Wednesday 9 June 2010

The problem with the Viral model for KM

I had a nasty virus a couple of weeks ago. I caught it from my wife, who had brought it back from New York. For about a week I hd no voice, and was awake all night coughing. But with the help of Lemsip and Strepsils, I fought it off after a while, and am now back to normal.

The problem with the viral introduction of knowledge management, is that most organisations have very good immune systems. They are very good at overcoming and rejecting new ideas, and generally fight them off after a while. As a body overcomes and destroys an infection, so the habits, routines, dogmas, and "not invented here"s can overcome and destroy even the best innovation. This explains why so many KM initiatives start well, flare up like a fever, then 6 months later have disappeared completely, and the company is "back to normal". (see also Victor Newman's post about Sticky organisations where by Sticky he means Resistant to change.)

We need a way of reducing the barriers, of reducing the rejection rate, of making KM more like a transplant to be incorporated, than an infection to be fought. That's where management need to be involved. They need to welcome the initiative, and to dampen down the resistance. The immune system needs to be suppressed long enough for KM to become embedded into the fabric of an organisation like a transplant is assimilated into the body.

Think Transplant, not Virus.


Md Santo said...

From my point of view, I’d like to suggest not to “transplant” but try “doing gene therapy” by “inserting innovated products or shifting paradigm of idea and/or concept directly into a nonspecific location within the genomic of Enterprise DNA”. Unless “doing gene therapy”, otherwise the result will be easily deteriorated or rejected as well.

The loci of insertion surely should directly into Enterprise DNA in which first we “insert” it into the Enterprise Knowledge Architecture and then “sequence” it within the Enterprise Taxonomy – Metadata Management component. To get insight, visit our K-base and about our idea on Human System Biology-based KM at

Nick Milton said...

Sorry, I disagree with your "locus of insertion". The primary insertion of KM needs to be into work habits and work processes and thus into culture and norms, not into taxonomies and architectures and metadata. Taxonomies and architectures and metadata are secondary supporting tools. They come later. The DNA or a firm lies in its culture, its norms and its assumptions, not in its metadata.

Jean-Louis Lieutenant said...

Nick, I find this post 100% true.

Primarily, I was thinking that this trend of fast KM rejection was quite specific to somewhat "long history" European companies and that brains in the US were more open-minded. But, progressively I come to think, like you, that this is more a question of physiology of organizations.

You are right in your comment when you say KM needs to be introduced into culture and norms, and not just through just carefully "loci of insertion" for selected tools and services. So this probably means de facto that the management gets involved.

When looking at some companies praised on the long run for their excellent KM (Buckman labs, Millenium, Fluor... ), we often see that this was since the beginning a top-down initiative.... Of course, this does not say that top-down is sufficient: top-down initiative seem to be a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Now, if we go one step further, what is necessary to get top management commitment to support - for a sufficiently long period - any KM initiative? For me, what is necessary is really a sense of AWARENESS of the value of the knowledge ASSET. In this way, it is surprising to see the discrepancy between the results of surveys like (already 5 years old) (Economic Intelligence Unit)

and the actual result in the global economic landscape.

So still a long way to go I think.

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