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PostSubject: The Knowledge Management Connection   Sun Mar 16, 2008 2:59 pm

What is Knowledge ... and How Can You Manage it?

Strictly speaking, knowledge is something in your head, so you can’t
“manage” it in any traditional sense. In knowledge-management circles, knowledge may refer to recorded information (perhaps optimized for effective communication) or to internalized information (know-how” or tacit knowledge) that is very difficult or impossible to record and communicate completely. In other words, the term knowledge is used very loosely. Don’t worry about it. Just focus on how you represent and communicate information that contributes to greater creativity, opening new opportunity, or improving productivity.

A dictionary definition of knowledge

One dictionary definition of knowledge:
Acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.
Source: The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
Dictionaries provide many definitions of knowledge. Most of those definitions treat it as a state of mind relative to some domain of information. Of course, you can’t really “manage” a state of mind.
A search on the Web will net you dozens of additional definitions, many of which make rather pedantic distinctions among data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.
Discussion groups on Web sites devoted to KM tend to argue the definition ad nauseam. It’s all very tiresome, because each knowledge-management guru chooses a definition consistent with his or her view of what aspects of information, knowledge, or business activities should be managed.
However, I can’t resist citing A.C. Foskett’s distinction between knowledge and information:
knowledge is what I know
information is what we know
Source: Foskett, A.C., The subject approach to information, Linnet Books, The Shoe String Press, Inc., Hamden, Connecticut, 1982, p. 1
That wry and succinct contrast may be all you ever need to understand about defining knowledge in the business environment.
If you must have a specific definition, choose one. But it’s like religion: As long as what you believe is not harmful, choose whatever religion you like. Just don’t try to sell it to me.

Tacit knowledge vs. explicit knowledge

A more interesting debate in knowledge management circles is whether organizations should focus on improving internalization of knowledge by individuals (acquisition of tacit knowledge -- personal knowledge rooted in individual experience and involving personal belief, perspective, and
values) or more effective sharing of explicit (recorded or formal) knowledge. (See Michael Polyani, The Tacit Dimension, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967.)
The emphasis on tacit knowledge is evident in efforts to push the “learning organization” and other approaches that stress internalization of information (through experience and action) and generation of new knowledge or innovation through managed interaction. By contrast, those who emphasize explicit knowledge often stress making the individual’s knowledge explicit — for example, in the form of documents — and sharing it more effectively among members of the organization.
In practice, the distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge gets a little fuzzy.
And the broad usefulness of tacit knowledge (relative to explicit knowledge) tends to decrease when the members of the organization are engaged in a wide variety of continuously changing, information-intensive tasks — a common characteristic of modern organizations, especially in high-technology markets.

Where we stand: leveraging “structural knowledge”

At The Knowledge Management Connection, we come down squarely in favor of focusing on the characteristics of communication and sharing that can be managed, integrated, and leveraged to produce value across a wide range of business activities and computer applications — information and processes that should be managed first, before addressing issues of internalization, innovation, or retrieval of information from vast electronic resources.

This is clearly not “tacit knowledge.” But it is something more than repositories of documents. Experts call it “structural knowledge.”
That’s where the Knowledge Management Connection's framework and model for managing knowledge comes in — an implementation of structural knowledge that allows organizations to dynamically gather, integrate, and manage their most precious organizational resource — the collective knowledge of their employees.

Additional information

  • For one librarian’s thoughtful view of “knowledge,” see D.J. Foskett, “Libraries and information systems — a fruitful partnership,”
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PostSubject: Re: The Knowledge Management Connection   Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:01 pm

What Is Knowledge Management? No One Really Asked.

“Knowledge management,” as generally understood and discussed in the business press, is almost entirely an invention of business management consultants, business “theorists,” and (with some exceptions) technology vendors and only accidentally on target from time to time. The truth is, no one really asked those who are immersed in information-based businesses, “What do you need?”
The KM community continues this pattern of not asking. And as long as we continue this pattern, we will continue to create solutions that don’t address the very real needs for managing knowledge.
KM is still largely a solution looking for a problem — like hypertext technology in the late 80s and early 90s.
They got some of the answers right, but it was accidental.
As in any fiction, to get the answers you want, make the assumptions that correlate with your background and biases, then ask the questions that lead to those answers. That’s what the gurus of knowledge management have done.

So what questions should we ask?

If we define knowledge in organizations as the information we need to do our work more effectively, improve the productivity or competitiveness of organizations, and increase the quality of our products, then we should ask

  • What problems do you perceive that are preventing you from achieving those objectives?
  • Where is the information you need? Is it explicit or in people’s heads?
  • What are some of its characteristics?
  • In what form should that information be made available? (Certainly no one answers that question, “Big piles of fat documents” or “More meetings.")
  • What gives that information authority?
  • How (by what means) do you enjoy communicating, aggregating, and organizing your information now? How would you like to see those current methods improved?
  • What patterns can we find within that range of answers?
  • Are there really common elements?
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PostSubject: Re: The Knowledge Management Connection   Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:08 pm

Knowledge Management for Small Companies

Much of the discussion of knowledge management implies that KM isn’t worth doing unless (1) you have a large company, (2) most of the employees engage in explicit KM activities, (3) and there is a company-wide “system” of some sort. These assumptions are certainly unwarranted for small companies, and they are probably invalid for large companies, too.

Emerging discussion of knowledge management for “SMEs”

Since the first version of this article appeared, we have discovered a growing community of people who believe that KM is not just for big companies.
(Unfortunately, more and more people are calling this market segment “SMEs” — small-to-medium enterprises. But many in KM circles already use SME as an abbreviation for “subject matter experts” — a significant topic of discussion in knowledge-management circles and expert systems.)
You might want to start with David Gammel’s “High Context”
(, a weblog about associations and the web. You’ll also want to check out his discussions of faceted classification and “klogs.
Finally, people who are doing some critical thinking about KM!

An example of knowledge management as something for big companies

In a discussion of the book, The Springboard,Steve Denning tells how he stumbled upon the power of storytelling, and used it to catalyze change in a large organization.
Similarly, the story is not so much about the particular organization in which the change was adopted — as it happens, the international organization known as the World Bank — but about the dynamics of any large organization struggling to adjust to the bewilderingly rapid shifts in the 21st century global knowledge economy. You will recognize in these pages the scene of any large organization, including the struggle to learn and understand what is going on in the organization, and the struggle to convince the organization to
enter into a new future. [Emphasis on “large” added by P.C.M.]
You’ll find similar references — both explicit and implied — to the applicability of knowledge management in large companies everywhere in the literature of knowledge management.

Lots of users of a “system”?

Should everyone in an organization be hooked into a massive knowledge management “system?
Take the following quote from the
ArsDigita Web page on knowledge management
A KM system must effectively support global workforces with thousands of concurrent users.
From the perspective of smaller organizations, there are at least two problems with this statement:

  • Most companies do not have “thousands” of users.
  • The statement assumes you’ll need a vendor’s “system” to manage the generation and distribution of thousands or millions of discrete chunks of data or information, and a very small number of types of information. (The “system” might not be technology at all, but a set of standard business practices.) A small organization simply cannot afford such a system.
Of course, the business opportunity perceived here is big-ticket sales of technology and consulting services to very large companies. We’re not faulting their interpretation of the opportunity. We assume that many companies are addressing such big opportunities and are making sales.
(There is an implication by omission, too, that “knowledge management” compensates for bigness. But the corollary implication that small companies don’t need knowledge management is simply not true.)

The importance of KM for smaller companies

But people are becoming aware that KM is vital for smaller companies, too.
In small and medium enterprises [SMEs], as in big global corporations, staff need appropriate and up-to-date knowledge. They need to know what their colleagues know and to be connected with them to share knowledge. And like large corporations, SMEs need ways of remembering what they know.
In effect, with the Internet, knowledge management has broken out of the high-cost, hard-to-use paradigm. Given the tools, SMEs find themselves at an advantage over large companies in implementing knowledge management, because they do not have to overcome existing hierarchical structures that foster secrecy rather than openness. Knowledge management is the key to allowing SMEs to operate internationally without giving up the advantages of their smaller size.
With Knowledge Management tools and integration with the Internet, the virtual network of an organization can now be leveraged by SMEs to increase their resources and competitiveness. It can mean the difference of survival and future success.
Source: Scalable Data Systems & Damgard’s ’Axapta’ (11/27/00),
Some statistics about where KM is needed

The following posting from Scott Allen to a GKEC discussion on general KM standards provides strong support for the need to explore the role of KM in small companies.

I am especially interested in KM for SME’s (small to medium enterprises) and how the dynamics are different in that environment than they are in, say, a Fortune 500 company or a nation.
Let this sink in for a moment:
In America, “small businesses represent over 99 percent of all employers, export 96 percent of all goods and employ 52 percent of private-sector workers. (Sen. Max Cleland, Interview in Atlanta Business Chronicle, 8-3-2001,

Kind of makes you re-think where the real impact of KM may happen, doesn’t it?
Scott Allen, VP of Professional Services, Mongoose Technology,

Source: Posting to ANSI/ISO General KM Standards By the GKEC

Do you have to graduate to “big KM”?

As your company grows, you will need some of the specialized solutions proposed in the “knowledge management” marketplace for large quantities of well-defined transactions. But I wouldn’t call these solutions and systems “knowledge management.” An intelligence-gathering application that tracks activities within a market or a sales support system may be vital to a large business, but those solutions already have names whose meanings are well understood.
The need for knowledge sharing, however, persists as a company grows.

  • It’s the first basic requirement of small companies. It begins with a business plan. It even precedes establishing accounting practices.
  • As a company grows, the need to know and share the “what” of the company still exists, but the needs may fragment, for example, into (a) knowledge that should be shared by everyone in the organization and (b) knowledge that is critical to specific functional group. A company-wide knowledgebase may have great breadth, but little depth.
  • Many, perhaps most, big companies are composed of small, heterogeneous groups — either function-aligned departments or cross-functional teams or both.
And ultimately, companies, departments, and teams don’t act people do as individuals.

Also of interest, from WinCite Systems

Click the link to “What is knowledge management?” on the WinCite home page, to get their perception of “Bleeding edge lessons in knowledge management.” Many of their “lessons” are similar
to those discussed on this Web site.
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PostSubject: Re: The Knowledge Management Connection   Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:14 pm

10 (Different) Myths of Knowledge Management

With apologies to Kathy Curley, whose “10 Myths About Knowledge Management” I discovered several months after I started writing an article with essentially the same name. My “myths” are very different. David Letterman and the desire to debunk are powerful forces!
If you believe, as we do, that locating, centralizing, abstracting, classifying, and integrating foundational knowledge resources are the first requirements of managing organizational knowledge, then the following assertions about knowledge management can be seen as “myths,” either in whole or in part.

  • Myth #1: Knowledge management is about collaboration.
  • Myth #2: You have to change the way you work.
  • Myth #3: “Reluctance to share knowledge” is a major impediment.
  • Myth #4: Many KM failures can be attributed to
    overemphasis on technology.
  • Myth #5: KM is about internalizing knowledge.
  • Myth #6: KM is a big-company problem.
  • Myth #7: Classifying knowledge at a granular level (indexing) is too hard.
  • Myth #8: KM is about changing business processes.
  • Myth #9: People don’t understand the need for managing knowledge.
  • Myth #10: Complexity and volume of information is the core problem of KM
Myth #1: Knowledge management is about collaboration.

What brings you closer to doing — collaboration or creating sharable knowledge resources? Collaboration is not the goal; in fact, you really need to eliminate the need for collaboration as much as possible.

  • Collaboration is great, but we act only one person at a time, do only one thing at a time. Teams don’t act. (And team meetings are notorious black holes for productivity.) Only individuals act.
  • Collaboration itself quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.
    Collaboration is often necessary, and it may provide an abrupt, rapid improvement. But it does not provide a lasting foundation.
  • It’s coordination that makes the difference. Air traffic controllers coordinate take-off and landing activities. Pilots cooperate with the coordinators. Pilots themselves cannot achieve highly efficient coordination of these activities by interacting with each other. And only
    the pilots can land the planes.
  • Most group knowledge activities are distributed and asynchronous. When you work as a group, you have to start the process by defining what the problem is. You have to end it by recording what you’ve done in a way that is precise, easily sharable, and integrated with other business activities. Collaboration itself doesn’t save the value created by collaboration and collaboration itself does not make the results of collaboration accessible. If you don’t share what you know before and after collaboration, you experience the same old loss of knowledge assets, except that responsibility is often avoided. Sometimes collaboration means never having to say you’re sorry that you don’t know what you’re doing or what impact it has on the outcome.
  • In some ways, collaboration embraces hoarding, because it does an end-run around making knowledge explicit.
  • Collaboration may take many forms, including informal “communities of
    practice.” But it seems that nobody asks the question, “Why do such informal communities exist?” Answer: They exist because formal management practices, formal communities, formal resources, and formal tools for communicating knowledge are inadequate. Probably
    grossly inadequate. We’ll always need (and have) informal communities of practice, because business opportunities and needs are changing, fragmenting, and re-forming faster than formal models of organization and management can handle. But does this mean that we should treat informal communities of practice as a new, desirable business model? Hardly. As a society we benefit in some small way because children and impoverished adults collect recyclable containers and turn them in for cash. That doesn’t make gleaning roadside trash a desirable employment model.
Myth #2: You have to change the way you work.

Do you really want to change the way everyone in your organization works in order to leverage organizational knowledge? (OK, if your company is a horrible failure in every aspect, the answer is Yes. But that’s not usually true.) And how can you possibly design a strategy for “cultural change” without first defining precisely the “what” of the organization — the business objectives of
the company, as well as the connections between the specific needs of its market and the products and services provided by the organization?
This is definitely a cart-before-the-horse approach. Customer-support systems designed to serve the specific knowledge management requirements of improving response time and increasing customer satisfaction may require dramatic cultural changes and new work processes in the customer support
department. But a knowledge management initiative aimed at leveraging the core knowledge of an organization must be as unintrusive as possible. Would you deliberately make accounting intrusive? Would you re-make the organization around principles of accounting?
Of course not. Like accounting, knowledge management is one means to reach a business objective, not the goal itself. Similarly, “the agile corporation” is not the goal itself.
The “three-ring
binder knowledge” of an organization the core of knowledge that is useful to a wide range of people in the organizationis infrastructure, first and foremost, not an objective in itself.
In any case, the need for cultural change in a knowledge management implementation is minimized when the objectives, techniques, tools, and methods (and their effects) are known to all. If you break knowledge management problems down into fine-grained, concrete elements, and relationships, the retraining and cultural issues should largely go away — or at least become far less difficult.

Myth #3: “Reluctance to share knowledge” is a major impediment.

From a recent article, a typical reference to reluctance to share knowledge:
There remains, however, the delicate question of how to get the know-how out of employees’ heads and desks and into a computer network. There is a natural tendency to hoard knowledge because of its power. The recent enthusiasm for collaboration among employees goes against the grain. Knowledge management can facilitate collaboration, but the reluctance to share knowledge must be overcome.
Source: Nancy Ferris, “Knowledge Is Power. Really.”, June 1, 1999.
I’m always baffled by this assertion. In my experience, it’s simply not true. Sure, there are people who hoard knowledge. But everywhere I have worked, the vast majority of people love to share knowledge, and they often take time under the worst possible circumstances to share it with you. They write hundreds of emails in order to tell others what they know. Some even post long treatises on your intranet or start discussion groups.
And there’s “blogging” (creating Web logs) and “klogging” (knowledge logs) — the ultimate in voluntary sharing and a rapidly growing trend that directly defies the assertion that people are reluctant to share. Blogs are becoming part of more and more internal KM activities.
We should put some qualifications on the assertion that reluctance to share
knowledge is a myth: People do hate stupid and/or repetitive questions and, as Nancy Dixon notes in Common Knowledge: How companies thrive by sharing what they know, workers resist being forced into formal processes for sharing — for example, writing a document about a topic when they really want to be writing code or making a sales call. If line workers see knowledge management as yet another top-down mandate to do more than they’re already doing, then you can guess the consequences in most cases.
A corollary of the “reluctance to share” myth is the assertion or implication that management has to drag workers kicking and screaming into sharing their knowledge. Look closely. You’ll find the opposite is often true.
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PostSubject: Re: The Knowledge Management Connection   Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:23 pm

Myth #4: Many KM failures can be attributed to overemphasis on technology.

Almost since knowledge management became a popular topic in the mid 1990s, technology has been a whipping boy for perceived “failures” of knowledge management initiatives.

  • Have we been the victims of bad knowledge management technology? Almost certainly. One ex-Lotus manager recently claimed that in 1997 there 90 million Lotus Notes seats, but of those, 88 million were using Notes solely for email. (!)
  • Have some vendors provided software that solved the wrong problems? A sure bet.
  • Is good KM technology applied poorly? Seems very likely.
  • Do you believe the goal of knowledge management is to spark creativity or create a “learning organization? Then technology may not be the heart of the solution.
But the solutions for many knowledge management problems are in collecting, managing, and communicating information. So, as Aw Kong Koy of Multicentric Technologies observes, “Without technology, I don’t think there is anything new in the way we have managed knowledge for a long time.”
And I ask, “Who do you think knows more about the problems of leveraging knowledge resources — (1) theorists and business management consultants or (2) technologists who have studied specific knowledge management
problems and designed solutions to solve those problems?”
You have three chances to guess my answer.

Myth #5: KM is about internalizing knowledge.

Do we always have to “internalize” information (through action, practice, whatever) in order to make it actionable (usable) knowledge or tacit knowledge? (Tacit knowledge is defined as personal knowledge rooted in individual experience and involving personal belief, perspective, and values. [See Michael Polyani, The Tacit Dimension, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967.]) Is the rate of internalization of information the key business problem?
No. That’s ridiculous. Sometimes just reading about a topic does create
knowledge. What went on in Einstein’s mind??!! He certainly did not test or experience most of his abstractions. Are mathematical proofs validation of the internalization of knowledge?
Some ideas do have the power of revelation. Something just clicks.
If we think of tacit knowledge as “acting on autopilot,” then this kind of knowledge clearly has a key role in many work activities. A Grand Prix driver doesn’t want to be looking up information on driving situations as he enters a hairpin turn. Nor does a surgeon want to be reading a book while in the middle of a time-sensitive operation. And in almost every profession, there are some common, underlying skills that make all other actions more efficient if those core skills are thoroughly internalized.
The boundary between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge is often very fuzzy and may vary from one person to the next. For example, you may be a great cook, but you probably don’t remember the precise ingredients of all your recipes. So you check your cookbooks. The difference between internalization and use of a recipe doesn’t matter a whit. Your guests (or your customers) only care about the result.
In practice, our work is increasingly characterized by extensive use of explicit knowledge — information that can be transferred readily and with a reasonable degree of completeness — among people. And the amount of tacit knowledge (relative to explicit knowledge) tends to decrease if the members of the organization are engaged in a wide range of continuously changing, information-intensive tasks.

Myth #6: KM is a big-company problem.

Most of the buzz about knowledge management concerns its impact on large companies and government agencies. That’s not really surprising. Most consultants would like a big contract with a big company. Most managers want to manage big budgets. Hard to fault that logic.
However, most of my recent work has been in small companies. And I can assure you that failure to share knowledge is a big problem even in very small companies. Managing knowledge resources is even more vital in a small company, because small companies don’t have inertia working for them.
And the knowledge-transfer dynamics in departments within large companies are often similar to those of small companies.
See also, Knowledge management for small companies

Myth #7: Classifying knowledge at a granular level (indexing) is too hard.

A young man recently told me it took him a year to develop a taxonomy for his startup. He was obviously doing something horribly wrong. You don’t need a complete or nearly complete “taxonomy” in order to start reaping the savings of sharing knowledge and re-using effectively. If getting a useful start takes longer than two months, you’re doing something wrong.
BTW, never assemble the experts and ask them to help you build a taxonomy/classification system. All of them will have an opinion; few will have useful input into how to construct an effective taxonomy. Their feedback on specific items, however, is vital.
We recommend: Use the open techniques and tools developed by the Knowledge Management Connection to jump start your knowledge management effort. (If Nike didn’t own the phrase, I’d advise you to “Just do it!” This is one starting point that won’t paint you into a corner.)

Myth #8: KM is about changing business processes.

No, you first have to disconnect knowledge from processes.
Managing organizational knowledge can be about many things, but it must first be about capturing, representing, managing, and communicating knowledge in the organization. The “what” of the organization, the “three-ring binder” type of knowledge, is orthogonal to business processes, should precede integration of specific knowledge with processes, and persists as processes change.
You can rearrange or reshape processes all you want, but you still have to know how to perform individual tasks successfully, one at a time, and you still have to have your facts straight in order to actually achieve goals with some degree of efficiency. Tasks cannot be shared efficiently unless they are specified precisely.
Creating and sharing knowledge is fundamentally orthogonal to business processes.
And, in general, while processes assume a known objective, we don’t know in advance what the “outputs” of our use of shared knowledge will be.

Myth #9: People don’t understand the need for managing knowledge.

Actually, this is partially true, because in most cases managers don’t understand the need for managing knowledge. Natural enough. They’re concerned with managing, not doing.
But people have been bombarded with the term knowledge management daily for about eight years now, and they’ve seen various implementations in their work — everything from simple FAQ resources to complex customer support systems. More importantly, they really do understand that huge amounts
of time are wasted and opportunities are lost because knowledge is not shared. It’s so obvious that it stares you right in the eyes. Of course, if your eyes are shut, you don’t notice.
In my most recent assignment, a wide range of people — including one of the founders of the company, a head of customer support, the chief technical officer, the head of QA, and a product manager — separately volunteered their desire for a shared corporate knowledge resource. The need was obvious to them. One had even started a very limited intranet resource. Others had been saving hundreds of old emails — a typical act of desperation.
The real problem is not failure to understand the need for shared knowledge resources but lack of willingness to make a commitment. This hesitation is natural, because it’s hard to point to a set of standard practices and technologies and connect them directly with increased productivity. (At the
Knowledge Management Connection, we’re trying to change that.)

Myth #10: Complexity and volume of information is the core
problem of KM.

The world of business seems enormously complex. The pace of change is exhausting. And there are, indeed, millions of new pages on the Web every week. But does that mean complexity and proliferation of new information are the KM problem?
Not directly. Combining simple things into new things and abuses of naming cause much of the problem. Old things renamed lead the list, followed by “new” things constructed almost completely out of smaller “old things.” The actual amount of information that has high value to a large number of people in the organization is substantially less than you might think. However, finding it and
eliminating the duplication is a problem.
Finding the simple things, eliminating duplicate information, and locating persistent connections leads to understanding and simplicity. And it makes re-use possible.
Precision and accessibility are real problems. But with the right model, they are problems that can be solved.

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