The APQC Blog

Great Knowledge Management Must be Visible

In my last musings, I pondered the impending death of knowledge management but never really came to a conclusion regarding its health: that is, whether or not we find it today on life support. The reason was due to a trip down memory lane, but that’s simply because I see that the parallels between digital computing and knowledge management are many (think: centralized, then decentralized, then centralized again, then decentralized again, then centralized making a comeback). While I plan to stay more focused this time, frankly, the topic of the passing of knowledge management has already been well covered.

To wit, a search on google *(1) returns:

  • “Is KM dead?” = 29,000 results
  • “KM is dead” = 17,000 (often postscripted with “Long live KM!”)
  • “the death of KM” = 50,500
  • “the end of knowledge management” = 315,000

With that many thoughts permanently inscribed in (on?) the internet debating the merits of the question, what could I possibly add to the discussion? Not much of course. However, that’s exactly what I intend to do: to add just a little bit more that makes sense—to me at least anyway.

Before I throw down my gauntlet however, another trip in the time machine is in order. It would seem that one of the most divisive things about knowledge management is the word management itself. According to Merriam-Webster *(2) management is: “the act or process of deciding how to use something.” There’s the rub—people may or may not like process, but they certainly do not like someone else deciding how they use their “something” (knowledge). In my industrial engineering days, we would have considered that the root cause of the problem. Who are you, they, them, the organization—to decide how I should use my knowledge?! And, if I want to take my knowledge out the door with me when I leave, I will do exactly that thank you (although a great Dilbert cartoon seems to indicate that Ratbert has solved that little problem).

So here’s my contribution to the discussion: to be effective, knowledge management must exhibit visible knowledge sharing. Actually in full disclosure, that insight comes from Tim Stouffer, petroleum engineer, knowledge manager, fundraising bicyclist, math educator, and formerly of Marathon Oil Corporation. Since then, I’ve personally experienced several times what Mr. Stouffer conveyed to me. Ironically, the most egregious occasions involve the very thing people often remark will put the knife in the heart of knowledge management: sharing through social media.

Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in a client’s office discussing some fascinating knowledge management topic when a corporate social media ping comes in. The client apologies for the interruption, excuses himself to respond, and then quickly dispatches the inquiry. Fast, simple, and we’re back to chatting. Minutes later another ping and the cycle repeats itself. Knowledge sharing round two over and we’re now delving deep into the world that is knowledge management. Before our discourse is complete, another ping arrives, waiting patiently for my subject matter expert to impart his expertise to slay the knowledge gap that exists between himself and the requestor.

By this time I have enough occasions to use them as a reason to ask my client: “Do you get many of these types of peer-to-peer requests?” More often than not, the response is, “Yes,” and sometimes even, “All day long.” Which allows me to follow up with the knockout punch: “Do you get the same questions more than once?” As you might suspect, that response is also a resounding, “Yes.” So there you have it: knowledge sharing via corporate social media allows for an excellent environment of (in)visible knowledge sharing! Invisible to the organization that is, regardless of how effective it may be for the two individuals involved in the exchange. By the way, my reference to a knockout punch is simply to get the point across that unfettered peer-to-peer sharing may be the solution that is worse than the problem in certain cases.

For me, what that means is effective knowledge management strategies, processes, techniques, communication, and change management still have legs in this world of ours. I for one, don’t see it being chopped off at the knees any time soon if the goal of knowledge management is visible knowledge sharing.

You can connect with Jim Lee on Twitter @KM_dude.



*(1) www.google.com, retrieved March 17, 2015.

*(2) www.merriam-webster.com, retrieved March 17, 2015