Making the Impossible Possible, Articles by Larry Prusak, Definition of KM

08-Nov-06 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Books

Making the Impossible Possible — Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story by Kim S. Cameron and Marc Lavine

The most contaminated nuclear plant in the country, Rocky Flats was an environmental disaster and the site of rampant worker unrest. Although it was estimated that it would take 70 years and $36 billion to clean up and close the facility, something stunning happened. Now on its way to becoming a wildlife refuge, the project is running 60 years ahead of schedule and $30 billion under budget. In Making the Impossible Possible, Kim Cameron explains how this remarkable performance was achieved — and how it can be replicated. Using numerous first-hand accounts and public records, Cameron draws a number of leadership guidelines that can be applied to any business. This fascinating and thoroughly researched case study concludes by revealing the ten leadership principles responsible for the Rocky Flats turnaround — and in doing so, provides a means for other organizations to harness the lessons of this astonishing success.

Table of Contents

An Introduction to the Impossible

  1. Explaining the Impossible — Positive Deviance and the Abundance Approach
  2. Impending Disaster — A Brief History of Rocky Flats
  3. The Role of Leaders
  4. Competing Values and Paradoxical Leadership
  5. Key Enablers — Vision, Innovation, and Symbolic Leadership
  6. Key Enablers — Stability, Discipline, and Process Control
  7. Key Enablers — Relationships, Human Capital, and Collaborative Culture
  8. Key Enablers — Politics, Incentives, and Rigorous Performance Standards
  9. Leadership Principles for Spectacular Performance

Read an excerpt

University of Michigan Professor Kim Cameron: Positive Organizational Scholarship, Organizational Effectiveness and Quality, Management Skills and Leadership, Downsizing and Decline, and Organizational Culture and Change

KM Links

Harvard Business Review Articles by Larry Prusak

The following articles by Larry Prusak are available for purchase online.

  • “The Cost of Knowledge” by Al Jacobson, Laurence Prusak: Future investments in knowledge management should focus less on enhancing systems that track down information and more on helping employees use what they’ve found.
  • “The People Who Make Organizations Go — or Stop” by Rob Cross, Laurence Prusak: Managers invariably use their personal contacts when they need to, say, meet an impossible deadline or learn the truth about a new boss. Increasingly, it’s through these informal networks — not just through traditional organizational hierarchies — that information is found and work gets done.
  • “The World Is Round” by Laurence Prusak: It’s conventional wisdom that the Internet has made the world flatter. But we’re not necessarily smarter, and many people have been left behind.
  • “The Madness of Individuals” by Laurence Prusak: Collective decisions are often better than individual ones.
  • “Who Are the Gurus’ Gurus?” By Laurence Prusak, Thomas H. Davenport: Two hundred of today’s leading management thinkers were asked to identify their gurus. The result is an illuminating list, notable for some of the less obvious names it contains.
  • “Who’s Bringing You Hot Ideas (and How Are You Responding)?” By Thomas H. Davenport, Laurence Prusak, H. James Wilson: There’s an unsung hero in your organization. It’s the person who’s bringing in new ideas from the outside about how to manage better.
  • “How to Invest in Social Capital” by Laurence Prusak, Donald J. Cohen: Business runs better when people within a company have close ties and trust one another. But the relationships that make organizations work effectively are under assault for several reasons. Building such “social capital” is difficult in volatile times. Disruptive technologies spawn new markets daily, and organizations respond with constantly changing structures. The problem is worsened by employees’ working off-site or on their own. The authors describe how managers can help their organizations thrive by making effective investments in social capital.
  • “Learning from the Internet Giants” by Leigh M. Weiss, Maria M. Capozzi, Laurence Prusak: Getting more value from knowledge — especially from a firm’s own hard-won knowledge — is one of the central challenges facing companies today. Many organizations have approached this problem in recent years by making big investments in IT systems, but the payoff has often been disappointing. Companies would do better to emulate the innovative giants of the Internet — Google, eBay, and Amazon — whose success has in part derived from their ability to make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for, to browse for products and services, and to evaluate potential purchases. These are exactly the things that are hard to do in most companies. That is, employees find that it is not intuitive to search for information in company repositories; they cannot easily browse within categories of knowledge; and they are not given the context they need to evaluate the quality of the knowledge they do find. The authors assert that if organizations apply the basic, proven approaches of the Internet success stories to capture the attention of their employees, they should be able to improve their ROI on sunk IT costs while increasing knowledge-worker productivity.
  • “A Matter of Trust” by Laurence Prusak: Trust as a theme or idea has a lineage as old as Hammurabi. So why has it taken researchers in fields such as economics and organizational science so long to look at such an important subject? Trust is finally getting serious scrutiny from researchers, who are uncovering a wealth of interesting data about is value to companies.
  • “The Eleven Deadliest Sins of Knowledge Management” by Liam Fahey, Laurence Prusak: This article draws attention to a number of errors that could potentially cripple the efforts of any organization attempting to generate and leverage knowledge. Many of these errors are associated with the concept of knowledge itself — how knowledge is understood in organizational settings. The article notes the sources of each error as well as some key implications for managing knowledge. It concludes with some brief suggestions on how to avoid, or at least ameliorate these errors.
  • “The Performance Variability Dilemma” by Eric Matson, Laurence Prusak: Performance variability frustrates managers everywhere. Having studied this issue in depth, the authors found that the appropriate intervention to reduce differences in performance depends on individual work practices — their frequency and predictability.

KM Questions

Q: What is your working definition of KM?

A: Knowledge Management is “the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people” (from Ellen Knapp, former Chief Knowledge Officer of Pricewaterhouse Coopers). Knowledge management fosters the reuse of intellectual capital, enables better decision making, and creates the conditions for innovation. This is done by providing people, processes, and technology to help knowledge flow so that people can act more efficiently, effectively, and creatively.

Written by

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

Get the Medium app

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