Originally published July 23, 2020

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This is the 58th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. It is also my 700th blog post since I started blogging in 2006. David Gurteen is a conversational facilitator. Like me, he is a prolific creator and curator of knowledge management content. If you think I am well-connected, David is even more so, with many thousands of followers on LinkedIn and Twitter.

He is an advocate for improving the quality of conversation in people’s lives and the creator of the Gurteen Knowledge Café — a conversational tool for bringing people together to have meaningful conversations. David is an advisor, speaker, and facilitator in the fields of knowledge management, organizational learning, and conversational leadership. He regularly gives keynote talks, run workshops and Gurteen Knowledge Cafés around the world.

David is the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community — a global network of more than 22,000 people in over 160 countries whose purpose is to connect its members with like-minded people, new ideas, and alternative ways of working. Members receive a monthly Knowledge-Letter. He curates Gurteen Knowledge — a resource website that contains book reviews, articles, people profiles, event calendars, inspirational quotations, and a blog on subjects that include knowledge management, informal learning, creativity, and innovation.

David has a degree in Physics and started his career as a computer-aided design engineer working for British Aerospace. He moved on later to work as a software development manager for Prime Computer where he designed and implemented early networking systems. Later David joined Lotus Development where as European Software Development Manager he managed the localization of Lotus 1–2–3.

His corporate career culminated in the position as International Czar for Lotus Development where he was responsible for ensuring that all software products were designed for the international marketplace. In 1993, David left Lotus to become an independent consultant, speaker, and facilitator.


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  • Gurteen Associates 1993; Gurteen Knowledge 1999-present
  • Knowledge Associates 1997–1999
  • The Performance Management Group 1995–1997
  • Lloyd McKenzie & Partners 1993–1997
  • Lotus Development Corporation
  1. Service & Support Manager, Business Comms Group (UK) 1991–1992
  2. “International Czar” (US) 1988–1991
  3. European Product Manager, International HQ (UK) 1986–1988
  4. European Development Manager, International HQ (UK) 1983–1986
  • Prime Computer Research And Development (UK) 1978–1983 — Software Development Manager
  • Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, Space Division (UK) 1971–1978 — CAD Engineer


Coventry University — B.Sc., Applied Physics, 1972


  • Gurteen.com
  1. About
  2. Bio
  3. CV


  1. Knowledge only exists in the human mind
  2. Real Conversations
  3. Conversation — an overlooked technology
  4. An enterprise is a community of human beings
  5. Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation
  6. Conversation is more than communication
  7. We are betrayed by what we laugh at
  8. Humans are “designed” for conversation
  9. Listening to ignite rather than listening to reply
  10. Let’s have more interesting conversations
  11. There is nothing new about the Knowledge Café or is there?
  1. Knowledge Café
  2. Conversational Leadership
  3. Gurteen Knowledge Blog
  4. Gurteen Knowledge Letter — monthly newsletter
  5. Gurteen Quote of the Day — a daily quote delivered by email
  6. Gurteen Event Alert — a weekly alert to new events delivered by email
  7. Gurteen Job Alert — a weekly alert to new KM jobs delivered by email
  8. @gurteenquotes — Twitter quote of the day feed
  9. @gurteennews — Twitter newsfeed from the website
  10. London Knowledge Cafés — free face-to-face London Knowledge Cafés

Inside Knowledge Magazine: Ten Years in KM

  1. The profile: David Gurteen
  2. 10 years in KM
  3. Masterclass: Coffee and conversations The Gurteen Perspectives
  4. What I learnt about KM as czar
  5. Personally speaking
  6. David — get a life
  7. Life is political
  8. Learning to share
  9. Get found
  10. Avoiding jargon
  11. Café culture
  12. Open and transparent
  13. Get specific
  14. Ducks in a row
  15. World 2.0
  16. KM 2.0 goes social
  17. Mixing business with pleasure
  18. Twittering
  19. Enabling conversation
  20. Think for yourself
  21. (Not) in it for the money
  22. What’s the problem?
  23. Peer pressure
  • Articles
  1. The Gurteen Perspective: Twittering
  2. The Gurteen Perspective: Learning to listen and to tell the truth
  3. The Gurteen Perspective: Raising all the ships on the sea
  4. The Gurteen Perspective: World 2.0
  5. The Gurteen Perspective: Cut the marketing hype
  6. The Knowledge: David Gurteen
  7. The Gurteen Perspective: Ducks in a row
  8. The Gurteen Perspective: KM (2.0) goes social
  9. The Gurteen Perspective: Life is political
  10. The Gurteen Perspective: TYFSAK! TYFSAK?
  11. The Gurteen Perspective: Learn to share
  12. The Gurteen Perspective: Open and transparent?
  13. The Gurteen Perspective: Just do it
  14. The Gurteen Perspective: Cafe Culture
  15. The Gurteen Perspective: Get Found
  16. The Gurteen Perspective: KM mission
  17. The Gurteen Perspective: Avoiding jargon
  18. The Gurteen perspective: What I learnt about KM as czar
  19. The Gurteen perspective: David — Get a Life!
  20. The Gurteen perspective: Personally Speaking
  21. The Gurteen perspective: Taking Responsibility
  22. The Gurteen perspective: On perspective
  23. Stop apologizing for knowledge management!
  24. The Gurteen Perspective: Simplest KM tool

When I attend a conference, I look around the room to see how many people are making notes. Most people do not seem to take notes at all, while a few write on the hand-outs or on paper provided by the organizers. Some — often bloggers — use their laptops.

In the UK, they are frequently frowned upon, as others think it rude or assume the perpetrators are replying to their e-mail. It’s a very different story in the US, where far more people seem to blog events and where an open laptop at a conference is perfectly acceptable.

Personally, I love my old-fashioned ring-bound paper notebook. I take one everywhere with me and can add thoughts, ideas and observations to it at any time, with little trouble. Those who use laptops try to convince me to switch. They argue I can capture all my stuff in one place and search it easily. I have tried this several times over the years but always return to my notebooks.

The main reason is I find I can comfortably carry a notebook absolutely anywhere I go — it’s always in my man bag and always by the side of my bed at night.

I can also open it in circumstances where it might be difficult to use a laptop. Reading or jotting something down in a notebook looks a lot less like work, so it’s far more acceptable in company.

Coffee shops are great places to review notes and add to them and it has become a part of my reflection and informal learning process.

One point of interest is that if you saw me scribbling away during a conference, even in the most boring of talks, you might assume I was noting down things the speaker was saying but often I am not. The speaker is triggering my thinking processes and my creativity and it’s the triggered thoughts and ideas that I am capturing! The notes could relate to a previous speaker or someone I have been chatting with over coffee or a conversation with the conference organizer or indeed to anything. It’s a strange phenomenon but often I feel I am my most creative when sitting at the back of a conference making scribbling.

I have notebooks in my bookcase going back over many years. Often I will pull one out at random and browse it — taking me back to thoughts and ideas from the past. Some things, I am delighted to discover, I have taken action on and changed my life in some small way; others I have not and I can reflect why that was or copy them forward to my current notebook.

My notebooks are a ‘personal knowledge-management tool’ and are at the heart of how I manage my fragmented knowledge and my informal learning. They trigger new insights and help me make new connections. They are filed in chronological order — a paper blog of sorts — so it’s not so hard to find things. I just could not imagine being without them and I don’t understand why so few people seem to take and keep notes either in a traditional notebook or a laptop. What’s going on? Am I so different in my personal knowledge management habits or my needs?

Global Knowledge Review, November 2004

Taking Responsibility for Your Work

I was once asked at a conference to define a knowledge worker. I started by drawing the distinction between manual work, information work and knowledge work. Manual work was done mainly with the hands. It could be highly skilled, but it was often repetitious and gave little scope for the manual worker to take the initiative and work differently. I argued something similar for the information worker — the manual element had gone but many information-oriented jobs, although skilled were process driven. People tended to be limited in their creativity by the demands of the process. And then knowledge workers, it seemed to me, had the most freedom — they got to decide to some extent what they actually did and to a larger degree how they did it.

At KM Asia last year, Tom Stewart gave his definition of a knowledge worker that was pretty close to my own of a few years before –“ Someone who gets to choose what he or she does in his or her job each morning.”

But for me, today, this is still not sufficient. Another person who has influenced my views on knowledge work is Michael Schrage — a few years ago he said this in an interview with CIO Magazine:

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

The point here is that ‘the ability to act on knowledge is power’ which leads to my own definition of a knowledge worker:

“Knowledge workers are those people who have taken responsibility for their work lives. They continually strive to understand the world about them and modify their work practices and behaviors to better meet their personal and organizational objectives. No one tells them what to do. They do not take ‘No’ for an answer. They are self-motivated.”

The key is about taking responsibility. To my mind knowledge workers cannot be coerced, bribed, manipulated or rewarded, and no amount of money or fancy technology will ‘incentivize’ them to do a better job. Knowledge workers see the benefits of working differently for themselves. They are not ‘wage slaves’ — they take responsibility for their work including the whole and drive improvement.

What I like about this definition is that it is independent of your type of work — you can do predominately manual, information. or knowledge work in my original sense and still be a ‘knowledge worker’. So a question for you — to what extent do you think you are a knowledge worker by this definition?

As Quoted by Me

  1. “KM in good times means ‘knowledge management’, in bad times it means ‘kill me’.”
  2. “The main characteristic of a Knowledge Worker is that they get to decide each morning what their job is and how they are going to tackle it.”
  • Why KM Initiatives Fail! — 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

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is about taking a personal or individual perspective to Knowledge Management rather than an organizational or corporate one. PKM is a smorgasbord of principles, concepts, disciplines and tools that we can all apply as knowledge workers in the new knowledge economy to help improve our ability to meet our personal and business objectives. In short — Personal Knowledge Management is taking responsibility for what you know, who you know — and what they know.

Articles by Others

  1. Participatory Conferences
  2. KM and Christmas Don’t Mix


  • Gurteen Knowledge Community
  1. Facebook
  2. LinkedIn
  • Association of Knowledgework (AOK)
  1. Preparing for Conversations with David Gurteen
  2. Summary: Conversations with David Gurteen
  3. Archive: Conversations with David Gurteen (PDF)
  • SIKM Leaders Community
  1. September 2013 — Organizational ConversationPost
  2. March 2020 — Conversational Leadership with John Hovell






  1. Google Book
  2. DVD
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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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