10 Destructive KM Myths

10 Destructive KM Myths These 10 Destructive KM Myths seem to permeate conversations around the digital KM-sphere. They are not ranked and I am sure you could add to them, but, from my perspective, they need to be put out to pasture.

1. KM is technology: I can’t believe that this is still being discussed, but there you go. Look at the number of KM programmes run from an IT-Centric focus and you should start to feel concerned. Why are you interested in managing organisational knowledge resources? Dig and you’ll find that people create the centre of gravity for KM projects (it’s about people, people). For example, to make my point, there are those who develop/evaluate technology-focused Lessons Learned Systems without any consideration for how adults learn (lessons learned, without considering the focus of learning?). Go a step further and you will find tech companies who are still claiming that they can capture everything you know or, even better, capture x% of what an organisation knows – what is 100% of what you know? Can you express every aspect of a decision that required the use of judgement or inference? No? Then why do people still buy into unscrupulous technology snake oil salesmen dreams of total knowledge capture?

2. KM is about developing tools: See #1. Tools enable KM processes, no doubt. But tools do not equal the sum total of KM. Keep asking, ‘why do we do KM’ and you can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is about people. For example, KM programmes that don’t take into account talent management programmes are, for want of a better way of putting it, naive. Explore people-centric KM programmes and you open Pandora’s Box. For many it’s just too scary. Taking this forward, want to know how to get people to share knowledge? It’s not about building better tools, it’s about complex concepts (e.g. understanding what motivates people or how adults learn). For many, the need to engage with KM is because they see knowledge as their core capability (especially for service driven firms and even if they cannot express it in these terms). With this being the case it has to be more than tools. Explore the capability you’re interested in; the very essence of knowledge is embedded within people. How does a focus on tools respond to the need to manage people, to manage talent?

3. It’s okay to start with KM and worry about the rationale later: Rubbish. You can’t monitor, evaluate, measure or determine value for a project that exists because it is a good idea. At some point there is a day of reckoning. Find out why KM is important to the organisation. Who championed it? Why did they champion it? If they believe it to be ‘a good idea’, don’t accept this argument, do the research/analysis yourself and align the function with strategy and business goals. Don’t do this and KM is doomed to fail.

4. Build it and they will come: KM is a good idea, so go forth, build us some tools and people will see the value. Really? You need to take the time to engage with stakeholders; understand the upstream and downstream needs. Engagement enables you to understand the needs of the individual, group, team and business unit. That understanding informs the ability to create a credible, logical and emotional need for change. Do that and you are off to a good start. Fail to engage and you’ll end up trying to retrofit tools to stakeholder needs and you will forever be fighting a losing battle. Tools bind the needs of the individual with the needs of the organisation – how well do KMers understand the values and/or needs of the individual users/stakeholders?

5. The SECI and DIKW models are the foundations of the field: Please, I implore you, do the research. These models (Nonaka – Socialisation-Externalisation-Combination-Internalisation; Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom flow) are seriously flawed! Accept them as interesting concepts, but challenge the preachings of those who fail to explore the flaws in their thinking. Also, look at the time and place in which these models were ‘created’; a time when technology was evolving as a solution to all our knowledge needs. What better way to validate a technology-based approach to KM than by using models that demonstrate that knowledge can be externalised (even if the author manipulates the use of founding research to make his point) or that knowledge is part of a ‘flow’ that technology already responds to (data and information) – Microsoft SharePoint managed to convince the masses that this was the case using this approach.

6. KM emerged in the 1990′s: KM is not from the 1990′s. I’m not talking about taking KM back to cave paintings, but KM, as a term, emerged in the mid 1970s. As a concept, the management of organisational knowledge resources has been discussed since the turn of the 20th century. Enough of the idea that KM is an emerging or recent idea.

7. It’s okay for KMers to manage ‘parts’ in isolation (i.e. lessons learned): Complexity isn’t new, but it sits at the heart of the management of organisational knowledge resources. Complexity means that you have to understand and manage the whole; you cannot focus on reductionist management methods that focus on individual parts. ‘Experts’ who claim that not all KM systems are complex fail to recognise that the moment you have competition or cooperation you get complexity. Knowledge means dealing with people. Sharing knowledge involves a transaction. Even a simple conversation involves a minimum of two people where the communication of knowledge is subject to contextual variation. Ignore complexity and you miss the need to manage the whole. Miss that and you will have KM failure that you will struggle to explain or understand.

8. It’s hard to determine value: Only if you haven’t established the reason for managing organisational knowledge resources and only if you don’t understand how to manage the boundaries of complex systems.

9. KM is fuzzy and hard to define: Again, only if you don’t understand the wider organisational environment and KM as a response to that environment. KM is about 4 things: acquisition & storage (some speak of embedding/protecting), sharing, using and developing organisational knowledge resources against emerging strategic and operational needs.

10. KM is dead: Even I have fallen into this trap. KM might not exist in its current form and the KM moniker might disappear, but it is certainly not dead. Explore the parameters governing the onset of Integrated Reporting in the world of finance and tell me that the management of organisational knowledge resources will not be of paramount importance over the coming years. Why did the US recently remodel the way it calculates GDP? Why are we seeing the emergence of ecosystem based risk models? The need to manage knowledge will not only endure, it will be critical.

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  • http://twitter.com/DeltaKnowledge Stuart French (@DeltaKnowledge)

    Love your work David. The whole article is excellent, but you handled #9 & #10 very nicely indeed.

    I still need more approaches to make #7 understandable to managers who are steeped in reductionism (The more you break it down and think it through, the less chance something will go wrong, ie: if something went wrong, then you didn’t think it through enough).

    • http://www.k3cubed.com David Griffiths

      Stuart, seriously, it’s been two years now…I have to get down to Australia for a visit! Enough is enough, I have to make this happen :)

      I agree with you on #7 and my next blog is going to be on what I call “grey swan season”, where blinkered reductionist approaches or complacency give rise to ‘unknown-known’ events that, I would argue, could be guarded against if people were more aware.

  • adin

    Great article David. #1, #2, & #5 the KM devil circle. Hahahaa

  • http://Www.organizationalzoo.com Arthur Shelley

    Hi David,
    Glad to hear others supporting the idea that KM principles gave always existed and always will. Whilst making strategic decisions based on robust knowledge is not essential to success, it certainly accelerates it!
    Hoping you can get down to Aus soon!