Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Is "viral introduction" the right way to implement KM?

We currently know very well the power of a virus, and the way that it infects and spreads. But is this "viral introduction" a good model for introducing KM?


influenza virus
Image by Kat Masback on Flickr
The world is in thrall to a virus at the moment. We are acutely aware of its power, as it sweeps across the globe in a series of waves, transmitted from person to person, seemingly unstoppable.

Often people will use viral infection as an analogue for the introduction of a new product or idea. Through "viral marketing" the idea or product or meme spreads from person to person across the market or the organisation in a series of waves. To introduce KM in such a way would be very appealing.

The problem with the viral introduction of knowledge management, is that most organisations have very good immune systems. They are remarkably successful at overcoming and rejecting new ideas, and generally fight them off after a while.

Just 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".

As Victor Newman says - "All cultures are relatively “sticky” in the sense that they resist pressures to change".

We need a way of reducing the stickiness, and reducing the rejection rate. We need to make 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 KM initiative, and to dampen down the resistance. Victor describes building relationship capital throughout the organisation until the management layer sees you as one of their own rather than a foreign body.  They can then help suppress the sticky organisational immune system long enough for KM to become embedded into the fabric of an organisation, like a transplant or a heart pacemaker is assimilated into the body.

Think Transplant, not Virus, if you are looking for long term change.

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