Originally published August 25, 2019

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This is the 47th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Nirmala Palaniappan (Nimmy) is passionate about KM and innovation, and interested in business research, management concepts, process improvements, branding, and business strategy. She was awarded a US patent for the KM framework, methodology, and toolkit she conceived. Nimmy currently leads the KM function for TAFE (Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited) in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, reporting to the Chief of Innovation & IT.

We have not met in person, but we were brought together by John Hovell in April, 2010 to present virtually to Lockheed Martin’s KMCoP. I have been following Nimmy since she started blogging in 2004. We share a love of humor, witty puns, books, and music. And I can really relaterightfully, respectfully, and rhetorically — to the statement she made: “My mind keeps discovering words that alliterate or rhyme when I set out to explain — unnecessarily, of course — various phenomena in the world, and I pretend to play along by expanding them into lengthy and meandering paragraphs.

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Background

Nimmy has expertise in creating and implementing intranets, community tools, expert locators, mobile apps, content management systems, internal portals, and Enterprise 2.0 tools. She also has skill in formulating KM strategies, creating a knowledge sharing culture, enhancing processes, designing and project managing technological implementations, and defining and monitoring benefits/measures.

Her specialties include knowledge management strategy, culture and change management, business process improvement, branding and advertising, KM technology concepts and enhancements, and business analysis. She wrote and presented several KM papers at national and international conferences on KM implementation, Enterprise 2.0, collaboration, toolkits, and blogging.

Experience

  • TAFE — Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited — Head of Knowledge Management, 2014-present: Leading the KM function, including Innovation, eLearning, and the KM division
  • MAP — Contributor, 2010-present: MAP is a Health Technology and Information Services company that builds online applications that measure and enhance individual well-being. MAP offers organizations and governments an affordable and effective way to develop resilience, nurture creativity, reduce stress, decrease absenteeism and foster cohesiveness across a workplace and a population. MAP is architected to increase well-being by promoting mental health, rather than just managing mental illness. It is complemented by the new emphasis in medical research on understanding well-being and how to foster it.
  • Oracle — Director, Social Enterprise/KM (Asia Pacific Technology Units), 2007–2014, Bangalore
  • Wipro Technologies — Lead KM Consultant. 2005–2007, Knowledge Manager, 2002–2005
  • CG Smith Software Pvt Ltd — Knowledge Manager, 2000–2002

Education

Anna University

  • BE (Instrumentation Technology)
  • MBA (Systems and Finance). Class topper and gold medallist in MBA,1999.

Profiles

Honors

Patent

  • US Patent 7657498B2
  • Business-aligned organizational knowledge management system
  • Business-aligned organizational knowledge management system, framework, and tools for capture and dissemination of explicit and tacit knowledge of business objectives and management strategy articulated in problem statements
  • Patent number: 7657498
  • Date of Patent: February 2, 2010
  • Abstract: A business-aligned knowledge management system and method for creating the same are disclosed. In accordance with a first aspect of the invention, a knowledge management system includes a knowledge management (KM) framework providing aspects of a knowledge-focused approach to business management; a KM implementation guide having steps for establishing a business-aligned knowledge management system within the KM framework; and a KM execution toolkit having tools for used with the KM implementation guide.

Content

Quotes

  • I’m here for the conversations. How stupid of me. I’m here for the dog videos, witty puns, & pics of Mother Nature. And, oh, I’m here to save the world.
  • Life, Spirituality, Social Tech and Nonsense. I love being nonsensical! 😊
  • In search of my most important mission; meanwhile the motto is “Millions of mad, muddled, merry, mischievous, mesmerized, mean, marvelous and menacing monkeys on a mysterious and mind-blowing mission to Mesopotamia,” “Mamma Mia!” did you say? 😊 Does that make any sense? If it does, you must be one in a million, umm, monkeys! Hold on! Just kidding, you know! OK, I guess I must confess that my motto actually is “Love, Laugh and Learn!!” 😊 And, BTW, music may have no language but it sure happens to be my mother tongue.
  • 3,2,1…Go! This blog would love to meet introspective, life-loving and enthusiastic folks and book lovers. If you are a Plum (PG Wodehouse)/ C&H (Calvin and Hobbes)/Swami Vivekananda/Ilayaraja fan, we may be one of a kind! I generally ponder over Life, Spirituality, Knowledge Management (KM) and ‘Nonsense’ . Creativity, Innovation, Leadership, Ethics, Branding & Advertising, Books, People, Learning, Education, Children, Music, Poetry, Pets, Birds, Paradoxes, Change Management, Travel, and Cartoons are some of the other topics I extend my thinking to frequently.
  • herE GOes: I enjoy being creative. Creativity, to me, is the best thing in life! And my love for life and learning are two great intrinsic motivators. I have wanted to be almost everything in the world — a detective, an astronaut, a teacher, a scientist, an architect, a leader, a director, a musician, a painter, a singer, an ornithologist — you name it! To cut a long story short, the only thing I did not want to be was a Doctor! 😊 But destiny wanted me to be a KM professional. And I love being one! I have a passion for the paradoxes and mysteries of life! I enjoy and cherish dreaming of magnificent achievements — those that have the potential to make the world a better place to live in!

Favorite Quotes

  • Problems exist only in the human mind. — Anthony de Mello
  • Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it! — Charles R. Swindoll
  • Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even into your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.— Swami Sivananda
  • This above all: To thine own self be true. — William Shakespeare
  • There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle, — Albert Einstein
  • The faithful see the invisible, believe the incredible, and then receive the impossible.— Anonymous

Blog Posts

Guest Posts on Cognitive Edge Blog

1. Some ideas from ICKM

First of all, I am really glad to be offered an opportunity to guest post on the Cognitive Edge Blog for a few days. I was initially wondering if it would be difficult for me to post as I am currently traveling but it doesn’t look like I need to worry. Internet access from the hotel is convenient and I probably shouldn’t find it difficult to pick up thoughts from the ICKM conference sessions for, at least, the initial posts. (Conference Program)

One of the sessions that I attended yesterday was on SNA maps for the US security environment and was led by Deborah Swain from North Carolina University. I’ve always pondered over the use of KM concepts and techniques for social causes and looks like Deborah and her team (comprising students from the university as well as representatives from the US Homeland Security and other private and public organizations) are doing a wonderful job. They’ve, to start with, conducted various surveys and telephone interviews to identify the various entities, their presence and their connections in the context of saving and supporting people during Hurricanes (in the state of Florida.) An SNA map has been generated to visualize and represent the situation and is being shared with all the concerned entities so it would actually enable them to self-educate themselves and identify the entities that they must be collaborating with.

I am still a beginner in the field of SNA but I think this is fascinating and has a lot of potential to make the concerned entities aware and act upon what they discover through these meaningful and revealing social networks.

Also, it dawned on me that there is so much we can accomplish if Academia, Students and Public (or private) organizations collaborate to develop and implement a social support system. We can perhaps battle most of the ills that plague our society today.

2. Talent Reality Shows and Organizational Learning (based on What Organizations can Learn from Talent Reality Shows)

Being a music aficionado, I enjoy watching music-based talent reality shows. Apart from enjoying the overdose of music and being amused by some of the occasional drama therein, what I really am in awe of is that most of the participants demonstrate radical improvement and phenomenal growth over a period of few/many months.

I think it’s a great thing to genuinely identify, nurture and showcase talent to the world. It is true that most of the participants are already worth a lot but even diamonds need to be polished! As these thoughts sank in, it suddenly occurred to me that there must be something — actually, a lot — that organizations can learn from these shows about training, learning, induction and ramping up. I am not too familiar with international talent reality shows but I’d like to believe most of these points are universally valid.

I think the top reasons why talent reality shows manage to help their participants achieve exceptional growth are:

  1. Mentoring and Training: Most reality shows engage full-time mentors and judges who spend a significant amount of energy on mentoring and training the participants. When organizations hire new employees, how serious are they about assigning appropriate mentors and monitoring their efforts?
  2. Regular Practice/Focus (weekly, daily): Most talent shows involve daily or at least weekly practice, rehearsals and live performances which results in obvious improvements in participants’ skill levels. How much of relevant hands on ‘practice’ do new employees get once they join an organization? Are they put on projects immediately? Do they get to work on pilot or internal projects if they are not assigned customer-facing projects?
  3. Constant Feedback and Public Recognition: This is very important. I find that most talent shows spend a lot of time in giving the participants immediate, precise and clear feedback, suggestions and recognition. Sometimes this is from the judges and mentors and sometimes from the audience. I think this is an area where organizations don’t do so well. Even the annual appraisals are rarely handled the way they ought to be.
  4. All Round Development: In most cases, talent shows are great platforms for the participants to be exposed to various new dimensions of their subject. Even if the participants are only good at one or two aspects of the subject under question, by the time they are through the show, they undoubtedly pick up a lot of new information and learn about other aspects of the subject. For example, in Music reality shows, participants are exposed to all genres of music which improves their confidence and contributes to all round development. How many organizations have a clear and structured plan to ensure that their employees go through projects and experiences that develop them in many spheres of work and life?
  5. Inspiration via the Gurus and Achievers: Talent reality show organizers, as far as I’ve observed, make an effort to bring in popular Gurus and achievers occasionally and put the participants in front of them. This may be an effort to improve the TRP of the show, but ignoring their intentions for a moment, it is true that participants find inspiration from such an exercise. Meeting achievers can change lives at one extreme or can at least teach new employees something very critical at the other. How many organizations take this up seriously and facilitate touch-time for new employees with the ‘Stars’ and Leaders of the organization?
  6. Support from Family (Boss, colleagues, mentors): Most of the participants who make it to the top are the ones with enormous support from their family. How much of support does an organization provide? What do the new employees’ manager, colleagues and mentors do to make it easy for them? Also, how much of importance is given to the employees’ families and their work-life balance as they struggle to make the transition?
  7. Positive Team Dynamics: This is a versatile combination of healthy competition, team camaraderie, mutual support during all phases (low or high) and the very presence of a community of similar Talents. What could organizations do to establish such a beautiful culture and environment?
  8. Fun Quotient: Every talent show worth its salt will have a prominent fun quotient. It’s hard to imagine such a show being sober all the time. There is, for example, likely to be a person or two with a sense of humor or someone who imitates others on the show and so on. In the organizational context, teams with such ‘humor glue’ characters may do much better than others.
  9. Tangible Rewards or Opportunities: I am not sure if I am underrating this aspect by putting it toward the end of the list. 😊 I think an underlying growth motivator for most participants (however passionate they are about the skill itself) is the huge reward or promised opportunity at the end of the show. Is it clear or guaranteed in organizations that an employee will get a pay hike or a promotion or a wonderful project opportunity if she puts in her best?
  10. Rules: To be more specific, talent shows have clearly defined rules that are however flexible in unique or unforeseen circumstances. The teams largely stick to the rules but the organizers are, I’ve observed, ready to make room for unique situations and bend the rules when required. Do organizations allow for such flexibility?

3. Knowledge Management Gaps (ICKM)

Back to the ICKM conference sessions again, one of the presentations I attended was by Strategic Knowledge Solutions. The session revolved largely around processes for KM. A graph based on a study conducted by the organization indicated that most of the issues related to KM are actually to do with the processes rather than the culture or technology. That, to me, was an interesting take. Even though typical consulting organizations tend to focus on processes rather than the culture, I thought it was good to see them point to some fundamental business/HR processes that most organizations don’t even realize are related to KM.

I had to smile to myself when I saw that the top reason identified as a KM gap was Infrastructure. Fundamental, obvious and essential and yet a gap in some organizations. What it indicates, to my mind, is not that there is a lack of awareness when it comes to providing the necessary infrastructure but that there is no commitment to set-up the infrastructure, which obviously points to a more important underlying gap.

The other gaps that I personally found to be interesting in the list shared by Strategic Knowledge Solutions were: (The sentences in parenthesis are my additions.)

  1. Processes (There is no attempt to understand and address the knowledge intensive business or operational processes)
  2. Succession Planning (This has been one of my pet peeves in terms of areas not addressed from the KM perspective by organizations)
  3. No common operational picture (Interesting. Maybe not so achievable)
  4. On-boarding (To my knowledge, quite a few organizations have been looking at this area)
  5. Job Transitioning Continuity (I think this is another area that many organizations are catching up with)

4. Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (based on Knowledge and Human Stupidity)

I read this absolutely rollicking article on human stupidity and its implications on society a few months back and I suspect it has my attention forever and will make me link a lot of what I know with the logic that it applies. The article has flavours of social economics, psychology, human behavior and humor. A simultaneously wonderful, entertaining and thought-provoking article, in my perception. Highly recommended.

If you are wondering where I might go from here, I think there’s a link between knowledge management and the human behavior referred to in the article. Caveat: The rest of this post may not make sense unless you read the article first.

I think the pursuit of knowledge management is a precise and perfect example of the effort to be intelligent, relating to the Intelligence block in the article — as opposed to the other three blocks called H (Helpless), B (Bandit) and S (Stupid) — because it is about yielding a gain to yourself while causing a gain to others as well. Both Knowledge Management as well as Intelligence (as referred to in this article), are after all, about a combination of sharing and learning or collaborating (working together to achieve something).

At the risk of sounding somewhat obsessed with knowledge and being idealistic, pursuing Knowledge Management in its truest sense, I believe, will put us all — in due course of time — in the I (Intelligent) block and help the organization/society as a whole (even though sometimes it may seem like we are in the H (Helpless) block when we come across some Bandits who only want to use our material but not share anything that they may have created or discovered). Positive thinking will lead us to perhaps converting the “Bandits” and “Helpless” into “Intelligent” people who are always looking for a win-win situation. 😊

5. Hiring a CKO (based on Welcoming the CKO)

I’d, a few weeks back, written an article on the typical things that an organization could do to ensure that its CKO fits in and delivers quickly. Thought I’d share it on the Cognitive Edge blog as well as it seems to have struck a chord amongst some peers and most of this blog’s readers are perhaps here for thoughts and inputs on KM.

I think any organization looking for a KM Head or a CKO (for the first time) needs to ask itself a few important questions before it spends time and energy on hunting for, interviewing and negotiating with potential candidates. Even if the answer to one of these questions is a ‘No’ or ‘Not Sure’, I’d simply suggest that they go back to the whiteboard and introspect/reconsider whether they really need a serious and passionate KMer to spend all her time in attempting to set up a KM ecosystem in an environment that may possibly turn completely hostile, ineffective, cynical, or uncooperative.

Being a person who claims KM to be her core competence, I’d hardly be expected to recommend such an option (that of not employing a full-time KMer). But, seriously speaking, this is reality — some organizations are simply not ready for KM and might as well postpone or redesign their KM plans based on their internal situation and capabilities. So, if they don’t answer in the affirmative to some of these questions (hold on, they are coming) and conclude that they don’t really need a full-time KMer immediately, what do they do? I’m not suggesting they ignore KM altogether but what I believe is that they could as well get one of their interested Management Representatives (from another function/domain) to take up the additional (and temporary) role of a KM Lead and spend perhaps 10 to 20 % of his time on KM related activities. Till they get some basic things right. The world becomes a happier place this way. I exaggerate. (There are considerable drawbacks to employing a part-time KM Lead whose core competence lies elsewhere — May lead to short-term thinking, biased planning and implementation, incomplete perspectives, to think of a few things)

Getting down to the heart of the post, what are the questions that organizations must answer to help them realize what they really want with re. to KM?

  1. Are we sure of the structure for the KM team? More importantly, where does the upward arrow for the KM Head/CKO lead to? Do we know who this person should be reporting into and WHY? Both the individual that the KM Lead will report into and the function/areas the former is responsible for must be appropriate.
  2. Are we sure of setting aside a reasonable and regular budget/investment for KM? For expenses related to expertise, technology, practices, incentives, internal conferences etc? (A no-brainer of sorts but show me organizations that actually do it religiously and I’ll show you one that rocks!)
  3. Do we know what we want from the KM initiative, to start with? Are we ready to build on our ideas and/or reconsider our expectations and ideas once we get the KM person on board and have detailed discussions with him?
  4. Do we have a honest, somewhat reliable and collective understanding of the organizational culture, its unique qualities, its strengths and weaknesses and its potential responses to KM practices (sharing, reuse, innovation, learning, mentoring, collaboration etc) (The KM Lead would find it very useful to have a heads-up on this straight from the horse’s mouth)
  5. Given that the KM person is new to our organization, do we have a concrete plan to bring him on-board, ramp up and get to know the key people who will in turn help him understand the business, culture and past experiments with re. to KM? In short, do we have a good and exhaustive induction plan for the KM Lead?
  6. (Optional) Do we have a list of employees who will be of significant support to the KM initiative in their capacity as knowledge champions, idea-givers, firm supporters, domain experts, technical writers etc? Having such a list right at the beginning would accelerate the implementation of the KM initiative but this is something that could also be left to the KM Lead herself. Another associated piece of information likely to be very useful is the identification of pilot teams/groups.

6. KM Strategies

Based on my past experiences with various organizations and general observations of how KM is pursued by them, I have come up with a sample set of strategies that are likely to be adopted. Here are the slides.

Original post: Types of KM Strategies

An idea jumps up all of a sudden from nowhere in particular on a quiet Saturday afternoon while yours truly is lazing around with what is normally described as a completely blank mind. I am not sure if this topic has already been considered by other KMers. I’d think someone must have written about this or at least thought about this before. However, as I am yet to come across such a write-up, I decided to go ahead and put it out, as it appears in my mind, to be examined by you, fellow KMers.

Here goes then. It suddenly occurred to me that we have reached a state of affairs in the KM domain wherein we are well poised to turn around and look at the overall pattern(s) in our KM strategies. So, why not attempt to look at the different types of KM strategies that have been adopted by organizations with each type of strategy reflecting a dominant philosophy or concept? This may reveal why we adopted some of these strategies, what’s good or bad about them and where we might go from here. I am quite sure some of my assumptions are debatable, so please do not hesitate to leave your comments and inputs.

The following are, I believe, the key types of KM strategies (in no particular order) that organizations seem to have adopted based on a number of factors like the business they are in, the organization’s age, the beliefs, experience, knowledge and influence of the team or person at the helm of KM and the organizational culture and characteristics among other things.

  1. Integrate Everything: This is a strategy that pursues and focuses on the integration of content, irrespective of its source, flavor and purpose. The integration may range from efforts to just put everything in one place in a meaningful structure to efforts to scratch beneath the surface and connect/integrate knowledge pieces at an elementary level. In some cases, where the KM initiative began early enough, it may be easy to attempt to plan exhaustively and restrict the creation of content to just one or perhaps a few appropriate platforms. This strategy may typically be followed by small organizations or large organizations that are particular about centralized operations and control. Such organizations are also likely to be very conscious of metrics like time saved in searching for content. Think portals, intranets and single source knowledge platforms (with widgets and mash-ups from other sources). Such strategies may not differentiate between documents, workflow, people profiles etc and may place an equal value on all these elements. Think small organizations or large ones with powerful KM teams. Dictator?
  2. Connect Everyone: Some organizations and KM teams would rather wash their hands off (as much as logically possible) the complexities & uncertainties of storing and updating content in repositories and exhaustive portals. Hard core business platforms that capture information/knowledge related to business processes cannot be avoided though. Basic portals and repositories are likely to continue to exist and be used. This strategy is not necessarily an attempt to only reduce the complexities of capturing and storing content but an inherent belief in the concept of knowledge being fluid and the value of it being highly dependent on the context. It also stems from the belief that all worthwhile knowledge lies in people’s heads and will make meaning (and can be elicited) only on a need basis. Consequently, such KM strategies would rather focus on people, their specific roles, situations, needs and connections. Efforts are made to do everything (culturally, procedurally and technically) to let people find relevant others and then find content from there on (or have conversations/collaborate) without too much intervention. Such strategies may emphasize on expertise location, formation of communities, encouragement and facilitation of informal networks, best practices sharing between specific teams, internal conferences and the like. Think relationship based organizations which focus less on processes. Broker?
  3. Personalize Knowledge: This strategy is perhaps the equivalent of a much milder version of the Ayn Rand philosophy in the KM domain. Organizations that adopt this type of a strategy may believe that nothing will be adopted as long as it is not presented in a personalized manner and format/structure (providing a self-centered view). The focus is unlikely to be on ushering in a general knowledge sharing and collaboration culture. Instead, it is highly likely to lure employees to be a natural part of their KM strategy and system by giving them something that they are unlikely to refuse, something packed and personal. The focus is on a personalized knowledge strategy that encourages employees to focus on only knowledge that is relevant to them. Subsequently, employees are encouraged to connect only with colleagues that matter to them etc. Everything points in the direction of benefits for the self and this may contribute to the initiative not being perceived as a ‘business’ initiative. However, implementing such a system may be difficult as it might call for in-house designs and techniques for smart knowledge filtering and personalization. Also, the technical effectiveness of such a system may be questionable if the underlying thinking is not strong enough. This strategy is slightly similar to the ‘Connect Everyone’ strategy since this is also people focused, but it has to go beyond connections and examine cutting-edge technology to understand the individual’s role and context and accordingly fetch and suggest content that is relevant to the individual and her context. Rather than company-wide intranets or portals, the focus here is on personal KM tools that allow employees to filter out the noise (with re. to their needs) and turn a blind eye to the rest of the knowledge floating around. This is likely to be a big hit amongst the employees as well as management but, as mentioned before, it may be tough to design and build an effective system. Think innovative organizations. Psychologist?
  4. Embrace Differences & Multiple Ingredients (‘Masala’* Indian term for a powder/paste comprising many ingredients and used to lend a complex taste to certain dishes): This is somewhat similar to the ‘Personalize Knowledge’ strategy from the conceptual perspective but lies at the other end of the spectrum from the technological perspective. Instead of focusing on individual employees, this strategy revolves around teams’ and business units’ (BU) idiosyncrasies. It is a decentralized approach and teams and BUs are allowed to adopt methods and tools that they are comfortable with without too many rules and controls. Thus, the organization may adopt varied mechanisms and tools for similar purposes. One team may manage their projects mainly through simple Wiki interfaces while another may have a niche workspace tool (in-house or purchased). Neither of them is forced to change or switch to the other tool/method. Organizations are likely to be forced into such a strategy when there have been too many divergent and intractable views from the stakeholders or the KM teams were established very late or went through frequent changes in composition, or simply because the business believes in decentralized management down to the BU level. The organization may be quite comfortable with complexity and lack of a dominating central authority. There is no clear big picture as such and teams go about KM in their own convenient ways. The decision to change is taken at the team level. In such a scenario, KM teams may play consultants at the BU level rather than at the organizational level. There may, of course, be efforts to build bridges between selected tools and techniques between certain teams or even at the organizational level in case the organization is expected to benefit highly out of such integration. This strategy may be very hard for people who insist on simplicity, single sources and controlled systems. Such a strategy is debatable in many ways since the organization will still have distinct silos but most large organizations may be forcibly subjected to this strategy. Think of the large conglomerates. Peace-Maker?
  5. Inject into Organizational DNA: This is, arguably, a KM strategy in its truest form and perfectly aligned and intertwined with the business and people strategies. It is characterized by the pursuit of plenty of soft knowledge practices rather than a passion for technological advances and experiments. Such a strategy can be designed and adopted only in an organization where the CEO and the key business leaders are genuine KM champions and mentors (encouraging a culture of openness, sharing, learning, reuse, innovation and collaboration). Such a KM strategy will primarily comprise of promotion of localized and organizational level knowledge sharing sessions/conferences/ideation, participation in organizational strategy formulation, practices like mentoring and shadowing, emphasis on employee-relationships, performance evaluation based on team performances rather than individual performances, business and operational processes that pay attention to the knowledge flow from one end to the other etc. The adoption of this strategy also indicates focus on practices like after action reviews, best practices, participation of ex-employees where needed, decision-making by communities etc. Such a strategy may not neglect technology’s role in KM, but it, nevertheless, is more passionate about simple day-to-day practices and mannerisms/habits leading to the efficient and effective sharing of knowledge and collaboration. Think Buckman Labs. Doctor?

Finally, these are just the central tendencies that I’ve observed in various KM strategies in the organizations I have come across. Obviously, certain organizations may adopt a combination of two or more of the above strategies or may even transition from one to another based on the growth of the organization or change in the KM team composition or adoption of a new technology (the last one, un-ideally so because letting the technology dictate to the strategy is not advisable).

7. KM and Murder Mysteries (based on Agatha Christie and KM — A ‘Mysterious’ Combination!)

Thinking I’ll make my last guest post on this blog, well, a mysterious one. 😊

The ABC Murders and the ABC of KM. The idea is to scare you out of your wits. You’re about to discover the hidden links between murders and KM. After all, K might as well stand for Kill and M for Murder. You never thought about it that way, did you?

Seriously speaking, this post is about the links I noticed between some incidents in an Agatha Christie mystery and the concepts of KM. This is a mystery called “The ABC Murders”. It is the story of a ‘mad’ man out to kill random people in random places but based on the logic of alphabets. (Example: Kill a person whose name starts with an A in a place whose name starts with an A and then move on to B…etc). Gory, I admit! I’d like you to know that I really wouldn’t be talking about this if not for the fact that it has something to do with KM.

The ABC Murders is a Hercule Poirot story for those of you who are familiar with Agatha Christie’s novels. The murderer throws Hercule Poirot (the detective) an anonymous challenge and believes that it’s going to be really difficult for the detective to identify him as the murders are random and unrelated. The crux of the story is about how Poirot ties all the random threads together (arising from four murders), finds the commonalities and tracks down the murderer before the latter goes on to kill his next victim.

There is a wonderful link between this detective novel and KM. Some of the statements made by Poirot reflect the fundamentals of KM extremely well (conversations, collective thinking and so forth). Had me wondering about the title — It is an interesting coincidence that the title talks of ‘ABC Murders’ and happens to cover some of the ABCs (basics) of KM!

Let’s get down to the actual examples now. Poirot brings together the relatives and friends of the victims even though they are all unrelated and in different locations. And in the discussion that ensues, some of the dialogues are just what a KMer (or Knowledge Manager) would love to propagate. It brings to light the fact that the smallest unit of knowledge is a conversation, it reflects on the importance of repeated conversations, it points out the importance of collective thinking and what not! Sample this:

  1. Poirot intends to have repeated conversations with the victims’ relatives and friends. His assistant asks him if he suspects that they (the victims’ relatives) have intentionally been keeping back information from them and Poirot says “Not intentionally. But telling everything you know always implies SELECTION. One cannot tell EVERYTHING. Therefore one selects. At the time of the murder people select what they think is important. But quite frequently they are wrong! And to get at the right things, you have to have a conversation — discuss a certain happening over and over again. Extra details are bound to arise — some trivial remark or happening may be a pointer.” (This is an example of where and how knowledge may be hidden!)
  2. In another instance, Poirot, once again, brings together all the relatives and friends of the victims and urges them to talk about what they saw/heard/thought etc as a group. He says “It is necessary to pool reminiscences, to compare notes, to talk the thing over — to talk — to talk — and again to talk. Out of some innocent phrase may come some enlightenment.” (This is a clear indication of the need for collective thinking. More importantly, I think it tells us very clearly that if we are looking for worthwhile knowledge, we better be comfortable with conversations…many of them!)
  3. Poirot explains to his assistant that when it comes to the deriving knowledge from people who can help him get to the truth he assumes that they “know something that they do not know they know“. He then explains how collective thinking would be of use to the victims’ friends — “It is like a jig-saw puzzle — each of you may have a piece apparently without meaning, but which when reunited may show a definite portion of the picture as a whole“. (Wow! This philosophy is one of the most fundamental of beliefs when it comes to KM as well — not just in locating murderers. 😊)

So there! It resonates a lot with the fundamental concepts of KM! Doesn’t it?

LinkedIn Articles

  1. The Significance of Conversations
  2. Average-Good-Outstanding
  3. The Three Work Zones
  4. Effective Change Management
  5. Jumbo Mumbo
  6. Skills. Information. Knowledge — Siblings?
  7. Letting knowledge in and sharing it
  8. Collaboration at its best!
  9. A Metaphor for Conversations
  10. The importance of knowledge sharing

Knowledge Management Posts

1. KM in a Box — — A Quick-Service Kit

2. Learning to Love to Learn — Global Knowledge Review

3. The Tsunami Lessons-Networks, blogs and experts — Difference between life and death?

4. KMers’ Survival Guide

It’s been quite a while since I read such a well-analyzed post. Steve has totally rocked in this post. A must-read for every passionate KMer who dreams about making a difference to her organization. As I responded on Steve’s blog,

Totally rocking post. It leaves me, like many of the folks above mentioned, speechless. Your analysis is spot on, to my mind. I am particularly impressed with the end notes on what KM programs will have to be wary about. The only thing I perhaps do not agree with is your perception that HBR encourages traditional management techniques even today. To my mind, most of the current HBR articles and blog posts are brilliant and step out of the conventional management boundaries. In fact, I’ve personally read many HBR articles that emphasize on KM as a management tool.

Meanwhile, here are some extracts from the post that struck me as awesome.

So even when an oasis of excellence and innovation is established within an organization being run on traditional management lines, the experience doesn’t take root and replicate throughout the organization because the setting isn’t congenial. The fundamental assumptions, attitudes and values are at odds with those of traditional management.

The third assumption of traditional management is that the marketplace can be predicted and controlled and manipulated.

The fourth plank of traditional management is to view employees as “human resources” i.e. things that can be controlled and manipulated and exploited. So long as the firm was merely providing goods and services to the marketplace, it could give commands to employees as to what to do and control them to make sure that they did what they were told. Once the challenge became one of having interactions with customers and creating a steady flow of innovations and new value to customers so that they would be delighted, the firm depended on its employees to generate those innovations and interactions. Smart firms discovered that the energy and enthusiasm and insights of its employees — now often highly educated — couldn’t be bought or directed or commanded and controlled. Instead, employees had to be inspired to contribute — a radically different and more difficult challenge. Again it was a shift from a simple linear manipulation to a complex interaction.

The sixth plank is economies of scale. Becoming bigger enables the firm to achieve economies of scale. But in the process, traditional management encounters the experience curve and the phenomenon of declining returns. The more experience the firm has, the longer it takes for the next performance increment of improvement. This is discouraging and tends to result in managerial “flailing”, as managers desperately try to make further gains in a setting that doesn’t permit it.

What makes it difficult to change traditional management is the interlocking and self-reinforcing nature of these assumptions, attitudes and values. Once the goal of the firm is established as producing goods and services or making money for the shareholders in a predictable economic environment, scalable bureaucracy and the efficient management of existing knowledge stocks are seen as appropriate responses. The firm develops proprietary knowledge. It aggressively protects that knowledge to make sure no one else gets access to it, and it extracts the value from that knowledge as efficiently as possible and for as long as it can. The rationale of the firm is to minimize transaction costs in deploying these stocks of knowledge efficiently. That way of thinking and acting created huge and seemingly successful companies in the 20th Century.

The first step is to make sure that your ship is seaworthy. Check to make sure that your KM program is well managed, with clear goals, vibrant communities of practice, effective use of IT and social media (though without excessive reliance on IT), and valid metrics of the KM program’s contributions. Without those elements in place, your KM program will be a sitting target for a cost-cutting traditional manager.

The second step is to make sure that your KM program is focused on supporting innovation and learning, and drawing on flows of new knowledge, including knowledge from outside the firm, not merely re-circulating the internal dogmas of yesterday. In this way, your KM program can be a genuine contributor to the firm’s real future.

The third step is to check: what are the overall goals of your organization? If your firm is already committed to radical management, you are in good shape. But if the firm is built around traditional management — producing goods and services, and making money for the shareholders, through “scalable efficiency”, then your KM program is at risk, no matter how well run it may be, and how matter how much you can demonstrate what it is contributing to the firm today. With the attitudes and practices of traditional management in place, it is only a matter of time before your KM program will become another victim.

5. Tipping Point of KM: The 3Cs

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I’ve honestly believed in and used all the three concepts mentioned above, outside of the Tipping Point influence, and saw this link between the three Tipping Point concepts and KM implementation only in retrospect. Nevertheless, I decided to spend the time to articulate it quickly for two reasons: 1) Beginners may find it useful to remember and use and 2) This will perhaps be an easy way to ‘sell’ KM Implementation Strategy to the management in your organization. I hope the mind map above conveys my thoughts effectively.

The whole thing can be labelled as the 3Cs of KM- Champions, Communication, Context.

Apologies if you’ve not read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. And I am afraid I can’t make it easier for you to understand this post if so. It would be difficult to summarize the book here. The book digs into the reasons why some ideas and concepts are very popular and when and why exactly they take off. So, given that KM is something that a lot of KMers struggle to introduce and popularize in organizations, I felt that it would be good to learn from the Tipping Point concepts. 😊

6. Version 234.2

Yo there!

Nostalgia. I used to find the practice of blogging delightful and delicious a few years ago. To conceptualize something, start writing around it and then edit it into a full-fledged post was like baking a cake. The icing on the cake was to have someone read and leave a friendly or appreciative comment on the post. Sigh. Gone are those days. I know I made a lot of friends here…no idea where they all are now. Except perhaps a few who then connected on Facebook/Twitter and are still around somewhere in my circle.

I’ve stopped using Facebook too, though I have written tons and tons of stuff there in the last 5–6 years (which I did not copy into my blog). Now, it’s only Twitter, for the world has a huge deficit of attention and will not read anything more than 200+ characters. 😊

Meanwhile, I actually came here to say that I’ve let go of some people that I used to like a lot and have made my peace with it. Not that I’ve totally forgotten them but they appear on the radar only once in a while. Life prioritizes things on your behalf while you continue believing you’re the one setting the agenda. 😊

7. Principles. Practicality. Pride

There are broadly three kinds of thinking that people engage in while going about their daily decisions. Thoughts that are driven by Principles, Practicality or Pride. (My mind keeps discovering words that alliterate or rhyme when I set out to explain — unnecessarily, of course — various phenomena in the world and I pretend to play along by expanding them into lengthy and meandering paragraphs.)

8. August 10 Facebook Post

I am terrified of this trend that seems to be sweeping the world into a new but questionable comfort zone. Consumption of information, knowledge and experiences in a capsule format. Brevity may be the soul of wit but is it capable of force-fitting the ocean or a lake into a bottle? Is drinking from the bottle the same as swimming in the lake or sitting on the shore?

The majority wants everything to be compressed into a capsule in order to ensure consumption. There are three reasons why this may be happening. Lack of patience to engage in activities such as reading, absorbing and reflecting. Lack of time (clashing priorities and life-choices). Attention deficit disorders intertwined with multi-tasking.

Micro-learning is a mega trend. Presentations of big ideas must be for 10-minutes or less. Mails must be less than 5 lines in length. Summaries of huge reports and documents must be half-a-page. Videos must not be for more than 3 minutes. Articles must be converted into info-graphics or a set of bullet-points.

Is this the way things should be? Is it a wise way of sharing and consuming information and knowledge in all situations? How much of the world, emotions, experiences, learnings can one convert into capsules? Will capsules retain the realness of what is shared or make things bland and so generic that it sounds inauthentic? How much of deep thinking will it provoke or trigger? Will it result in information not being retained and incomplete comprehension because we’ve only scratched the surface?

Articles by Others

1. Interview with Nirmala Palaniappan

2. A Day with a Knowledge Manager !! by Prashant Sree

3. Asking the right questions to assess an Organization’s culture by Peter-Anthony Glick

4. We create machines in our own image and they, in turn, recreate us in theirs by David Gurteen

This is one great little blog post Experts and Wikipedia from my good friend Nimmy (we have never met but we have known each other so long through the web that I consider her a very good friend).

In her post, she makes a good point about sharing — that there are some things that we feel almost compelled to share. Things that are:

  • Inspiring
  • Thought-provoking
  • Humorous
  • Positive/optimistic/hopeful
  • Paradoxical

This certainly matches the things that I like to share. 😊

She goes on to quote from a fascinating article on Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert. Towards the end of the article, it talks about Marshall McLuhan and says this:

McLuhan’s chief insights centered around the idea that technology strongly affects not only the content of culture, but the mind that creates and consumes that culture. He maintained that technology alters cognition itself, all the way down to its deepest, most elemental processes. Credit: Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert

As Nimmy points out, if McLuhan is right, then “technology is not just an enabler” which we are so often prone to trot out.

We shape our tools and in turn they shape us! Or in the words of the article “We create machines in our own image and they, in turn, recreate us in theirs.”

This idea is worth dwelling on. Its profound. Thanks, Nimmy.

5. Nimmy at “Aa..ha! [Thinking Inside the Blog!]” has an entertaining Analogy for KM by Jack Vinson

Nimmy gives us a nice quote that fits this situation wonderfully, and she says it’s a German proverb, Time for a paradox!

6. KM Thoughts from Nimmy by Jack Vinson

Nimmy at Ah-Ha! [Thinking Inside The Blog!] has some KM Thoughts:

Methinks — Knowledge Management can be a complete success only when each and every employee puts the organization before himself or herself. Come to think of it, KM isn’t really an effort to overcome dependency on human beings. (That can never ever happen.) But it is to mitigate the risks of depending totally on the people. KM is, in fact, about realizing that each person has unique knowledge that needs to be leveraged upon. Some part of the explicit knowledge can be documented and converted into a procedure or a process, but that’s about it. Who will improve it? Who will help the system evolve and adapt to change?It has to be understood.

This is a never-ending problem in knowledge management. The systems (IT or otherwise) can be built, but how do you create the culture in which people actually want to make use of the tools to get things done?

Thought about another way, however, it’s all about what motivates people. If the KM System is designed to benefit the organization, then individuals aren’t likely to play. If the KM System is designed into how work gets done, specifically how people get work done, then those people are much more likely to get involved. If the system has the side effect of helping the business, so much the better.

I am not so much arguing that “what’s in it for me” be a major component of an implementation, I am arguing that any system changes need to look beyond just the information content and into how those changes fit into what is important for the organization. This assumes, of course, that the organization has articulated these goals and people understand how they fit into the big picture. This reminds me of Frank Patrick’s recent item on Culture or Technology.

7. What makes your wheels turn? by Jack Vinson

Nimmy at “Aa..ha! [Thinking Inside the Blog!]” has an entertaining Analogy for KM

I have a favorite analogy to make busy business managers think about the need for KM. And that is:

  • If your destination is the customer
  • The road map, the business strategy
  • The vehicle, the organization
  • The champion, the CEO
  • The engine, the employees
  • And the wheels, the business processes
  • What is the fuel that your business runs on?
  • “Knowledge!”

Does the fuel need to be managed (asks Nimmy), or is it our responsibility to make sure the tank is full (and regularly replenished)? It’s probably much more interesting to have the vehicle following the interesting routes.

I’m getting a brain cramp with attempts to stretch this analogy.

8. Learning to Change — Changing to Learn by Luis Suarez

Nimmy puts it much much nicer than what I could possibly do, to be honest, in another wonderful blog post just shared earlier on today)

“Education should be about learning to think for ourselves, discovering our own minds and what is ‘good’ for us

Learning to ChangeChanging to Learn

9. Discover What You Know — Will Knowledge Management Ever Change That Much? Does It Really Need To? by Luis Suarez

One of the latest Knowledge Management weblogs that I have discovered has recently become one of my daily reads, and in case you may not have it yet, when you get to add it I am sure it would become a daily read for you, too! It is actually a weblog nicely put together by Nimmy and it is called Aa..ha! [Thinking Inside The Blog]. Goodness, did I say how much I like that title, too? It reminds me of all of those different ah…ha! moments that we keep bumping into every now and then and which makes things quite interesting. Don’t they?

Like many of the different weblog posts Nimmy has been sharing already. Lots of great stuff to read over there. Go and check it out because it surely is going to keep you entertained for a while.

Take, for instance, one of the latest entries that Nimmy has been sharing and which Jack Vinson also noticed as an interesting read (Referencing stuff as well that Alan Lepofsky has been sharing over at his YouTube account). In Lotus … Located on YouTube you can watch a video clip put together by Ken Porter, that shows how IBM has been seeing Knowledge Management for quite some time now. Yes, you may say that there are lot of buzzwords over there and everything and I would agree with that statement, but you cannot deny the fact that even though there may be plenty of buzzwords over there it still delivers a very strong and solid message of what KM should be all about all along.

If you notice it is a video clip that shows very clearly some of the stuff that I have been talking about in the past myself, where I have been mentioning how KM is no longer about sharing and reusing explicit knowledge (i.e. Intellectual Capital) but more about capturing as well tacit knowledge, i.e. the know-how, and being able to find a balance between the two so that we can all take the most out of both worlds.

Yes, I think we would all agree that is where the main challenge is nowadays and perhaps there may not be a final solution for it, but the way I see it there is something that the video tries to put together and which I would agree with: a successful KM strategy for whatever the business is something that hasn’t got to do anything with the tools nor the process, but more with the people themselves. Yes, indeed, that people thing again ! But this time around with a little twist. Not people disconnected and distributed all over the place, but more knowledge workers gathering together and building communities they could become part of and with which they would be willing to share knowledge and information with others at the same time they would manage their own knowledge while collaborating with others.

That is right, that is the challenge. That is where social computing is going to define if Knowledge Management will come back or not, or if we will be looking at something else. If you watch the video, and despite the fact that was shared several months ago, it looks like the original KM was not far off from where we may be heading nowadays. You may be wondering now, while the weekend is just around the corner, what happened in between? Where did it go wrong? Could we be making the same mistakes again? Gosh, I hope not, because otherwise I doubt there would be another chance to bring back KM from where it has been in the last few years. Something that I would not want, for sure. I guess that is some food for thought for us KMers!

Discover What You Know

Presentations

SlideShare

1. Paradox Thinking

2. SMAC & KM — Things to Consider

3. KM and HR — The Case for Collaboration

4. Knowledge Management and Social Networking

5. KM Strategies — A Perspective

6. Communities For Innovation

7. The Long Tail of KM

8. The Case for KM: Poetic Praise for Knowledge Management

9. Creativity: A Perspective — Joy, Liberation, Expression of the Soul, A Step Closer to “God”

Written by

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

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