Originally published on June 5, 2018

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This is the 21st article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Tom Davenport is one of the key figures in the field, having co-written (with Larry Prusak) one of its most important books, Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know, which was very important to me when starting out in knowledge management.

I first heard Tom speak at DCI’s Knowledge Management Conference in Boston in 1998, at which he was the chairman and delivered a keynote, “From Data to Knowledge.” I was fortunate to have attended multiple Working Knowledge Research Center conferences at Babson College, where I got to know Tom better. I invited Tom and Larry Prusak to stage a debate at a global KM team meeting that I led at HP, and it was a highlight for all who attended. When I was at Deloitte, Tom became a senior advisor for Deloitte Analytics, but we never had the chance to work together.

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Background

Tom Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, cofounder of the International Institute for Analytics, Fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and Senior Advisor to Deloitte Analytics. He teaches analytics/big data in executive programs at Babson, Harvard Business School and School of Public Health, and MIT Sloan School.

Davenport pioneered the concept of “competing on analytics” with his best-selling 2006 Harvard Business Review article and 2007 book. His most recent book (with Julia Kirby) is Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines. He wrote or edited seventeen other books and over 100 articles for Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, The Financial Times, and many other publications. He is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal. He has been named one of the top 25 consultants by Consulting News, one of the 100 most influential people in the IT industry by Ziff-Davis, and one of the world’s top fifty business school professors by Fortune magazine.

  • Babson College: Professor, 2004 — Present

Profiles

  1. Tom’s Site

Content

1. Twitter

2. Blogs and Articles

3. Babson College Blog

  1. Knowledge workers like autonomy

4. Fortune Articles

5. LinkedIn Articles

6. CIO Articles

  1. If We Build It… They will come.

7. Forbes Articles

8. Wall Street Journal Articles

9. Harvard Business Review Articles

  • 7 Ways to Introduce AI into Your OrganizationJust-in-Time Delivery Comes to Knowledge Management

10. MIT Sloan Management Review Articles

11. California Management Review Articles

12. Building Successful KM Projects with David W. De Long and Michael C. Beers

13. What Is a Knowledge Management Project? with David De Long and Mike Beers

14. Is KM Just Good Information Management? with Donald A. Marchand

15. If Only HP Knew What HP Knows — “Trainer’s Trading Post” is a Lotus Notes-based forum to help HP’s thousands of internal trainers and educators share ideas, materials, and methods. This group obviously appreciates the value of knowledge transfer, but motivating them to participate still requires an “evangelist.”

16. Ten principles of knowledge management and four case studies

17. Some Principles of Knowledge Management

18. General Perspectives on Knowledge Management: Fostering a Research Agenda with Varun Grover — PDF

Articles by Others

  1. APQC CEO Carla O’Dell spoke with Thomas Davenport as part of the “Big Thinkers, Big Ideas” interview series

Older Published Work

  1. Strategies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis

Putting Ideas to Work with Laurence Prusak and Bruce Strong — PDF

Knowledge management can make a difference — but it needs to be more pragmatic

Over the past 15 years or so, many large organizations have embraced the idea that they could become more productive and competitive by better managing knowledge — the ideas, insights and expertise that originate in the human mind.

In practice, however, some of them are still struggling to make it work. Their knowledge-management efforts, while useful in some ways, haven’t necessarily led to better products and services, more effective employees or superior work processes.

What went wrong? Some firms stumbled by focusing their knowledge-management efforts solely on technology at the expense of everything else, while others failed to tie knowledge programs to overall business goals or the organization’s other activities. A new approach is needed if knowledge management is to transition into a more pragmatic discipline, one that can be used to improve specific job functions and work processes.

Back to School

  • The Issue: Knowledge management, in practice, has fallen short of its goal of transforming the way companies work.

We define knowledge management as a concerted effort to improve how knowledge is created, delivered and used, and we propose that organizations adopt a management strategy that addresses each of those three key activities. By doing so, we believe they will stand a better chance of reaping knowledge management’s full benefits.

There is no single recipe for managing knowledge; the right formula depends on the organization’s overall objectives. So while firms in highly competitive industries may choose to focus the majority of their efforts on knowledge creation because their survival depends on having the most advanced products, others, say those with far-flung operations, may be better off focusing on how best to disseminate existing know-how to diverse work forces. Still others may choose to pursue all three activities aggressively.

Whichever aspect of knowledge a company pursues, it is important to focus it on particular jobs or business processes. As an example, the engineering and consulting firm MWH Global, based in Broomfield, Colo., has more than 7,000 employees around the world but focuses its knowledge creation, dissemination and usage activities on six job families that it has determined are critical to its success.

Here is a closer look at each of the three knowledge-related activities and suggestions for managing them effectively.

Knowledge Creation

Under old approaches, organizations often didn’t manage knowledge creation in any formal way. They left it to their research-and-development or new-product groups, which weren’t that familiar with the process because they were focused on the creation of products, not the underlying knowledge necessary to develop them.

But as the hypercompetitive markets of China and India produce new products, services and ways of doing business that are having a profound impact on all economies, organizations are taking a greater interest in knowledge creation to spur innovation.

The organizations with the best knowledge-creation programs define in advance the type of information they need and why they need it — say to improve customer service or to develop easier-to-use products. They solicit ideas, insights and innovations from rank-and-file workers, customers and business partners, rather than relying solely on the R&D staff to come up with the ideas. Technologies such as internal corporate blogs and wikis — which are collaborative Web sites where anyone can edit, delete or modify content — are encouraging this broader participation in knowledge creation.

Nokia Corp., the mobile-phone maker based in Finland, has benefited from having a knowledge-creation strategy that extends far beyond corporate headquarters. To take advantage of innovations in local offices around the globe, Nokia has set up Web sites and several different wikis to encourage employees to share what they know. Researchers are urged to record their observations in blogs and collaborate with universities, design firms, and telecommunications-industry partners. The knowledge that comes out of these efforts, which ranges from technical know-how to a broader understanding of the way different cultures address mobility, has helped Nokia remain a leading player in the world’s mobile-phone market.

Consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. is becoming well-known for its “Connect and Develop” strategy, where managers seek to identify and team up with other companies, universities, academics, retirees and individual inventors who have ideas or expertise that could help the Cincinnati-based company develop new products, technologies, packaging, design, business models or manufacturing processes. The result: More than 40% of P&G products have an externally sourced component, up from less than 10% just six years ago.

The World Bank, meanwhile, has nurtured a network of more than 5,000 lawyers, accountants, freight forwarders, architects and public officials across the world to create a comprehensive database of indicators allowing it to compare the ease of starting and sustaining private businesses in 178 countries. The “Doing Business Report” has become one of the most relied-upon tools in the development world.

Knowledge Dissemination

Disseminating knowledge via technology is the most common activity within knowledge management. Organizations share knowledge through a variety of platforms, including corporate intranets, Web portals and database-software programs.

Under old approaches, knowledge content often was collected, organized and displayed in its own repository, kept separate from more structured types of information like sales figures or corporate reports so as not to dilute its value. That thinking, however, forced employees to go to different Web sites and databases to get the information they needed to do their jobs.

In contemporary approaches to knowledge sharing, the focus increasingly is on putting in one place all of the content a specific group of workers needs, regardless of its source. To that end, many organizations are using Web portals or intranet sites as one-stop information shops designed to support the jobs or work processes they deem to be most critical.

Global engineering firm Fluor Corp. has a Web-based knowledge-management system that supports employees through 43 communities aligned with functional and industry-specific knowledge. The system gives more than 25,000 workers immediate access to all the procedures, guidelines and standards needed for their particular job function. An engineer of electrical power plants, for example, has access to designs, specifications and best practices for that kind of plant.

Intel Corp.’s Technology and Manufacturing Group has a content-distribution approach aimed at helping workers perform closely scrutinized tasks such as capital-equipment purchasing. So-called dashboards — which are Web pages set up to pull, organize and display real-time information from various sources — alert capital-equipment purchasers to critical transactions, price changes and anything else that might help them make decisions, such as when to buy a particular commodity.

Knowledge Application

Obtaining and sharing knowledge is beneficial only if employees use it to get better at what they do — that is, they learn from it.

Many organizations are finding that the best way to encourage workers to put knowledge to use is through “learning” programs — practices such as mentoring, on-the-job training, workshops and other initiatives that often are run by the human-resources department.

In the past, most companies treated knowledge and learning as separate entities. These functions were managed by different departments, and the groups didn’t coordinate their activities or work toward the same business objectives.

That is starting to change. A survey of 20 high-performing businesses conducted in 2006 provided strong evidence that learning and knowledge initiatives increasingly are being intertwined and targeted at mission-critical work forces.

Knowledge management was well established at 60% of the firms we interviewed, and just over half said their knowledge and learning programs were formally tied. A substantial majority of the companies — 70% — said their knowledge-management initiatives, well-established or not, were focused not on all employees equally, but on mission-critical work forces.

Some created and maintained “communities of practice,” a form of social learning that occurs when people with a common interest in some subject or problem are brought together to collaborate over an extended period to share ideas, solutions and innovations. The communities involved such online activities as wikis and blogs, in addition to face-to-face activities such as community meetings and a lecture series.

Educational Testing Service, a private educational testing and assessment organization in Princeton, N.J., has had success combining its knowledge and learning functions into a single group.

The group introduced the “After Action Review” process at the close of each project to review what happened on the job and what could be learned from it. The head of the Elementary and Secondary Education division at ETS credited the process with better-managed subcontractor relationships, more effective techniques in working with state departments, and improvements in processes used by test developers, publishers and data analysts.

There are, of course, other ways to think about knowledge and the role it should play at various organizations. But by focusing on knowledge creation, dissemination and application, organizations will at the very least ensure they are giving knowledge the attention it deserves. The stakes are high: As knowledge-based work plays an increasingly important role in economic life, knowledge will only grow in importance as a business resource over the coming years and decades.

Enterprise 2.0

1. Enterprise 2.0: The New, New Knowledge Management?

2. Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organizations

3. January 11, 2008 Recording of Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport webinar discussion — Disagreement over Viability of Enterprise 2.0

4. A Bull in the Enterprise 2.0 China Shop by Tom Davenport

I felt like an atheist at a Baptist convention. I was at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston to debate Andrew McAfee, the movement’s high priest. My mission was to deny the existence of this faith-based initiative, or at least to argue that it’s not going to be our salvation.

I tried to make a few points:

  • That it’s not even clear what Enterprise 2.0 is.

5. Watching the Film of the Fight by Andrew McAfee

I’ve just been looking over the (very high quality) video archive of the debate this morning between me and Tom Davenport over Enterprise 2.0, and I have to say it’s pretty good!

After one review of the video, it seems to me that our main point of disagreement concerned the extent to which the E2.0 toolkit really is something new, or whether it’s just an incremental extension to the longstanding set of technologies for collaboration, interaction, and information sharing. Tom stressed repeatedly that companies have been deploying such tools for decades, and he kept explicitly and implicitly asking the important question: what, if anything, is new now?

In my opening remarks and a few times subsequently, I tried to articulate my answer to this question: that digital platforms that initially impose little or no structure on interactions, but that contain mechanisms to let patterns and structure emerge over time, are actually quite new.

6. Speaking From the Heart, and off the Top of My Head by Andrew McAfee

I found myself in an uncomfortable position at the end of my short keynote speech during the Enterprise 2.0 conference yesterday. I got through my prepared material and still had about five minutes left in the allotted time. So I had to ad lib. The idea that occurred to me (from no identifiable source) was to make Enterprise 2.0 personal. I compared where my thinking was a year ago to where it was today, and tried to convey how big a shift had taken place.

7. Bill Ives: Davenport vs. McAfee on Enterprise 2.0

Much has been written about the “debate” between Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee on the role of enterprise 2.0 in changing the enterprise. Many, if not all, of you are aware of this but it has generated many interesting side conversations. Being part of the Fast Forward Enterprise 2.0 blog I seem to have only heard the views supporting the McAfee position or deconstructing the conversation to debunk connected myths.

Here is a recent useful example, More on corporate hierarchy and the organization of work, from Tom Mandel. He picks three myths around the debate and goes into them in detail.

Here is a post I finally did on the controversy, Managing Personal Knowledge: Setting a Foundation for Transformation? Here I tried to provide a more optimist interpretation of what Tom wrote. As I said, “I look at what Tom actually wrote and I think he nicely captures some of the organizational obstacles that will have to be overcome for organizations to effectively use enterprise 2.0 tools.”

Presentations

SlideShare

1. Analytics at Work: How to Make Better Decisions and Get Better Results

2. Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning

3. Analytics 3.0: Measurable business impact from analytics & big data

Conferences

1. DCI’s Knowledge Management Conference — 1998

  1. Keynoter Tom Davenport, director of the Information Management Program at the University of Texas (Austin), said, “Knowledge is easier to digest than information.”

2. Inference’s Knowledge Summit ‘97

Inference hosted the Knowledge Summit ’97 user conference on November 9–14 at the Silverado Country Club and Resort in Napa, Calif. The conference emphasized the role and implementation of self service and knowledge management as growing business and technology trends. Among the keynote speakers are Fortune Magazine editor Thomas Stewart, and Dr. Thomas Davenport, director of the University of Texas’ Information Management Program. The summit also included a one-day conference on knowledge management, to be held November 10, drawing more than 100 executives, including CIOs and CKOs from Fortune 500 companies.

3. Conference Report by Michael E.D. Koenig

A wonderful quote that one speaker attributed to Tom Davenport is that of the need for “baking knowledge into the organization.”

4. KMWorld 2005 Opening Keynote: Thinking for a Living: Keys to Knowledge Worker Productivity

Peter Drucker has argued often that improving knowledge worker productivity is the most important task of the century. Yet we have few measures or management interventions to make such improvement possible. Most organizations simply hire smart people and leave them alone. In this discussion, Davenport presents six interventions for improving knowledge worker productivity, each with a set of approaches, examples, and cautions. The interventions combine roles for technology, organizational culture and behavior, and the physical work environment as tools for enhancing performance. His recommendations are based on research studies he has conducted on how companies have addressed knowledge work, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

5. SIKM Leaders Community — December, 2005: Thinking for a Living: Improving the Performance of Knowledge Workers

6. How to Do Knowledge Analytics — 2014 APQC KM Conference Keynote Address

Videos

1. Media

2. YouTube

3. Interview

4. Big Data and Analytics Right Now: An Experts Exchange

5. Analytics 3.0: Big Data and Small Data in Big and Small Companies

6. BI (Business Intelligence) Congress Keynote

Books

Books on Knowledge, Thinking, and Decisions

1. Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know with Laurence Prusak

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The definitive primer on knowledge management, this book will establish the enduring vocabulary and concepts and serve as the hands-on resource of choice for fast companies that recognize knowledge as the only sustainable source of competitive advantage. Drawing on their work with more than 30 knowledge-rich firms, the authors — experienced consultants with a track record of success — examine how all types of companies can effectively understand, analyze, measure, and manage their intellectual assets, turning corporate knowledge into market value. They consider such questions as: What key cultural and behavioral issues must managers address to use knowledge effectively?; What are the best ways to incorporate technology into knowledge work?; What does a successful knowledge project look like — and how do you know when it has succeeded? In the end, say the authors, the human qualities of knowledge — experience, intuition, and beliefs — are the most valuable and the most difficult to manage. Applying the insights of Working Knowledge is every manager’s first step on that rewarding road to long-term success.

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1 — What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Knowledge

Reviews

  • Ron Young: Most of the KM practitioners use this book as a reference. Practical issues of how companies can generate and transfer knowledge. A blueprint for competitive advantage.

2. Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances and Results from Knowledge Workers

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Addresses many topics related to PKM (also see Tom’s article Personal Knowledge Management). In Chapter 6, Developing Individual Knowledge Worker Capabilities, he lists ten common attributes of individuals who are highly effective in managing their own personal information environments:

  1. they avoided gadgets

3. What’s the Big Idea? Creating and Capitalizing on the Best New Management Thinkingwith Laurence Prusak and H. James Wilson

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The Secrets of Successful Idea Practitioners

Change management. Reengineering. Knowledge management. Major new management ideas are thrown at today’s companies with increasing frequency-and each comes with evangelizing gurus and eager-to-assist implementation consultants. Only a handful of these ideas will be a good fit for your organization. Choose the right idea at the right time and your company can become more efficient, more effective, and more innovative. Choose the wrong one-or jump on the right bandwagon too late-and your company could fall hopelessly behind.

Drawing from decades of consulting, academic, and business experience and from their novel study of more than 100 of these critical change leaders, What’s the Big Idea? offers tools and frameworks for:

  • Assessing the merits of the top business gurus

Google Book

Today’s organizations face an onslaught of new management ideas from the fast-growing “business advice industry.” Managers must determine whether to adopt an idea aggressively and risk fad-surfing or to sit on the sidelines too long and risk stagnation. The authors of What’s the Big Idea? argue that new business ideas can both improve organizational performance and bolster a company’s image as an innovative leader. The key is choosing the right ideas to implement — at the right time for a specific organization. Drawing from decades of consulting, academic and business experience, and their novel study of more than 100 “idea practitioners” — individuals who introduce and champion new ideas within organizations — the authors provide practical tools and frameworks for understanding where new ideas come from, evaluating which ideas are worth pursuing, customizing ideas to suit an organization’s unique needs, and more. Encouraging managers to embrace the power of ideas while avoiding the hype that often accompanies them, this book is a pragmatic guide to the art and practice of new management ideas.

Table of Contents

  1. Ch. 1 Winning with Ideas: How Business Ideas Are Linked to Business Success 1

Reviews

  • James Dellow

4. Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Rightwith Brook Manville

5. The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business with John C. Beck

6. Knowledge Management Case Book with Gilbert J. B. Probst

7. Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment and Capitalizing on the Best New Management Thinking with Laurence Prusak

Books on Analytics

1. Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics with Jinho Kim

2. Analytics in Healthcare and the Life Sciences: Strategies, Implementation Methods, and Best Practices with Dwight McNeill

3. Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results with Jeanne Harris and Robert Morison

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4. Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (updated, with a new introduction) with Jeanne Harris

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You have more information at hand about your business environment than ever before. But are you using it to “out-think” your rivals? If not, you may be missing out on a potent competitive tool. In “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris argue that the frontier for using data to make decisions has shifted dramatically. Certain high-performing enterprises are now building their competitive strategies around data-driven insights that in turn generate impressive business results.

Their secret weapon? Analytics: sophisticated quantitative and statistical analysis and predictive modeling. Exemplars of analytics are using new tools to identify their most profitable customers and offer them the right price; accelerate product innovation; optimize supply chains; and identify the true drivers of financial performance. A wealth of examples — from organizations as diverse as Amazon, Barclay’s, Capital One, Harrah’s, Procter & Gamble, Wachovia, and the Boston Red Sox — illuminate how to leverage the power of analytics.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Nature of Analytical Competition

1. The Nature of Analytical Competition: Using Analytics to Build a Distinctive Capability

2. What Makes an Analytical Competitor?: Defining the Common Key Attributes of Such Companies

3. Analytics and Business Performance: Transforming the Ability to Compete on Analytics into a Lasting Competitive Advantage

4. Competing on Analytics with Internal Processes: Financial, Manufacturing, R&D, and Human Resource Applications

5. Competing on Analytics with External Processes: Customer and Supplier Applications

Part Two: Building an Analytical Capability

6. A Road Map to Enhanced Analytical Capabilities: Progressing Through the Five Stages of Development

7. Managing Analytical People: Cultivating the Scarce Ingredient That Makes Analytics Work

8. The Architecture of Business Intelligence: Aligning a Robust Technical Environment with Business Strategies

9. The Future of Analytical Competition: Approaches Driven by Technology, Human Factors, and Business Strategy

Books on Information Management and Big Data

  1. Mastering Information Management edited with Donald Marchand

Books on Artificial Intelligence

  1. Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines with Julia Kirby

Books on Information Technology

  1. Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology

Book Chapters

  1. Knowledge Management Handbook edited by Jay Liebowitz — Chapter 2: Knowledge Management and the Broader Firm: Strategy, Advantage, and Performance

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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