Originally published on September 19, 2017

Image for post
Image for post

Original Sins

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

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

This article was subsequently revisited by others:

  1. Failing to define knowledge.
  2. Emphasizing content artifacts instead of knowledge flow.
  3. Believing knowledge can exist outside the heads of individuals.
  4. Believing that creating shared context is not an important milestone in the process of managing knowledge.
  5. Failing to understand the role and significance of tacit knowledge.
  6. Confusing information creation with applying knowledge to new situations.
  7. Overlooking the importance of thinking and reasoning to the KM process.
  8. Documenting the past and present, and ignoring the future.
  9. Failing to acknowledge the importance of experimentation and failure.
  10. Substituting technological contact for face-to-face interactions.
  11. Attempting to measure knowledge using the metrics of balance sheets.

Original Sins Revisited

In 2007, I asked Larry Prusak to revisit it. Question to Larry: What are your current thoughts about your article “The Eleven Deadliest Sins of KM?” Answer from Larry:

  • I re-read the article in question (first time in 5 years) and find it holds up well. I’d rather not comment on the commentators but here is my take on the article’s premises.
  1. Error 1: This is still one big error. Everywhere I speak people conflate information and knowledge — and this situation is greatly abetted by IT vendors and consultants for obviously commercial reasons. I would estimate that tens of billions of dollars have been wasted by organizations trying to work with knowledge by buying IT tools. Since none of this is taught in Business schools or perhaps ANY schools it isn’t too surprising that most people can’t define knowledge as distinct from information.
  2. Error 2: This is also still an issue, though we have made much progress in it. There can’t be too many organizations these days who still feel that large collections of documents is the best way to work with knowledge, at least not in the US or Europe.
  3. Error 3: I would write this one a bit differently today. While knowledge is still produced and absorbed by people the distinctions between where the knowledge actually resides isn’t always worth fighting over.
  4. Error 4: This is as true as ever, even more so with virtuality and all its discontents gaining adherents. Context is a good synonym for knowledge itself, and is best (perhaps only) created through live give and take, etc. It can’t be done well, if at all, through email and other e-exchanges.
  5. Error 5: I think too much has been made about the distinctions between tacit and explicit knowledge, all those models for moving one to another, etc. All knowledge is always both tacit AND explicit.
  6. Error 6: This one is also still true. KM in general follows pragmatism as a philosophy in not believing in distinctions between knowing and action. Isolating knowledge as a thing apart is mostly pointless in business, as contrasted with academics.
  7. Error 7: Well, anyone who thinks that anti-intellectualism isn’t a very strong force in American and UK culture is just out to lunch. If anything it’s gotten stronger with the continuous use of varied media like IM, Google, etc. to replace real reflection and serious reading. I travel all the time and in contrast to years ago, I almost never see people reading anything substantial while flying. I’m told by friends who teach MBAs at the “top” schools that they can’t get their students to read anything not online.
  8. Error 8: This is also part of a bigger discussion that many management theorists and practitioners are having about how to escape the iron cage of short-termism. Many of us think that every executive needs to be more mindful of all those Black Swans out there waiting to strike. I haven’t any idea how to change this but change it must!
  9. Error 9: Rewarding failure is never easy; it is never going to be too popular. But we must do it to have a culture of knowledge growth. How else can any organization learn if it is afraid to do and think things? So this sin is still valid.
  10. Error 10: This one has waned in commission. While technophiles still abound, they have less salience in KM discussions where they once dominated. No one thinks anymore that technology doesn’t have a real role in any KM work, but no one I know still thinks that KM is mainly a problem needing a technological fix to cure (well, maybe a few deluded souls at some technology companies).
  11. Error 11: Once again, I think this battle is won. There is some great research being done on what actually can be measured in regards to knowledge activities, and more will be done in the future. But no one anymore tries to measure knowledge, per se. This is one we managed to kill.
  • All in all, I think the article was pretty good for its time and I know it helped some organizations change their wrong-headed approaches to working with knowledge. How many research articles ever accomplish even that much?

Ten years later, in 2017, I asked Larry about it once more. Here is his reply:

  • I wouldn’t bother adding too much as the article is a product of its time and place (like any other article). I would only add that when working with knowledge, always use an aggregate like a community or practice as your unit of analysis, never the individual or the enterprise. I also would stress that in “selling” the idea of working with knowledge to others, it is a good idea to use the term “developing an organization’s knowledge capabilities.” This can be pretty useful in making your case. Learning to use knowledge well is really a dynamic capability that can be taught and measured.

To supplement Larry’s list, this article provides other lists of KM sins, pitfalls, mistakes, obstacles, and causes of failure.

More KM Sins

1. 20 knowledge-sharing sins by Stan Garfield

  1. Obsessing over analytics, producing slides with nice-looking (but insight-poor) graphs, or cutting data in every possible way in lieu of taking action
  2. Sending private emails or private ESN messages with queries
  3. Removing people from the list of recipients of a message
  4. Leaders not using a tool effectively
  5. Avoiding direct use of knowledge-sharing tools
  6. Talking but not acting
  7. Using an ESN like an email distribution list
  8. Using channels outside of an ESN for interactions that started there
  9. Providing limited information about what is being sought in a query
  10. Doing only what is requested
  11. Withholding the names of people whose identity should be visible
  12. Not sharing openly
  13. Ignoring questions in ESN groups and failing to reply to email requests
  14. Disparaging existing tools, wanting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trendy technology
  15. Hosting con calls and webinars ineffectively
  16. Posting the same message to multiple ESN groups, appearing to be spam to many of the members
  17. Creating an ESN group, but never answering any questions in it
  18. Posting to an ESN group just to make it appear active, so it won’t be deleted
  19. Promising to make an ESN group active, but not actually doing it
  20. Posting mostly trivial items

2. 17 deadliest sins of KM from the Canadian Federal Government — by Nick Milton

  1. Continuing to operate a hierarchical organization
  2. Fear
  3. Placing a greater emphasis on technology than people
  4. Not communicating enough on the issues
  5. Not approaching Knowledge Management as a management issue
  6. Not identifying the departments most valuable holders of knowledge and key innovators
  7. Reluctance to distinguish between data or information on the one hand and knowledge on the other
  8. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow
  9. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside the heads of individuals
  10. Not understanding that a shared context is fundamental to knowledge management
  11. Paying too little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge
  12. Disentangling knowledge from IT issues
  13. Downplaying thinking and reasoning
  14. Focusing on the past and the present but not the future
  15. Failing to recognize the importance of experimentation
  16. Substituting technological contact for human interface
  17. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge

3. Seven Deadly Sins of KM by Matt Moore

  1. Pride: “We don’t need to learn from anyone else, our operation is completely unique.”
  2. Envy: “XYZ’s KM, CoP, SNA program has just appeared in a news article. We would like one too.”
  3. Wrath: “I don’t want to WASTE time with any planning. Just do it!!!”
  4. Sloth: “I want all you underlings to share what you know. But don’t bother me about it.”
  5. Avarice: “Damn right I want to get organizational benefits. Invest to get them? Never…”
  6. Gluttony: “I want a million documents in the database. No! Make that a billion. More is better!”
  7. Lust: “I just love messing around with vendors & consultants. Meetings, workshops, everything. Just don’t hang around in the morning.”

4. Seven Deadly Sins That Will Turn Your Knowledge Management System Into A Graveyard by Bloomfire

  1. Weak Implementation
  2. Lack of Executive Buy-In
  3. Poor Onboarding
  4. No Cultural Buy-In
  5. No Reward For Engagement
  6. No Owner
  7. Content Becomes Stale

5. A curmudgeonly Christmas & a critical New Year: 12 Sins by Dave Snowden

I started to focus on various sinful qualities and properties that I disliked, at least, or was deeply distressed by, at worse. I will use the various offerings and approaches as illustrations of the different sins.

  1. Breaking Goodhart’s Law: The Strathern variation — Anything made explicit will sooner or later be gamed for survival purposes and that need will corrupt practice and people.
  2. Confusing correlation with causation and the paucity of good data: Statistical tails wagging the dogs of truth — We can’t trust the data, but neither can we trust the correlation other than as an indicator of something we should pay attention to.
  3. The old ways are evil, I bear the torch of truth and enlightenment: The Popinjay — Condemning past or future practice based on evidence or theory is valid; so is offering a new way of thinking. The objection is to creating a dichotomy between the two and being highly selective in picking cases (without doing other than book or Internet searches) to support a simplistic proposition.
  4. Anything requiring you to attain levels of enlightenment: The Cultists — True religious enlightenment is achieved by years of dedication, it cannot be acquired in a simplistic training program. Scientific insight and understanding is similarly the product of years of study and practice. Both take part in a social setting that welcomes criticism and while rewarding status does not allow that status to prevent learning. The various popular management movements that attempt to ape either or both to generate training and consultancy revenue should be wholeheartedly condemned.
  5. Taking something of value, but then seeking to industrialize it: Industrialization of the craft — Development of skill takes time and effort. Tools can be industrialized; people interventions involving judgement cannot be.
  6. Using language without meaning: A lick of new paint — The addition of key words that appear to have symbolic power as tokens of meaning. The big one at the moment, especially in Agile circles is the use of the word “Lean” as noun, pronoun, adjective and even verb and adverb.
  7. The dangers of categorization: Little Boxes — Creating simplistic categorizing models is cool in stable, fully-known situations, but in complexity or uncertainty environments it is dangerous. With people, it means we can damage personal development, and we can also miss completely capabilities that we didn’t know we needed at the time of the categorization. Myers-Briggs has little academic credibility, but provides the same utility as astrology.
  8. Issues of evidence and judgement and a false dichotomy: Trials need tribulations — A single intervention using a novel approach with a lot of attention is never going to scale and it does not constitute evidence. Trials that are reported to have worked, in the main, have suffered insufficient tribulation to be resilient.
  9. Against essentialism, defining potential through action: ‘Essential’ flows — In managing culture, we are not creating, designing or determining an essence that will give us predictive or controllable behavior. Attempts to do so will drive the real culture further underground, with the surface manifestation repeating back to you the platitudes of your value statements. Humans are very good at appearing to confirm with the verbiage of power while continuing to practice what matters to them. In practice companies depend on this authentic inauthenticity to survive. The irony is that if it wasn’t for people’s willingness to work for customers and for colleagues despite the process, not because of it, most companies would fail a lot faster.
  10. Trying to get to a single causal line of reasoning: Roots determine routes? — Let’s assume we accept that statins reduce the risk of heart attack; cool, take them. But we also know that Type II Diabetes is one side effect of statin prescription, and we know one of the reasons for that is the way statins work on the pancreas. Now if you have Type II, then you are at increased risk of heart failure, so guess what happens? You get prescribed statins. Each individual causal pathway creates a prescriptive guideline. What is really needed is an artisan approach in which the multiple interactions between patient support groups and medical staff are taken into account.
  11. You can’t reduce or aggregate a complex system and trying is wrong a priori: Deal with the system as a whole please — SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) is not exceptional. It’s simply following in the same path as balanced score cards; KPIs; mergers based on structure, not people; etc. The automation and mechanization of the engineering metaphor has dominated thinking for the last few decades and it is predicated on aggregation and reduction. Things like SAFe and Six Sigma are simply the last attempts to get a tired and inappropriate philosophy to work, but doing things that have failed with more intensity in the hope that this time they will work.
  12. Avoiding uncertainty and anti-intellectualism: Then kill the messenger … — A plea to senior decision makers, and a pretty direct attack on common practice. If you allow yourself to get caught up in meetings, decision making, and the like to the point where you no longer have time to think and reflect, then you have damaged yourself and downstream, the organization that you lead. It also shows you are not leading well, as you have too little time. Paying attention is not the same thing as being busy. Some of the best executives I know have brains that can sense there is something they need to spend time on. Some of the worst make a virtue of ignorance. It’s not enough to simply act; you also have to think. It’s not enough to think; you also have to act. They go together, and the more senior you are, the more you need to be comfortable with both; neither can be fully delegated. So, if someone comes along and offers you a solution that doesn’t require you to think, then kill the messenger.

6. The Seven Deadly Sins of Knowledge Sharing in Networks by Chris Collison

  1. Tall Poppy Syndrome — Based on the idea that the tallest poppy in a field is the first to get cut down to size, this syndrome illustrates a reluctance to put your head above the parapet and a tendency to keep a low profile and not get involved.
  2. Shrinking Violet Syndrome — Another “sin” that stifles the supply of shared knowledge in a network, based on a feeling of false humility, and that you have nothing useful to share.
  3. Not-Invented-Here Syndrome — This syndrome impacts the demand for knowledge sharing; the view that your organisation or team has a unique set of problems that can’t be fixed by adopting other people’s solutions. Besides (the thinking goes) why use someone else’s solutions when you can gain kudos for inventing your own?
  4. Tom Tom Syndrome — Also known as Real-Men-Don’t-Ask-For-Directions Syndrome. A reluctance to ask for help when you’re lost, due to a fear of being seen to be incompetent. This “muddling along” approach is another barrier that stifles knowledge sharing by reducing demand.
  5. Lacknowledgement Syndrome — The perception that by sharing good practice there is somehow a “lack of acknowledgement”, and a suspicion that someone else will take the credit for your hard work.
  6. Lock-it-Away Syndrome — Here, a potential solution, idea or example of good practice is not shared, either because it is never quite finished, or because everything produced by the organisation or team is locked down by default due to security policies.
  7. Hamster-on-the-Wheel Syndrome — This “sin” comes down to time — or lack of it. A feeling that you’re just too busy going round in circles to stop and share what you’re doing.

Earlier version: Avoiding the typical barriers to effective KM: Seven syndromes to look out for in your organization — The seven deadly syndromes that hinder effective KM

  1. Tall Poppy syndrome: Where people are reluctant to share because they fear being “cut down to size” by their peers.
  2. Shrinking Violet syndrome: Where people don’t believe that they have anything to share.
  3. On the Web syndrome: Where people confuse capture with sharing — capture it once, then it’s shared forever.
  4. Communities of Practically Everything syndrome: Where communities are incorrectly perceived as a panacea.
  5. Not Invented Here syndrome: Where people believe their culture and company is unique, with unique problems and solutions suggested by external sources will not work.
  6. Ignorance is Bliss syndrome: Where lack of curiosity, or inflated self-confidence reduces the demand for learning.
  7. Real men don’t ask for directions/TomTom syndrome: Where asking for help is perceived as a sign of weakness.

KM Pitfalls

Image for post
Image for post

1. The Top 40 KM Pitfalls by Stan Garfield

  1. Taking on too much
  2. Focusing on technology
  3. Forgetting to engage the constituents
  4. Doing too much studying and planning, and not enough prototyping and piloting
  5. Forgetting to reuse what others have already learned and implemented
  6. Focusing on collecting documents or updating skills profiles
  7. Being gripped by anxiety
  8. Never meeting in person
  9. Frequently reorganizing, including moving KM from one organization to another
  10. Relying on maturity models and benchmarking
  11. Using the term “best practices
  12. Reporting metrics for the sake of metrics
  13. Becoming certified in KM
  14. Rolling out tools and driving adoption
  15. Using buzzwords and corporate speak
  16. Telling others to “do as I say, not as I do”
  17. Being secretive
  18. Making it difficult to find information and resources
  19. Ignoring the need to build trust
  20. Pushing content
  21. Refusing to learn
  22. Believing that KM is dead
  23. Believing that incentives don’t work
  24. Seeing social as frivolous
  25. Allowing uncontrolled creation of communities and ESN groups
  26. Trying to eliminate all risks
  27. Trying to be like Google and Amazon
  28. Saying “we need our own”
  29. Believing you don’t have time
  30. Saying, “we should work ourselves out of a job”
  31. Believing that bigger is better for organizations, and that smaller is better for community membership
  32. Trying to make people do things
  33. Describing everything as a community
  34. Worrying that IP will be stolen
  35. Using the DIKW pyramid
  36. Denying that the 90–9–1 rule applies
  37. Trying to compute the ROI of KM
  38. Archiving content after 90 days
  39. Seeking a new name for KM
  40. Starting KM without first determining objectives

2. Avoid These 5 Knowledge Management Pitfalls by Mike Smoyer

  1. Labeling programs as “knowledge management initiatives”
  2. Doing KM for KM’s sake
  3. Relying on top leadership to drive KM
  4. Failing to adapt
  5. Allowing misconceptions to breed

3. Avoid These Three Common Knowledge Management Pitfalls by Fred Hassani

  1. If you build it they will come
  2. It’s just a file system!
  3. Everything is miscellaneous

4. 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing a Knowledge Management System by Antoine Fournier

  1. The knowledge documentation is inaccurate
  2. Search tools are inadequate
  3. Access rules are not well defined
  4. The documentation update process is not properly integrated
  5. The system contains unnecessary documentation

5. Avoiding KM Pitfalls by Ofer Kahane

  1. Collapse of KM Knowledge Foundations
  2. Disregard in Demonstrating Benefits
  3. Poor Consideration of Time
  4. Abandonment of Tacit Knowledge
  5. Failure to Meet User Needs
  6. Inability (or Lack of Willingness) to Acknowledge Errors

6. Major potential pitfalls and how to avoid them by Patrick Lambe

  1. KM is not introduced with a business focus
  2. KM is never embedded in the business
  3. We don’t focus on high value knowledge

7. Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Implementing KM — KMWorld Workshop by Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe

  1. KM is not introduced with a business focus
  2. KM is never embedded in the business
  3. You fail to secure effective senior management support
  4. You don’t focus on high-value knowledge
  5. You fail to show measurable benefits
  6. The four enablers of KM are not given equal attention: roles, processes, technology, governance
  7. Only parts of the KM solution are implemented
  8. You make KM too difficult for people
  9. KM is not implemented as a change program
  10. The KM team preaches only to the converted
  11. The KM team fails to engage with key stakeholders
  12. The KM team has the wrong competence

8. Known Evils: Common pitfalls of Knowledge Management — The Seven Deadly Syndromes of Knowledge Management: Repent and save your company from its witless ways — by Tom Davenport

  1. If We Build It… They will come.
  2. Let’s Put the Personnel Manual Online!
  3. None Dare Call it Knowledge
  4. Every Man a Knowledge Manager
  5. Justification by Faith
  6. Restricted Access
  7. Bottoms Up!

9. Knowledge Management in Practice: Pitfalls and Potentials for Development by Julie Ferguson, Marleen Huysman, and Maura Soekijad

10. 5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Knowledge Management by Stan Garfield

KM Mistakes

1. The Biggest KM Mistakes Organizations Make — and How to Avoid Them by Lauren Trees (interview with me)

  1. Failing to start with a compelling vision.
  2. Ignoring information architecture
  3. Favoring high-tech search over low-tech curation
  4. Always upgrading
  5. Paying too much attention to trends

2. Knowledge Management Mistakes by Johanna Ambrosio

  1. Mistake №1: Failing to coordinate efforts between information technology and human resources
  2. Mistake №2: Starting with a low-profile project
  3. Mistake №3: Not changing the compensation scheme to reward teamwork
  4. Mistake №4: Building the grand database in the sky to house all your company’s knowledge
  5. Mistake №5: Assuming someone else will lead the charge

3. Knowledge Mismanaged: 7 Common Mistakes Organizations Make Implementing KMby Christian Young

  1. Having an unclear, poorly conceived, inadequate, or nonexistent vision or scope for KM
  2. Failure to conduct a pre-strategy assessment
  3. Building a KM strategy around a knowledge management system or application
  4. Developing knowledge management systems in a vacuum
  5. Retaining the wrong human resources to execute the KM strategy
  6. Not collecting data to measure for success
  7. Lack of organization-wide KM marketing and education

4. Avoid these 6 Knowledge Management Mistakes by Suzanne Marshall

  1. Your company culture doesn’t value knowledge sharing
  2. Your system only focuses on knowledge collection
  3. There’s no incentive for employees to use your knowledge management system
  4. Implementing a generic knowledge management system
  5. Constantly layering new software over old to fix problems
  6. Not updating the system

5. 4 Popular Mistakes Knowledge Managers Make by David Griffiths

  1. Knowledge Management should set out to capture and store critical knowledge, and make available to anyone who needs it, at the time they most need it
  2. Critical thinking is for academics!
  3. Size is everything
  4. Knowledge resources are assets, just like any other organizational asset

6. Knowledge Management: Four Obstacles to Overcome by Harvard Management Update

  1. Lack of a business purpose
  2. Poor planning — and inadequate resources
  3. Lack of accountability
  4. Lack of customization

7. What are some mistakes to avoid in community building? by Stan Garfield

8. What are the most common mistakes made by community managers? by Stan Garfield

Causes of KM Failures

1. Top 7 reasons why KM implementations fail by Nick Milton

  1. KM is not introduced as a change program
  2. The KM team does not have the right people to deliver change
  3. The KM team preach only to the choir
  4. Only parts of the KM solution are implemented
  5. KM is never embedded into the business
  6. There is no effective high-level sponsorship
  7. KM is not introduced with a business focus

2. Why does Knowledge Management fail? (and how to avoid this happening) by Nick Milton

  1. Internal reorganization
  2. Cultural barriers
  3. Lack of involvement from staff
  4. Technology did not deliver as expected
  5. KM did not deliver the expected benefits
  6. KM was taking too long to deliver
  7. Too much focus on technology platforms and not enough on incentives and cultural elements
  8. The Company was sold to government, which had no interest whatsoever
  9. No push or support from the Executive Committee
  10. No customer demand reported
  11. New Top Management — Not interested in KM

3. Top Reasons Knowledge Management Programs Fail by John Ragsdale

  1. Lack of Knowledge Sharing Culture
  2. No Incentive to Use the System
  3. Not Capturing Knowledge from Professional Services Consultants
  4. No Dedicated KM Team
  5. Out of Date Content
  6. Gaps in Your Knowledge Base

4. A Synthesis of Knowledge Management Failure Factors by Alan Frost

  • Causal Failure Factors:
  1. Lack of performance indicators and measurable benefits
  2. Inadequate management support
  3. Improper planning, design, coordination, and evaluation
  4. Inadequate skill of knowledge managers and workers
  5. Problems with organisational culture 6. Improper organisational structure
  • Resultant Failure Factors:
  1. Lack of widespread contribution
  2. Lack of relevance, quality, and usability
  3. Overemphasis on formal learning, systematization, and determinant needs
  4. Improper implementation of technology
  5. Improper budgeting and excessive costs
  6. Lack of responsibility and ownership
  7. Loss of knowledge from staff defection and retirement

5. Why do Knowledge Management (KM) Programs and Projects Fail? by Anthony Rhem

  1. Lack of Executive Leadership/Sponsorship
  2. Inadequate Budgeting and Cost Expectations
  3. Lack of participation from all levels of a corporation
  4. Inadequate processes and technology
  5. Lack of Knowledge and Resources
  6. Lack of education and understanding of KM
  7. KM does not become ingrained into the corporations work culture
  8. Lack of a Knowledge Sharing Environment
  9. Lack of metrics to measure the impact of KM on the corporation or insufficient/incorrect metrics being captured
  10. Lack of monitoring and controls in place to ensure the knowledge is relevant and is current and accurate

6. 8 Reasons Knowledge Management Initiatives Fail by Hoyt Mann

  1. Management may not want to invest in the appropriate technology.
  2. Management may not support the initiative beyond saying it must be done.
  3. People may be afraid to share knowledge because they feel it gives them a hedge against layoffs.
  4. People may not wish to expand their knowledge in case it leads to more work for them.
  5. Just because there are plans to implement KM or even awareness that KM is an important competitive business function does not guarantee success.
  6. There may be a dispute or disconnect between management and IT about responsibility for deployment and maintenance of KM.
  7. Employees may feel that it is up to management to make the decision about how KM will be deployed.
  8. These barriers may be tougher to surmount in the small to medium business arena simply because of the time factor; the existing employees and owner/manager already have full plates and do not have the financial or human resources to throw at the initiative from start to finish.

7. Five Knowledge Management Fails by Adam Krob

  1. People don’t want to share because they don’t know what’s in it for them
  2. Knowledge management is a tool
  3. Everyone is not held accountable to “use it, fix it, or flag it”
  4. Knowledge sharing is not a behavior that people do as part of their work every day
  5. People don’t change their habits and don’t actually share their knowledge

8. 5 Reasons Why Knowledge Management Fails in the Marketing Team by Robin Singh

  1. Absence of a knowledge sharing culture
  2. Organizational structure
  3. Lack of a measurement system
  4. Lack of transparency about motives
  5. Lack of incentives to use the system

9. How Knowledge Management Systems Fail by David Straker

  1. IT overkill
  2. Low benefit to suppliers
  3. Low benefit to customers

10. Why Knowledge Management Fails: How to avoid the common pitfalls by Prabhu Guptara

  1. Time
  2. Power
  3. Organizational structure
  4. Measurement systems
  5. Organizational culture

11. Why KM Initiatives Fail! by David Gurteen

There are a few fundamentals that you need to get right to ensure that your KM is initiative is not only sustained but has a marked impact on organizational performance:

  1. Focus on business outcomes
  2. Get specific
  3. Use business language
  4. Engage staff

12. The nonsense of ‘knowledge management’ by T.D. Wilson

  • Peter Drucker scoffed at the notion of knowledge management. “You can’t manage knowledge,” he says. “Knowledge is between two ears, and only between two ears.” To that extent, Drucker says it’s really about what individual workers do with the knowledge they have. When employees leave a company, he says, their knowledge goes with them, no matter how much they’ve shared.
  • Frank Miller agrees: “Knowledge is the uniquely human capability of making meaning from information — ideally in relationships with other human beings. Knowledge is, after all, what we know. And what we know can’t be commodified. Perhaps if we didn’t have the word ‘knowledge’ and were constrained to say ‘what I know’, the notion of ‘knowledge capture’ would be seen for what it is — nonsense!”
  • The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the ‘knowledge management’ idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads. It rests on two foundations: the management of information — where a large part of the fad exists (and where the ‘search and replace marketing’ phenomenon is found), and the effective management of work practices. However, these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used. Sadly, we are a long way removed from that Utopia: whatever businesses claim about people being their most important resource, they are never reluctant to rid themselves of that resource (and the knowledge it possesses) when market conditions decline.

Videos and Presentations

1. Revisiting the 11 Deadly Sins of Knowledge Management by K.Gopalakrishnan — discussion with the Knowledge Community of Chennai

2. Top 5 Knowledge Management Mistakes: Great Customer Experiences Through Knowledge by Kelly Koelliker

  1. Too much of a good thing
  2. Too smart for your own good
  3. Giving your customers solutions
  4. Loving your search engine
  5. Multi-channel service

3. How to Avoid Common KM Pitfalls by Patrick Lambe

There are many different kinds of pitfalls that relate to:

  1. Your level of sponsorship
  2. How well you’re connected to the business focus of the organization
  3. How well you’re connected to the interests of the different stakeholder groups
  4. What kind of resource or competency you have

4. Two reasons why knowledge management fails by Alan Frost

  1. Poor and simplistic definitions of knowledge
  2. Lack of a definition that defines the scope of knowledge management — does it include knowledge creation?

5. Why KM Programs Fail by Steve Denning — Related Article

6. 5 Knowledge Management Pitfalls to Avoid: A KM Conversation with Stan Garfield

7. KM Myths by Stan Garfield

8. Be Agile, Not Fragile by Stan Garfield — Related Article

9. 10 Front Line Tales by Stan Garfield

10. Selling KM — Avoid the Top 40 Pitfalls by Stan Garfield

11. Strategic Leadership & Knowledge Management by Andrew J. DuBrin

Image for post
Image for post


  1. Proven Practices for Promoting a Knowledge Management Program by Stan Garfield — Chapter 13: Avoid the Top 40 Pitfalls
  2. The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Embedding Effective Knowledge Management in your Organization by Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe — Chapter 3: Barriers and Pitfalls
  3. Knowledge Management in Practice by Anthony Rhem — Chapter 17: Why do Knowledge Management Programs and Projects Fail?
  4. Knowledge Management: Perspectives and Pitfalls by Peter Holdt Christensen
  5. Why Knowledge Management Fails: Lessons from a Case Study by Ivy Chan and Patrick Y.K. Chau

Written by

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

Get the Medium app

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