Tuesday 6 September 2016

Knowledge Management is adopted most readily when lives depend on it

Organisations that understand most clearly the value of knowledge will adopt knowledge management as a matter of course. So knowledge managers need to demonstrate that value.

Image from Wikimedia commons
As a result, we see Knowledge Management most readily adopted in areas where poor KM results in loss of large sums of money, or even loss of life. The emergency services, big engineering, the military, were all early adopters of Knowledge Management.

The aviation industry is a case in point, especially when it comes to air safety. According to Captian Sully Sullenberg, the hero of the emergency landing on the Hudson river (interviewed here);

"Almost every rule in the Federal Aviation rulebook, almost every bit of knowledge we have is because someone, somewhere died. Often many people did. And so we have learned these important lessons at great cost, literally bought with blood. We dare not forget and have to relearn them".

What Captain Sullenberg is describing here is a RESPECT for knowledge, based on an understanding of the VALUE of knowledge. As a result, new pilots are eager to learn from the past.

"You see pilots of my generation, especially ones who have wanted to fly since we were five years old – we just couldn’t get enough. We couldn’t learn enough about the history of our profession, about historic accidents, about why we do what we do".

And the aerospace industry has developed formal and embedded Knowledge Management frameworks to ensure that this learning happens.

"We have this formal lessons-learned process that does root-cause analysis, makes findings about fact, causes and contributing factors, and makes recommendations for improving the system in terms of the designs, the policies, procedures, training, human performance, and standards. It’s a self-correcting mechanism".

The challenge for the knowledge manager 

The big challenge is for the knowledge manager who works in other industries, where Knowledge is not a matter of life and death. How then do you engender a respect for knowledge and an eagerness to learn, and so develop and embed knowledge management frameworks to ensure the learning happens?

  • Firstly you have to make some estimate of the value of knowledge. Repeat mistakes, for example, may not cost lives on your context, but may cost money, reputation, and the loss of clients and customers. Make a KM value estimate, or estimate the Cost of Lost Knowledge.  Give your managers some idea of the Size of the Prize that Knowledge Management can deliver.
  • Secondly you need a proof of concept demonstration. Set up a Knowledge Management pilot for one business area or business problem, and demonstrate, through Social Proof, that KM can deliver the value you estimated above. 
  • Then once you have your estimate and your proof, ask your senior managers for the resources and the backing to make KM a reality. 

Knowledge Management may not be a matter of life and death to your organisation, but you still need to show that it is important enough to be taken seriously.


Gary Colet said...

Great post. I heartily recommend 'The Checklist Manifesto' for more examples. Coincidentally, I used the same photo in a blog on freeing-up cognitive capacity for decision making http://ki-network.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-checklist-manifesto.html

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Gary

I reference Gawande's excellent "CHecklist Manifesto" and other writings in the following posts


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