huge voluntary commitment of time (research shows that many gamers put in more than 20 hours per week in virtual worlds). That means there is something of value there, and we can apply this to knowledge management. But how? It’s still to be determined.

Some thoughts/comments based on other topics discussed in the session:

· Games are flexible. As game designers become aware of a dynamic, they build it (and the rules) into the game. Work is static and rigid.

· Can games mirror life? Companies still reward using industrial era objectives, not information era information or dynamics. Games have moved on and reward for individual contribution.

· When you give people control (which is hard for managers in a traditional mindset), they will take ownership, give energy to their work and be more productive. BUT…they will not necessarily do what you want them to do. A shift happens away from “authority” and toward “trust”.

· Work takes away self-belief. People are told/shown how their contribution doesn’t measure up to some standard or objective. They are told what they can’t do and should believe. In games, y ou can do/be ANYTHING. Barriers exist in any environment that affect our self-belief. Work structures us, but games let us be free to be and do anything. This is enhanced by the anonymity of the keyboard–no one can see us, know one knows us, we are what we type.

· Games are played at home, and it’s dedicated time. We sit down to play when we can be totally absorbed in the game, without distractions. At work there are constant interruptions, so we work and think differently. Learning games could be designed to incorporate the effect of real world interruptions.

· Game time is compressed. Ideas and interactions develop more quickly than in the real world. Game time could accelerate and improve product launches. Whether in a corporate product development environment or in a live simulation game environment, product launches can be tested, adapted and improved in a realistic way that can forecast actual product launch results.

· Games can be used to interact with customers and develop new customers. In the game Second Life Wells Fargo created an actual bank where players can convert game currency into real world currency. Since about 1997, Active Worlds has had 3-D trade shows and virtual 3-D shopping malls, where game players walk their avatars through the environment, and visit shops where they can review product catalogs and transact real life sales. One artist created a gallery using photos of her paintings which she sold for a large price. Levis has experimented with branding in The Sims, creating a special virtual blue jeans clothing line that can be purchased for avatars to wear. The trend is definitely there for businesses to take their products where the consumers are spending their time. Incorporating logos and branding messages into game content is becoming more popular because players tend to play a game more than once, thereby offering the advertiser multiple opportunities to reach the player. There’s an opportunity to drive different stages of a campaign. With the game Toyota Adrenaline, gamers got an advanced 3D racing game with great graphics, and Toyota got great exposure.

· Games have an addiction factor. (Wouldn’t we love to have this in our business applications!) Games are more visually stimulating, especially important to maturing Gen X’ers in the work force, and you are in control, unlike much of our normal lives and jobs. The potential for gaming is great in business training.

November 26th, 2005

Interesting KM Statistics

KM is a relatively new business process, yet it’s changing before our eyes. The early attempts to understand the role and value of knowledge in organizational longevity and productivity are already being supplanted by creative new approaches. KM has to change. Look how organizations are changing!

· Approximately 19% of the entire American workforce holding executive, administrative, and managerial positions will retire by 2008.

· Beginning in 2005, every 7 seconds, another baby boomer will turn 60 and reach retirement age–a process that will continue for the next 18 years.

· You can get success in six months with collecting exiting employees’ knowledge in a small company, but in a big company it will take 3–5 years.

· Almost half of the American workers change what they do for their employers every year…That’s over 60 million moves! And a new person usually has to learn the old job.

· The average worker starting today will have 11 jobs in his/her career. (There is tremendous cost related to ramp up and lost knowledge with all those turnovers. It’s not just the retiring employees…it’s also the mobile employees!)

· Companies are changing, too. Peter Drucker said the average knowledge worker today will outlive his employing organization. (!)

· For each incoming person into a job, there is a loss of 85% of the value of the person’s base salary for that year (on average). (Source: Bliss & Associates statistical model) This is based on cost of mistakes new employees make, lost knowledge, lost skills, contact list, etc. If you can reduce the cycles even 25%, it’s a huge, direct impact.

How can KM succeed in this fluid environment? In simple terms:

· Define the critical operational knowledge, and who has it.

· Save what you need, not what you don’t. (The 80/20 rule comes to mind) You don’t want to save everything. In older organizations, how many people are working hard but doing things that aren’t really related to the organizational mission any more?

· Create an environment where it’s okay to take risks (i.e., no penalty for trying and failing) and it’s okay to share. Robert Redford says, “If you develop a mindset that if a person shares, their idea will not be “stolen”, then sharing happens rapidly. People like to share what they know when they feel like they are leaving a legacy or having an impact.”

Yes, this oversimplifies complex issues. With about 10 years of KM experience under our collective belts, we are all finally starting to understand just how complex. It’s painful and exciting to give birth to a new way of working. Looks like we have about five more years to get it figured out and put the processes in place.

November 26th, 2005

Operation Brain-Trap

About a year ago, I read about a very interesting approach to knowledge management called “Operation Brain-trap” by a consulting firm in Barcelona, Spain .

Based on its fast-growth strategy and niche market, Cluster Competitiveness adopted a radical approach to managing its intellectual capital back in 1993. It required all its consultants to funnel any knowledge of the company’s clients, methodology, or business operations into a single digital repository available to all staff. Not too uncommon for professional service firms, right? The kicker here is that in this company any papers left on employees’ desks are routinely pushed into a trash can and recycled! The company’s rule is “keep nothing valuable on paper.” Talk about the paperless office!

There’s a temporary exception. Over the course of a typical 4–5 month engagement, each client case team has the “right” to fill one of the cardboard boxes that sit against a wall at the headquarters library and one file drawer. When a project is over, it’s all thrown out.

Using this approach the company attempts to make all of its consultants equally capable of serving a client at the highest level, and they can accelerate the ability of young MBAs to take on high level management roles (with some coaching from the sidelines). The success rate has been climbing, and is now at about 70%. They believe forcing everyone to use the repository for all information gives them a critical advantage in a competitive market.

Cluster Competitiveness can’t compete with the larger consulting firms in recruiting senior talent, so it wants to provide instant access to all of the organization’s intellectual capital. They do this through hardware, software, and personal operating style, all stored as a tutorial file on the corporate intranet. They measure the ROI of this strategy, and the metrics show a sharp increase in new consultants’ billing capacity and a drop in training costs since the KM strategy was implemented. Measured training capacity has risen 100 percent since the initiative started, and billings by consultant have increased more than 100 percent in the same time period. This strategy enables the organization to hire up to 50 percent more staff since everyone can rely on a common store of intellectual capital. If the company taught apprentices, it could add only two or three a year.

November 20th, 2005

KM World 2005 Sessions

I attended all the keynote presentations and quite a few of the breakouts. Overall, the conference was good–the keynotes alone were worth the cost and time! But the breakouts were a little uneven. Some were very good, but some were poor. There were an exceptionally large number of speaker substitutions this year, and the speakers appeared poorly prepared. Not the level of quality of previous years.

This made me wonder if there is a shift occurring in the field/profession/practice of KM. We seem to have a schism already between the visionaries and thought leaders who are clearly on the leading edge, and the less experienced people who have just discovered KM or have been put in charge of a KM component in their companies and are there to learn more about it. That’s a difficult gap for a conference to bridge, and I’m wondering if we may see in coming years a differentiation…conferences where thought leaders get together and discuss the theoretical issues, and conferences where others go to share experiences and describe more tactical how-tos.

One of the great advantages of the conference has always been the book of presentations that KM World publishes for attendees. At least theoretically, the slides from all the presentations are published in a huge book that you could schlep from session to session and use to make notes, without having to draw the slide, listen AND make notes. This year fewer than half of the speakers bothered to submit their materials, which was a big disappointment and made notetaking a lot harder. I commented on that in my conference evaluation.

I don’t plan to publish all my session notes here, but I will publish the ones from the most interesting sessions I attended over the next few days. If you attended and want to add your own notes, let me know and I’ll publish them for you or link to them!

November 19th, 2005

Games, KM and e-Learning are the Future

I flew home from the KM World conference last night, where I delivered a presentation on Grassroots KM and the learnings I’ve had over the past four years. The long doze-and-reflect time the two long flights afforded made me realize I have a lot to say about the applications of gaming to KM and learning. After all, I’ve been involved in multiplayer online gaming for about 20 years and online communities for about the same amount of time. KM and e-learning have been my work bread and butter for almost the past 10 years. I’ve thought for a long time that the human social dynamic present in games parallels that of business interactions, but the time wasn’t right for companies to make the leap of understanding required to get it.

In 1997 I made a presentation to executives at GE, showing them chat bots and suggesting that scripted bots would be a great interactive tool for delivering web site FAQs, and that online chatting would be great for customer support. Beyond the oohs and aaahs and smiles from the demos I provided, nothing happened. The ideas were good, but it was just too early for the group I had to see the possibilities. For a long time I’ve felt like that where mentioning my gaming passions at work are concerned. What I discovered from the interest shown at the KM World conference was that business executives are interested now. More than interested…excited and even hopeful that a more game-like approach will increase the effectiveness of and participation in KM and learning systems.

What excites me about the confluence of gaming, learning and knowledge management is its potential to reignite the enthusiasm of workers and open their eyes to a new way of interacting as they work toward shared goals. MMOGs provide new cultural and social worlds, where everyone starts on an equal footing, and traditional barriers are largely removed. Worlds where technology, social interaction, and thinking help people to do things they care about. Experimentation and personal choice are emphasized, and result in creative approaches to problem solving and learning–skills that can be brought back into the workplace.

Many business people don’t play MMOGs, so in coming days I will spend some time describing the environments and interactions, so executives can see the parallels between gaming and stickiness and business applications. Here are some of the topics I plan to explore, and I’m sure there will be more! Got any other suggestions?

· The parallel between the management/leadership of knowledge communities and the evolution of leadership/government in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs)

· The gaming experience, and how it parallels both life and work

· A vision of a KM system that would be game-like and foster very interesting dynamics that could engage participants in a way that has never been done

· What KM has to learn from e-learning’s experiences with simulations

· Gaming as a subversive business activity

· Implications for the workplace and learning

I’d welcome you to discuss and debate these topics with me as I develop them further!

November 18th, 2005

More KM/MMOG Parallels

As is true in communities of practice, multiplayer online game members do not start off with social rules or agendas programmed into the software. An environment for interaction is created, there are rules for interacting correctly with the system, and there is a stated purpose for being there. There are no rules of leadership, so leaders emerge on the basis of their actions and knowledge.

Both KM systems and game environments are complex social systems where unexpected events can happen and previously unknown people can rise up to be leaders. Each new contributor faces a learning curve, participates in training or a tutorial, and needs to achieve a certain level of activity or contribution in order to progress. It’s a good mirror for how most organizations are designing KM systems today. Which begs the question, couldn’t you create a KM system that was game-like, that people really wanted to use and enjoyed using? Where (gasp!) people might actually have some fun as they participate?

Why couldn’t achieving document input for a database be an in-game quest, with an in-game reward? Why couldn’t time spent in the system, reading and learning, be rewarded with “experience points” that translate to acquiring an in-game status item, like special armor or clothing or a banner? Why couldn’t reusing stored information or searching the system for an expert put some game currency in the user’s pockets? And as someone suggested recently, wouldn’t it be more fun to search the system if you were greeted by a search engine in the form of a dwarf in a horned helmet than an empty typing box? Especially if you could use your microphone headset to communicate with the dwarf by talking instead of typing, and instruct him what to filter out?

Simulations are already widely used in learning. I believe there is an opportunity for gaming to influence KM systems once the complex social interactions of online multiplayer gaming become more widely understood. Gen X is growing up after all, and they have a whole new set of expectations for how work can be done… :)

November 17th, 2005

Identity in KM and Multiplayer Games

Torill Elvira Mortensen wrote that multiplayer games are “secluded, exclusive arenas of play, which represent themselves as places rather than non-places. They demand the same manner of identification as crossing the borders of countries — they ask for a name and a password — identification unique to the player. In (most) games there is a penalty for assuming the identity of another upon entering. The reaction is very similar to the punishment for entering a country under false pretensions: the player will be rejected and banned.”

Playing with identity, for example, a male playing a female game character, is accepted in gaming, but playing without identification is not. Authentication of a player by the game system is the only way for others to know who they are relating to–meaning which live player they are interacting with. To steal another person’s persona is a type of power play that calls to mind Mr. Bungle in Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace (1998), where he made the avatars of others speak his words.

What personal passwords do is permit others to be certain that while they might not be talking, chatting, playing or in other manners interacting with a faithful representation of the person behind a personae, they are interacting with the same character controller in every session. This need for identification is also necessary to be able to maintain the secrecy of the play arena. It’s an important factor for maintaining the nature of play. Even in early childhood, play is enhanced by making a secret out of it. To keep a secret, restricted access to the play is necessary.

In some games, even further verification is required. New players are flagged distinctively or given special restrictions for a time. They acquire skills and knowledge (and acceptance) according to the place they live and the actions they do. Achievement of a certain experience point level, or acceptance into a guild or clan, or completion of a series of learning quests, will elevate the ‘newbie’ to regular member status. In some games, administrators, sometimes called ghods or immortals, may contact players inside the game to be sure that the person is actually there playing, and not logged in as a “robot”, auto-following a complicit character whose experience gains could benefit the tag-along “robot”. All this security around identity gives members of the gaming community confidence that the people they think they are interacting with are, indeed, the people they think. It makes characters/players accountable for their actions, and ensures they receive the rewards or blame incurred by their styles of participation.

Isn’t the parallel with knowledge management systems obvious? In a knowledge system, participants want to know that they are interacting with people who are there legitimately. They want new members to understand the norms and processes of the established group. They want to be confident that credit for contributions is given accurately. They want to know they can trust in the reputation that is attributed to other members of the community, and they themselves want to be trusted. They also want to be able to locate specific expertise they need at the time they need it.

November 17th, 2005

Multiplayer Games Have a Role in KM

Today’s session on Collaborative Learning & Games hosted by Steve Barth was one of the best sessions of the conference so far. Yes, it does dovetail with my own personal interests, but it was obvious from the participation of the audience- and that we all stayed over for more than 10 minutes–that the topic struck a chord beyond just me. Lunch followed the session, and I was fascinated as I walked around and overheard tidbits of conversations at many tables related to what we had been discussing. One lady from a law firm was sitting nearby talking to a colleague with animation about how to get a pilot started with her attorneys. Another lady was interested to explore how multiplayer game environments or principles could be used to achieve group learning objectives. We had a great conversation about how to create tasks in a game to get the player where they need to go, ways you could apply gaming to onboarding new employees, and how to design a KM system that would be as fun and engaging as a multiplayer game. It was so much fun!

In the late 1990s when I first proposed to some people at a GE subsidiary that an online game scenario would be a useful way to educate consumers on their web site, people stared at me and shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They must have thought I had a screw loose. Though I consider myself to be a “serious person”, it was clear that enabling people to learn in a fun environment was not serious enough! Today it was confirmed for me that the potential for multiplayer gaming as a tool of KM and collaboration may at long last be feasible!

Steve made some points from the current research literature, and showed some screen shots from 3-D games (which ignited the audience, who were largely non-players). I plan to write more on this topic! :) (Ed. note: see my notes here)

November 17th, 2005

Collaboration and KM — Same Critical Success Factors

According to the Gartner Group (2004), the percentage of individuals whose work depends on collaboration is rising and will rise significantly from 2000 (28%) to 2010 (70%). Collaboration is a way of working with others, and it is supported by the same functionalities that enable KM.

• Similar components are needed: repositories for information, taxonomy, secure access, search, instant messaging, document editing, archiving, expertise location, asynchronous posted message forums, Internet access, integration with other business applications and databases

· Both rely heavily on cultural change. You have to motivate people to work differently.

· The right application(s) and team members are critical to success.

· Training is required to break down barriers and set expectations.

· Guidelines for use need to be established.

· Formal environments can stifle team dynamics

· Someone has to be responsible for each team or community, to supervise the interactions.

November 16th, 2005

Observations on Day 1 Speakers

The quality of the presentations at KMWorld this year seems less than in prior years. While many of the sessions have interesting sounding titles, there have been a number of last minute speaker substitutions, and the overall quality of at least half of the presentations has been less than expected. Many of the presenters know a lot about KM or some specific aspects of KM, however, they appear to have prepared poorly or simply be inexperienced presenters.

Also, in past years there was a large book containing the presentation slides for most of the sessions (a *great* help for note taking!), this year’s book is about half the size of prior years, and many of the more strategic and interesting presentations are missing. For the Knowledge Transfer track today, *none* of the presentations were in the book. Given that the presentation slides were due for publication in mid-September, one would assume that the speakers would have gotten their remarks together (and been better rehearsed or scripted for their presentations). It’s disappointing.

Many of the speakers, even in the “strategy” track, spent a lot of time defining KM basics that one would assume most attendees already know (it was repetitious). This dilutes the focus from the novel and timely content that we came to hear. For whatever reasons, this year it seems like the speakers simply aren’t well prepared, which is disappointing. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day!

November 15th, 2005

The Future of KM

There is currently a lot of corporate activity in the KM arena. What do the experts forecast for Knowledge Management? The following projections are compiled from a variety of research and consulting organizations, as well as respected individual practitioners in the field.

KM as a Practice. KM as a practice will largely disappear by 2010. KM principles will be enabled by business, rather than by technology. Businesses will start to use knowledge management based principles, practices and technologies to focus on innovation and optimizing key processes. The KM process will merge with traditional business processes, adding intelligence to processes previously dumbed down through Business Process Reengineering. Getting the people issues right will be essential and the successful adoption of KM by organizations will be a key differentiator between winning and losing.

Portals. Businesses will reinvent their portals to benefit from knowledge management. Creating the right people environment will be critical. KM principles (collaboration, innovation, community) will permeate strategies, for example, in initiatives to enable knowledge workers. Portals will deliver personalized, in-context information (from both internal and external sources), tasks, and resource availability (human or automated). KM implementations will focus on business relevant areas such as competitive intelligence/marketing, sales/service automation, research and development, and customer/partner interactions.

Vendors. Vendors will combine their point solutions into packaged solutions or suites that better meet the needs of organizations. Toolsets will continue to consolidate, as companies buy the desired functionalities to create capability-rich KM solutions. Best of breed vendors will add deeper functionalities, for example, sophisticated techniques incorporating semantic knowledge/processing, categorization, and notification. KM technologies invented today (2005) will be incorporated into mainstream packages or suites in 5–7 years. Organizations should seek to adopt proven new KM technologies as soon as possible and achieve the benefits, especially niche users.

What do you think?

November 15th, 2005

The Role of Cultural Change in KM

Studies by independent researchers have shown that culture change within organizations requires 3 to 5 years of constant and consistent effort. To avoid costly mistakes in implementing a KM initiative, it is recommended that organizations develop a strategy that addresses which behaviors need to be changed within the organization to support knowledge and information strategies developed.

Changing Behaviors. Ultimately, changing workers’ behaviors is the most challenging aspect of knowledge management, and will take the most effort and time if the KM initiative is going to succeed. A strategy with a long-term view will need to be developed to address the key levers that can be used to shift existing behaviors to those more desired by management.

Most departments need to address the impact of the existing culture when implementing changes to business processes. Culture change is an extremely difficult task to undertake, and is not always successful.

Addressing culture, especially as it relates to knowledge management initiatives, involves a number of key events:

· Having a committed and engaged sponsor from the executive leadership of the area.

· Consistent, clear and constant communications from all leaders and managers on what is expected.

· Direct ties between KM activities and business drivers/goals.

· Buy-in and active support from the budget owner

· Providing carrot-and-stick incentives for participants

· Articulating the “what’s in it for me” to employees.

Communication Plan. Communication Plans are essential to any culture change initiative. A good Communications Plan identifies:

· Behaviors desired by the business

· Messages needed to support those behaviors.

· Who needs to communicate these messages

· Audience

· Best method of communicating (email, voicemail, meetings, etc.)

Frequency of communication

Leadership Support. All members of the leadership team need to embrace the direction taken by the business. Because of this, an initiative should be implemented to:

· Ensure all leadership members are on the same page, can articulate the KM vision and goals, and communicate consistently with the same messages being delivered by other leaders.

· Assist leaders to actively execute on the communications plan.

· Provide visibility and support of the KM initiative(s).

· Reward and recognize use of standards and processes (e.g., Framework, Six Sigma), and embrace best practices.

November 15th, 2005

KM Definitions

People often confuse knowledge and information, and it’s important to distinguish between the two.

Knowledge is the personal experience, processes and information that exist in each person’s head. Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. Attempts to “capture” knowledge result in information (items or artifacts) that can be stored or transferred to another person. Such information becomes knowledge again when the other person reads or learns it themselves. Knowledge is always changing.

Data are discrete, objective facts, usually stored in structured records in some sort of technology system (e.g., a database, a spreadsheet, a document).

Information is data with value, personal experience, context or explanation added. It is the product of human activity. Knowledge that is documented or captured becomes information. Information can be stored electronically.

Information Management is the harnessing of an organization’s information resources and information capabilities in order to create value for itself and/or for its clients or customers. Information overload is facilitated by capturing everything and not discriminating what is most useful to the organization.

Knowledge Management is a business process that creates organizational capacity. KM can lead to measurable outcomes and results related to organizational goals, learning, and value creation for customers and employee communities.

November 15th, 2005

Kicking off in San Jose

San Jose! KM World 2005!

Great way and place to inaugurate the site. I’ll post notes from the conference sessions I attend…and any other random thoughts that occur. I asked year before last for a hot spot where it’s possible to blog the conference, and now this year they have one. I love it when they listen. I plan to check it out. :)

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

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