Monday, 29 October 2012
This is a landmark post - my 1000th post in this blog, written on my birthday (though posted a couple of days later).
So as something special for you, I have decided to share 5 learnings about operating in the KM field, distilled from over 20 years as a knowledge manager.
Number 1. There are many different views of Knowledge Management, and the scope that is encompasses. Therefore almost any conversation in KM has to start with a definition of terms. If someone asks you "How do I get started in KM", or "What does a Knowledge Manager do", you have to ask right back - "What do you mean by KM? What do you mean by Knowledge manager?" Even after 20 years of KM, you can talk right past one another unless you first agree what you are talking about.
Number 2. We don't seem to be learning, as a KM profession. I would assert that there are some pretty robust models for KM, and some companies (mostly the recurrent MAKE award winners) who do KM well, add huge value, and have done so for years. Also most of the long term KM consultants I meet seem to be converging on a similar model and approach. And yet there are many examples of people starting KM without learning from the past, and therefore repeating known mistakes and avoiding known solutions. The failure rate for KM projects remains very high, and if we were a learning profession, the failure rate should surely have fallen by now.
Number 3. Perhaps this partly answers number 2 - those who have delivered real value from KM realise that it is a long-term project, it's a change project, and it takes many years and a lot of hard work to institutionalise the change. There are not any real short-cuts to change, despite what some of the technology vendors might suggest. I have said this many times - Knowledge Management is Simple, but Difficult. It is difficult because it involves a profound culture change when dealing with something that is entirely intangible. Therefore the first learning from the past is the least palatable - introducing KM will be difficult and will take a long time.
Number 4 - a hobby-horse of mine. KM cannot take hold unless you stimulate the demand side of the equation. Much of the conversation nowadays is about the supply side - about "knowledge sharing" - about technologies that allow publishing and blogging and microblogging. However we know from economic theory that "supply-side economics" is by no means accepted by all as an effective theory, and that there needs to be attention to stimulating demand as well as supply in any market. Therefore any KM program needs to balance Learning with Sharing. There is no point in Supplying knowledge if nobody wants to Consume knowledge. There is no point in Sharing, if nobody wants to Learn.
Number 5. I still think there is an under-appreciation of the economic value of Knowledge Management. You still see, on Linked-in and other forums, many questions about "How does KM add value?" "Can we measure the value of KM?" "What sort of ROI does KM deliver"? There are answers to all these questions in the past 20 years of KM history. There are lots of Value stories from KM, and I publish the ones I can find on this blog. The value can be immense - hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars in some cases. I think if the value of KM was truly appreciated, then it would be taken more seriously, and there would be the investment of time, energy and resources to do it, and to do it well. It's up to us, the KM advocates, to convince people of this value.
Even after 30 years in KM, I truly believe in it as a discipline, and truly see it as being of huge value, and a relatively simple idea, but still very difficult to do.