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“KM Fairy Tales” (Managing Partner Magazine June/July, 2011)

3 comments on ““KM Fairy Tales” (Managing Partner Magazine June/July, 2011)

  1. David Griffiths
    June 30, 2011

    This is from an ongoing conversation on David Gurteen’s Linked In group – thought it would be worth sharing:

    Susan Bradley • I have now read the article and found it interesting – points that struck me particularly were as follows:

    1) The focus on knowledge being the know-what, know-how, know-who, know-when, know-why and know-where.
    2) The need to understand the reasons behind any KM project – specifically knowing why you are doing it and what you are trying to manage.

    I would also add knowing what you want to achieve is a key requirement for a successful KM project.
    1 day ago

    Patrick Onions

    Patrick Onions • David, there are hundreds of KM models out there that identify technology as just one aspect of KM. I do agree with you in seeing the incessant focus on technology as being narrow. But, and it remains a big one, IT is scalable, tangible, measurable and a good way of ‘codifying’ processes. Business is very wary of all the warm and fuzzy techniques out there, and organisations will arguably get far more value out of a portal than any knowledge fair, community of practice or similar technique. I know that a single post-project review could save a company millions on the next project, but managers are (hopefully) no longer willing to spend large sums of money on the basis of an emotive sales pitch.

    KM academics and practitioners need to:

    – recognise the diversity inherent in KM
    – get more serious about learning about KM
    – focus on delivering real results
    – find ways to make useful techniques scalable, tangible and measurable.

    Until these things happen, IT provides possibly the only truly enterprise KM solution.
    21 hours ago

    David Griffiths • Hi Patrick,

    Thank you for the feedback, but, I have to say, I totally disagree.

    The evidence, from both a practitioner and academic standpoint, demonstrates that organisations are frustrated and dissatisfied with enterprise KM solutions.; that’s not me saying this, these are executives within the Fortune 500.

    KM is driven by the strategic and operational needs: Innovation, growth, sustainability, resilience, adaptive capacity and decision-making; these are people driven processes where technology is the enabler, not the solution (please see our other recent article, “KM is dead, long live knowledge!”

    The need for knowledge is an enduring one – see the previously mentioned article. The need for KM in organisations is essentially driven by the needs of the Knowledge Economy – Again, this is driven by the need for adaptive capacity/dynamic capability, emerging from innovation, which in turn is driven by people enabled by technology. We can also talk about tactical responses, such as improved decision-making, but we still come back to KM being driven by people. This is something we have discussed at length in various articles, but the blog version can be found here: ( If we can agree to this, then enterprise KM solutions are nothing but snake oil. Sorry, but the codification of knowledge is, to put it bluntly, rubbish – from an academic standpoint look at the arguments against Nonaka, and his manipulation of Polanyi’s work, and the data-information-knowledge-wisdom-understanding continuum. Enterprise KM ‘solutions’ are not knowledge ‘solutions’ at all, they are information solutions. Knowledge solutions reside in people-based processes.

    Technology proponents claim the high ground by discussing ROI, this, again, is poppycock when it comes to the drivers for KM and plays to the weaknesses in KM understanding inherent within Executive/Senior Management in organisations – again, we have published widely on this, but the blog version can be found here: ( – again, if enterprise Km solutions are so successful, then why is KM ranked 24th out od 35 strategic management tools by executives within the Fortune 500. Start talking about market value of an organisaiton and we start talking about intangible assets – knowledge assets – not codified ‘tangible’ assets…take Google for example, 90% of its value is intangible!

    We do not have to accept further failure in our field and we do not have to accept enterprise based KM ‘solutions’. This isn’t about me, or about technology versus people. This about what drives the need for KM in the first place.

    Sorry if this seems like a rant, but we do not have to accept technology as the ‘solution’ – the evidence is laid out for us, we just have to acknowledge it.

    Thanks for a stimulating response…

    13 hours ago

    David Griffiths • Hi Susan,

    Totally agree with what you are saying – something we addressed in a previous article…made available via this blog post… “Two killer KM questions…”

    Thanks again for the feedback…

    12 hours ago

    Patrick Onions

    Patrick Onions • Thanks David

    First I’d like to say that I agree with you that technology itself is not the solution. No single firm that I have worked with for example have managed to get their employees to engage with the portal and contribute or use content in anywhere near a useful or sustainable manner.

    However, let’s consider soft/tacit/people tools and techniques for a moment nd consider how to deploy them in a large organisation.

    A few years ago I ran a project office with over 400 active projects and 30 project managers in a company employing 120 000 staff. Project reviews would be useful in making sure people learnt from other project managers and ensuring mistakes were not repeated, but the difficulty would be in implementing such a scheme. I could have ‘educated’ project managers and followed up with coaching, or maybe created some forms and a process and tried to have the project office impose that on each project as part of governance. With so many active projects and reviews at each of the major milestones, I would have buried myself in paperwork, and any lessons would have vanished. The alternative was to enable this with technology. Using a combination of a mandatory review process, the COLA methodology and a database connected to the portal (for convenience and search), project managers would have to:

    – conduct a review in a standard format at the end of each major milestone.
    – read past reviews from projects in similar categories before commencing the next phase.
    – read about the participants, performance and deliverables of past projects.
    – ideally, contact the project manager on interesting or relevant past projects and discuss with them what really happened.

    From a project office perspective, a simple query of the system could tell me whether a project manager had done their review, flag any who had skipped it, and show me who had not read past reviews. I could not force people to talk, but the system made all relevant information available.

    In this case technology was not the solution, just an enabler. Without it the organisation would have had to employ a full time administrator and monitoring uptake would have been difficult. Since this was positioned as a governance issue rather than a nice-to-have, within 2 months of implementation there was almost total compliance with capturing reviews, and good compliance with reading of past reviews. Because it became part of the methodology, the practice is still in operation. Importantly, the system was light on administration and enterprise-wide, so objectors had little ammunition to use to resist changes to the way they did things.

    This is one example, and I’ve done similar with all manner of soft sharing and capture techniques. Even if the actual techniques are still soft one can use technology to drive, facilitate and monitor the process of getting people together, teaching techniques, structuring the techniques and knowledge processes, and indexing the knowledge (not capturing, as you rightly point out) for later enterprise searches.
    18 minutes ago

    David Griffiths

    David Griffiths • Cheers for that Patrick…I think that what strikes me is that what you are speaking of is efficiency driven, which typically aligns with the current idea of most enterprise solutions that I have evaluated in organisations. I don’t know how you feel, but, for me, the problem is effectiveness. We can check to see whether people have uploaded and accessed files, but unless there is a feedback process that demonstrates that knowledge is being applied successfully, then what is the point of the data?

    Also, success is intrinsically linked to your definition of knowledge – something that not many organisations seem to define.. we give examples of what we mean by knowledge here: ( and here

    The problem is also captured in your opening paragraph to your second response…This is a critical issue for a lot of organisations, the question is, how do you get people motivated? Again, this is where KM has to play a big part. The technology is the tool. The KMer has to manage the whole environment and that includes partnerships with HR (our views on this are being published later this year in another article, but this blog will give you a flavour of what we are talking about:

    Thank you again and I really appreciate the operational perspective that you are bringing to the conversation. I just believe, from our experience, that this is where KM has become too isolated and where KMers need to move towards a more strategic business partner role, as opposed to working in relative isolation as reactive, legacy based, techno-centric ‘solution’ providers based within micro projects.

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