Smartest Person, 7 KM Lessons, Build It and they won’t come, Managing Organizational Memory, The Social Atom

15-Apr-08 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Question of the Week

Q: Who is the world’s smartest person?

A: Here are some candidates

1. World’s Smartest Man? “Rubbish,” Replies Hawking

2. Andrew Nierman

3. Marilyn vos Savant

My good friend Bill Sterling, a classmate of mine at Northwestern University, is from Oak Park, Illinois, where I was born. There he knew Ed Zotti, “editor and confidant” of Cecil Adams, author of The Straight Dope: Fighting Ignorance Since 1973 (It’s Taking Longer Than We Thought).

From Who is this man called Cecil Adams?: “Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong.”

Cecil’s take on Why did William Sidis, the world’s (2nd) smartest human, achieve so little in life?

Bill does not claim to be the world’s smartest man, only that he knows him. He does write a very insightful World Report about the world of finance and investments.

KM Thought Leader of the Week

I posed the following question to many KM thought leaders and will be featuring their answers in this section. “If you were invited to give a keynote speech on knowledge management, what words of wisdom or lessons learned would you impart?”

This week’s answer is from Carla O’Dell, President of APQC.

KM Overview

  1. Lesson 1 — Secure Senior Management Support for KM by building a strong business case
  2. Lesson 2 — Move beyond “Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake”
  3. Lesson 3 — Determine What Knowledge is Critical
  4. Lesson 4 — Knowledge is sticky
  5. Lesson 5 — If You Build It, They Will Not Necessarily Come
  6. Lesson 6 — Focus on breaking down structural barriers to the flow of knowledge between people who have it and those who need it — not changing the “culture”
  7. Lesson 7 — Measure

KM Blog of the Week

Build It (and they won’t come) by Marc Solomon

Call them ECMs or KM Hubs or Knowledge Nets or enterprise portals. Yesterday’s sand castles? Meet tomorrow’s ivory towers without the sustaining investment of your content producers. Here are five KM construction fictions and the corrections necessary to debunk the myths and get your users engaged as participants.

  1. Myth #1: Increased traffic to your site(s) means that users feel compelled to share their own experiences.
  2. Myth #2: Producing content is its own reward — Users are inspired by altruism, team play, and a sense of community.
  3. Myth #3: Users want to stay in-the-loop and feel compelled to check in by using a central KM system to stay up-to-date.
  4. Myth #4: Your search engine is revving like never before. Everyone is using it. So content submissions should be edging up too, right?
  5. Myth #5: The case of network effects has sold itself. Your executives all agree: we’ve got to let our people use KM to find each other, not just documentation. How do you re-deploy an internal resource as a social network?

KM Link of the Week

Recommended by Dale Arseneault in the SIKM Leaders Community

Lost & Found: A Smart-Practice Guide to Managing Organizational Memory

  1. The Management of Memory
  2. Diagnosing the Workplace
  3. Taking Action
  4. General Approaches
  5. Specific Approaches
  • After-Action Reviews 31
  • Exit Interviews 32
  • Learning Histories 34
  • Lessons-Learned Inventories 35
  • Communities of Practice 37
  • Guided Experience 38
  • Learning Events 40
  • Job Overlap and Knowledge Zones 41
  • Phased Retirement and Succession 42
  • Network-based Solutions 44
  • Document Repositories and Portals 45
  • Automation and Self-Serve 47
  • Knowledge Centres 48

KM Book of the Week

The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You by Mark Buchanan


The idiosyncrasies of human decision-making have confounded economists and social theorists for years. If each person makes choices for personal (and often irrational) reasons, how can people’s choices be predicted by a single theory? How can any economic, social, or political theory be valid? The truth is, none of them really are.

Mark Buchanan makes the fascinating argument that the science of physics is beginning to provide a new picture of the human or “social atom,” and help us understand the surprising, and often predictable, patterns that emerge when they get together. Look at patterns, not people, Buchanan argues, and rules emerge that can explain how movements form, how interest groups operate, and even why ethnic hatred persists. Using similar observations, social physicists can predict whether neighborhoods will integrate, whether stock markets will crash, and whether crime waves will continue or abate.

Brimming with mind games and provocative experiments, The Social Atom is an incisive, accessible, and comprehensive argument for a whole new way to look at human social behavior.

Recommended by Steve Denning in the SIKM Leaders Community

It’s a slim, well-written book, which is always a plus for me. And it’s one of the best short diagnoses I’ve read of what’s fundamentally wrong with traditional economics. It also deals with the basic issues of group vs. individual, and cooperation vs. competition. It explains how evolutionary processes can explain something that seems incompatible with Darwin: why do people collaborate, when collaboration is against their self-interest?

Fundamentally, collaboration is irrational. Attempts by economists to rationalize collaboration as indirect self-interest don’t really work: there are many phenomena that can’t be explained away like this. So why do people collaborate, against their self-interest? Why do some organizations while others die? What’s the underlying dynamic? The book suggests that the strength of the collaborative culture is one of the key determinants of long-term organizational survival. It may not explain the demise of any individual organization. But viewing numbers of organizations over time, organizations with hard-working collaborative cultures will tend to win out over organizations marked by internal competition.

The hypothesis is that at the center of the modern firm, it is the same precious resource of energized collaboration than enabled our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive, one hundred thousand years ago.



Written by

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

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