Home Page
Internet Time KnowledgeBase:

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is a high-fallutin' buzz phrase for creating and sharing know-how. A hot item circa 1998, overuse watered down KM's popularity as a category (although it's still a hot item in Europe). To vendors, KM became "whatever I want to sell you," be it document-tracking or warehousing good ideas or building web pages or reinforcing innovation or focusing on intellectual capital.

Personal Intellectual Capital Management Blogging for Business How E-Learning Professionals Learn About E-Learning The Value of Learning About Learning Converting Intellectual Capital into Competitive Advantage

KM Blogs of note:

Knowledge is like the sound of the tree that falls in the forest when no one is there: it doesn't exist unless people interact with it. Nurturing innovation and rewarding the sharing of ideas fertilizes seedling ideas. Setting up processes to highlight what's worthy and weed out useless undergrowth help grow heathly trees.

While it may carry a different name in the future, knowledge management anchors one end of the learning/doing continuum and is vital to improving organizational performance.

"Knowledge is information that changes something or somebody -- either by becoming grounds for actions, or by making an individual (or an institution) capable of different or more effective action." -- Peter F. Drucker in The New Realities (The same might be said of learning.)

"If HP knew what HP knows, we'd be three times more profitable." Lew Platt

Information and knowledge are the thermonuclear competitive weapons of our time. Knowledge is more valuable and more powerful than natural resources, big factories, or fat bankrolls.? Thomas A. Stewart, Intellectual Capital

Jack Welch of GE: We soon discovered how essential it is for a multibusiness company to become an open, learning organization. The ultimate competitive advantage lies in an organization's ability to learn and to rapidly transform that learning into action.And, in GE's boundaryless learning culture, the operative assumption is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action fast.

In 25 years, knowledge will double every three months. What will that do for learning requirements? Doug Engelbart

"Knowledge Management is the broad process of locating, organizing, transferring, and using the information and expertise within an organization. The overall knowledge management process is supported by four key enablers: leadership, culture, technology, and measurement." American Productivity and Quality Center

A wealth of knowledge exists and can be generated among people with a passion for learning and a willingness to explore connections across traditional boundaries. Meg Wheatley

To Verna Allee, it's all a matter of making connections. I think she's got it. KM=BS? An abstract of T.D. Wilson's The Nonsense of Knowledge Management Life On The Internet: Could Blogging Assist KM? from Amy Wohl Knowledge Blogs Are Tough Denham Gray's amazing KM Wiki What's knowledge?

Knowledge maps, knowledge architecture, taxonomies, and more from KAPS Group

On the rebound? Peter Martin, writes in CLO:

The Market Is Coming Back to Knowledge Management In hindsight, knowledge management was a recklessly defined initiative. Companies were going to be able to empower the intellectual capital of their enterprise--with ad hoc software purchases. Over time the initiative lost its cachet, very much like the "portal" -- a key element of knowledge management. As the meaning and value of the portal has risen from the ashes, so has knowledge management. The comeback for knowledge management can be traced to the economy, consolidation of vendors, technological advancement and enterprise software vendor buy-in.

Knowledge Management is a case of the blind men and the elephant. KM refers to one or more of these activities:

  • creating and populating a repository of in-house knowledge
  • measuring the dollar-value of chunks of knowledge
  • facilitating the transfer of knowledge
  • creating a knowledge sharing environment
  • building a corporate culture focused on innovation and knowledge creation

At a minimum, do these things:


  1. Corporate yellow pages
  2. Best practices system that captures lessons learned
  3. Competitive intelligence


  1. Groupware
  2. Empowered Chief Knowledge Officer


  1. Top-down belief
  2. Spirit of sharing and collaboration
  3. Experimentation encouraged

Five Basic Principles of the Mind

  1. Minds are limited.

  2. Minds hate confusion.

  3. Minds are insecure.

  4. Minds don't change.

  5. Minds lose focus.

Jack Trout

From an interview in mid-2004: Where do you see the difference between collaboration and knowledge sharing on the one hand and professional knowledge management on the other? "Professional knowledge management" is a fuzzy term. I will assume you mean formal, traditional, top-down approaches. Most of the attempts I've looked at are failures. They don't focus on what workers need to know, they don't change with the times, and consequently, they are rarely utilized. Knowledge "management" isn't as important as what David Snowden refers to as "knowledge exchange." Informal, bottom-up approaches work better because they provide answers at the time of need, are structured for rapid access, contain advice on how things really work rather than how they work on paper, and are continuously adapting to fit new circumstances. The better informal systems offer multiple means to get answers: search, chat, mentoring, prompts, phone, simulation, etc.

Come together

Tom Barron, drawing on the ideas of GartnerGroup's Clark Aldrich and others, presents an astute view of the impending merger of e-Learning and Knowledge Management in A Smarter Frankenstein, lead article in the August 2000 issue of Learning Circuits.

Take an eLearning course. Chunk it into discrete learning bites. Surround it with technology that assesses a learner's needs and delivers the appropriate learning nuggets. Add collaborative tools that allow learners to share information. What do you get? Something that looks a whole lot like knowledge management.

Just In Time

Embedded Help Performance Support EPSS Wizards

Knowledge Management Traditional KM Combined eLearning/KM
Just in Case Classroom Replication Self-paced courseware Virtual classes Simulations Skills-building sims Games
Connvergent (Discrete-path) Divergent (Infinite-path)

The training function is accustomed to limiting its scope -- offering a curriculum that provides grounds for assessment. KM is open-ended, encouraging participants to share whatever works without an intermediary to translate things into lessons. Oil and water? The accelerating pace of business is already obsoleting the authoring function -- there's not enough time for lengthy development cycles; intitutive authoring systems are replacing middleman authors by taking content directly from the expert's mouth.

An obstacle I've personally never overcome to my satisfaction is countering the hoarding of knowledge by those who believe knowledge is power, or are perhaps too self-motivated to contribute to the good of their organizations.

What to Blogs have to do with it?

Weblogs (AKA Blogs) are important. If you're not familiar with Blogs, read Rebecca Blood's excellent Weblogs: A History and Perspective.

1. Blogs are a free authoring tool that enables anyone with a net connection to publish content on the web. The doors are open.

2. You cannot keep up with the raw flow of information being posted to the web without a lot of help. The Blogs of people you trust point the way to the good stuff. For example, I read Camworld because it has proven worthy of my time; I've grown to trust Cameron Barrett -- I know where he's coming from.

3. In time, organizations will encourage in-house Blogging.

Tacit & Explicit Knowledge

Nonaka's Knowledge Creation Spiral

In an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge. When markets shift, technologies proliferate, competitors multiply, and products become obsolete almost overnight, successful companies are those that consistently create new knowledge, disseminate it widely throughout the organization, and quickly embody it in new technologies and products. These activities define the knowledge-creating company, whose sole business is continuous innovation. (source: Ikujiro Nonaka, The Knowledge-Creating Company, Harvard Business Review, November-December 1991)

Explicit Knowledge

Tacit Knowledge

You can write it down. Easy to share.

It?s tough to explain. Tough to share.

Left brain, pragmatic ? learned. Think classroom.

Right brain, idealistic ? internalized. Think watercooler.

Theory of organization =

Machine for processing information

Living organism with a purpose

Knowledge =

Formal, systematic, quantifiable

Know-how and ingrained mental models and perspectives. Subjective, hunches, intuitive, highly personal.

Metrics =

Quantifiable: increased efficiency, lower costs, improved ROI

Qualitative: increased effectiveness, embodies company vision, expresses management aspirations and strategic goals, builds organizational knowledge network.

Impact =

Increases immediate capabilities

Profoundly shapes how we perceive the world around us.

Communicated =

Via words, textbooks, CBT

Via figurative language and symbolism, metaphor, analogy, modeling.

Other sources

The Economics of Knowledge, Eric E. Vogt. "Knowledge is a perspective shared by a community which allows for some effective action. ...the economics of knowledge dictate that we think in terms of creating collection systems that allow for the instantaneous sharing of these new perspectives. Collection systems allow us to listen to the needs and concerns of customers. Collection systems allow us to tap into the global flow of creative ideas and fuel the imagination of our knowledge community."

Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO). David Weinberger has the most level-headed approach to knowledge management you'll find anywhere. He's also a laugh riot. JOHO is one of my favorite reads on the Web.

Weinberger? He's a commentator on NPR, and co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto. "Jay of InternetTime.com, has put a link to JOHO on his site, www.meta-time.com. We hereby declare www.meta-time.com to be the new Finest Site on the Web."

University of Denver: Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management

ASTD on KM -- an overview of what's going on in the field

The Knowledge Management Paradox: How to Manage Your Most Strategic Asset, CPT

BRINT -- exhaustive and exhausting links and essays. More is more? Thinking Business -- the document tracking end of KM

Leverage the Value-Hierarchy of Knowledge

Different skills produce different levels of impact. (Stan Davis)

Difficult to replace, low value added

Staff jobs, skilled factory workers, experienced secretaries

?Know the ropes but don?t pull the strings.? Don?t directly impact customers.


Difficult to replace, high value added

Irreplaceable role in the organization; nearly irreplaceable as individuals

Create the products and services that draw the customers in


Easy to replace, low value added.

Unskilled, semi-skilled labor.

Success not dependent on these individuals.


Easy to replace, high value added


Work is valuable but not this particular individual.


Often, the value added is the information subtracted.

A hired hand is not a hired mind. Routine, low-skill work, even if it's done manually, does not generate or emply human capital for the organization. Unleashing the human capital already resident in the organization requires minimizing mindless tasks, meaningless paperwork, unproductive infights. The Taylorized workplace squandered human assets in such activities.

'Informate' = change the work to add more value to customers.

Outsourcing frees resources to continue developing high-return expertise.

Capitalize means providing opportunities for learning. People need to feel they?re ?in the game,? and not ?being kicked around by it.?

How to Capitalize on High-Value Knowledge

Structural capital company property builds on corporate yellow pages, knowledge maps, speedy transfer. Do enough and no more; many overinvest. HP and others find that demand-driven approach is more effective than pushing information into people?s emailboxes. Avoid overinvesting by making it okay not to know everything ? leverage the expertise of specialists. When a manager brings in a problem, the experts teach her how to apply the lessons of a module to solve it.

Customer capital, the relationships of the company with its customers, is measured by market share, customer retention and defection, and profit per customer. This is the most valuable capital of all it's where the money is but ironically, it's also the least well managed. Tom Stewart has a wonderful line, The customer today can call the tune because he knows the score. The goal is to maintain an increasingly intimate relationship. Empowered customers deal directly with companies' databases.

Ten Principles for Managing Intellectual Capital

  1. Companies don't own human and customer capital. Companies share the ownership of human assets with employees. They share ownership of customer capital with suppliers and customers. An adversarial relationship with employees destroys wealth.
  2. To create human capital it can use, a company needs to foster teamwork, communities of practice, and other social forms of learning.
  3. To manage and develop human capital, companies must unsentimentally recognize that some employees, however intelligent or talented they are, aren?t assets. Invest in proprietary and strategic knowledge workers; minimize all other costs.
  4. Structural capital is most easy to control because companies own it, but customers are where the money comes from.
  5. Structural capital serves two purposes: to amass stockpiles of knowledge that support the work customers value, and to speed the flow of that information inside the company. Just-in-time knowledge is more efficient that knowledge stored in the warehouse.
  6. Substitute information and knowledge for expensive physical and financial assets.
  7. Knowledge work is custom work. Mass production does not yield high profits.
  8. Analyze your value chain to see what information is most crucial. The knowledge work is generally downstream, close to the customers.
  9. Focus on the flow of information, not the flow of materials. Information once supported the real business; now it is the real business.
  10. Human, structural and customer capital work together.

Source: Thomas Stewart, Intellectual Capital

Ideas @ Work

Diane McFerrin Peters (Harvard Management Update, Vol. 5 #3, March 2000) Most companies underestimate the importance of intangible assets such as knowledge, creativity, ideas, and relationships. All these account for more value in our economy than the tangibles. Yet it's difficult for companies to get their arms around intangibles, so they rarely protect them as carefully as they do bricks and hardware. What would you do if your smartest people suddenly left? How can you ensure that what one department or division learns is widely shared throughout the company? 1) Create a setting for sharing knowledge. Access to knowledge breeds more knowledge, and the best KM techniques ensure that everyone's involved. Try an open meeting policy. 2) Eliminate communication filters. Politics, turf, and implementation responsibilities can squelch ideas in traditional communication channels. Going outside the channels, for example, by allowing people to skip levels--leads to more ideas on how to do things better. 3) Prioritize the tasks. Most companies' to-do lists contain twice as much as they could ever accomplish. A prioritization process can align brainpower and effort behind what's truly strategic. Senior leaders get together to rank all vital activities first to last, no ties allowed. The process lets people challenge assumptions about the value of long-running projects, share knowledge about what is being accomplished, and break down the departmental barriers that bottle up ideas and creativity. 4) Keep time budgets. Few individuals and fewer organizations get a true read on where their time and effort really go. Picasso had a collection of masterpieces in his home. They were hung slightly crooked, and visitors couldn't resist the temptation to straighten them. But Picasso felt that when a painting was straight, the observer focused on the frame around it. When the frame was crooked, the beauty of the image jumped out. It's the same with knowledge. Instead of trying to put boundaries around it, we should be letting it jump out of its frame.

Enlightenment Magazine on Collective Intelligence

George Por's Blog of Collective Intelligence

Relections on KM

All or nothing, the bi-polar rant of extremists, is alive and well in the world of KM. "The knowledge management industry (if you can call it that) has always taken a pretty high-falutin' attitude about 'the enterprise,' and it's possible that its well-documented image problems stem from that strategic flaw," writes Andy Moore, editorial director at KM World in the ironically named Best Practices in Enterprise Knowledge Management.* He continues, "KM has long been touted as an all-or-nothing proposition.... The evidence is mounting that the famous 'departmental point solutions' that many of us thought were mere baby steps to a greater goal, are, in fact, the end game." Makes sense to me. Rather than try to boil the ocean, KM needs to apply the 80/20 rule and focus on things that make a difference. Most of these thngs are bottom-up. Many of the vendors at this year's KM World Conference don't see it that way. Commissions on enterprise deals pay off a salesperson's mortgage; departmental sales cover a month's car payments. On the all-or-nothing spectrum, the next author in Best Practices in Enterprise Knowledge Management is in the all camp. He tells us "...total knowledge management is driven by the need for organizations to have a unified access and view to all business content across an enterprise.... The ultimate goal of the total knowledge strategy is to enable an organization to have one single version of the truth; unified access to all enterprise content...." It's all or nothing. This raises some thorny issues. First of all, the only organizations that have a single version of the truth are sole proprietorships, and even one-man shops change their interpretations of reality on the spur of the moment. The third writer in this pamphlet says "...the primary difference between information and knowledge is relevance." Presumably, the all-or-nothing guy (who in real life markets "a state-of-the-art integrated enterprise content management platform") would have us index and store irrelevant information alongside knowledge.


Post a Comment

Contact Us

Powered by Blogger

Copyright 2005, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California