Knowledge Management

Discussion groups with high barriers of entry

A few of my recent posts have talked about actKM, a Knowledge Management discussion list which originated in Canberra but has since attracted a number of high-profile names in the KM field.

Since I also participate in a few open-source software development mailing lists, I've noticed some similarities between these groups and actKM. Common characteristics include:

  • Comparatively small community struggling for broader acceptance;
  • Impatience with re-hashing of old questions and arguments when posed by newcomers;
  • Zealous advocacy of a Righteous and True Path; and
  • Strong exclusionary behavior shown to "unbelievers".

Why KM is important

A comment I just made on an actKM discussion which I think captures my attitudes to KM pretty well as an IT practitioner:

If you are technically savvy and understand the power of computer tools, it's all too easy to go, "but if everyone just filled out these 17 fields of metadata/filed their emails using the same folder structure/ran this custom Perl script every night, our problems would be solved". This is a mental trap which I have to actively try and avoid every day.

IT or IM staff need to understand that coercing people to act in an organisationally coherent fashion is the fundamental problem, not the lack of yet another three-tier database system. That's what I got out of studying KM: the need for a discipline which integrates people systems, not machine systems.

Suboptimize the parts - optimize the whole

My favourite saying about organizational effectiveness is:

"To optimize the whole you have to suboptimize the parts."

I've stolen this from Bob Lewis and although it sounds trite it covers a whole lot of assertions like:

  • organisations should capture knowledge locally to facilitate its reuse globally;
  • a benchmark is only as useful as what it actually measures (rather than claims to measure); and
  • money spent on training is more than repaid by productivity improvements.

The Nurse Bryan question

Some really good debate happening on the actKM list at the moment. I'll probably post more about the topics raised later.

One particular tangent that I raised was the theory of Scientific Management as advocated by F W Taylor.

I read about Taylorism because Peter Drucker, generally recognised as the father of Knowledge Management, likes him. Apparently (as I am learning) both these men are controversial figures, but I like them both for the boldness of their ideas.

This article by Michael Ballé which I stumbled across is particularly nice:

Building natural KM communities

Dave Snowden is one of the best known figures in the emerging field of Knowledge Management. His articles are generally very thought-provoking and easy to read, not to mention refreshingly devoid of the jargon that is too frequent in KM articles.

His article Natural numbers, networks & communities contains one of the best descriptions of what commonly goes wrong with KM experiments, and the best way to naturally encourage their success. I would encourage you to read his whole article, but important lessons to take away from the article are:

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